I have a personal interest in understanding relationships and guiding them into expressions of love, so I was intrigued by the newly-released e-book, Ask Deepak about Love and Relationships -- a collection of questions posed to and answered by Deepak Chopra, M.D.. Chopra includes hundreds of his correspondences as the text of the book, and each chapter covers one topic, such as managing relationships, navigating parenting and identifying pure love.
Chopra answers each troubled correspondent with empathetic wisdom and respect -- effectively guiding readers in discerning healthy friendships, improving self-respect and appropriately supporting others. To new lovers, for example, Chopra has this to say: "The more we can see others as love and not as their behavior, the easier it is to not get defensive and take things too personally."
The statement resonates with me in the following way: By redirecting our focus from one of criticism to one of self-reflection, and by taking responsibility for our side of the street in a relationship, we empower ourselves to be more loving human beings. Instead of criticizing each other, we look for opportunities to see things from a different perspective, work together in partnership and love at a higher level. The key, of course, is learning to accurately discern what our responsibility is and where our partner's accountability is. It is as unhealthy to take on someone else's baggage as it is to demand that someone else hold our own luggage for us.
In addition, if we want to feel empowered and respected, we need to operate from the understanding that others also want to feel empowered and respected, and we need to offer others what we ask of them. That said, we need to accept that we may not receive from a given individual that which we seek. We may need to lovingly extract ourselves from a relationship and keep looking for a particular quality or experience until we find it with someone else.
As we develop relationships, we learn about each other and sometimes find that our outlooks are different. As Chopra indicates, we must respect our own feelings while also respecting the feelings of others: "If you love your boyfriend," Chopra says in one of his correspondences, "and he no longer feels your love, then it is not up to you to figure out how to convince him." The let-go-and-let-be approach can feel painful when our love wants to draw in a person, but true love accepts a person with his or her choices in life. We cannot impose our own choices on others.
As we develop relationships, we also take time earning and offering trust. Each interaction with a person reveals more of the core characteristics in that person -- over time, accumulating into presence or absence of reliability. When a person fails us, rebuilding confidence takes longer. "The process of healing is... the process of mourning a loss," Chopra explains in his book. The faith we had is gone. We need a period of grieving, so as to move through the experience, into greater wisdom and love.
Taking the romantic relationship to the level of physical intimacy, Chopra refreshingly connects sexuality and spirituality: "Focus on the areas where you have strong bonds of love and connection," he advises one of the correspondents, "and build out from there, to find new ways of sharing physical intimacy."
My counseling experience has demonstrated that many sexual relationship problems are in fact symptoms of deeper relationship conflicts. Sexual satisfaction, I have discovered, is intertwined with each partner's life history. By exploring the underlying intimacy issues, partners can release the trauma and shame that impact their present and bind them to their past. For these reasons, I feel that Chopra's spiritual approach to sexuality can solve a broad base of marital problems, as long as each partner takes responsibility for his or her own healing and growth.
Love, of course, exists not just in romantic relationships, but also in friendships and family relationships. Love, in fact, can be strongest in the parent-child relationship, in cases where a parent offers a child unconditional love -- a rock-solid constant in the child's life. No matter what the child is, says, or does, the core heart of the parent supports the child. In this way, parenting can serve as a boot camp in unconditional love. When done with a full heart, parenting is to love what a black belt is to martial arts.
From this place of love, I have seen many parents protecting children externally, through enforcing boundaries and rules. Children, however, need to develop an internal compass, and parents are positioned to help children develop it. I use the analogy of building a spiritual scaffolding around children until they are solid enough to stand on their own. Inner strength will keep children protected, as they journey through life, because grounded and evolved souls can discern the right actions to take.
By cultivating spirituality in their children, parents can provide points of reference for compassion, morality, creativity and understanding. Once parents have taught what they know, however, it is time to let go and allow the children to discover their own paths. In Chopra's book, a father wrote in with concern for a teenager who was walking away from the family's spiritual tradition. The father wanted to enforce the family practices, but Chopra advised against it: "Let her rediscover the meaning her spirituality has for her, on her own." Trust the child to find his or her own way.
Ask Deepak About Love and Relationships espouses the core philosophy that we all are empowered to direct our own lives and that not only do we learn from our own experiences; we also learn from the experiences of others. Chopra's philosophy resonates deeply with me, because I truly believe that peace begins within each of us. The more that we each take responsibility for creating lives full of love and balance, the more our world will reflect a collective sense of peace.