Posted July 31, 2015 in Monthly News

Spiritual Partnerships

To the best of my knowledge, the term Spiritual Partnership was coined by Gary Zukav, who used the term initially to refer to his relationship with Linda Francis, his wife. Debra and I read Zukav’s first book, Seat of the Soul, at a time we were doing a lot of fighting. Although we shared many of the same concerns and desires, we had very different ways of working. We brought out both the best and the worst in each other. We knew that if we were going to be able to accomplish our goals, we had to develop a better understanding of our interpersonal dynamic. Gary Zukav’s books gave us a framework for that understanding. The fundamental concept of spiritual partnership is a co-commitment to evolving spiritually. When two (or more) people have an agreement that the principal purpose of human life is spiritual growth, the dynamic of the relationship changes.

In general, humans tend to live their lives on “auto-pilot,” with day-to-day life, including interpersonal interactions, being repetitive and relatively meaningless. Animals, including humans, tend to exert themselves only when necessary. Conservation of energy has survival value, and Rule Number One for being alive is staying alive. We conserve energy so it will be available when we really need it. This is true for the mental as well as the physical. This is one of the reasons for what Virgina Satir called the lure of the familiar. We repeat the same behaviors, even when they are not working for us, because they are familiar. There is nothing wrong, of course, with repeating behaviors that serve us well (stopping for red lights while driving, for example), but the lure of the familiar too often has us repeating behaviors that simply are not working for us, including smoking, drinking too much, overeating, or watching TV shows that have the same basic plot week after week.

For most behavior, repetition is the rule. Practice makes perfect. Practice makes perfect because the brain gets out of the way, and habit takes over. You probably know the old joke about a tourist asking a New Yorker, “How to I get to Carnegie Hall?” The response: “Practice, practice, practice.” The way to improve is to practice. In basketball, if we want to get good at shooting free throws, we shoot a lot of free throws. Being really good at shooting free throws, however, won’t necessarily make us better at playing basketball. This concept is also true for most religious practice. If we practice “being spiritual” in the same way every time, we assume we will get better at spirituality in general. The problem is that if people pray in the same way at the same times (whether daily, weekly, or semi-annually), they will improve at the routine while failing to notice that it isn’t really working for them. That is the religious version of “mindless eating.” Practice only counts if you employ the entire “skill set” and pay attention to feedback: Is what you are doing moving you in the direction of a desired goal, or is your practice simply reinforcing a familiar behavior?

When Debra and I first saw Zukav’s book, we knew that what we had been doing wasn’t working well. In spite of having quite a bit of interpersonal conflict, we had done some writing together and had been teaching relatively successful workshops. We knew we both had the desire to evolve spiritually, and Zukav’s term, spiritual partnership, seemed to fit. For me, at least, one of the most important aspects of a spiritual partnership is the change in focus, especially during times of conflict. Before we agreed to a conscious spiritual partnership, the focus tended to be “I’m right, so you must be wrong.” After our conscious spiritual partnership, the focus changed to “What can I learn from this.” The change doesn’t happen suddenly and automatically; it’s more a matter of “getting to Carnegie Hall” with practice, practice, practice. Debra’s article for this month’s newsletter says more about our challenges along the way.

The big shift for me, however, came when I started asking the question, “What if everyone is your spiritual partner?” For me that question was the proverbial “bolt out of the blue”: If everyone is your spiritual partner, you have virtually unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth. Every interaction affords the opportunity to develop a spiritual practice that is anything but routine. Debra and I had agreed to a spiritual partnership, which provided a foundation for us to talk about it. But not everyone would understand the concept. The fact that others do not understand the concept, however, doesn’t preclude your treating your relationship with them as a spiritual partnership, as all of your relationships offer opportunities for increased understanding and your own spiritual evolution.

Take a few minutes to think about your most challenging relationships. What lessons are there waiting for you to discover them? Also, think about those people who have been your greatest interpersonal challenges and ask what lessons are there for you to learn. Just because you are no longer “in relationship” with those individuals doesn’t mean that the lessons aren’t still there waiting to be discovered.

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