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Esteemed Reader: February, 2004 

The energy of the stars becomes us. We become the energy of the stars. Stardust and spirit unite and we begin: one with the universe, whole and holy. From one source, endless creative energy, bursting forth, kinetic, elemental; we, the earth, air, water and fire-source of nearly fifteen billion years of cosmic spiraling. We receive the blessings of the Eternal and we are showered with abundance. We ask and we receive. A universe of plenty flows to us, through us. It is in us. We become filled with endless possibilities.

We need to remember where we came from; to know that we are one. To understand that we are of an undivided whole: race, color, nationality, creed, gender are beams of light, refracted through one great prism. We begin as perfect and journey through life to become more perfect in the singularity of “I” and in the multiplicity of “we”—a more perfect union of matter and spirit.
—US Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

I start by acknowledging and thanking Dennis Kucinich for the above quote and for making a sound that is extraordinary amid the clatter of the political noise machine. This is a man I would be proud to call my president.

And I proceed by addressing a related subject that has been much in my thoughts. Since it has been in my thoughts I assume that the subject has been making the rounds to the thoughts of others as well.

The subject is: relationship.

What is it to be related—to be in relationship?

The general view is of one or another type of personal link, as to a parent, child, lover, friend, or co-worker. Each of these define who we are to that person or social unit. This conceptualization determines a specific mode of behavior. There is an appropriate set of actions for each type of relationship. And we either abide by these or we don’t. When we do, our relationships are “healthy” and when we don’t we are either negligent or criminal. But these definitions don’t answer the question of the essential nature of relationship.

Relationship labels only proscribe outer form. What is more to the point and closer to the essence of relationship is what takes place within us. When our inner attitude is correct, it gives rise to a correct outer form.

The internal faculty that enables real inner relationship is attention. When attention is placed on another person real relationship begins. But to do this, attention must be prevented from absorption in the array of reactions.

Says Sa’di:
We bear reproach with joy, remaining faithful,
for taking offense at another’s acts
is infidelity to the Beloved.

Sa’di was a sufi. The Beloved he speaks of is none other than the innermost self that is present not only in each person, but in every living thing, and even every non-living thing. His suggestion is that when we take offense we turn away from relationship. Though we may technically be “in a relationship” with someone, we are only truly in that relationship when the attention is on them and not distracted by reactions to them.

Holding attention and not performance as the priority in relationship has important implications. It leads to flexibility toward what that relationship will be, for, as each of us is a unique and dynamic living being and not a fixed and predefined character, each relationship has a corresponding life of its own. Just as individuals don’t fit into neat boxes with labels, neither do relationships.

Keeping the focus on attention rather than description allows the relationship to be whatever it inherently is in any moment. For example, a child sometimes needs maternal loving and at other times needs clearly defined and enforced boundaries. Sometimes a lover needs caring, non-sexual tenderness and sometimes she needs sexy passion. With attention, relationships are allowed to change and grow, but this requires non-identification with the particular form of relationship we may have become attached to.

To put attention first is to take responsibility for the relationship. It means that the primary demand is on oneself, instead on the other to fulfill a preconceived form. Taking this responsibility to remain in relationship frees us from many of the negative reactions that arise when we have unconsciously placed arbitrary requirements that our partner in relationship cannot reasonably be expected to fulfill. The effect of unconditionally attending in this way is that we are able to accept partners in relationship precisely as they are. It is only from this basis of acceptance that a relationship can grow and in so growing actually be useful to the participants in the relationship.

Taking responsibility for the act of relating also has the effect of making all relationships equally important. Ordinarily, some of our relationships take precedence over others. And of course we are obliged to demonstrate greater loyalty in our primary relationships. But this does not mean that our less-than-primary relationships require any less commitment of attention. In setting the aim of developing attention we come to realize that every even fleeting relationship is of vital importance.

As a child I joked to my mother as we exited a tollbooth that the toll collectors have many short-term relationships. This is an obvious example, but we all have innumerable short-term relationships and all equally deserve our commitment of attention and care.

Our lives are our relationships. What we call “my life” is nothing but the experience of interfacing with the world via the medium of relationship. Psychologically we can say that everyone we encounter is our reflection, and a further opportunity to gain self-knowledge. From commitment to self-knowledge flows the commitment to fully attend to and care for whomever arrives before us.

Since, as Mr. Kucinich says, everything is not only connected, but actually one, every person, animal, plant, or object we encounter is, in fact, ourselves. This is true spiritually, physically, and psychologically. By harmonizing and perfecting our relationships with objects, plants, animals and fellow human beings we are not only perfecting ourselves but we are perfecting the entire body of humanity and even organic life on earth. This is our opportunity and responsibility as human beings. This work to fully engage with all is the only true choice. Indeed, it is the purpose of the free choice that we, as a race, are so amply endowed.

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