As a child, Michael Barnett went on vacation every year with his family to Broadstairs, on the southeast coast of England. On the beach, there was always a Punch and Judy show, a small tent with an opening like a stage at the top. A puppeteer would hide inside the tent and control his puppets: Punch and Judy, a husband and wife who were constantly fighting. One year, when Michael was about seven, he went to the beach with his brother, David, who was a few years older. The two boys got separated near the tent. Young Michael forgot about his brother as he wandered on his own, past all the other shows and entertainments. But eventually he returned to the Punch and Judy show, looking for David. This time he approached from the back.
“I saw a man kneeling in a box, his hands in the air. On one hand was Punch, and on the other was Judy. With my beloved Punch and Judy as gloves, he was creating the whole show, all by himself. I stopped, open-mouthed. I was absolutely shocked — it was like realizing that Santa Claus does not exist. I thought, ‘My God, it’s all a game! And what’s more, Punch and Judy are the same person! From the front, they are fighting each other. From the back, it is one man playing out a struggle, pretending a war between a man and a woman. What are they arguing about, why are they attacking each other? They are the same! Punch and Judy are the same person. This guy is both.’
“Of course I didn’t interpret it then as I do now. This is the truth I have discovered, that we are all Punches and Judys . . . husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters — we are all playing Punch and Judy, ultimately. But every Punch-and-Judy in the world is the same person. When you argue with your lovers and your friends, you are all the same person.”
We all have hundreds of relationships in our lives: with our parents, our children, our friends, and our co-workers. When we leave the privacy of the meditation cushion and the sweetness of our solitude, we discover in these myriad relationships both the greatest challenge to our awakening and also the greatest opportunity to deepen it. In this chapter we will address relating in a general way; in the next we will focus more specifically on sexual, intimate relationships.
Our normal habit of relating, influenced by Iago’s whisper, is to feel everyone as separate, and therefore to act and speak strategically. As long as we are in the grip of Iago’s assumptions, even when trying to be altruistic, we are still driven by the obsession with “me”: How do I fulfill my needs, What am I feeling, How can I express my truth? It is, in fact, this underlying feeling of separation that causes us suffering in relationships, more than who said or did what to whom. From the vantage point of separation, we inevitably try to fit the other into our world and, without even trying, become unconsciously manipulative. The stakes are too high, the unmet needs and fears too great, to allow us to do otherwise.
Whenever you’re being phony,
Machiavellian, manipulating other
people by withholding, creating a story,
or indoctrinating people, you end up
cheating yourself of contact with that
other person. The reason for telling the
truth is to have some authentic contact
or intimate experience in your life.
— Brad Blanton
We then enter into unspoken agreements to support each other in a drama of need. “I’ll go along with your story, if you’ll go along with mine.” A relationship based on mutual need is called codependent. We are both trying to fill a sense of lack that only exists in belief.
Tensions can run so high with this mutual dependency that we are willing either to lie or to avoid talking about important issues to keep the situation manageable. Sparing someone’s feelings, maintaining harmony, and avoiding feeling foolish or needy or vulnerable become higher values than honesty, integrity, or innocence. Our relating becomes a way to reinforce Iago’s grip, and even to strengthen it, rather than being in the service of love. Secrets and lies are what we have learned to live with. The sense of separation and otherness causes us to see the source of every problem and feeling of discomfort as external. If I don’t feel good, it is because you made me feel that way. I need you to change to make things all right again. Iago-based relating is founded in blame, in holding the outside world responsible for how we feel.
When we relate to each other from a place of separation, we act as if the other person is on the far side of a deep canyon. We can shout and wave and find empathy in our feelings of isolation. So-called skillful communication means building a stable and well-constructed bridge between one side and another to effect transactions. But even then, the deep feeling of isolation has not been addressed.
SPIRITUAL MYTH #6: Awakened people do not need anything from anyone. They do not have relationships, since they feel oneness with everything.
SPIRITUAL MYTH #7: It does not matter what you say or do. Once you are enlightened, every action, even lying or manipulating, is spontaneously for the good of all beings.
SPIRITUAL MYTH #8: After an awakening, there is only peace and harmony with everyone, with no need to do anything. Translucent relationships are always harmonious.
The secret Michael Barnett discovered on the beach in England is at the core of translucent relating. In the Iago trance, we appear to be separate entities, with independent sources of thought, affecting each other with our words and actions. With focused inquiry, we come to know who we really are: we recognize that what is really meeting this moment is limitless space, context more than content. We can call this recognition self-realization. You can also look into the eyes of another and discover who is looking back at you. We need to look beyond the appearance of a face, a name, and an agenda and find out who is really there, behind those eyes, seeing you.
To read more about translucent relationships and translucent living in general, pick up your very own copy of Translucent Revolution today.