Monday, February 10, 2014

It's All About Relationships

"Harmony of a Desert Day"

In my years as a parish priest I would often use a "catch-phrase" that would rather regularly show up in my sermons or lectures or in meetings:

It's all about relationships!

I would teach that you can't talk about God or the church or the world or even about yourself unless you brought the word "relationships" into the conversation. 

Now that I have moved out into the desert, I still very much believe this. Only now I have expanded and deepened my understanding of what I mean when I say this, and yesterday helped me understand it even more. 

Over the past year I have noticed something happening within me whenever I am together with other people and when we leave to go our separate ways. 

When my adult children are here visiting us and then they leave to go back to their homes, it feels like I am somehow no longer the same after they leave. It's not like I feel empty or go into some deep depression because I miss them when they leave (although I do miss them).  It's just that I feel like I am not the same person as when we were together. 

But I don't just feel this way when I have to say goodbye to my children, I feel this way in any situation where I have encountered any others and then we take our leave and go our separate ways. 

Over this weekend we have enjoyed the company of house guests. We ate some meals together, hiked in the desert, and shared our stories. Then it was time for them to leave. After we said our goodbyes and they got on their way, I was aware of that same sense that somehow I was not the same person as I was before they came to spend some time with us.  Something was missing when they left and something was found because we were together. 

And then it hit me- a flash of insight at a deep level of awareness and I understood what was going on. 

We, human beings, "are" one another. We really "are" relationships. It's all very "organic. We are like cells in a body. When we encounter one another, we exchange energy, we exchange mind, soul and spirit, so that when we take leave of one another we are something of the other.  When we leave one another, something of our old self is lost and something of our new self is gained.

This happens all the time to all of us. It just happened that yesterday I was able to be in touch with it. It is indeed, "all about relationships." 

Growing up in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, I was taught and believed that "loving my neighbor" was a commandment- a moral injunction. It is a good thing (the right thing to do) to build relationships with others, to love other people, friends and family, enemies and strangers, as you walk through the wilderness of life. Walking hand in hand with others is a good thing to do (morally correct).

In my later years I have come to take a much more Buddhist understanding of what it means to say that "it is all about relationships." The Buddhists don't talk about relationships with others as something we should work at, so much as something we all "are." 

In Buddhist thinking, the idea of a separated, individual "ego-self" is a "myth."  It is a human "construct" that just doesn't exist in reality. All being "is" a web of dynamically flowing interdependence. 

Buddhists don't talk all that much about the "moral" good of loving and caring for others..because we all "are" the others regardless of how we behave. The spiritual journey is all about coming to a deeper awareness of this reality of who we really are.

As the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, has so wonderfully said, "we are all inter-being." 

As I reflect on it, it seems to me that when we come to understand the reality that we are one another, that we are our relationships, we will be much more inclined to obey that commandment to "to love one another." When we love one another, we do indeed love our "self."

Our house guests have left.  Something of who I was has gone missing with their departure, and something of who I now am is found because we were together. 

It's all about relationships! 



  1. Hi Paul.Liked the article to me it was well spoken describing the interconnection between the human entity and the whole of the cosmos.I've experienced the atomic exchange you describe and see life as a gigantic chemical reaction and we all do whether aware of its continual occurrence or not.The whole continually shapes us-creates us.Adds this ,takes away this,ad infinutm,that's the excitement,awe that spurs us ever onward seeking.Seek and we shall find greater n greater experience of realization.Like waking up each day to a more fantastic sunrise.And the reason I say sunrise is because of what I have found to emerge after periods of darkness in the seekers life that I'm sure you are aware of.And the light comes upon ourselves and the whole of creation and we see truly and with utmost clarity the beauty and magnifessance of the creator and know God is God!Just to glimpse that intelligence is to entirely silence us to the point of hearing our hearts beat.Just to behold that we are apart of it all is to know Gods love for us.Part of the body of Christ.Paul spoke of our interconnectedness,the bhudists help to validate,its only in the connectedness that we can see Dependant upon the whole of the body to see,perceive.To become one with is to see.To be part of is to see,the father,the creator.Together with all truth seekers we shall see.Jesus is the truth and thru Truth all who seek truth will surely find.So a man like Ghandi surely finds, and a man like Bhuda who renounced all desire surely found.Me I'm a catholic led by catholic writers like. T.Merton to the carmelites, to the eastern religions,to the desert fathers and on and on all reacting with me just as you with your family.Your article on embracing nothingness in the desert intrigued me and so did your interest in varying spiritualities.The carmelites helped me the most to see the correlations between all cultures and spiritual beliefs.Like the desert fathers they reduce it all down to let go and let God and the Tao The Ching does the same,let go and let the Tao.Christ again as the Way.An old saying I'm sure you have heard the devil complicates the Holy Spirit simplifies.And in the simplicity of humility of Catherine of Sienna God is the one who is we are the ones who are not.Sounds just like a lot of bhudists doesn't she?
    P.S.if this comment was a "little" too much its your fault for sharing some of your awe with us contemplative do express themselves sometimes in the spirit of sharing.God bless you and your family brother.