As you walk a spiritual path, do you ever struggle in relationships with those who are not in the same place in their personal/spiritual evolution as you might be? In his online program Integral Enlightenment, spiritual teacher Craig Hamilton breaks relationships into three categories:
- Those who have no interest in your personal/spiritual evolution or their own
- Those who are curious and interested in personal/spiritual evolution but who aren’t as committed as you to the spiritual path
- Those who are totally committed to doing their own work and growing with you in an active partnership (what he calls “evolutionary relationships”)
So what is an “evolutionary relationship?” Craig teaches that an evolutionary relationship need not be about romance or sex at all. In fact, that dimension can often complicate things. He says many of us have a sense that there’s a potential for an extraordinary type of human relationship, marked by an unprecedented level of intimacy, vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency—essentially being with each other without any boundaries or barriers, being together truly beyond ego. Many have sensed the potential to be in a relationship that’s always moving, not getting stuck in old patterns, but always vital, dynamic, and thriving, resisting the urge to rest on familiar, known ground.
You may have tasted this kind of dynamic in a relationship, but it’s challenging to stay on this edge, to keep moving forward without sliding into destructive patterns, which might leave you thinking this kind of relationship isn’t possible. Very few relationships will ever evolve to the third level. How will you know the people willing to go there with you? And what would a relationship like this be like?
Craig teaches us how to be proactive about cultivating such relationships. To do this requires essentially establishing a sacred contract, setting up what he calls “an evolutionary partnership,” which can be governed by the following radical principles.
Principles of an Evolutionary Partnership
1. The very context and organizing principle of the relationship is conscious evolution beyond ego.
This is the very purpose of why we’re in the relationship. Instead of organizing around comfort, survival, mutual benefit, comfort, and connection, in this kind of relationship, we explicitly commit to coming together for a higher purpose. That’s the “why” of the whole thing. We have a shared agreement for why we’re here. Instead of colluding together to protect and preserve the status quo of the relationship, we’re willing to put the relationship at risk, to constantly challenge the relationship as a way to evolve spiritually together, as a way to avoid falling into stuck, habitual patterns that lead the relationship to go to sleep.
2. We agree to be mutually accountable to something higher than ourselves.
In most conventional relationships, we’re attempting to negotiate between two people’s individual needs and desires. The personal self is the only context we have, so the relationship is the result of two isolated personal selves with their own unique agendas attempting to negotiate so they can be in relationship together without too much conflict. Typically, we ask, “What do YOU want to do? What do I want to do? What are we both willing to give up so we can meet in the middle?” But in an evolutionary relationship, our #1 priority is aligning with Divine will rather than focusing exclusively on our own personal desires or the desires of the person we’re in partnership with. When a conflict comes up, we’re interested not just in both personal points of view but in what’s the right thing to do from the highest perspective, in service to the highest good of all beings. It’s about not caring so much what you get out of the relationship or what the other person gets out of it. It’s more about a mutual seeking of truth, of what’s right and whole and aligned. We ask, instead, “What’s the right thing to do to the best that we can discern it?” This way, there is no fundamental conflict. You both want the same thing—the highest good—rather than focusing on personal desires. You’ll always find your way through when you’re genuinely prioritizing this outcome. There is no “winner” or “loser” because the highest good always wins, and you both want that.
3. We recognize that we have an ego, that we’re prone to error.
Because we acknowledge that we both have egos, we know that we are prone to misinterpretation of circumstances. I defined ego here, according to Craig’s definition, so don’t be misled by a term that often gets misused. Read what I wrote about ego here. When we both acknowledge our own egos and our potential for error, we come together with the commitment to try to see clearly, beyond the ego. This means we’re willing to call each other on unhealthy patterns and try to break those patterns. It’s an exercise in mutual humility, acknowledging that we aren’t going to do it right, that our egos are going to screw us up, but that we’re mutually committed to trying to uncover what is true, in spite of being prone to error. This way, there’s no compulsion to defend your point of view. You’re both committed to seeing what is true. It’s a radical act to be willing to stop defending your motives whenever you are challenged. Because we both have egos, we must recognize that we’re prone to distortions and be willing to acknowledge that with humility.
4. Despite the fact that we have egos and are prone to error, we want to be accountable to our potentials, to our highest and best selves.
This means that even though both parties know we are prone to errors in judgment and distortion, we’re not using that as an excuse at all. We are acknowledging that we always have a choice in the matter. Our egoic limitations are not an excuse for not showing up fully. We acknowledge that we have a right to expect this from each other, even though we have egos and tendencies for error. This only works with two people who are really committed to showing up in this way, wanting to be accountable and be held accountable. It’s not about always getting it right. We’re going to screw up. It’s not about beating each other up for our tendency to be prone to error. It’s about committing to operating at a risk-taking edge, which requires a lot of trust and commitment to mutual accountability.
5. The context for our engagement together is about leaning into our evolutionary edges, where we’re growing and evolving, sharing a mutual interest in our evolving edges.
Rather than meeting in our limitations, fears, and doubts, colluding in how we’re failing to show up to our highest potential, complaining about what doesn’t work, we take a stand for meeting in service to our highest potentials. Some relationships are based on sharing everything that’s wrong or not working or where we’re struggling or fearful. This fifth principle is about making that off limits—not that there’s no place to talk about your limitations but that the relationship is meant to lift up what’s possible rather than to devolve into a shared bitchfest that drags both parties down. The context for the engagement, therefore, is from a place of desiring to manifest our highest potential, taking a stand for one another’s higher potential, reaching for what’s possible, sharing what comes up as we awaken. It’s a positive, uplifting context for engagement, but a challenging one, because it’s a stretch and requires moving out of habitual patterns that tend to plague a lot of spiritually-minded or psychologically-minded relationships.
6. We agree to be mirrors for one another.
Rather than merely affirming each other’s self image, as most relationships operate, we agree to reflect to the other person things about who they are that might be outside of their awareness. We tend to see others more clearly than we see ourselves. As evolutionary partners, we agree to lovingly and gently, without judgment, point out blind spots in each other to help illuminate what we might not be seeing clearly in ourselves. This includes mirroring back not only negative traits—things that need to evolve—but also positive things that we may not see within ourselves. This includes mirroring back how we’re growing and where we’re making progress. We cannot only help undo negative patterns; we can also mirror back the uplifting things we may not see in ourselves. This means being willing to challenge each other’s assumptions, really striving to help each other see ourselves more clearly.
7. We aspire to set an example for one another.
We are not perfect. We are not going to always get it right. But we are aspiring to model what it means to have an evolutionary and enlightened relationship to life, stretching vulnerably into the unknown. We aspire to uplift each other through our own examples. This means radical transparency. In many close relationships, you devolve when you get comfortable. You let that person see your worst self. But in these relationships, we aspire to be our best selves, not our worst self with each other.
Are You Involved in Any Evolutionary Relationships?
What have you learned from engaging with another person in this way? What challenges have you faced? What triumphs have you experienced? Share your wisdom and stories in the comments.
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself. Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities—HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.
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*Image courtesy of Kai Lyu Photography