Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple: The Metaphor of Ya​b-Yum

By Keith Kachtick

Keith Kachtick leads Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple, September 12–14

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke makes clear that a loving, romantic relationship is the practice for which all other mindfulness practices are the groundwork. “Love is high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become world for himself for another’s sake.” The ancient Tibetan tantric practice of Yab-Yum recognizes that romantic coupling is as an opportunity for profound spiritual awakening, a practice that invites us—deeply challenges us—to love our way to enlightenment.

Traditionally, in Buddhist thangkas and sculptures depicting Yab-Yum, the confluence of “masculine” compassion and “feminine” wisdom is presented metaphorically in the sexual union of a male deity, seated in Padmasana (lotus pose), with his female consort facing him on his lap. The symbolism is two-fold: Yab-Yum (literally “father-mother” in Tibetan) implies a mystical union of karuna and prajna within our own individual nature—the two Dharma wings that lift each of us to buddhahood; united, the two awakened beings (regardless of gender) then give birth to a romantic communion embodying the blissful, non-dual state of enlightenment.

vajradhara_yab_yum_tn01

Much easier said than done, of course. But for anyone in a committed relationship, the Yab-Yum ideal of unconditional love—borne out of opening our hearts and fine-tuning our communication skills, as well as deepening our understanding of our partner’s needs and desires—is an opportunity and wonderful challenge to recognize and celebrate the highest in ourselves and in each other.

Ultimately, it’s all about soulful harmonizing. “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us,” Rilke reminds us. “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. This more human love resembles that which we have prepared for with struggle and toil all our lives: a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute one another.”

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Also, be sure to check out our recent interview with Camilla Figueroa: Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Discussing Relationships and Spirituality

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Keith-KachtickKeith Kachtick, founder of Dharma Yoga, has taught meditation and yoga worldwide since 1999. Keith writes for Yoga Journal and is author of You Are Not Here & Other Works of Buddhist Fiction and Hungry GhostHe co-leads, along with Camilla Figueroa, Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple, September 12–14 at Shambhala Mountain Center. To learn more, please click here.

Relationship as a Path of Awakening: A Conversation with Bruce Tift, MA, LMFT

 

Bruce Tift will be leading Relationship as a Path of Awakening, May 16-18, 2014. He’ll also be giving a talk on the subject in Boulder on April 25.

BruceTiftHow can we use the inherent disturbance and richness of our intimate relationships as an opportunity for wakefulness? Psychotherapy helps us understand the deep historic conditioning we bring to our relationships. Buddhist practice cultivates the confidence that, in each fresh moment, we are free in how we relate to this conditioning. Let’s explore how we can learn to keep our hearts open within the profound provocation of intimacy.

Bruce Tift, MA, LMFT, has been in private practice since 1979, taught at Naropa University for 25 years, and given presentations in the U.S., Mexico and Japan. His new CD, Already Free: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy on the Path of Liberation, explores the human issues of neurosis, anxiety, body awareness and relationship dynamics.

If you’d like to download the audio file, CLICK HERE and find the “Download” button. Otherwise, you can stream the audio below.

Relationships that Work Beautifully

By Paul Shippee

Paul Shippee will lead a NVC weekend retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center September 13-15

megan smiling

The main positive effect of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) practice is to increase your chances of getting a compassionate response from others. I have found that NVC has an amazing result of disarming others as well as one’s own deeply embedded defenses that lead to painful conflicts. Usually, somewhere deep in our conditioned brain, we really think that our defenses are the best way to be safe. But, in NVC practice, we invariably discover that real safety comes from being vulnerable. This unearths a contagious authenticity that fosters relationships, both intimate and casual, that work beautifully.

girl staring at reflectionOnce we can open our heart to ourselves and honestly express what we are actually feeling and needing in the moment, we begin to glimpse new dimensions of life. We take baby steps in trying out vulnerability as a means of trust and smarter safety. This feels uncomfortable as it invites us into a larger world of undefended love and connection to others.

We are conditioned in our culture to speak from the head. The main learning in NVC is to direct your attention to what’s alive in you and become aware of feelings and needs as they arise in ourselves and others. We find that to develop compassion we must bring our attention more and more to the emotional body.

girl screaming at reflection

Even our most functional and fruitful relationships can be marked by judgment, criticism, and other self-limiting junk. When this happens, examine the link between pain and blame inside yourself. It’s simple but it ain’t easy. We are addicted to pleasure; habitually leaning into what feels good. By affecting another person whom we care about, we realize that this dedication to the pleasure-principle is totally irresponsible emotionally. So our escape is blame, and blame feels good because it lets us off the hook as we cleverly and conveniently move our attention to the other person. NVC seeks a softer approach to challenges and helps us to realize that a flow of brilliant communication, joy, and natural peace is always available.girl smiling at reflection

We have a local NVC practice group which has been working with opening this heart space and here’s a sampling of what they have to say about their experience:

Aliyah Alexander: Despite 30 years of working as a psychotherapist and doing my own internal work, I am still challenged every time I utilize Marshall Rosenberg’s guidelines (the founder of NVC) of moving from righteousness (being right) to vulnerability (the heart). Through this practice, communication becomes a stepping-stone into the spiritual realm, which involves moving into a place of empathy with self and others.

Gussie Fauntleroy: One of the most important things I’m learning is how to listen as if everyone matters. A lot of it is learning to recognize and accept, and therefore transform, my own longstanding habitual patterns of communication and interaction and ways of seeing myself and others.

Larry Lechtenberg: I used to go around feeling quite lonely and deeply longing to connect with people, and trying to always discover the “right” thing to make this happen. Now, I think much less; instead I try to observe closely, with the intention of becoming aware of what I’m feeling and needing, and what the other person’s feelings and needs are. This usually produces an amazing feeling of connection.

Kirsten Schreiber: One aspect of NVC that I find myself especially appreciating lately involves being able to go into a space where I can express myself and then step back and listen or imagine what the other person might be experiencing. Having the inner space for that without reacting doesn’t necessarily solve something but it can help me broaden my vision and see a bigger picture.

 

Paul Shippee

Paul Shippee, MA Psychology, studied Nonviolent Communication (NVC) intensively with founder Marshall Rosenberg and other NVC trainers. He has facilitated NVC groups continuously for the past 8 years and teaches NVC workshops around the country. Paul Shippee will lead a NVC weekend retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center September 13-15

Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple

by Keith Kachtick
relationshipsIn Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke makes clear that a loving, romantic relationship is the practice for which all other mindfulness practices are the groundwork. “Love is high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become world for himself for another’s sake.” The ancient Tibetan tantric practice of Yab-Yum recognizes that romantic coupling is as an opportunity for profound spiritual awakening, a practice that invites us—deeply challenges us—to love our way to enlightenment.

Traditionally, in Buddhist thangkas and sculptures depicting Yab-Yum, the confluence of “masculine” compassion and “feminine” wisdom is presented metaphorically in the sexual union of a male deity, seated in Padmasana (lotus pose), with his female consort facing him on his lap. The symbolism is two-fold: Yab-Yum (literally “father-mother” in Tibetan) implies a mystical union within our own individual nature—the two Dharma wings that lift each of us to buddhahood; united, the two awakened beings (regardless of gender) then give birth to a romantic communion embodying the blissful, non-dual state of enlightenment.

Much easier said than done, of course. But for anyone in a committed relationship, the Yab-Yum ideal of unconditional love—borne out of opening our hearts and fine-tuning our communication skills, as well as deepening our understanding of our partner’s needs and desires—is an opportunity and wonderful challenge to recognize and celebrate the highest in ourselves and in each other.

Ultimately, it’s all about soulful harmonizing. “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us,” Rilke reminds us. “It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult. That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. This more human love resembles that which we have prepared for with struggle and toil all our lives: a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute one another.”

Keith Kachtick and his partner Camilla Figueroa will be teaching the retreat Loving Your Way to Enlightenment: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Couple September 13-15