Relationship as spiritual practice

March 25, 2013

My husband and I recently attended a talk that Bruce Tift gave at the Shambhala Center in Boulder titled Relationship as a Path of Awakening. Bruce Tift, LMFT, is a private-practice therapist and instructor at Naropa University here in Boulder. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that Bruce is also a Sounds True author with an amazing audio program titled Already Free.) In his talk, Bruce discussed at length the both magical and disturbing nature of intimate relationships and how important it is to continually nurture and accept one another, while simultaneously and unabashedly encouraging growth. He highlighted common relationship patterns that he often sees in his private practice and helped trace them back to childhood—namely survival skills that we established upon first connection with our mothers, which no longer serve us. It should be noted that Bruce was not talking about survival skills which could be considered obvious reactions to abuse or neglect from a parent. Instead, he was referring to seemingly innocent details, such as our mothers’ own self-confidence, and how those nuances come to fruition in our adult lives and inform how we ultimately view the world, connect in intimate relationships, parent our children, etc. For me, discovering how much our lives are perpetually infused by even the minutest aspects of intimate relationship was both a beautiful and terrifying realization. How can we ever be fully aware of the implications of our behavior?

In his talk, Bruce also emphasized the need for couples to develop what he calls “healthy intimacy,” which involves building a strong connection, while at the same time fostering a sense of healthy separation. In Bruce’s opinion, the juxtaposition of connection and separation encourages couples to build a sense of individual independence and to shed their own self-limiting behaviors, while also fostering a depth of adoration and understanding for one another and their collective experience. What most resonated for me in Bruce’s talk is that individual development is only as effective as collective development—for in intimate relationship, the two are ultimately one. No matter how much progress we may make individually, if we’re not progressing in step with one another, our collective experience will be perpetually fractured. While this has always been obvious to me when it comes to goals and alignment related to our outer life—finances, health, travel, family, etc.—I’ve never viewed our inner spiritual goals as those that require the most attention and ultimately make our relationship work.

JS-BlogPost-1-Photo (1)

As relative newlyweds, my husband and I are continually exploring relationship and the role that intimate relationships in particular play in one’s practice or personal growth. While people typically rely on those closest for nurturing and support, it is also those close to us who are best equipped to cast light on all our shadows. But how do we strike the balance between building the nest and deconstructing old patterns? How can we encourage one another to be vulnerable and to break our hearts wide open in relationship, while simultaneously using that same openness to examine and cast each others’ skeletons out of the closet? How do we prevent the very delicateness that we create within intimacy from also being used against us? In Bruce’s words, how do we negotiate the hard fact that our most beautiful and unconditional relationships can also be the most disturbing?

Bruce Tift

Photo of ()\

Bruce Tift, MA, LMFT has been in private practice since 1979, has taught at Naropa University for 25 years, and has given presentations in the US, Mexico, and Japan. A practitioner of Vajrayana Buddhism for more than 35 years, he had the good fortune to be a student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and to meet a number of realized teachers.

Author photo © Steve Zdawczynski

Listen to Tami Simon’s interview with Bruce Tift: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy »

Listen to Tami Simon’s interview with Bruce Tift: Already Free »

Author Info for Sounds True Coming Soon

Also By Author

Bruce Tift: Already Free

Bruce Tift has been in private practice as a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado since 1979. He taught at Naropa University for 24 years and was a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. With Sounds True, he has published the book Already Free: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy on the Path of Liberation. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Bruce and Tami Simon compare and contrast two different approaches to personal transformation: the “developmental” approach of psychotherapy and the “fruitional” approach of Buddhist practice. They discuss the blind spots inherent in each approach, as well as the ways they can be addressed. Tami and Bruce talk about the nature of neurosis and how neurotic tendencies almost always involve a sense of disembodiment. Finally, they speak on “unconditional practices,” and how unconditional kindness can transform one’s outlook on the procession of life. (70 minutes)

Bruce Tift: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy

Bruce Tift has been a psychotherapist since 1979, a practitioner of Vajrayana Buddhism for more than 35 years, and has taught at Naropa University for 25 years. He is the author of the Sounds True audio learning course Already Free: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy on the Path of Liberation. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Bruce about his perspectives on therapy as informed by Buddhist insights—examining how our “neurotic organization” exists to insulate us from legitimate suffering, why much of our growth comes from acting in ways that are counter-instinctual, and what it might mean to practice psychotherapy with the view that there is no problem we actually need to solve. (66 minutes)

Already Free

Bruce Tift has been in private practice as a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado since 1979. He has taught at Naropa University for 25 years, and was a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. With Sounds True, he has published the book Already Free: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy on the Path of Liberation. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Bruce and Tami Simon compare and contrast two different approaches to personal transformation: the “developmental” approach of psychotherapy and the “fruitional” approach of Buddhist practice. They discuss the blind spots inherent in each approach, as well as the ways they can be addressed. Tami and Bruce talk about the nature of neurosis and how neurotic tendencies almost always involve a sense of disembodiment. Finally, they speak on “unconditional practices,” and how unconditional kindness can transform one’s outlook on the procession of life. (70 minutes)

You Might Also Enjoy

No Struggle, No Swag

In this podcast, George speaks with Sounds True founder, Tami Simon, about seeing clearly, loving greatly, and “finding your swag” through the struggles we encounter in pursuit of our goals. George and Tami discuss: His personal journey from the basketball court to the path of meditation and mindfulness; the Four A’s: awareness, acceptance, action, and assessment; right effort and balance, or how “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”; generating hope and optimism instead of falling into fear and negativity; uncovering the “masterpiece” of your inner nature; the importance of self-honesty; “pure performance” in business or athletics; and more.

Becoming a Trauma-Informed Spiritual Explorer

Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and other spiritual practices bring many benefits, but for those struggling with trauma, those practices can actually amplify their symptoms. That doesn’t mean they should avoid these practices. By adopting trauma-sensitive principles, those healing from trauma often have the most to gain.

In this episode, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with Dr. David Treleaven, a leading voice in Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness (TSM), to explore the five principles of TSM, why the breath is not always a neutral or safe object of attention, how to tell if an intense meditation experience is helping or not, when to lean in to your practice and when to change direction, techniques to re-ground and regulate, guidance for meditation teachers, the importance of supportive relationships in TSM, and much more.

Hard Pivot

In this podcast, Apolo joins Sounds True founder Tami Simon to discuss his new book, Hard Pivot: Embrace Change. Find Purpose. Show Up Fully. Tami and Apolo also discuss being relentlessly curious; fear of failure and “FOPO”—fear of other people’s opinions; doing the hard work; how to work with disempowering self-talk; the power of visualization; the concept of “process over prize”; having a full dedication to one’s craft; the Japanese principle of ikigai; maintaining self-discipline; and Apolo’s Five Golden Principles for building resilience, overcoming self-doubt, reinventing ourselves, and pivoting gracefully into new opportunities for success.

  • Cheryl says:

    Thank you for this reminder! I can absolutely relate to the ambivalence you feel. I could hear Robert Bly’s voice referencing Rumi, Hafiz and the Sufi pursuit of divine connection through intimacy, here, now.
    I am a psychotherapist, of the Jungian ‘persuasion’, as well as specialize in addiction & recovery with young adult women. I only mention these because two profound tools, from my experience both personally and with those I work with, came to mind while reading your post. I think they beautifully compliment the teachings that you mentioned in your article.
    The first of which is the book Projection and Re-Collection in Jungian Psychology: Reflections of the Soul by Marie Louise von Franz. The second is Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self by Charles Whitfield, a text I reference consistently with my clients. Its wisdom is extremely grounded, soothing, and in turn, empowering due to its ‘user-friendliness’.
    Thank you so much for your submission. It has lead me to the archaeological task of ‘Re-Membering’ which is so right for me to dig into, here, and now!

    • Jaime says:

      Hi Cheryl,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write and for your insights!

      I appreciate your reaching out,
      Jaime

  • >
    Share via
    Copy link
    Powered by Social Snap