I am sure many of you must have heard the story of Procrustes of Greek Mythology. Procrustes had a beautiful house on the way from Athens to Eleusis. It was a long journey, and the path was challenging to travel. Procrustes had this beautiful house along this path in the middle of the forest. The travelers who are tired and exhausted by a long day's journey undoubtedly rejoice when they see Procrustes' inn.
Procrustes, a great host, welcomes the guests to his house for delicious food and a good rest. He provides them with good food and wine. Procrustes knew how to entertain his visitors. He finally tells his hosts that he has a bed that fits any size. The weary traveller, happy to rest his feet, quickly accepts the invitation.
Procrustes then take his visitor to the bedroom. Alas, there lies a beautiful bed with flowery bedsheets, warm blankets, and soft pillows. Now comes the twist of the story. Procrustes observes the host climbing on the bed and stretches to have a nice rest. However, no one will exactly fit the length of a bed. The traveller could be either short for the bed or long extending his legs or head overhanging the bed. As soon as the weary traveller rests in the bed, two metallic livers lock the traveller firmly to the bed. If the victim was shorter than the bed, he stretched him by hammering or racking the body to fit. If the victim was longer than the bed, he cuts off the legs to make the body fit the bed's length.
In either way, the traveller died.
The bed of Procrustes is similar to the Karmic bed in our mind. Our mental and physical Karma decides the bed's size, and we expect everyone to fit into that bed. If they don't fit it, we try to cut them to size.
This is what we usually do in our relationships.
While we are dating, we are very sweet to our partners, offering them all kinds of goodies., equivalent to Procrustes food and wine. Once they become our spouse, we start trying to size them to fit into our molds. By doing so, we either kill their morale and make them live like our slaves or force them to run away from us.
Most of the relationships fail because of our partner's Procrustesian sizing up; by doing that, we force the other person to shrink to minimal space in their mental spectrum.
Procrustes' bed is the most dangerous part of any relationship. One of the most excellent relationships advise I have ever heard was from a Buddhist Lama. It goes like this: "If I am I because you are you and You are You because I am I, then I am not I, and you are not you. If I am I because I am I and you are you because You are you, then we are in harmony". Perfect harmony in any relationship happens only if both partners' individuality is kept like holy temples. The word individual means something indivisible. Each person is a whole in itself.; we cannot cut their identity to fit into our beds. If both the partners understand this concept, then there would be perfect harmony in the relationships.
Here are a few tips for throwing away Procrustes Axe and to cultivate a harmonious relationship with anyone
Expand your mind
Do you know which is the most significant and ugliest prison we could ever find in this world? That is our own mind. And unfortunately, most of us are prisoners of our minds. An impure mind can never be free. However, the extent of the mind's expansion is inversely proportional to the impurities in our minds. In other words, the more impure the mind is, the more constricted it becomes.
When the other person talks, our impure mind repeatedly sizes him or her to fit into our mind's impurities. By impurities, I mean the negative thought and the negative preconceptions from our memory. This means that we misinterpret what others say because we try to size their words into our bed of Procrustes.
How to clean up and expand the mind? Just as we are capable of changing the body by exercise, we can also change our minds. Changing the mind involves a deliberate thought process (DTP) and Meditation. The deliberate thought process involves replacing any harmful, destructive, and mind constricting thought with positive or neutral thoughts, thus cleaning up that part of the mind. As the mind gets cleans up, it expands to receive more and more bliss.
For example, if your partner or any other person says something unpleasant, our immediate response would be anger. The anger boils in our mind, and if the mind has no space to contain the steam of anger, it explodes. This situation is similar to Procrusteses Axe. You try to fit in the other person's remarks or behavior into your bed.
Imagine if you have an expanded mind and enough space to contain the steam – then the anger will have enough space to move around. You will have to gain time to rationalize the situation and come up with a different response. Hence, between a stimulus received from the other person and your response's quality lies in your mental space. The expanded the mind; the purer would be the response, and the constricted the mind, the more ugly would be the response.
Acknowledge the stimulus, then give a bit of space before even contemplating it. If it is not life-threatening or anything severe, don't react; just let it go. However, to reach this state of mind, one needs to practice Meditation. Meditation is the only tool that can expand your mind—meditation tones down your Karmic acidity.
Clear up the corner of your Karmic Warehouse
We all carry a lot of Karmic junk in our mind about others.
Most of these junks are rotten, outdated, and incorrect. These Karmic junks originate from unpleasant past incidents —the rustic part of your brain stores these incidents as a potential threat for the future. The moment you sit and rationalize, in most cases, you realize that the rustic Brain is bluffing you. However, this part of the Brain is too smart. It never tells you why you should hate a person. Still, it releases some toxic neurotransmitters so that the' hate circuit' of your neurons gets fired.
The only way you can get out of the Brain's hoodwinking is to be vigilant whenever a thought about another person originates in your mind. You can quieten your Brain by identifying at least three good things the person has done for you. If that doesn't work, practice forgiveness. If the person has ever wronged you, you mentally recall that incident and tell yourself that you have forgiven her/him.
Meditation prepares your mind for Karmic cleansing.
Holy Space or SCR Technique
"Between Stimulus and Response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness" – Victor Frankl.
Victor Frankl was a neuropsychologist and a German holocaust survivor. Space what Victor Frankl refers to is the space where all our growth and happiness lie. I prefer to call this space the Holy Space of mind.
In any relationship conflict, it is imperative to find your footing in this Holy Space. At this space, you get the flexibility to respond. That is the ability to pause before you act. Whenever you receive an emotional stimulus such as a driver cuts you off on the highway, or when your spouse shouts at you, instead of reacting immediately as you usually would, get into the holy space and pause for a few moments. This pause is your Holy Space, which helps you execute your choice on how to respond. The only way to increase the Holy Space bandwidth is through Meditation.
By Meditation, you can expand your mind, and as the mind expands, so is your Holy Space. The more space you have there, the more calm and peaceful you become. By doing this, you become aware of the present moment, instead of wandering in your Karmic Warehouse of the past (Prarabda Karma) or the virtual warehouse of the future (Agami Karma).
Breathing is one of the powerful tools to increase your Holy Space.
The formula is Stimulus – Conscious Breathing – Respond, SCR in short.
The first step in the SCR training is to identify the stimulus. If the stimulus is taken as a threat by your ancient Brain, the Brain will immediately make your body prepared for flight, flee or freeze. The Flight Flee of Freeze or F3 Mode is the mode chosen by your sympathetic nervous system when your Brain perceives a threat. The sympathetic nervous system releases various hormones to prepare the body to escape from the danger. Unfortunately, most of these stimuli we receive in modern life are not real threats, but our Brains mistakenly perceive them as threats. The sympathetic nervous system mistakenly prepares us to enter the R3 mode. To get out of the false situation, you should get into the Holy Space.
The second step in the SCR training is to stay in your Holy Space as long as possible (Breath). Space where you do not do anything other than observing your body. The Brain's chemical changes give you enough signals to identify your body in the F3 mode. At this point, you should see the emotions as a biological phenomenon due to chemical changes. You feel this situation, but you are not in this situation. When you realize that the feeling is due to your body's physiological changes, you move from "I am angry" to "I feel anger in my body" state. While taking a deep breath, you are consciously shifting the body physiology from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings the body to a calm and composed state.
The third step is to respond rationally and think of how not to aggravate the situation and look at the other person with compassion, forgiveness, and love. Even if there is a serious issue to be discussed, this is not the time.
Pranayama or breathing meditation can help you create the Holy Space in your mind. The more you practice pranayama, the more Holy Space you will have.
Listening is a significant skill we need to acquire to have a fruitful relationship with anyone. Be it your spouse, boss, or friend, keep your mouth shut when the other person is talking. We all have an instinctual drive to interrupt the other person because we always want to drive our points home during a conversation. However, ironically listening was one of the critical skills our hunter-gatherer ancestors had. They had to listen for survival. The most excellent tool they had to identify the threat around them was to listen to the sounds. A rustling of grass could be a venomous snake., a footstep could be that of a saber tooth tiger. We lost this skill of listening during the evolution, and instead, we developed a very short attention span. Our mind jumps from one thought to another like a monkey jumping from one branch of a tree to another.
The good news is that skill of listening can be acquired. It can be practiced. So, if you want to keep a relationship sweet and long-lasting, the first thing to do is listen to the other person attentively. This is one way of telling them that you are interested in them. Please don't get me wrong; this is not hypocrisy. Even to differ to an opinion, the primary thing to do is to listen. Next time when someone talks to you, listen. Let your urge to interrupt go. If the urge becomes irresistible, take a couple of deep breaths, and continue listening. Yes., just listen.. keep listening... through listening flows the love and warmth. The witness is the silent listener., so you should be.
Krishna listened without interruption when Arjun spoke in the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita. Listening is the greatest weapon to conquer any heart.
Jesus said, "Pay Attention to what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and you who hear, more will be given" (Mark 4 24)
Meditation increases your listening skill. The mind becomes tamed and will develop the ability to pause and assimilate before responding.
Do not Blame but take responsibility
When you blame a person, that means the other person does not fit into your system of thoughts or your karmic bed. Blaming a person tells you are trying to size that person up. Everyone is likely to make mistakes. Unless it is life-threatening, there is no need to react to the other person's mistakes. Learn just to let it go.
The example which I often cite is that of traffic rage. When someone cuts you off in heavy traffic, your immediate response would be to hoot and swear at that person. The driver who cut you off could not hear you. But you still swear and shout. Will it change anything? By shouting and swearing, you only increase the cortisol level in your blood, and nothing will happen to the driver who cut you off. So instead of blaming the other driver, use your deliberate thought process (DTP) to convert your anger and anxiety into compassion. You can tell your agitated mind that the person may have someone injured in his car, and he is taking that person to the hospital. You can create a compassionate story to any level your imaginations can take you. Unless it is a life-threatening situation, do not react. Jut let it go. The same thing is applied to relationships as well. If the other person does something detrimental to you, use your DTP to reverse the effect of any negative thoughts. Catch the anger before it arises.
We think that whatever situation we are in now and what we are feeling now is because of the external circumstances, including other people. We believe that your happiness depends on the other person's behavior. That means you are handing over the remote control of your happiness to the other person. This is where the blame comes most of the time in relationships. So, instead of looking at others for your happiness, look within yourself. You hold the key to your happiness. The more you blame others, the more agitated you become and more constricted your mind becomes. When the mind becomes constricted, you can be the victim of anger, jealousy, and other negative emotions. Here also, one needs to practice letting go and learn to take responsibility for whatever happens to you. If you are willing to take responsibility for good things happening to you, you should take responsibility for bad things.
Tail Piece (I would rather call it Head Peace)
I cannot conclude a blog on relationships without mentioning my favorite relationship guru, John Gottman. John is an American Psychologist who was researching marital stability and relationship analysis over the past four decades.
John says that we can only "manage" a relationship conflict and not "resolve" because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide growth and understanding opportunities.
One of John's greatest advises on how to manage the relationship is to identify the "four horsemen" and apply an antidote to avoid them. The four horsemen are (1) Criticism, (2) Contempt, (3) Defensiveness, and (4) Stonewalling.
Criticism is a generalized personality attack. During criticism, the partners use the phrases like "you always," "As usual," "like your father," etc. Instead of addressing the behavior you do not like about in the other person; you attack her/his personality. An example of criticism is calling your partner names such as cheat, womanizer, idiot, stupid, etc. The antidote to criticism is that instead of attacking the personality, address the particular behavior so that the partner is not offended by your expressing your feelings.
The second horseman is contempt. Contempt is the worst enemy of the relationship. In contempt, we treat others with disrespect, mock them with sarcasm, ridicule, call them names. The target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless. John says contempt is the single largest predictor of divorce. Eliminate contempt at any cost if you want to keep the marriage.
Defensiveness is very common in all the shaky relationship. When one partner takes the defensive step, that shows a lack of concern for the other person. However, more often, defensiveness stems from criticism or contempt by the other person. The partner then sounds defensive, but they reverse the blame I an attempt to make it the other partner's fault. The antidote to this is to assume responsibility, admit the fault if any, and understand the partner's perspective.
The last horseman is Stonewalling, which is, again, a response to criticism and contempt. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from interaction, shuts down, and stops responding to their partner. Instead of stonewalling, one can say that he or she needs time to respond and then take a walk or engage in some relaxing activity, such as reading.
Researches show that couples contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness than others due to weakened immune systems! So, it is essential in the time of the COVID 19 pandemic keep our relationship warm. Avoid all the horsemen and radiate love...