Monday, August 22, 2011

John Welwood On Love, Relationships, And The Caged Soul

The soul cage
Perhaps you learned to be tough in order to survive in your family, or to gain respect or approval. So you come to think of yourself as "someone who's in command" -- and that becomes your soul cage. When you find a good, loving relationship, it will confront you with how this identity obstructs an open, direct meeting between you and the one you love. Your compulsion to be in control also cuts you off from a whole range of inner resources -- spontaneity, trust, receptivity to love, letting go, facing the unknown, and genuine strength. If you want to be fully present to life and to another person, this identity has to dissolve.
But of course, you're likely to feel tremendous resistance at that point, because your whole sense of self -- your survival, strength, and self-approval -- is so tied up with being tough and in control.
What to do
The operative principle is to start where you are. We need to feel and open to the pain of being stuck inside the prison of our old self-concepts. And we need to recognize that our love is calling on us to break out of this prison and become the vast being we truly are.
We often feel tremendous resistance to letting love all the way into us, because love is a power that can break open the shell of the false self. We start to think: "I didn’t get into a relationship to have my most precious strategy for security and survival threatened like this!" At this point, we imagine something is desperately wrong -- with ourselves, with our partner, or with the relationship. Yet this is actually a tremendous opportunity to break through to a larger and truer sense of who we are.
Focus on suffering
Not just suffering -- because everyone suffers anyway -- but conscious suffering. Making your suffering conscious. Having to maintain control is suffering, but you may not realize that until your love for another shows you how trapped you are in that identity. Because love makes you want to expand and connect, it also lets you see what's keeping you contracted and isolated.
Identity and belief
When we put an identity structure under the microscope of awareness, we find that it is made of a number of little beliefs linked together. Each of those beliefs needs to be exposed. If you always have to be in control, for instance, what beliefs are behind that? Maybe you imagine that if you're not in control, others will control you. Or maybe you think that being in command is the only way you can get respect. It helps to understand what purpose this control identity serves -- because it did serve a useful function at some point in the past. Becoming free of that structure requires this kind of inquiry.
Conscious relationship can be a vehicle for regenerating soul in our culture, for rediscovering community and sacredness in daily life. Through learning to speak truthfully and listen respectfully to one other person, we start to practice genuine meeting and dialogue -- which is exactly what our world most needs on the collective level.

- Excerpts authored by John Welwood, from "Conscious Love and Sacred Community"

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