4 Ways to Have Healthy Relationships, Part 1
By Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche • 5 min read
The first time I ever rode on an airplane, I thought the flight attendant’s instruction to secure your own oxygen mask before helping another person with theirs was quite selfish. Later, of course, I learned that if you don’t get your own mask right away, you might be unable to help anyone else. It was an excellent illustration of the importance of interdependence. In order to be helpful, you need to take care of yourself; and in serving others, you also serve yourself, so everybody wins. In my tradition, we believe that with any type of relationship — between friends, family, teacher and student, or even the relationship between yourself and the society you live in — there are four points that need to be considered, sometimes called “the four enlightened activities.” These consist of peaceful activity, enriching activity, magnetizing activity, and powerful activity. All of them hinge on interdependence.
When you want to improve your relationships, peaceful activity is always a good place to start. Generally speaking, peaceful activity means to be gentle and friendly. But especially for beginning practitioners, that can be a lot harder than it sounds! That’s because when we’re interacting with others, our unconscious habits arise, and we have an automatic reaction, which makes for trouble. For instance, a trivial situation like one person making noise when the other is trying to work can turn into a whole argument. By holding on to a small issue with the belief that things should be a certain way, you make the issue bigger and bigger, and then the arguing becomes a habit, until the relationship itself seems like a big problem.
Sometimes the best solution to this is to simply listen. Many people don’t really know how to do that: they’re actually just waiting to speak, and when someone else is talking, they want to cut them off, step in, and say their piece. In a relationship, that can quickly turn into a back-and-forth in which nobody wins. Moreover, sometimes two people actually have the same idea, but because their communication styles are different, they appear to have opposing views. So listening is crucial. If someone wants to share something with you, let them share totally. If you refrain from cutting in with your own opinions and emotions, it allows space for them to share more openly. Then, when you finally do air your own feelings and thoughts, they may be more willing and able to hear you.
Being patient, listening, being present, being gentle and friendly — these are peaceful activities. However, they don’t always work. Sometimes, we need to rely more on enriching activity. This is about bringing creativity to a relationship: continually trying to develop yourself, explore things together, learn from each other. Studies have shown that the most healthy and long-lasting relationships are those in which both parties try to learn from one another, check out new things together, try to improve themselves within the relationship, and grow.
Magnetizing activity is to become a role model, a source of inspiration and authenticity. Sometimes, when people learn to meditate, they feel good afterward and ask me, “Since this practice helped me so much, how can I teach my friends and family to meditate too?” I tell them, “Instead of saying a hundred things, just show them one.” In other words, teaching doesn’t work, but if you transform yourself through meditation, those around you will notice, and they’ll get curious to learn about it. This is why it’s called magnetizing activity.
Powerful activity means setting ground rules for a relationship. A big part of that involves letting go — but remember, letting go is not giving up. It means giving space and freedom to one other. It means not being over-reliant, always seeking sympathy and support. Many people tell me, “I am looking for my perfect partner.” When I ask them exactly what that means to them, they reply, “Well, of course, they have to be a meditator, of the same lineage if possible. They have to listen, be there for me, understand me, support me,” and so on. I tell them, “Oh, then this is going to be quite difficult. In reality, an okay partner is good enough. If you’re looking for perfect, that’s a problem.” If you’re hoping for perfection, when the relationship becomes constraining, you’ll feel bad, and if something about it is slightly wrong, it will feel like a huge deal. But if you understand from the get-go that all relationships have ups and downs, and that nobody’s perfect, and if you appreciate whatever qualities the other has, it will be okay. You will learn, grow, and understand each other. Also, creating ground rules in a very literal way is a powerful activity: setting boundaries, finding balance.
So, which of these powerful activities should you start with? Always begin with a peaceful activity. That sets the ground for the enriching, creative activities. At that point, you can focus on the authenticity and inspiration of the magnetizing activities. Finally, find the balance, the ground rules for all of it with powerful activities. And of course, always remember that like everything else, these four are interdependent.
“In a sense, compassion practice demonstrates the truth of interdependence in action. The more openhearted you become toward others, the more openhearted they become toward you.”
– Mingyur Rinpoche –
Learn meditation under the skillful guidance of world-renowned teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at your own pace.
In his approach to teaching meditation, Mingyur Rinpoche integrates traditional Buddhist practice and philosophy with the current scientific understanding of the mind and mental health – making the practice of meditation relevant and accessible to students around the world. Mingyur Rinpoche is the author of the best-selling book The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, as well as Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying, and many others.
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