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Relationships And Affinities
[Below is an email thread during the profound Noble Friendship Pod that I volunteered for.]
In the movie Jerry McGuire, there's the famous line: "You complete me." That kind of framing invariably turns our relationships into transactions. When we move our relationships in a more selfless direction, one thing becomes evident -- we can only say we love someone when we love them MORE than our sensations. :) So long people or situations help us feel good sensations, we want to be related -- otherwise, we toss them out by using some logic or another. Time after time, we keep rolling endlessly in innumerable scenarios of this organizing principle.
In our pod, we tease out the distinction between a connection, a relationship and an affinity. If a connection is a transactional interaction, a relationship is a much more multi-dimensional possibility. That distinction is easy to understand, even in the contrast between making a focused purchase online versus an experience of getting an ice-cream scoop at a store. But the difference between a relationship and an affinity invites a lot more nuance. :)
If the "me" part of me evokes "me" part of you, the best we can do is a relationship. It's the game of sensations, on repeat. :) Even when we perceive that someone makes us feel alive, safe, secure, inspired, validated etc. it's all going through the apparatus of our senses and sensations. Our body is always keeping score, and our ego is always trying to win that game. It's a step stronger than "me" kind of individualism, but it is still bounded by tremendous clinging. People go to wars to protect the "we".
As we free ourselves from this exhausting game, our sense of identity also shifts. Now, the "we" part of me arises and when that connects with the "we" part in you, even if momentarily, something far stronger than a relationship emerges. That's an affinity. It's a bond between values and values, or more accurately between two "web of relations". Imagine a magnetic pull where thousands of gears interlock in a snap of a moment, with the awakening of an intention. It requires a lot more work to step out of our "me" state and love unconditionally -- but the connection is much more substantial because it can't be hijacked by sensations.
Recently, I was with a friend who was sharing her mystical college experiences -- she used to massage her crippled landlord (to offset her monthly rent); sometimes she would look at her hands and feel repulsed, and then one time, she "went white" (her code word for going in a field beyond senses and thoughts, "jhana" or absorption), and she felt like those hands were simply divine. When she returned back, she said, "Now I know what Mother Teresa was probably living into -- she was never experiencing the poverty and disease that way we do. Everyone's hands feel like God's hands."
Of course, such deep states aren't a pre-requisite for forging affinities. Even if we are primarily housed in the "we" phase of transactional relationships, we can still have "beyond-we" moments. These are substantive moments. A big-hearted person of service, a true ladder and "karma yogi", is one who helps plug the gaps so others can create affinities. That is, I might have 80% capacity to create an affinity but if you come in to offer the remaining 20% in a creative way where the ignorance of "me" or "we" doesn't revolt from its confusion, that's a genuine benefit that pays dividends for a long time.
Building affinities, though, doesn't work like building a house in the realm of "me", "we" and "us". We aren't constructing or collecting the pieces, but like lego, the pieces just lock in together by natural order. Perhaps more like grace. The conditions that create the grace are rooted in our intention of compassion -- which can be held in any moment, with any small act of service.
In ServiceSpace, we often speak about the power of small acts. A typical interpretation is that many small acts put together can create a huge tornado. But that comes with the onerous liability of collecting "many" acts and hoping for a "tornado". A more accurate description is that any small act of compassion cultivates a rich field of affinities. Once the ceiling of me-to-me relationships becomes clear, the notion of collecting anything withers away. Our greatest offering is no longer an impact predicated on me-oriented relationships; rather, it is any act accompanied by the dissolution of "me" and trust in the emergent "We".
Instead of using circumstances for our sensations, we can choose to love others unconditionally -- serve emergence unconditionally, even if for a moment. It changes us, and the world.