All relationships are Parental – A Study In the Meaning of Ceremony.

Your life experience has taught you aspects about reality that I have not yet learned. My life experience has taught me aspects about reality you have not yet learned. The reason we have encountered each other is because both of us have arrived at a place to be able to learn what each is teaching the other. But just because we have arrived at the possibility to learn does not mean we will step into that learning process of expansion. Learning from each other is a choice.

All lasting relationships have a reciprocal parental responsibility. I must acknowledge that I am holding space for your lack of awareness and you are holding space for my lack of awareness. Romantic, professional, or exploratory (scholarly) connections between two people is about each learning how to be a leader for the other person. Relationships are a process of collaborative leadership.

If one person in the relationship insists on maintaining the leader position without recognizing the validity of the other person’s awareness, relating stops occurring and a relationship becomes impossible. Likewise, if one person in a relationship insists on maintaining a follower position, the person who is put in the leader position is being asked to uphold the task of clarity they can not possibly sustain. Clarity is a communal effort.

It is our job to develop qualities in ourselves we like and feel good about having- qualities like honesty, courage, compassion, presence, etc. To do this, we must also find ways to encourage and develop those qualities in others. When someone we relate to on a regular basis is not behaving with integrity, it is our responsibility to communicate that to them and hold the expectation that they conduct themselves with the intentions of communication and collaboration.

If someone does not put effort into reaching out or communicating, we can not give them more energy than they give us. Each person in a relationship must participate with equal amounts of effort and interest.

We are parents to our friends and our friends are parents to us. A parent is someone who holds a child to a required social standard for the benefit of the child and society. Holding the requirement that a child learn how to read is a demand that improves the child’s life as well as society. It is correct and good to expect such a thing from a child.

The same concept is true between two adults who are also children in many aspects of their perceptions of the world. We are always, to the day we die, in a learning state- a child state. Yoga traditions and martial arts traditions call this concept the “beginner mind.” There is always some aspect of our personality that is only just beginning to understand some truth about reality. As we step into that journey of learning, it is no coincidence that we begin to encounter people who are a little bit further down the path than us in regards to what we are currently learning.

As a friend to you, it is my job to speak up when I am experiencing an aspect of your personality that is underdeveloped or falling short of responsibility (falling short of an ability to respond in a healthy, vibrant productive way). As a friend to me, it is your job to also find some way to articulate to me what I am not seeing about myself that is getting in my own way of progress and communication.

There are many styles of relationship but all of them require a certain equality of influence if the dynamic is to be a healthy one. No relationship can be one-way. A parent teaches a child. But if the parent does not recognize that the child is also teaching them, an imbalance of power occurs and communication will eventually break down.

No boss, or teacher, or husband, or wife, or parent is ever beyond reproach. A person in authority who has trained their relationships to not question them is on a path of dysfunction and self absorption. No one is ever beyond scrutiny or question. Peer review is an essential aspect of how we discover what reality is.

What do we do when we are in possession of an awareness about one of our elders (leaders, teachers, or parents) which awkwardly puts us in the ‘parent’ position? Whoever our parent, or boss, or teacher may be- they will always first be a person. A parent, boss, or teacher is not a person. Parent, boss, and teacher are all roles a person steps into. They are roles we can all step into. There will always come a time when we will encounter the limitation of the person in the role they have taken upon themselves to play for the experience of learning. And it is then our job to find the courage to pick up that role- if only for a brief time- and guide the person to a new and larger awareness.

I recently experienced this discomfort. After many years of experiencing great benefit from a person in a leader position I inevitably encountered an extreme limitation in their understanding of reality and could not in good conscience allow myself to continue playing the role of student when it was suddenly I who was in possession of a deeper awareness. As much as I wanted to stay in our well-developed and comfortable roles, I knew – if I was to validate ALL the teachings I’d been gathering unto me for those past years of study with them- that it was my responsibility to step into the role of parent in this one aspect and uphold the integrity of boundaries between people and roles. It was my responsibility to say, “No. This that you have done is wrong.”

The issue with which I had a greater awareness of in this situation was about the meaning and function of ceremony. I can not say how or why, but I have within my awareness a deep and profound understanding of what ceremony is and also what it is NOT. To call something a ceremony is no light matter. And to conduct a ceremony without an awareness of the sacred (energetic) purpose of that event is negligent, (child-like) and in need of parenting.

Human awareness is narrative in nature. We know and understand this world through the structure of a story. A story is an event ( a journey) that begins, proceeds, and then comes to an end. A ceremony is a gate, a marker signifying the beginning or the end of a story- which is to say- the next segment of reality we will be engaging. A successful ceremony is one that facilitates the experiences of: Gratitude, Awe, Wonder, and Humility in all participants as well as helping to locate the unique and individual goals and realizations of each person. A ceremony is a momentous, poignant, and vital event- as vital as food and water for the human spirit.

To call something a ceremony is a serious responsibility which should only be done by people who have a secure understanding of what large, valuable forces they are engaging. In the same way, there are laws to the properties of fire, water, wind, and earth, there are natural laws to the properties of a ceremony. There are required elements needed which, if absent, do not produce a ceremony, in the same way, the effort to make a fire from sticks or stones may or may not occur if all the elements are not there.

The first requirement of a ceremony is the understanding of the nature of collaboration. The whole purpose of a ceremony is to make connections between self and other people.

A Ceremony is collaborative. It involves the collaborative perspectives of all those who will be involved. And it understands that all participants are valuable and necessary in that conversation. To plan and conduct a ceremony without factoring in the perspectives of the people for whom that ceremony is for is gravely misguided and immature.

Very often a ceremony is for a specific person- or a specific group of two or more people who invite others to bear witness. The perspective and input of the people for whom the ceremony is being given must be considered by those conducting the ceremony. If it is not, the ceremony is not for those people, it is for the people conducting. It lacks collaboration and will, therefore, miss its mark in regards to sparking the event of ceremony in the way striking certain stones together may or may not spark a fire.

I was recently involved with an event that was given the name of “ceremony” which did not carry or uphold the necessary components of a ceremony. The event was specifically being held to acknowledge accomplishments I myself had achieved through daily hard work over a period of several years. It was theoretically the event that would mark the shift out of one state of awareness and the beginning of the next. It was theoretically an event to signify a job well done on my part and an invitation into the next adventure and task that lay before me. I’d worked hard for many years and arrived at a very respectable place. The event being called a ceremony was to recognize and honor that work. As I participated in the event, however, my awareness of the wrongness of the way the event was being conducted became impossible for me to avoid or hide from. It became impossible for me to remain in the student perspective and required me to locate my voice of authority to say, “No. This is not how this should be done. I can not collaborate with the conduct being presented to me.”

Finding that voice and the courage to acknowledge that the teachers were not trustworthy, that the people in the teacher positions had not upheld their integrity was a painful process. But the alternative was to stiffle my valid perception and live in the unquestioned priorities of another person. The people in charge of conducting the ceremony I attended did not uphold the energetic responsibility of the meaning of a ceremony. I could not pretend otherwise. It was now time for me, the student, to hold the teacher ground and demand that ceremony be respected and understood by those who claim to be leaders of the community.

The event that occurred under the name of “ceremony” was an insult to the word ceremony. It was a rushed, haphazard, thrown-together, last-minute scrape motivated mostly by an interest in checking things off a task list on a technical level rather than taking time to consider the actual energetic purpose of the task and the event itself. No connection to the people for whom the ceremony was given was made by the people giving the ceremony. Similar to the way people rush around shopping and wrapping up objects to put under a tree to prove that they are doing their duty in participating in the spirit of Christmas, this event was thrown together last-minute without any connection to the people it was actually for or why specifically it was being given to those people uniquely. There was no communication, no connection.

The actual events that occurred were so uniquely disappointing to me personally that I could no longer deny the fact that the people conducting the ceremony not only did not know who I was in any way, they did not, in fact, have any interest in knowing who I am or what I might hold to be important. The event was not a collaboration. It was protocol and procedure for unspecified purposes. In this way, the ceremony became a teaching that I should not consider my unique values important in the grand scheme of social interaction. I should consider my own perceptions and values as unimportant in relation to the priorities of the authorities in charge. That authority had made it clear they did not want to hear from me or know me, specifically. They wanted me to learn how to not have specific or unique values or perceptions or opinions. They wanted me to obey without question.

When I attempted to discuss the issues that were going against my valid perceptions of integrity, I found that having a conversation was not welcome. To continue relating in these conditions would require that I not make any attempts of expressing my perceptions and that I keep my opinions to myself. This is not relating. It is not a relationship.

When I was finally able to attempt communication about all the errors involved with this event, I was met with authoritative obstinance and a lawyer-like defense. Suddenly, all the teachings I’d been hearing for several years changed to a totally different message to accommodate and justify all the errors made in that ceremony.

I was told that the person who I was to consider my teacher was, in fact, not my teacher and that a different person, with whom I had no connection with whatsoever was to be considered by me as my teacher. I was told that masculine and feminine dynamics should stay separate. And I was told I should never question the decisions of the high authority in charge. I was told that the leader’s process of decision making is so complex and enlightened that I am not able to fully understand its rightness because I don’t have enough rank or experience to grasp it. And as such, I should assume the authority in charge is infallible and above reproach. I was told to trust in an authority figure who I did not know and who did not know me. I was told to not take it personally that the ceremony to honor my achievements did not in any way take me, uniquely into consideration. Which is to say, I was told to learn how to not have a unique self in a given social system and to yield over to whatever the person above me in authority decides.

Blind devotion and trust in unquestioned authority is not for our times. Humanity has not yet achieved a collective level of enlightened awareness for me to feel certain that the person in charge is functioning from enlightened wisdom. My experience with the person in charge in the organization was that they were a regular, flawed person with blind spots and immaturities like everyone else. They struck me as someone in need of peer-review just like the rest of us. Any relationship that suggests one person is beyond reproach should be seriously questioned. Anyone who is not able to listen to the needs and concerns of another and allow themselves to care and be influenced by the other person is not able to be in a relationship.

The ability to acknowledge error and express it verbally to others in a clear and responsible way is a sign of high intelligence. Intelligence is not only intellectual. Emotional intelligence is the ability to allow in feelings of humility and vulnerability as well as respect and gratitude for others.

If you are in a relationship where you find yourself asking for acknowledgment of respect and appreciation from someone who is not giving it to you, that dynamic is unsustainable. Asking to be valued in a relationship is an indication of dysfunction. We must give gratitude and encouragement freely to those we care about. If they are asking for it, we must take note that we are not relating in a sustainable way. To conclude that they should not need what they need is judgmental and intolerant of reality, which is that whoever they are, they simply need what they need at this time as they grow and change. Witholding kindness and compassion teaches nothing. Acknowledgment of how we are valued and appreciated in our given community is a vital need.

A Ceremony is the time when such appreciation and acknowledgment is given. Withholding these psychological necessities of belonging and value weakens social bonds and confuses a person’s sense of positioning in the structure of the system. Every social situation is a family system. A family is a structure whose purpose is to educate and validate through encouragement and reward. Rewards are always energetic in nature, though they are conveyed through objects. If an object is given without the energetic connection to the intent imbibing the object with its function, the purpose for the gesture is not achieved.

Are you in a relationship where you are the student? Are you in a relationship where you hold the teacher position?

If you are the student, know also that you are a teacher to your teacher who may or may not want to hear what you have to say. If you are a teacher, know you are also a student, learning how to uphold the delicate integrity of longevity of relating. What is needed to make a garden grow between you and another person? Sometimes water (sorrow, grief) and sometimes sunlight (acknowledgment and encouragement)

Both student and teacher are walking a path of expressive communication. How do we reach people when their own defenses are making them unreachable? How can we make our voice heard when we are simply right.

It is not enough to allow that which is right to speak for itself. That which is right and true must be championed by us. If it turns out that what we thought is true is, in truth, misguided, it is then our job to change, adjust, and champion that new truth.

A relationship with another person is the process of locating the courage to carry forward whatever truth emerges from that dynamic and to honor the validity of our perception in relation to the validity of other people’s perceptions. This means dropping defenses, dropping the argumentative need to justify actions that need honest and humble review.

Enduring in the role of teacher or parent or leader requires the ability to acknowledge error and open to influence. A leader is not someone who provides answers. A leader is someone who does what is needed to keep connections healthy and creative. A leader is someone who does not hide from conversation and conflict. A teacher and a leader is someone who communicates with others in a long-term, sustainable way to build community. Communication is community.

Communication is the act of hearing what hurts and concerns another person. Communication refrains from instructing the other person on how their perception is misguided. Everyone’s perceptions are misguided to some degree. Connection and relating is the process of receiving each others perceptions and expressing a desire to continue interacting.

The only reason anyone would be driven to no longer want to interact with another is if they felt not heard or received as a valid perception that has important value and merit. Under such conditions a relationship is not possible.

But it is the destiny of all relationships to become whole and good. If I no longer see or know someone because listening and receiving was not possible between us from one side or both, I will always have a relationship with myself regarding the memory of that external relationship. How do you hold your past relationships inside you? Are you defensive? Do you blame the other person for deliberately inflicting pain upon you? Are you behaving in the same way within yourself that caused the disconnect in the first place? Is there a more enjoyable way to relate to what has happened?

Changing the inner relationship changes the outside world and opens possibilities like new flowers so that all dynamics have the potential to become new and extraordinary. When we engage our inner relationship to all things, we enter ceremony and begin to see that all encounters are ceremonies of connecting and experiencing wonder.