Years ago, in Arizona, scientists embarked on an experiment to learn how to replicate the Earth’s ecosystems in a closed ecological system. In the Biosphere experiment, a huge glass dome was constructed with everything needed to sustain life within the structure. The scientists lived inside the Bio-dome for two years and, for a number of reasons, the experiment didn’t work out very well. But one of the main reasons was that the trees wouldn’t grow to maturity. As it turned out, when designing the Bio-dome, the scientists didn’t account for the absence of wind. What they learned was, that without enough wind to develop their heartwood, trees cannot grow.
In the same way, we need the winds of the relational field to grow and wake up our hearts. Whether we are enjoying a gentle breeze, or riding out the high winds of a hurricane, we need it all in order to discover our full potential for loving. There are two powerful ways that the winds of relationship can awaken us—sharing our vulnerability and seeing the good in each other.
When we reveal the tender and insecure parts of our being and learn to speak our emotional truths, it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. We open to the understanding that we are not alone, that others feel this too. It awakens compassion and strengthens connection.
Poet Adrienne Rich writes:
“An honorable human relationship, that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word love, is a process of deepening the truths they can tell each other.”
Developing true intimacy takes courage. It means revealing parts of yourself to others that might feel embarrassing, parts that may have been hidden away from the world for a very long time. When my husband, Jonathan, and I got married, my vows included these lines from Rilke:
“I want to unfold. Let no place in me hold itself closed, for where I am closed, I am false. I want to stay clear in your sight.”
Often, this hasn’t been easy. Most of the time, I am very open and authentic until, like most other humans I know, I am feeling vulnerable, or ashamed of myself, or critical of Jonathan. During those times, I avoid talking and withdraw, sometimes even becoming manipulative or aggressive.
Just a couple of years after we were married, my health began to decline. I was unable to engage in many of the physical activities we had always enjoyed together. Jonathan was strong and active, and I sank into a swamp of shame about how he was stuck with a sick, aging wife that couldn’t keep up with him. As I lived with this shame and insecurity, I could feel the distance growing between us and the fear growing in my own heart. Keeping those feelings to myself was toxic. Finally, I told him what was going on. He listened with his heart and responded with a love that was not dependent on me being any certain way at all.
Of course, it doesn’t always happen exactly like that. Jonathan sometimes says, only half-jokingly, that whenever I say, “Honey, we need to talk,” his first thought is, “Oh God, I am going to die!” But as we keep practicing this openness with each other, we continue to deepen the truths we can tell each other. This is essential. It may feel uncomfortable at times, but taking the chance to be vulnerable is worth it. It is how we learn to trust love.
Of course, in some situations, it is neither wise nor appropriate to speak your emotional truths. The timing might be off or others involved may not have the skill or emotional capacity to listen well. You need to feel a degree of safety. And yet, I use the word “degree” on purpose. Embedded in feeling ashamed and vulnerable is the belief that others will not receive you well. Even when you might not feel completely comfortable, taking the chance may leave you feeling safer and more loved than you did before speaking. There’s great power in sharing a difficult truth. Allowing your vulnerability to be seen by a trusted, attentive other can start unraveling a lifetime of shame. Naming painful feelings without blame can deepen and strengthen mutual attunement and compassion. Relationships become more vibrant. Finding the courage to take the risk and speak what is true enlarges you. You become more real to yourself, more intimate with others.
The second training in waking up in the relational field is learning to see the good in others, looking past the mask to who they really are. This is the essence of the Hindu term “namaste”—I see the divine in you. The great gift we give each other is to become mirrors of goodness—reminders of the soul and spirit shining through. This is what we needed early on from parents and caregivers, and we can do this for each other. It is amazing when you actually see somebody as they are. Your loving deepens and it invites forward their goodness.
Jesuit Priest and author Anthony DeMello writes about spending many years suffering with anxiety and depression. Feeling neurotic and selfish, he adopted one self-improvement project after another to try to change, but nothing worked. He was on the verge of despair. Even his friends were regularly telling him that he needed to change and to be less self-absorbed. And then one day, a friend said to him: “Don’t change. I love you just as you are.” Those words streamed through him like pure grace. I love you just as you are. And he says that, paradoxically, it was only when he received permission to be exactly who he was that he was free to change.
I love this quote from Wes Angelozzi:
“Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”
Relationships can be place of healing and awakening, a sacred refuge. We can learn to share our truths, hold space for each other, and look behind the mask to see the one who longs to love and be loved. Sharing our own vulnerability and learning to see the inherent goodness in others are some of the most beautiful practices I know for waking up with each other. And these practices take intention. They require a kind of purposefulness in remembering that this is something that matters to us. When we take the risk of seeing and being seen, we open our hearts to the winds that strengthen the foundation of how we grow in loving relationship.
What if we took the risk to be more real and open with those we love? What if we slowed down to look more deeply into each other’s hearts, and to mirror the light that shines through?
The words of Rumi:
If ten lamps are present in one place,
each differs in form from another;
Yet you can’t distinguish
whose radiance is whose
when you focus on the light.
In the field of spirit there is no division;
no individuals exist.
Sweet is the oneness
of the Friend with His friends.
hold of spirit.
Help this headstrong
That beneath it
you may discover unity,
Tara Brach is an internationally known meditation teacher and author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge. Her upcoming 6 week online course, “Conscious Loving,” helps awaken the capacity to accept, forgive, and love oneself and others.