In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, inner alchemy is done in relationship with others. It is more potent when the ‘other’ is a very heightened spiritual object and if they mean a lot to you. Romantic relationships are a super-powerful alchemical machine. They can transform you psychologically, and they can be used as a tool to transform the outer world as well.
In order for relationships to function this way there are two main principles that must be understood: the idea of karma, and the fact of emptiness. Emptiness is how our entire reality, (how we see New York, how we see ourselves, how we see our partner) has no real nature. It is a blank screen. One person’s partner who seems to them sexy and capable, could appear to their coworker like a gross idiot. Who is right? They both are seeing clearly, they just see differently. So, is that partner both of those things or neither? In Buddhism this proves someone’s emptiness. The grossness or sexiness isn’t coming from within the partner, it is actually coming from the person looking at the partner: the perceiver.
The thing that makes the perceiver see their partner a certain way is their karma. Karma is defined as a movement of the mind. It is created by speaking, thinking, or moving around in the world interacting with objects. The Buddhist idea is that our mind functions like a video camera. We watch ourselves moving around this blank screen reality, record our actions, and then those actions create an impression on the mind that grows over time. These impressions create the way we see our world and ourselves. Everytime someone expresses a desire or does something, it is a message from our past selves.
If we want our world (inner or outer) to transform, we have to shift how we think, speak and act, from an automated set of responses to a way that we would like to experience. We naturally begin to show the video recorder the movie we want to live in. The humans and animals that we interact with on a daily basis become extremely important for the alchemical process. We have to use our mind, speech and action in a way that benefits others to create impressions that will benefit us. If we are unkind, we will meet unkind people. This is a very simplified explanation of karma. Karma is a very complex topic, but it is a nice tool to play with. It must be studied deeply and internalized before it is ever understood completely.
In these teachings, the more important the person is that you interact with, the deeper or stronger impression (the more emotional you are, the stronger the impression). This makes parents and partners the quickest way to plant powerful karmas. Since they tend to be trigger points for most people, they are also the quickest way to plant negative karma.
If we want to transform ourselves into something magical, and if we want to shift our world from a place of pain, we have to utilize these strong opportunities to create beauty, love, and wisdom whenever we can. If others are merely an echo of our previous actions, thoughts and words, then when our partner asks something of us, we can hear it as our younger self reaching out for help. We can have immense compassion. Then, rather than responding negatively to this partner who has a need, we remember that they are empty of nature, merely an impression from the past. They are still real, but the way we see them is entirely based on our past, and has nothing to do with who they “really” are. If we can remember this golden thought, the way we treat them shifts to complete love. Then we serve our partner entirely, knowing that the effect will be that we too have our needs met.
It is a very inverted way to practice compared with the rest of the world, but it has the ability to sharpen you into your highest self very, very quickly. What would the world look like if everyone did this practice? If everyone heard conflict and dissatisfaction as merely an echo and instead did their best to meet the needs of everyone else? We would achieve inner and outer paradise rapidly.
Rachel Webb has trained simultaneously in yoga and mental health for the past decade and in Tibetan Buddhism for the past 6 years. She has completed a meditation teacher training and private yoga teacher training in 2017 and is en route to complete a 6 year Buddhist philosophy certification in 2019. She is has served as a peer coach for social workers using the Motivational Interviewing counseling technique. She has over 6 years of experience working with people diagnosed with serious mental illness, assisting them in achieving wellness goals. Rachel has hosted several therapeutic groups on relationship health over the past year and is currently working on relationship wellness workbooks that combine modern psychological approaches with Buddhist techniques. Rachel currently teaches yoga and meditation classes in Manhattan, and takes clients for coaching sessions. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a private session or interview.