Relationships of all kinds depend on the ability to work with and work through the obstacles of attachment, anger and delusion to achieve clarity and open mindedness and to avoid reactions that cut off communication and connection.
Example: The Challenge of Open-minded Communication
One example is the challenge of having a meaningful dialogue to promote understanding about controversial subjects.
Not long ago, I had an interesting, brief and unpleasant discussion with a young woman who held the position that the overall system in the U. S. had never been founded on equality. Based on the evidence of a constitution that accepted slavery and exempted women from suffrage, as well as centuries of systemic discrimination, I had to agree that there certainly was truth to her position. When I attempted a conversation to explore the possibility that the values underlying the system were supportive of repairing or replacing it with one that reflected those values, she cut off the conversation. "I don't want to debate this." she said with some anger and dismissal. Of course, it could be my misperception, but I took it as "I don't want to talk to you about this or anything else."
In the end, it didn't matter much, since we didn't and were unlikely to have a relationship, but imagine a similar exchange with a colleague or relative. How would perceived annoyance and dismissal color the ongoing relationship?
Communication - The Life Blood of Relationships
The exchange set me to thinking about the difficulty in communicating with people who are set in their opinions, view questions as attacks, or are closed to discussion, particularly with others who they view as uninformed, misinformed, ignorant, stupid or biased.
This is one of many examples of how relationships of any kind are challenged. It points to the need to personally address the mental habits that distort our thinking, values, attitudes, and actions and effect healthy communication - the life blood of relationships.
How do we work with the biases and conditioning that keep us from being open minded and open-hearted, even when confronted with people we dislike or disrespect and whose thinking differs from ours? We begin with an understanding of attachment, anger and delusion.
The Three Poisons: Attachment, Anger, Delusion
The predominant obstacles to effective relationships boil down to attachment, anger and delusion.
Attachment is wanting things to be different than they can be and not accepting it when they are not. Note the difference between wanting or desiring something and being attached to it. It is quite normal and useful to want things. Wanting more and/or better pleasant things motivates improvement. Attachment is clinging to that desire. Why is attachment an obstacle? Because it leads to stress, resentment, disappointment, anger and despair. These distort or cut off communication.
Anger presents itself as frustration, annoyance, disdain, all the way up to hatred. It is often based on fear but may also be caused by being confronted with conflicting ideas or barriers to getting what you want, when you want it. Attachment leads to anger, which may be directed at oneself or others, when the desired outcome does not come to pass.
Anger gets in the way because it leads to a breakdown in communication, abusive behavior, depression, anxiety and physical symptoms like ulcers or muscle tension. Anger as well as other emotions cloud the mind and make clear thinking difficult, if not impossible.
Delusion is misconception. It is the lack of clarity that results from anger, fear and other emotions, as well as biases or conditioned thinking. Delusion is holding on to beliefs that have no basis in reality. Attachment is paired with delusion when a person clings to false beliefs. Confronted with contradiction, a person with fixed beliefs will often exhibit anger.
"The mind, in the service of fear, causes the quality of the thinking to become about
things, so it sees everything as an object. All people become "them," and "they" must be dealt with in order to protect yourself." Ram Dass
Experiencing attachment, anger and delusion is not the problem. The problem is allowing them to disrupt relationships by driving body language, speech and behavior.
Using these barriers as wake-up signals enables a breakthrough. You cut the chain of reactivity that links an event to an emotion and the emotion to reactive acting out.
In the best case, simply becoming aware of the arising of an emotion before it takes hold enables the emotion to dissolve. If you miss that momentary opportunity, you can accept the emotion, investigate it by seeing where in your body it is appearing and what it feels like. You can analyze the cause and be able to resolve it and respond. You can question beliefs and recognize attachments and how they trigger your fear, frustration and stress. You replace delusion with wisdom.
If you miss that opportunity, then you will react and face the consequences of reactive behavior. Even then, you can reflect and can learn from your experience and resolve to get it right next time.
Step back and see attachment, anger and delusion for what they are - thoughts, physical sensations, feelings and conditioned perceptions. Seek to respond rather than react.
Emotions are wake up signals. Transform your emotional energy to fuel the clarity and analysis you need to communicate effectively and substantiate, or debunk your beliefs and consciously decide on the next step forward.