Angus wrote what turned out to be a somewhat controversial Instagram post a few weeks ago where he said, “Your partner cannot make you feel anything.”
And I received a question recently asking what does safety look like in relationships?
So I thought it would be helpful to make a clarification between the psychological perspective and the spiritual perspective. There is so much focus on psychotherapy in Western culture that this viewpoint has become embedded in our worldview and the dominant cultural narrative so that it becomes part of the invisible lens through which we see things. This makes it seem like the psychological perspective is true rather than a framework of knowledge that is based on assumptions. One of these assumptions is that the happiness of the individual self is of primary importance. From this foundation, improving ourselves, changing our experience, and strengthening the ego through improving self-esteem are seen as good and helpful. Working on the individual self makes sense from a psychological perspective, but things get confusing when the invitation is to look beyond the construct of the individual self. Psychology doesn’t have a framework for this.
Spirituality does. From a non-dual spiritual perspective, the invitation is to turn toward that which is universal, unchanging, and true about who we are. It does not negate the experience of the separate self, but it does not limit us to that being who we are. It recognizes a reality beyond our personal mind and experience that is unchanging. Consciousness or awareness is seen as the ultimate reality. And awakening to our true nature of who and what we are is seen as the answer to suffering, not trying to improve ourselves or the content of our experience. It can be uncomfortable, even frightening, to open to a reality that goes beyond what our five senses can perceive and doesn’t just include our objective experience, but it can also be transformational.
I spent many years doing therapy and working on improving my psychology. I even became a licensed psychotherapist and helped others improve their psychology. But this work ultimately left me wanting. I was constantly seeking better feelings and found myself exhausted from my search. There were never enough good feelings to leave me satisfied.
Relief came to me when I realized it didn't matter what my psychological experience included and that my feelings didn't mean anything about me. I used to think that my feelings of insecurity and anxiety meant that I wasn't good enough. I believed I was unworthy because I suffered from these feelings. I thought I needed to "work" on myself to reduce my anxiety and change my feelings of insecurity so I could feel worthy.
But when I felt a deeper truth within me that was unchanging no matter what my emotional experience was doing, I realized there was nothing wrong with me, no matter what I was feeling. I touched into a feeling of true nature that is universal to us all. It is not my true nature but our true nature. This foundation took me outside the psychological framework I had been living in and freed me from seeking to feel better. What a relief!
This was radical! To simply be with my experience as it arises. Nothing else to do.
I no longer had to worry about how I was feeling because it didn't mean anything about me. I could allow my feelings to come and go without feeling unworthy. I could allow myself to be and let my experience move through me without monitoring or controlling it.
And it turned all of my work on its head. My work on myself and my work with others.
Seeing the health in experience, feelings, moods, and thoughts constantly changing and the content of my experience not meaning anything about me meant I no longer needed to try to control it or change my experience. I saw that trying to have more of a certain experience or less of another one actually creates more suffering.
Resisting what is creates suffering. Being with what is is freedom.
If what changes isn't real, it is just an experience that comes and goes; what's the point of self-improvement? No amount of work will make a mirage have more water in it. No amount of self-improvement is going to make the persona more real. It will always be a fluid expression of our thinking in the moment.
Letting go of my attempts to manage my feelings and thoughts allowed me to experience more peace. The peace that lies beyond what changes. The peace that heals and sustains. The peace that is who we are.
From that feeling of peace within myself, I showed up differently in my relationship. I was naturally more compassionate. I saw that my peace and well-being could not be taken away from me by Angus's behavior. That it was my identification with my thinking that created emotional weather patterns where I would get caught up in misunderstandings and limiting beliefs that had me suffer. He did not do anything to me. I was not a victim to him.
From a psychological perspective, it doesn't make sense that no one can make me feel a certain way, but from a spiritual perspective, no one can make me feel anything. I just feel. I feel the impact of my narrative. I was at a new Tango class last night. Angus and I are beginners, and this class was more advanced. To support our learning, we rotated partners throughout the evening as we practiced the steps we were learning. It was interesting to me how some of my leads were very kind and patient. Others were critical, and some were even mean. But I wasn’t negatively impacted by the lack of patience or critical comments. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and had fun. It wasn’t that the comments didn’t hurt me. It was that the comments cannot hurt me. What hurts me is my self-judgment. I feel my beliefs, not the words someone says to me. And rather than this making me a doormat or a victim. It is one of the most empowering realizations of my life. My happiness is found within, and no one and no thing can take it away from me. It is who I am.
This does not mean that I don’t set healthy boundaries if needed or remove myself from situations that don’t align with my values. Actions and choices are still available to me even if I don’t feel hurt. And I am much better able to make healthy choices for myself from clarity rather than upset.
Angus’s and my relationship changed as a result of each one of us understanding the real source of suffering comes from believing the misunderstandings that tell us we are unlovable and acting out from these misunderstandings in our relationship.
Self-judgments are inaccurate, yet they are the source of suffering. Acting out from the pain of self-judgments creates more suffering for ourselves and each other.
This does not mean that a person can't physically harm another person or that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves and remove ourselves from harm's way, but what we feel emotionally is based on the meaning we make up. I have been hit in the face (not by Angus) and felt the pain of the sting while feeling love and compassion for the person who hit me because I could see how much they were suffering. I did also call 911 for safety reasons.
Before understanding that the only things that disturb my peace are my self-judgments and misunderstandings, when Angus expressed anger toward me, rather than having compassion and seeing that he had lost his bearings, I would take it personally and blame him for hurting me. It really looked like he caused me to feel hurt. I just didn’t see the role of my conditioning in creating my experience. His words didn’t cause me pain. It was my belief that his behavior and words meant I wasn’t good enough that hurt. I felt the pain of my beliefs about myself, not his words and actions.
When I understood the source of my suffering, I stopped trying to change him in the hopes it would make me feel better. Not only did my attempts to change him damage the rapport in our relationship because he experienced my attempts as criticism and judgment of him as not being good enough, which was accurate, but it also didn’t do anything to fix the negative beliefs about myself that were the real source of my suffering.
This doesn't mean that what he said to me was okay, but I wasn't feeling what he was saying to me. I was feeling my beliefs about myself.
Understanding where my experience was coming from and that my inner peace cannot be taken away from me by anyone other than myself changed everything for me, and it transformed our marriage in a way that no couples therapy had.
The transformation in our marriage did not begin with psychological healing. The healing came as a by-product of spiritual understanding.
What came first was having a deeper experience of true nature and a better understanding of where our experience comes from.
To be clear, I am not against people using psychotherapy techniques, or any other techniques for that matter, to support emotional regulation and healing. I don't see it as an either-or, but I do think psychotherapy can only take you so far within its framework.
Psychological understanding does not cross the chasm of the mystery the intellect can't understand, but by opening to the spiritual dimension, there is an impersonal, expansive, universal, heart-opening feeling of love that guides us to a deeper truth of who and what we are and even though there is no safety to be found in relationships, there is this love within that is the answer we are really looking for.
As Nisargadatta Maharaj said, "The mind creates the abyss. The heart crosses it.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In the first season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couple's intensive retreat programs that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilders Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.