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Dave Richo

Celebrating the Ways We Can Be Together
by David Richo, Ph.D.

Alfred North Whitehead proposed that the world is composed of a series of innumerable bursts of momentary, discontinuous activity. Each moment he calls an “actual occasion.” Perhaps an I-and-you experience is just such an actual occasion like all the other realities in the universe.

In our transference onto someone, the other person is a holder of our history, our unconscious. A true I-you moment is one in which transference and projection vanish and all we see is the real person. This happens in the moments in which we are present with the five A's: We are affectionately attentively, acceptantly, and appreciatively present to the other as she is in that moment. We are open to perceive her for who she is, what she is saying, and what she is feeling. This is how someone feels truly loved by us.

The Five Things We Cannot Change by David Richo

In such moments —and they usually are only moments— we are unguarded because in them we let go of our past long enough to be here now. Love unfolds best between two real people who greet one another with no phantoms from either’s past crouching in the room. Only then is there room for intimacy.

Such present-moment love restores, repairs, and rebuilds the inner world of our psyche, perhaps long ago misshapen or damaged. Then, through a combination of our work on ourselves and the confirming love others give us, a coherent sense of ourselves and an esteem for ourselves can emerge, however slowly or shyly. This increase in awareness and self-definition makes it possible to return love to others in the same confirming way. The beautiful paradox is that we receive and thereby learn to give. This is another example of the trustworthy economy of intimacy. We do not have to learn anything new, only renew. We do not have to give anything new, only give back.

In a true you-and-I relationship we are present mindfully, non-intrusively, the way we are present with things in nature. We do not tell a birch tree it should be more like an elm. We face it with no agenda, only an appreciation that becomes participation: “I love looking at this birch” becomes “I am this birch” and then “I and this birch are opening to a mystery that transcends and holds us both.” In such moments, the ego has no wish for self-aggrandizement or domination. It is no longer triggered by transferences nor guarded by defenses. Instead, there is an engagement of individual liberties in a single unity.

How do we contact others just as they are without our own portraiture in the way? It is the mindful presence that happens with the five A's and without ego mindsets— fear, desire, judgment, interpretation, control, fantasy. This quality of presence frees us from the central mindset of dividing people into categories or pigeonholes. Then we can know and love others with mindfulness. Perhaps mindfulness is not only a practice but something we want to receive.

We cannot eliminate mindsets since they are natural to the mind but we can place them in brackets rather than make them the subjects and predicates of our inner life. We do this when we notice and label our mindset reactions rather than act on them. Mindfulness meditation is the practice that helps us do this.

In a relationship, we can sit mindfully with a problem and shave off mindsets to see what it is really about: “What is this issue with my partner without the layers of fear, judgment, the need to fix or control, my illusions about it, my transferences around it?”

Mindsets are the habits of the conceptual mind. Mindfulness undermines the mindsets and thus frees us from dualism because it endorses only the here and now as real. There is no interference from the mindset of a fear of there or wish for elsewhere. There is no distraction by past or future, the fuels of transferences. There is only now. Practicing loving-kindness frees us from any remaining sense of separateness. This is how our spiritual work makes us more adept at relating in projection-free ways and therefore more loving. Can I stand your full-on presence or will I keep hiding behind my  transferences?

The true self waits for just the right conditions before it can reveal its unconditioned identity. We all wait for the one who can say: “I am only I and you are only you and that is quite wonderful.” This nurturant and yet entirely momentary you-and-I contains such a poignant irony: what we need from one another most is most ephemeral, evanescent. Yet no one is to blame. Momentariness is a given of every you-and-I relationship that is truly evolving.

The Buddhist belief in impermanence reflects this universal realization. So does mindfulness since it is usually experienced in moment by moment awarenesses in which we are finally free from what appear to be stable conditions. Only in such unconditioned moments can unconditional love become a believable possibility for us.

A term from algebra may help us be more exact about mindful moments of I-and-you relating. An asymptote is a curve that gets increasingly closer to a line on a graph without ever reaching it. The word in Greek means “never intersecting.” Perhaps this is a more accurate description of what happens in intimate moments. We keep getting closer but never fully achieve the I-Thou experience. At best, we achieve approximations. This algebraic term gives hope to those of us who have noticed how well-nigh impossible an absolutely authentic recognition of another and total presence to her can really be. There is no total merger, no unmediated perception, no complete escape from conditioned consciousness—but we can keep getting better. We can bracket our mindsets, transferences, and projections long enough to see well enough and let that be enough.

Mindfulness is a moment by moment awareness, so brevity is legitimate. Mindfulness is appropriate etiquette in the midst of life’s impermanence. Mindfulness helps us love in a transitory world. One of the most touching things about us humans is that we realize the truth of impermanence and near-missing of one another but that cannot stop us from loving with all our might, from bonding with one another with what Shakespeare calls “hoops of steel.” This is not illogical, mistaken, foolish, or tragic. It is how we override the condition of impermanence with unconditional love. It is how love lives on whether or not lovers do.

In any case, no moment is ever trivial since any moment points to the exit into enlightenment. Indeed, awakening is a moment in which we glimpse the unconditioned mind, what Buddha called nirvana, a complete freedom from attachment, the result of our utter letting go of irrational fear and addictive desire. William Wordsworth saw this as:

A flash of the invisible world:
‘Twas a moment’s pause,
All that took place within me came and went
As in a moment….


Here are the psychological practices that help us in working on relationship problems when we practice them with a partner. They are the prerequisites for presence, mindfulness, and loving-kindness.

We begin by simply noticing the physical facts about others as they are in this very moment: he is standing; he is talking; he is waving his arms; he is looking to the right. This practice of ruthless focus on the bare here and now reality is a way to break through transference because we limit our focus to what is, rather than let ourselves be seduced by what we are projecting. Projection seems to make everything definite and unalterable; attention to the here and now shows us how everything keeps changing.

Allied to this is asking someone what she is really saying or feeling or repeating what we hear to make sure we understood her. We ask her if we got it right. This corrects any possible fantasy or transference into a reality.

Whenever possible we make our transference conscious and call ourselves on it, acknowledging the object of our transference as a spin-off of earlier stories. We ask ourselves: “Who is she like?”

We ask others to point out what they may see as our transferences onto them.

We notice when we are trying to find in others what we lost out on in childhood. We pay attention to how we are trying to recapture moments so we can re-do them or be done with them. Simply pointing and naming in that conscious way makes an exponential impact on clearing up our comedy of errors.

We commit ourselves to address, process, resolve, and integrate our transferences.

Learning to be present to someone without the interferences of transference consists first in setting an ongoing intention to be present fully in an I-to-you way. When we are then actually with others, we can check in with ourselves by ticking down the list of the five A's:

Am I paying attention or am I planning what will I say next? Am I on the defensive rather than open? Am I noticing feelings and body language or am I hearing only words?

Am I accepting him as he is or passing a judgment on his lifestyle or behavior? Am I censuring him for his choices or orientation in life?

Do I appreciate her or am I devaluing or minimizing her? Do I see her worth and cherish it? Do I value the place she has in my life or am I taking her for granted?

Do I feel affection, i.e., friendliness, or do I fear closeness and distance myself from her? Do I show physical affection in appropriate ways? Do I show intimacy by holding and touching or only through sex?

Am I allowing him to be himself or trying to control his behavior?

We may notice two common automatic styles of behavior that interfere with allowing: We see something or someone appealing and want to grab and cling. This is attachment, the result of neediness. Alternatively, we are scared or repelled and want to run: “Get me out of here.”

In authentic presence we let go of the grab-and-cling style in favor of allowing something or someone to come and go at will. We let go of addictive clinging while still being able to hold and relate to others. For instance, we stay in relationship with a relaxed rather than controlling grasp so that the other feels free and yet connected.

We let go of the “get me out of here” escape by allowing ourselves simply to stay with what is happening, to let it have its full career of feelings in us. When we repress our feelings or hide from reality, we are aggressively attempting to control ourselves and the world. For example, we fear finding out about our health status so we avoid appropriate testing. Instead, we can bite the bullet and be tested, feeling all the feelings that go with the experience.

Mindfulness is practiced first in daily meditation in which we sit silently and simply notice our thoughts rather than entertaining or rejecting them. Our tendency is to entertain the appealing thoughts and dispel the unappealing thoughts. When we treat them as equal, we begin to lose our track of our tendency to grab on or escape events and emotions that arise in the course of the day. We can tolerate what is unpleasant; we do not have to become addicted to what is pleasurable. This is how the mindful style of dealing with thoughts help us find equanimity in life, an imperturbability in the face of storm and stress. We are no longer swayed by what beckons or repels; we are no longer conditioned selves but unconditionally present to what is, in its purest spaciousness.

We are also letting go of the mindsets that are so common in our daily thoughts: fear of what might befall us, desire to hold on, judgment of others, attempts to control others or control the predicaments life presents to us, and finally indulgence in illusion rather than loyalty to life as it is and to others as they are.

We bring what we experience in meditation into our daily lives, both cognitively and behaviorally: Mindfulness affects us cognitively in that it is paying attention without labeling. Mindsets are “thoughts about.” Mindfulness is awareness of how we think. We begin to see just how thought and reality are constructed and we smile benignly. Mindsets evoke stressful feeling reactions based on fear or desire. Mindfulness changes our emotional experience so we can be present without reacting from such compulsions. Mindsets seek out what is pleasant and avoid what is unpleasant, thereby attempting to control experience. Mindfulness shows us ways of tolerating any experience so that our fears can be dispelled and our desires can be less demanding. The customary escapes are relinquished in favor of openness to what is. This inviting of the ever-flowing newness into our lives releases us from the need for projection and transference.

We can't expunge the past from the present. Yet, in mindfulness, we can relate to the present without being attached to or blinded by the transferences that surround our past experience. We can mindfully detach and disidentify from the transferred past or the feared or desired future. We do this as we label our thoughts and calm our adrenaline reactiveness rather than oppose or entertain them.

Loving-kindness/metta is a practice in Buddhism by which we may wish four immeasurable spiritual gifts to ourselves and others: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. We intend each of these, one at a time, first for ourselves, then for those we love, then for those to whom we may be indifferent, then for those with whom we have difficulties, and finally for all beings. Our arc of love thus widens from our own hearts to those of all humanity. What seemed so separate now appears as it really is, one. Our common human goal of happiness makes us realize our oneness.

We can use this same practice by beaming kind thoughts and wishes to those who hurt or disturb us. Loving-kindness is not an alternative to standing up for ourselves; it is an addition. We stand up for ourselves and we complete our transaction with others by aspirations that they may find the qualities that lead to enlightenment.

We can design the loving-kindness practice in a variety of ways. Loving-kindness is an attitude of friendliness and warmth toward all beings. It also shows itself in our behavior. We act in ways that promote the good of others rather than only our own self-interest. When our loving-kindness notices someone’s happiness, it attunes to it rather than envying it. When our loving-kindness encounters pain, it transforms into compassion. When our loving-kindness is struck by how upset and out of control people become, it transmutes itself into equanimity and wishes that for them. Thus loving-kindness helps us experience and extend to others at the same time.

We combine mindfulness and loving-kindness as we look into the pure reality of who we are rather than be caught in our concepts, biases, and beliefs. We rest in openness to openness. Perfect love happens in that nameless domain. When we try to love outside it, in the restricted land of projections, transferences, and expectations, we fail since we are exiled from the only land where love can be born. It is the land with no national name, established religion, ethnic purity, geographical boundary. There, with our passport of loving-kindness, we welcome everyone under one sky, on one earth.

As our practice of loving-kindness takes hold in us, it becomes a commitment, even a calling.  Then, in all that happens to us and in every way others treat us, we see opportunities to love more. Every issue and person becomes an opening of our hearts.

“Create a small piece of paradise here on earth by loving and embracing each other and by loving and embracing the whole world. The cruelty, chaos, and pain of daily living cannot dim your vision of everlasting, perfect love as long as you maintain your precious friendships.” --St. Aelred

Copyright © David Richo, Ph.D. This article is excerpted from the Past is Present (Shambhala, July 2008).


Unexpected Miracles by David Richo Mary Within by David Richo Shadow Dance by David Richo How to Be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo

Dave Richo
David Richo, Ph.D., M.F.T., is a psychotherapist, teacher, and writer in Santa Barbara and San Francisco California who emphasizes Jungian, transpersonal, and spiritual perspectives in his work. He is the author of: The Five Things We Cannot Change (Shambhala, 2005), How To Be An Adult (Paulist, 1991), When Love Meets Fear (Paulist, 1997), Unexpected Miracles: The Gift of Synchronicity and How to Open It (Crossroad,1998) , Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your Dark Side (Shambhala, 1999) and Catholic Means Universal: Integrating Spirituality and Religion (Crossroad, 2000).  For a catalog of David Richo’s tapes and events, please visit www.davericho.com.


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