Recently there was a great debate around the color of a dress. People across social media were debating whether a picture depicted a dress as blue with black lace fringe or white with gold lace fringe. They discussed the science behind the dual images. Yet I have been intrigued with an art and science of another kind -- one that connects people. I had the privilege of speaking to Rajshree Patel, an influential teacher in the field of personal and spiritual development. A dynamic woman with a profound presence, Rajshree has led workshops on stress management, leadership, diversity management, conflict resolution, relationships, child rearing and communication for more than two decades across the world.
I wanted to understand from her what makes a relationship work. She said, "A successful relationship is one where both the parties are clear that it is about giving and not really taking. Sometimes, people get involved not clear about what they are looking for which can create a problem later. They think that someone else will fill their emptiness or provide fulfillment to make them happier. But that's not how relationships work."
The connection with the self
I asked Rajshree to share more on the role of attraction and how practices such as meditation help in the pursuit of a long lasting relationship. "Attraction is separate from a committed relationship. When people are attracted to each other, it is hormones ... it is electricity that is short lived and will pass. If you are looking for companionship in a relationship, or looking to share your life with someone, then you have to go further and bring to the relationship a sense of giving rather than taking. The sense of giving is innate to us, yet we get stuck. This is because we are looking to fulfill our self -- whether in a relationship, or a provision outside of our self. To the degree that we know our self, to the degree that we are content and fulfilled, it is to that degree that we make any relationship successful. This could be romantic relationship, a life partnership, at work or with a sibling. One of the ways to know who we are, what our limitations are, how we function and the core essence of who we are is through meditation. The more we know our self, the more enriching is our life and relationships."
Equipped with a daily meditation practice, I realize how useful it is in clearing the mind and enabling effective communication. Yet often, people find it hard to understand that a meaningful connection can be sought and maintained by being in touch with their self. How can one sustain long term relationships, I asked. "The more connected you are to yourself, the more fulfilled you are, that much more lasting and supporting your relationship is. That much more you get out of what you intended the relationship to be. To be in a lasting relationship you need stamina. It's not enough just to be attracted. One needs a sense of commitment, courage and if we don't know our self, we are not that clear or powerful. We lack the strength that we need to go through the ups and downs in a relationship. Knowing your self -- being in touch with your self is what you bring to the relationship. And that makes it lasting and fulfilling. Every relationship works better when you come from a place of what is needed and what I can do."
Perhaps there is a deep seated need in us to be in love that is eternal. I asked Rajshree if it is possible to be in love that never ends. "The greatest love that never ends is the love for one self -- and from that place you can share your life with anyone. What we avoid in ourselves, we avoid in our relationships and what we know in our relationship, we bring to our relationships. The more loving we are to our self, the more loving we are in our relationships."
Conflicts are a given in any relationship. They bring with them a host of negative emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment et al. "How one could skillfully take care of conflicts?" I asked. "When the mind is relaxed, you produce less conflict. When the mind is stressed, you produce more conflict. Whatever is in our mind is what we create. Meditation is a practice of going inward to deeper levels of our self, and getting rest, clarity and connecting to something deep within us. When we interact from this place be it at work or home, that is what we bring to the table. You don't bring anything else than who you are to any relationship -- it doesn't matter what kind of a relationship. If conflicts do arise, then coming from this place you are more amicable to providing a solution rather than adding to the conflict."
I wanted to know more about the role of acceptance in managing a conflict since it can be daunting to accept people and situations as they are. "Acceptance is a mental experience. If you are internally in conflict by being stuck in the past or the future or in a state of what 'should have' and 'could have,' then naturally you will be less accepting in your life including relationships. Through meditation we increase our life force and relax so deeply internally that we can allow things to fall off. If we could be centered and have the energy, then we would be able to go through the challenges instead of walking away from them." In my own experience, meditation has helped me accept other's point of view -- and then move ahead to make the change. This strategy of active acceptance is far more productive in creating harmony than being caught up in the mind and reeling in conflict.
Providing another perspective on success in relationships, Aadesh Goyal, executive vice president and global head of Human Resources at Tata Communications, emphasized, "Relationships are based on trust. And the same thing applies at work. But how does one develop trust? The first step is to start from the place of trusting others. When one starts spending non-work time over coffee, meal or a corridor chat and discussing a wide variety of topics, it opens the gates and helps the other to see you as a person and not a title at work. If one starts like this, there are good chances of reciprocation, if not immediately, then after some sustained efforts. If you are considerate to others, at some point they are going to reciprocate. And this will create more understanding which will eventually convert into trust. We need to invest into a relationship by believing in the innate goodness that is there in almost everyone. And give everyone many chances. Not everything turns out to be right in the first attempt. We did not learn to play tennis in the first session. It took long number of hours over several weeks, practicing, and the same applies here."
I asked him to elaborate on the role of breathing practices such as Sudarshan Kriya and meditation that help build awareness. He said, "We need to have awareness so that we do not simply react to the thoughts that come into our mind, or the emotions that arise in us. Being aware helps us to make the right decisions. Over a period of time, the regular practice of these techniques creates the ability to be more aware. This increases productivity and makes relationships stronger. Good relationships at work are a force multiplier. When two people have a good personal relationship, their partnership and collaboration produces much faster and bigger results. The incidence and intensity of conflicts is lower, and when conflicts happen, they get resolved much faster because people are willing to give each other more leeway. There is no misunderstanding because people know each other; they are not doubting the intention of the other, nor suspecting that the other may be out to get them. And, the biggest impact of this is down the line, when the teams see their leader working well with others, they naturally do the same with the teams of the other leader. This creates a very positive environment at work. When two people don't have a good relationship, there is much higher chance of turf fights and conflicts that lead to a deadlock. And lot of people are feeling bad and down, fighting amongst themselves rather than with the opposite forces."
Sustainability in relationships
Often, we are conditioned to believe that equality in a relationship is key to success. Breaking this myth, Rajshree commented, "Equality in relationship is a misnomer. When you function from a position of equality in a relationship, that's when you create competition and comparison. If you could just see each other as 'unique' bringing different skills, gifts, talents and care to the relationship, then you would support each other. You are unique as you. You have some strengths and some lesser strengths. Similarly the other person, be it a spouse or a friend brings in certain strengths and lesser strengths. If you have agreed and committed to move ahead in life with harmony, you will discover that you support where the other is weak and the other will support where you are weak. But when you come from a space of equality, you will be constantly looking to divide and fairness comes into the picture. When you get into fairness, it is about your portion and my portion -- of division -- and that's where relationships fall apart. Where there is love, it's not about fairness. It is simply about love. It is about giving. If you are looking for meaning and purpose as a goal, then it is about giving."
Global humanitarian, spiritual leader and Founder of the Art of Living Foundation, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, "A relationship should come from a place of contributing, not demanding. Then it will be nurturing. But if it is in the way of what I can get from this person, then it can be disturbing. However, when you go from an attitude that I will be a part of this person and will contribute to their life, then the relationship will be smoother."
In response to a question on what is success in love, Sri Sri said, "Love is not a business to have success or failure. It is not a career to have success or failure. Love is not even an emotion. Love is your nature! Whether you express it or not, it is there. Some people may understand you and some may not. Some who are in love with you might not be so forever. People who have lived together for many years, and had said at one point that they were made for each other, suddenly find that they were never compatible, and that they never got along. Suddenly people feel suffocated and want to go their own ways. For love to be preserved, there needs to be knowledge or wisdom in it. Love with wisdom is eternal bliss. Love with selfishness or for individual pleasure, sooner or later will bring misery and heart break. If your love is there to help others, nobody can destroy it, but if your love is to get something from the other, sooner or later, it will be broken into pieces."
Join Rajshree Patel live for an engaging conversation on self inquiry, practical wisdom, harmony in relationships, happiness and more at tiny.cc/myhappiness2015.