Accepting the Hazards of Relationship
Jack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Cafeteria in New York City
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Often, when we think of the hazards of relationship, we think of the hazards that we perceive coming from others. We often neglect to notice the hazards that we create for others. Relationships can be hazardous in both directions, but they are often well worth the risks.

We are the most dangerous known animal on the planet. For every person hurt by a wild animal, there are thousands who are hurt by members of their own species. Other people may misunderstand us, exploit us, abuse us in a million ways subtle and unsubtle. We should never ignore warning intuitions we have about particular people. There are many people, of course, that we should stay as far from as possible. On the other hand, we may also have an unfair and disproportionate view of the hazards of others. From the point of view of self-pity, we are innocent waifs trying to make our way in the world while we are being bullied and mistreated by a savage species. Sometimes, however, we have participated in the hazards created by others. We may set ourselves up for abuse by the other in all sorts of ways. When hazards occur in consensual relationships, we should first look to ourselves to see how we may have participated in the hazard, before our harsh gaze focuses on the other. It is an overwhelming human tendency to externalize the internal, and we would much prefer to find a hazard in the other than to see the hazards within ourselves. In other cases, the hazard may come mostly from the other, and in such cases we need to be careful about our boundaries.

It is relatively rare that we are in a position to evaluate the hazards of a relationship. It is especially dangerous to speculate about where the other is really coming from, unless we are in a calm and compassionate state. The more agitated we are, the more likely we are to externalize the internal, to project, and to see the other as the hazard when we may actually have chosen them to personify a long standing inner conflict. When you are calm and compassionate ask yourself the question, When have I been here before? When have I felt this way before? If you are honest with yourself, it is overwhelmingly likely that the answer will be: Many times, and with many different people. That's your cue to question yourself and see how you may have contributed to setting up the recurrent situation. To paraphrase George Santayana, "Those who don't learn from their relationship history are doomed to repeat it."

When it comes to evaluating the hazards of relationships, no formula can take the place of case specific, soul-searching discernment. Sometimes the hazards aren't worth it. As social mammals we so easily get addicted to the buzz of the social matrix, and default to being in company when we might more potently spend time in solitude. Often the issue is not one of social versus solitude, but of being more selectively social as compared to being open to any social experience regardless of quality. It is one thing to accept the inevitable hazards of soulful relationships, quite another to accept the hazards of being in a crowd of acquaintances.

We live in the age of the quick fix approach. Self-help books will give you the ten steps to having fully functional, healthy relationships as though a formula had been found to eliminate hazard from relationship. But it is often the hazardous aspects of relationships that make them developmental. Discovering how easy it is for a misstep to result in you hurting the other, or the other hurting you, can create profound awakenings to compassion, empathy and realizations of who you are and who the other is. Romantic relationships seem to always involve this type of developmental hazard. The testimony about love relationships in all cultures, and in all periods, is largely about hazard and high tragedy. Think of the stories about love in Greek Mythology, think of Romeo and Juliet, read a synopsis of any daytime soap. A love story without hazard, is an unrealistic and boring love story. If you are writing a screenplay about a romance you must start by answering the question, "What is keeping them apart?" There must be an oppositional force — the two misunderstand or have trouble recognizing each other; their families, races or nations are opposed; they are separated by war, death or imprisonment; they are two but become three, and a painful triangle ensues; there are two but the romantic longing is on one side only. Whether you look at love stories from Greek Mythology, the Bible, Shakespeare or the latest offerings from Hollywood or Bollywood, you will always find these classic oppositional elements. It seems to be a universal truth that without oppositional elements the human psyche does not evolve.

To have children is to multiply your personal hazard portfolio exponentially. If you are not willing to accept far greater hazards and concerns, don't have children. As you deepen a relationship, the hazards become more profound. The more you care about the other, the greater the hazard of loss, misunderstanding or conflict with them. To enter a deep relationship with someone is to accept certain instabilities, to accept that there will likely be higher highs and lower lows. When two are deeply connected then the odds that at least one person will be in a bad mood multiply. Similarly, the odds that an accident or illness will befall at least one, or that some unexpectedly good thing will happen to at least one, multiply. If you are not willing to accept hazard, don't have romances or close friendships. Sometimes the other gives you stability; sometimes the other takes it away. Depending on the situation, both the stabilizing and destabilizing aspects can be developmental. Too great a stability means stagnation. Too much instability can demoralize you and break down your will to go on. Much depends on the willingness of the other to work through hazards in a life-affirming way. A key thing to look for in prospective partners, allies, and friends is their level of commitment to consciousness. The present levels could be quite different, in which case the more evolved person will act as a mentor, but a compatible level of commitment needs to be there.

Accepting the hazards of relationship does not mean that we needlessly multiply them. There are many sorts of preventable hazards, hazards that are the result of carelessness, neglect or ignorance. In many cases it would be more developmental to avoid these hazards by investing more care in a relationship. For example, by being more open and explicit about expectations, agreements, promises and boundaries at the outset, one may avoid needless hazards later on. Volumes could be written about the potential hazards in relationships, and ways to deal with them, but there are two great principles I want to close with. Anyone able to follow these two great principles will eliminate almost all needless hazards in relationships. Easier said than done. I, for example, am not able to flawlessly follow these principles myself. What I am able to do, however, is to work toward following them. Often that work requires moment-to-moment vigilance.

The First Principle: Inner Independence

Inner Independence means that your center of gravity is the inner wholeness of your self. If your center of gravity is in the other person you have an inherently unstable structure that will be a hazard-making machine. If you have time, the following is the Zap Oracle card on inner independence:

According to the I Ching, you have only one obligation in life — to get your relationship to yourself right. Do that and your relations to sex, time, money, power, food, body, career, society, the cosmos, etc. will all be as good as outer conditions allow. Omit, distort or neglect any part of your relationship to yourself and all those other relationships are accordingly skewed, diminished or lost. Working toward the empowered stance of inner independence and androgynous inner wholeness makes you as effective as possible in the outer world. For example, if you are a martial artist trying to survive an attack by multiple assailants, your primary responsibility is managing your relationship to your own body and its movement through space and time. Mastering your relationship to your own body gives you the maximum chance of defending yourself from the bodies of the attackers. Any flaws in your relationship to your own body diminish your chances of surviving the attack.

Yes, we are all interdependent in many ways, and it can be fascinating and fulfilling to be with others, but we must also be inwardly independent and disentangle our emotional/psychological/spiritual equilibrium from the instabilities of the outer world.

Find the peace and power of staying inside your circle of influence. The center of your circle of influence is you, especially your psyche, the one sovereign domain where you can be sure of having influence. Unless you are paralyzed, the movements of your body are also within your circle of influence. But even if you are a gifted athlete, the movements of your body must operate within relatively narrow parameters of biomechanical possibility. For example, no matter how much you focus your will, you are not able to run a two-minute mile. Your mind, however, has far, far wider parameters of possibility, and is an incredibly powerful force inside your circle of influence.

Outside of your circle of influence, according to Steven Covey, is your circle of concern. The circle of concern is everything you worry about, but many of those things are outside of your ability to take direct action. The circle of influence is what you can take direct action on or affect right now. The most effective people are putting their energy into the circle of influence and not so much into the circle of concern where direct action cannot be taken.

The empowered stance of inner independence means that you recognize your inner wholeness and focus on life-affirming engagement with your circle of influence.

For more on the centrality of your relationship to yourself:
Casting Precious into the Cracks of Doom — Androgyny, Alchemy, Evolution and the One Ring

If romantic desires are compromising your inner independence read:

Lessons for an Entity Incarnating as a Mammal

See: Stop the Hottie!

II. Meeting Halfway

From the perspective of the I Ching, meeting halfway is the touchstone of healthy relationships. A very large part of the hazards of relationship have to do with you meeting more or less than halfway and with the other meeting more or less than halfway. Here is the text of the Zap Oracle card on meeting halfway:

Meeting halfway is the touchstone of relationships. You don't want to meet others less than halfway — shy retreat, neglect, etc — or meet them more than halfway — doing too much, compromising your dignity by pushing forward where unwelcome, giving unasked for advice, etc. The halfway point may shift moment by moment. A key skill in relating to others is to be, as Carol Anthony puts it (approximately), "attuned to the subtle minutiae of openings and closings in the other person, ready to advance or retreat at a moment's notice."

From A Guide to the Perplexed Interdimensional Traveler:

Meeting Halfway The Touchstone for Relationship

At the center of relating well to others, cautiously moving outward from your center of inner independence, is the I Ching principle of meeting halfway (Hexagram 44)[7]. Less than halfway would be, for example, to neglect others to whom we are connected by inner ties. More than halfway would be, for example, giving unasked for advice, proselytizing, self-important intervening, lifeguarding others, etc. So if you go to a party and see someone you're attracted to, but you're so shy that you hide in a corner and never approach them, then you have met less than halfway. Hitting on them (without some obvious encouragement from the other) would be meeting way more than halfway.

Even in the course of a conversation one needs to apply this principle of meeting halfway by keeping attuned to the moment, aware of the subtle minutiae of openings and closing in the other person. With the openings we advance, with the closings we retreat and yield space.

When the other transgresses, invades boundaries or comes at us with false personality, we should never go along with it, should never do anything that compromises our inner dignity. We should withdraw energy from the person who is coming from his false self. This can mean anything from breaking eye contact (a withdrawal of energy), ending the conversation, or in some cases, going our own way for a lifetime. When we do withdraw, we should do so lovingly, giving the other space to come to his senses on his own. We do not, in I Ching terms, "execute" them in our minds, which would be to view them as hopeless and unable to improve. This would only help to keep them imprisoned by doubt. We also don't indulge excessive optimism that assumes they will become more conscious in this lifetime, or that extends trust where it is being abused. We step back to allow the creative to take its zigzag course. And for our own sake, as well as the others, we try not to carry ongoing grudges against someone. From the I Ching point of view, we are responsible not only for what we say or do to the other, but also for our thoughts, because these are communicated on the inner plane.

Relates to hexagram #44 — See Carol Anthony's book on hexagram 44 and coming to meet halfway: Love, an Inner Connection

Consider this a propitious time to accept the hazards of relationship while at the same time moving away from the needless hazards of relationship.