Any of us can read these wise words by teacher Byron Katie and nod our heads in agreement. You’ve possibly heard time and time again about the learning that’s available in each and every interaction we have with others.
And it’s true.
You argue with your sister and get clearer about how much you want peace and connection with her. Your young son innocently points out the inconsistency between something you just did and an oft-repeated family rule. Your partner makes a casual comment that sends you into anger and you uncover an unhealed emotional wound from long ago.
Those closest to us offer countless opportunities for learning and growth…if we are open to the lessons.
Our relationships– particularly our love relationship or marriage– is much like a dojo. In martial arts traditions, the dojo is the practice hall or school where students are taught new techniques and where they go to hone their strength, discipline and skill through practice. It is the space where a novice can develop into a master.
Your relationship provides the very same space and potential for amazing emotional and spiritual growth…but only if you stay aware and let in what’s offered.
What usually happens for most of us is when we bump up against someone, we bypass the potential for learning and go straight to judgment, irritation, self-righteousness, resentment or fury.
This can lead to distance and disconnection in the relationship and the probability rises for a repeat experience of the same behaviors (in others and ourselves) again and again. This is why so many people go through a breakup and then later get into a completely new relationship which ends up feeling almost exactly like their old one.
When you’re closed to the lessons being offered by your teacher, the situations and faces may change, but the annoyance and anguish remain pretty much the same.
The wonderful news is this…
You are the one who gets to decide how you will learn and grow in your life. You get to make the choice to look at your partner’s criticism or meddling in a new way, one that gives you insight into your own habits– or to simply react to what’s going on, feel like a victim and fail to grow.
Open up to learning.
It’s all about approach. There’s no doubt that it can be a challenge when you feel triggered, put down or put off. The lesson is there waiting, but you can’t “hear” it. The one who hurt you seems nothing like what a “teacher” should be!
It helps to recognize what you do when you close down. How does it feel in your body? What words do you usually say? Think back to a time when you know you shut down and felt offended or irritated by something your partner (or another person) did. Try to be as objective as you can and “observe” your own self.
The more you understand what you do when you close down, the easier it will be to move yourself toward opening back up again. To make this shift, you may only need to notice what you are doing and then guide yourself back with words like, “What would help me learn from this moment instead?”
Take the expansion.
As you open back up, you’ll become more aware of what the lesson is that’s being offered to you. You can more easily consider what in this difficult moment is here for your growth and expansion.
This doesn’t mean that whatever your partner says or does is “right” or something you have to agree with and abide by. Acknowledging and accepting the opportunity for insight (into yourself and others) is what’s key. The lesson could be that you are now certain that you don’t like to be spoken to in a harsh or critical way. Or it could be that you see, through the mirror of your teacher’s words, that you are judgmental and narrow-minded sometimes too.
When you take the expansion, things can shift. You realize more clearly what your own habits are and you know what kind of a relationship and life you want for yourself and which direction to go to get there.
Choose your experience.
When you view your partner (and other loved ones) as a teacher, you make space for freedom. The freedom that comes with learning and the freedom that comes with choosing how you’d like your life experience to be are both right here when you take in the lessons offered by your interactions with others.
There are many things you cannot control in your life. If you try to dictate how others act and react or how conditions are, you will exhaust yourself and get frustrated quickly. But you can always choose how you meet whatever just happened and whatever is still going on. You can intend to learn from it.