How Relationships Offer Us Everyday Transformation

Invited to contribute an article to my friend’s Doors of Transformation on-line magazine. You can link to it here, or just read it below.


“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”

Carl Jung

Once upon a time two travelers decided to leave the village and try their luck in a new environment.

Both were keen to visit a nearby town of interest so, seeking some advance information, they consulted the renowned sage of the area with their shared question:

“Tell us Oh Sage – what sort of community do you have there? What are the people like?”

“Of course I will tell you. But first, tell me if you will, can you describe the community you have just left? How did you find the people there? Why do you wish to leave them and venture afar now?”

The first traveler jumped in with a sigh. “Oh Sage – I have had a dreadful time of it which is why I am leaving – to seek my fortune amongst better folks. The people in the old town are mean spirited, cold hearted, not inclusive nor kind nor curious. They seem to look at me with nothing but contempt and judgment. I am desperate to put some distance between myself and that place!”

 “Oh, I am so sorry!” said the Sage. “You will most certainly be disappointed here for they are all just like that!”

With a stamp of frustration the traveler turned and left in the opposite direction.

The second traveler was looking on in amazement. “Oh Sage!” he burst forth,

“but I have had such fortune there!  I have laughed and loved and learned so much! I have been feasted and included in the day to day of many lives! I only leave now for sheer joy to see if the world is full of wonderful souls or whether these people are uniquely delightful!”

“Oh, I am so happy!” said the Sage. “You will most certainly not be disappointed here for they are all just like that!”

To the extent we are that first traveler, what can we learn from the second?

As Jung notes – when we allow ourselves to be touched by another we may be transformed. But in what way? Clearly all villages have their fill of fiends, fear mongers and frauds as well as sweethearts, sages and saints.

Why do some folks become cynical, disillusioned and hopeless while others seem to overflow with so much warmth, goodwill and kindness that these inner qualities transform any external situation – like a beam of light transforms the darkness?

The key, it seems to me, is to take control of the only things you can – your own heart and your own mind. Every encounter invites you to deepen your ability to be the second traveler.

“Ye s yes!” you say (with perhaps a hint of frustration).

“But you’ve not met my uncaring boss, nor my grouchy spouse, nor my defiant rude child; nor my back-stabbing friend, nor my narcissistic mother, nor my garrulous neighbor.  Sometimes my day is one long dodge and weave session through land mines of other peoples’ emotional sludge!”

OK – fair enough. This is probably what the first traveler saw when he took stock of his unsatisfying day-to-day interactions. It may never have occurred to you to consider transforming these encounters.  If you are like most of us, it would be more apt to say you alternate between tolerating, ignoring, getting angry with, giving helpful feedback to or having a drink to numb your feelings about  – your boss, spouse, child, friend, mum and neighbor.  

These are coping strategies – but you’re reading a magazine about transformation so clearly you want more.

Let’s go back to the key being your own heart and mind. Two of your most powerful muscles – OK technically the brain is an organ not a muscle, but it operates like a muscle to the extent it responds to exercise (try telling that to your kidneys). With your heart you can choose a different feeling. With your mind you can choose a different response.

Here are three ideas that will allow you to cultivate a “second traveler” mind set:

1.     Choose to see the other as a mirror ~ Notice the judgments you have about someone else and ask yourself, “To what extent am I like this? Where in my life am I uncaring, grouchy, defiant, back-stabbing, narcissistic and boringly talkative?” And in your heart, thank this person for showing you so perfectly that which you could choose to improve upon in your own life.

2.      Choose kindness ~ When someone is generating symptoms (I see unhelpful behaviors as symptoms of unmet needs) consider asking the person about it. If your boss seems uncaring, might she be under huge pressure? Could you ask how she is? Might your spouse need some understanding? Your child some slack?

3.     Choose compassion ~  A deeper blend of the two above, you could practice a form of Tonglen meditation,. First note your judgment. “My spouse is grouchy.” Next connect to the suffering behind the grouchy. What might your spouse be feeling that is generating the symptom of “grouchy”? Maybe exhaustion, overwhelm, fear, irritation? Thirdly, quietly allow yourself to connect with that pain and breathe it in. A long, deep, slow in-breath sucking up all that sadness. Then, breathe out what you want for your spouse: peace, joy, happiness, solace. Send to them waves of good things. And let it be.

Over time, this will transform you into a second traveler. One who sees it all, learns from the judgments, offers kindness to the sad and connects with the universality of all through a deep breath of love.

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