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Buddhist Relationship Advice with Elaine Jackson

Buddhist teacher Elaine Jackson

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How do we integrate the wisdom of Buddhism into our intimate relationships? Elaine Jackson shares Buddhist relationship advice for navigating arguments selflessly, knowing when a relationship is over, dealing with divorce, how to meditate while parenting, and relating to a partner who’s on a different spiritual path. 

[00:00:00] Scott Snibbe: I’m Scott Snibbe and this is A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment. Today’s episode is an interview with Elaine Jackson on intimate relationships and Buddhism. 

Elaine has been a student of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche since 1977. She was a founder of California’s Vajrapani Institute retreat center, where she served as a director for five years and studied with many great masters including Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, Choden Rinpoche, Kirti Tsenchab Rinpoche and Ribur Rinpoche. 

Elaine completed a three-year meditation retreat in 2014 and since then has taught at centers throughout the world. 

I’ve known Elaine for twenty years and she was kind enough to open up in our interview about challenging relationship topics in Buddhism including how to integrate meditation practice with a relationship, how to practice as a mother with young children, how to relate to a partner who isn’t a Buddhist, and how a Buddhist deals with divorce.

Scott Snibbe: Elaine, it’s really a pleasure having you join us for the podcast. It’s particularly nice that we’re here in person together at the Vajrapani Institute, where we spent so much time together. So thanks a lot for making your time to talk with us today.

[00:01:17] Elaine Jackson: I’m honored that you called me and said, would you do this?

I’m completely happy to be here. And of course, this is my, I think probably my favorite place in the universe at this point in my life is this gompa with so many memories. So it’s true. We’ve shared a lot in this place. It’s very nice, isn’t it?

[00:01:40] Scott Snibbe: Oh, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful to be back. And hopefully it will be open soon again.

[00:01:45] Elaine Jackson: Yes, I hope so. I hope so. 

[00:01:48] Scott Snibbe: So we’re here to talk about relationships because it’s a topic that is of huge interest to people. It seems to be like the number one topic a lot of people ask for. I’m too scared to say much about it because my wife will listen to the podcast, and know what I say is not being put into action, but I wanted to talk to you because you know you’ve had a life filled with relationships and, and you’re willing to talk about it.

So thanks for talking to us about that topic today. 

I want to start out by asking you about the role of relationship with a Buddhist practitioner and I’ll put a “serious Buddhist practitioner” in quotes because I think the more serious you get as a Buddhist practitioner, maybe the less serious you actually get in reality.

But how do those two things mix? Are they compatible? Let’s start out with that.

Buddhist relationship advice on transforming our view of relationships

[00:02:37] Elaine Jackson: We’re in relationships all our life. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in a close relationship with a one-on-one person, but we have relationships with everyone that we meet on some level. And I think of a close relationship, a familial relationship, for instance, a husband, wife, or partner, children.

How do you reconcile your Buddhist practice with your relationship? So I think of a relationship a bit like a petri dish. What you put in it is what grows. 

So we have to think about what we want in our relationship and why we’re in a relationship. Oftentimes we enter into a relationship because oh, that person really makes me feel good. That person is beautiful and handsome and my children are fantastic, they’re always well behaved. But then when it doesn’t continue like that, then the relationship falls apart, because it’s built on a false premise that somehow that one or those ones are going to bring me happiness. 

So I think that for a relationship to be long lasting, we have to transform our view of our relationship.

That really it comes down to how can I help you? What do you need? 

If it can be built on that, you have this communication about that, and each one is happy to help the other be the best they can be, do what they want to do. Then you have this intersection of commonality, of helping one another. 

To love someone, the word love is not romantic love of what can you do for me, but it’s how did they put that? Love is wishing the beloved to have happiness and all its causes. So how do you give your beloved happiness? 

How can I behave in ways that bring you happiness? And if the relationship is built on that, then even when there’s rocky patches, you go back to that. And I think communication is the key– honest, loving, non-violent communication.

Being able to hear the hard things, not taking personally when you’re being criticized for what you have done and you take it personally, and then the defenses go up, “Oh, but it’s not what I meant,” but I hear that you feel that way. 

It’s a process, a long loving relationship is a process. And I would say, never go to bed without a hug and a kiss. Don’t ever let anything fester, just always… be gentle.

Pausing to find compassion

[00:05:38] Scott Snibbe: And what are some ways to cultivate that state of mind? I mean It’s um I think even in a non-Buddhist perspective, we certainly are told to think of the other person, be selfless. But what are specifically some ways to make yourself more that way? How can we be that selfless lover than the more selfish lover?

[00:05:57] Elaine Jackson: Yeah. 

I think if we’d look realistically at what happens when we’re selfish, if we’re present to see the consequences of our actions, we can see that by being loving and kind, there’s a better reaction. There’s a better relationship than when we react in a way that’s hurtful. So it’s really a self fulfilling prophecy, if we can pay attention. So it’s cultivating a sense of present moment mindfulness, of how it is that I am behaving and what are the consequences of my behavior? 

What happens, they say, if someone’s yelling at you? The best way to get more of that is to yell back. 

Arguing in intimate relationship

[00:06:42] Scott Snibbe: Right.

[00:06:44] Elaine Jackson: So it’s looking at the consequences of our actions and realizing that it’s through loving kindness that we receive loving kindness, and this is what we want. Everyone wants to be happy. 

A very good way, when we’re reacting in a relationship, we’re reacting to our partner who’s behaving in ways that we find irritating, a very good way to cut that is to say, what if they’re doing the best they can? What if right now they’re doing the best they can? It doesn’t mean that I like it. So if you think like that, then you’re not trying to fix them and you can let that move through. Because we all want to be happy.

[00:07:31] Scott Snibbe: What you said about looking logically at the interactions you have in a relationship and noticing when you’re loving and kind and generous, how that creates more of the same thing in both directions. And when you’re not how those effects are the opposite, which, any of us in relationships have had lots of and understand. What you described as a combination of logic and emotion which is tricky and you’re even, I think, suggesting to be logical in these moments of strong emotion, whether it’s positive, joy and generosity, openheartedness, or, selfishness, craving, frustration, anger.

How do you do that? How do you bring that logical analysis that’s so important to just understanding ourselves, how do you bring that to these most charged moments of our life?

[00:08:22] Elaine Jackson: I think we have to pause. We push the pause before we react to the charge. Because in a heated moment when we’re being defensive or in some way, responding, would respond in a way that’s going to be hurtful, we’re not in a kind space. We’re not even, I would say, intelligent in that moment. We’re really being blown by the winds of our emotion and we can’t use wisdom. 

So if we pause in that moment – I hesitate to say this, but the truth of the matter is: mind is merely clear and knowing. So if that’s the case, then what’s coming up in my mind as this raging irritation is not the clear knowing mind. It’s like this dark thunder cloud and I can wait for that thundercloud to pass and the emotion to subside before I engage. Just be quiet.

[00:09:33] Scott Snibbe: So when you say pause, you literally mean pause.

[00:09:39] Elaine Jackson: I literally mean pause. If you just don’t say a word, then there’s this, what is it? They call that passive aggressive behaviors. Yeah, it’s not like that, but just to say, wow, I’m feeling like out of control, let’s just take a chill. Can we visit that over a cup of tea? Cause I hear you. I see you. And I’m reacting. 

Taking the time to pause and have tea in between a couple

I’m not saying that I always do that, but I know it’s much better to do that than it is to respond in a way that’s hurtful because it snowballs. 

So when that happens, when we lose it, then we have to do something about that. We really have to come to a place of equilibrium and equanimity and then have a conversation about it and apologize. 

And the mind training techniques of the lojong, take the blame on myself, if you’ve ever done that when this self righteousness of knowing for sure you’re right. You’re right! But you know that they know they’re right. And if you both dig in your heels, it’s not going to be very nice. 

If you are able to give up, if I am able to simply give it up in the moment, and then I see, Okay, that person is validated and sometimes they come around and say, you know I’m hearing what you said before. And I think maybe there’s some truth in that. And you end up coming to a place of neutrality, whereas before you were at loggerheads. It’s interesting to give the victory to others, is what they say. I remember when I first heard that, give the victory to others. You’ve got to be kidding. When I’m right? Yeah.

Giving the victory to others

[00:11:38] Scott Snibbe: You said a number of really interesting things I want to unpack there. Let’s stick with the last one of lojong. For people don’t know the word, lojong, mind training. And then this specific instance of it, of giving the benefit to others. Would you mind expanding that a little bit for a person who isn’t familiar with those ideas? They’re such powerful ideas, if you don’t mind expanding a little bit?

[00:12:01] Elaine Jackson: I can do this from a personal experience.

I had just heard Lama Zopa Rinpoche give a talk on the eight verses of thought transformation. And one of them was this attitude of giving the victory to others. And I wasn’t really feeling it. Because I thought if I was right, I should be able to convince the other person or the other person should be able to come round. So I wasn’t so much into that. 

And then we had a van that we took the children to school at Vajrapani. We had a school bus. It was really just a suburban, a big suburban. And we took turns taking kids to school. And on that day that you drove the kids to school, you usually did your grocery shopping and your laundry, and that was your town day.

One day I went over to get the car, to take the kids to school and it was gone. 

So I realized that somebody else had taken it. I went home and spent pretty much the whole day going round and round about this. And then for some reason thought transformation came.

And I thought, what if I gave the victory to them.

So when everybody came home, I said, Oh, I made a mistake. I thought today was my school day. And it wasn’t. And rather than spinning that negative story, I just turned it around. And then the other person who took the car said, Oh, wow, I thought it was my day. So you can see how it is that you can spin, just be miserable, doing the dialogue. But if you turn it around, it changes your world. So it’s all coming from this spinning thought process. 

[00:13:59] Scott Snibbe: And the thing is, you really meant it too, it wasn’t the passive aggressive, oh, I thought it was my day, you really meant it. I really was, maybe I really was wrong. 

[00:14:08] Elaine Jackson: It’s possible. Yeah, it’s possible that I could be wrong. So by engaging in that possibility. Also sometimes working with Keith, my partner, he’ll have a way of doing something and I’ll have a way of doing something. And I know that it’s really good if his way is the way we do it. Because it will get done. The end product is the same. I just let it go. And that makes it possible for us to have no issue around that thing that I thought should have been done or could have been done a different way. 

And I may bring it up. What if we did it this way? And he may think, I think it’s better to do it this way. But later on he would say, You know if we would have done it that way we would have had the same result or we would have had a good result. We always come out the other side.

And of course, I know, he does the same thing and gives the victory to me quite often because you know I’m bullheaded too.

[00:15:14] Scott Snibbe: Here’s a question as I think of some people listening to this, especially women listening to this, might immediately come to mind is, well aren’t women doing that a little more often than men in the world.

Haven’t women been giving the victory to the man too often in life? What would you say if somebody had that feeling?

Man and woman arguing with each other

[00:15:37] Elaine Jackson: Had that they were doing it too often? I think it’s having a conversation about that and sharing how that is. 

Here’s an interesting bit that just arose. That typically I do the dishes. And sometimes Keith comes to do the dishes, but I typically do the dishes. And the truth of the matter is that he has often tried to do the dishes more than I give him credit for, because I always do them. And I’ve said this: I want them done a certain way. And I have said this about the children you know, I have three children. And so I did most of the housework. 

And this is to a fault from my side, I didn’t really train them in doing these because it wouldn’t have been done the way I wanted it done. And I can remember when all the little children were around and were sitting around the table, my neighbor, Janet had three children and I had three children and then other children would be there too. But we were making these little ornaments. We had a business called Little Folk and we made Christmas ornaments and we sold them at craft fairs.

So we’d be sitting around the table, making these ornaments, and Janet would always let her children come in and use the paint and have a good time. And I was always a little bit like, you know- and I realized it’s this attitude of holding onto what I want and what I think is right. And this is the way it is. 

And it’s so painful to hold that. And it’s so unhelpful to hold that. So just giving it up and people enjoy. It creates a whole different state of mind and a whole different relationship with people. 

Scott Snibbe: A lot of our culture’s obviously about winning. And the more I got into Buddhism, the more I started to realize the importance of losing, right? And one of the lamas I saw recently talk about the importance that, sometimes it is very important to lose, to give up the benefit to others.

So it’s really great to hear that reminder from you. Because what you’re saying is that’s the key to happiness really, it’s that holding on to wanting things our way is actually the thing that’s making us sopainful because then we don’t get it.

Practice seeing the good in your partner

[00:18:00] Elaine Jackson: And then there’s this writing of the great American novel about all the ways we didn’t get what we wanted, and how, if it could only be, or I should have, or if he would. Instead of just being present and being open-hearted with whatever is coming in moment. And trying to see the good in that. You see the idea of gluing on a positive, when a negative arises, and this is what Lama said, whenever there’s a thought, a negative thought, then you glue it’s opposite. And that way, because you can’t hold two thoughts at one time, that first thought that was painful, it’s painful to be irritated. 

So if you think, oh, but think about all the things that they do for me. Then that little bit goes by the wayside. Then you begin to focus on that positive and it totally changes your mind.

This is what practice is all about, right? Isn’t it?

[00:19:02] Scott Snibbe: Yeah. It’s the everyday life. It’s what happens after the cushion. 

[00:19:06] Elaine Jackson: That’s exactly right. I know in Geshe Loden’s book, His Path to Enlightenment, he says, “The purpose of spiritual practice is to gain knowledge that will reliably produce happiness and eliminate suffering.” So whatever it is that produces happiness, we have to be aware of that. Where is happiness?

Is it in, as Venerable Robina says, is it in the chocolate cake? If it’s in the chocolate cake, then the more chocolate cake we ate, the happier we would become. Until the chocolate cake was all gone. But we know what would happen if we ate the whole chocolate cake. You know? And the happiness it’s not in the chocolate cake, the happiness is in the mind.

So this is what we have to recognize. And then we can train our mind infinitely into the positive qualities.

[00:19:53] Scott Snibbe: It’s worth repeating that. And then, so that as something arises, a negative thought, say about your partner, how they do the dishes or treat your kids or whatever to immediately try to counteract that with a positive feeling about their good qualities, maybe related, maybe unrelated, but that immediately, you said, glue it on.

So, because your mind can only hold one thought at a time, that positive thought can then dispense with the negative one. 

[00:20:18] Elaine Jackson: True. And it totally works. It really is like magic because it totally works. Then you stay with the positive one. So well, let’s see, what other things can I see as positive? Rick Hanson, Dr. Rick Hanson 

[00:20:34] Scott Snibbe: We’ve interviewed him on the podcast.

[00:20:35] Elaine Jackson: Yes. So he always talks about taking in the good. I really appreciated his Foundations of All Good Qualities. I did that for a year with Shasta, my neighbor. We came together and went through that course with him. And I really appreciate that understanding that you need to take in the good and you need to hold it for, I think, 20 seconds, isn’t it? I think just 20 seconds. And you either create a new neural pathway or you deepen the groove of the one that you already have.

We’ve talked about that earlier, the idea that what is it that arises in the mind? The habit of the mind? We deepen this groove of loving kindness, keep deepening it, then that becomes the habit of the mind. So rather than irritation it’s, Oh, loving kindness. I see that you’re unhappy. How can I help you? 

Finding peace in the true nature of the mind

[00:21:32] Scott Snibbe: That’s beautiful. A little bit earlier, you were talking about the clear knowing nature of the mind and using that in relationships. This podcast is based on the lamrim, the path that we’ve learned. And we start out like the lamrim with the talking about the mind. So listeners who’ve listened to other episodes are familiar with some of those ideas. And I wonder if you wouldn’t mind going a little more deeper into that, talking about what does that mean exactly. The clear knowing the nature of the mind and how does that relate in the moment to disputes and happiness and relationships, right?

[00:22:05] Elaine Jackson: I’m suspecting that through all the different podcasts that you’ve had, you’ve had people teaching meditation and you’ve led many meditations. And so people have a chance to take a look at the mind, to begin to see this clear and knowing nature. And that what’s arising in the mind is merely adventitious. It’s just clouds passing by and we can let them pass without engaging, without having any kind of dialogue with those clouds. 

So you understand it because you see it directly on your cushion, you don’t have to take it in faith. Buddha didn’t say this is the way it is. You should believe this. He said, this is how I see it. This is what I’ve experienced, check it out, so we do that and we see, Oh, so the mind is merely clear and knowing. So what creates the storm clouds? 

When we look, the clouds come because we’ve seeded them. We have a habit of reacting instead of a habit of being at peace. And when you are sitting in meditation and you have glimpses of the clear and knowing nature of your mind, you have glimpses in between the clouds, because the mind eventually will settle like an hour glass. And it settles down. And when you sit for periods of time, it settles completely. 

So very few thoughts come and you can begin to have a sense of your true nature. And when that happens, it’s clean, clear that this solid sense of who I think I am, does not exist at all. 

So there is a great sense of peace that comes when there’s nobody home to want, to crave, to grasp, to dislike. There’s nobody there to do that. So that whenever those clouds come in this clear and knowing mind, it’s just arising, it’s abiding and it’s dissolving without so much as a by your leave. You just leave it and it goes. 

We train the mind to be more here in the present moment and it begins to be more and more peaceful. In the beginning, it’s not so easy. I have to say, I admit it’s not so easy. But like training a puppy, eventually you give them the reward and they stay. Sit and stay. 

[00:25:06] Scott Snibbe: And you said in the context of relationships, that once you have some experience with this clearing nature of the mind to recognize that in your partner, even as something difficult is happening. 

[00:25:18] Elaine Jackson: Absolutely. We can say, Yes, they have the same wish for happiness as I have.

They have the same clear and knowing mind that I have, and just like me, they get caught, as Lama Tsongkhapa says, caught in the iron net of self-grasping egoism. 

So we do, we get caught. I had one of my most profound experiences after receiving an email that challenged who I thought I was. You know and I wrote back like this. Because of in my world, that wasn’t true. What I was being blamed for. I didn’t send it, but I was actually shaking. I was so caught up in this, I was shaking. I felt myself shaking. I felt this in my body. 

And I said, Okay, who’s shaking? Who’s this solid person who thinks that they’re here, that is the one that’s been harmed? So I went to my gompa and I sat and I looked, and I really did have one of the most profound experiences of selflessness that I had ever had at that time. Because it’s true that there isn’t anybody home. And when you can see that, and you can’t find the one who has been belittled or, in some way feels harmed. 

There’s just this clear awareness that has the potential to grow positive states of mind, which is what we do on the cushion as well. Not just growing our present moment concentration, but growing our love, our compassion.

And this is how in a relationship, you can take that relationship to the cushion. We’re going to do a meditation later that I find really powerful for growing that loving relationship.

Being criticized is a path to selflessness

[00:27:24] Scott Snibbe: Terrific. This topic of emptiness or dependent origination, which is a logic you can get to, to emptiness, to a lot of our listeners or people in general who find out about Buddhism, it can seem like an esoteric topic. But the way you describe it is very practical. And also you described something that I think even people familiar with the idea may not realize, that at least in our tradition, the advice is that in order to really meditate on the emptiness of yourself, you have to bring about this mind of being criticized, you have to actually bring up that strong ego in order to do the meditation.

[00:28:02] Elaine Jackson: It is useful because if we’re sitting here, as my children say, thinking about peace, love and brown rice then it’s hard to try to find a sense of self that we think exists.

But if we’re challenged in some way, or it could be either we really want something or we really don’t want something, there feels to be that there’s some sense of a person that is more than just a combination of the body and the mind, but some Oz. I refer to it as my own Oz, the Wizard of Oz, the Elaine, so it is like that, I think.

When you do really see that there is nobody home through the power of looking. Okay, so if in fact I’ve been criticized, and that I’ve always been this way that I’m being perceived as being, then if that’s true, then that person who’s been criticized should be findable, right? We know that. 

And Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, Not just like looking for the cow, when the cows not in the barn. You know, you go over hill and dale looking for the cow. 

In the same way, when you have really a shaking experience and you go looking, then I think it may be easier to find the non-finding, that you really can’t find.

Then it’s a shocking like, Wow, you know? I’ve been led around like a bull with a ring in his nose, following that one. 

Bull with a ring in his nose

And in fact, that one doesn’t exist. So one has these experiences and then you come out of your meditation and you go back to the solid way of thinking things are. And so it’s habituating the mind, in this understanding that there is no solid, permanent sense of self that exists here, but we believe it and we’re born with it. 

So we’ve cultivated it our whole life. That’s why we have to habituate once we have some inkling. 

I think intellectually, people get that intellectually when they study and they sit and they watch and they look and they there’s non finding yes. And intellectually you get it. But at some point there’s an experiential experience of it, a direct experience of it, which is more profound. And still, it’s not the whole enchilada.

[00:30:38] Scott Snibbe: Yeah. I do remember. I remember them because they’re so rare, unfortunately. But I do remember in a long relationship I had where we were fighting a lot and my partner, at one point we were in one of these arguments, and she said to me, You’re this and you’re that, and you’re this and you’re that.

And normally I would have come back and said, You’re this, you’re that? And you’re this and that. This was a few years into becoming a Buddhist. All of a sudden, this incredible feeling of lightness. Like I just wanted to laugh because I really thought, I’m not anything, I’m not anything, I’m not anything she said.

And I’m not any things I think I am. I’m not anything at all. And it was such a light feeling and it really, it helped to work through all those issues in complicated ways. But it’s amazing when a moment like that happens, I wish was a little more often, but it can happen.

[00:31:25] Elaine Jackson: Yes. And then it’s looking at remembering that, knowing that and recalling that. Recalling it at a time when it’s needed, it’s one of the tools in your tool belt that you pull out when you are in the middle of being criticized. Oh, remember, I’m not any of that. 

[00:31:46] Scott Snibbe: Do you want to say a tiny bit more about searching? How do you do that? I know we’ll do a meditation later, but just briefly, you know how do you search for this unfindable self? 

[00:31:57] Elaine Jackson: This unfindable self, when you’re taking that to your cushion? 

I would say you’re like a scientist. Okay. I’m curious. I’m curious to know. Is there somebody here who is holding this feeling? You just ask that question and then sit with it for a moment.

Is there somebody here? And then, where are they? Where is that one? And then you just sit quietly. And you might look, you say, oh, somewhere in the body, there’s some self that exists in the body, I’m pretty sure maybe it’s in the hippocampus or the amygdala, they just haven’t found it yet, right?

You may say, Okay, there’s something in the body that is a self. But we do, realistically, if you think about that, scientifically you can cut the body apart, you know lose an arm, lose a leg. And there’s still a feeling of self that’s here that isn’t in any of those.

And then when a person dies. Imagine a person dies and they’ve been sick and you go to visit them. And you knock on the door and you say, you know I came to see Jim. They say, Oh, I’m sorry, he’s gone. But in fact, his body’s right there. So we know we don’t even see the body as us. 

So then we come to some sense of relief, really. There’s no self in the body okay. I’m pretty clean, clear about that. So it’s in the mind. There is a self that is in the mind. 

We know the brain dies when the body dies. So the mind is separate from the brain. So then thinking, okay, it’s in the mind. If we look where’s the mind? 

So mind has many moments. 

Is this self, the one that I call me, is it this moment of peace? Or is it the moment before, when I was so irritated? Which one am I? Or am I both of them? So are there two “me’s?” 

So we begin to realize how ridiculous that is, that in fact, we’ve looked and we don’t find any place to put the hat. It’s not that we don’t exist. We do exist. But we exist in an ever-changing set of aggregates, body and mind, all these parts that are changing constantly. 

We have many labels. We are mothers and daughters and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and business people and meditators and everything we do, a gardener. We have all these labels, but it’s just an ever-changing label upon ever-changing parts. 

And we have been fixated on a sense of solid person here, that is this certain way. And trying to maintain that, put that in a box and tie that up with a ribbon, is a great source of suffering. 

So for someone to meditate a little bit on that and come to the place of realizing that, Oh, I’m not really finding the one who had all those negative qualities that were being thrown at her.

[00:35:41] Scott Snibbe: Yeah, nobody to defend.

[00:35:43] Elaine Jackson: No, no, it’s brilliant, really. 

And we don’t have to believe it as some kind of dogma. We just see it for ourselves. And that’s the brilliance of it really. Because you can probe until you find the truth, and then there isn’t any other place to go.

Buddhist relationship advice: supporting your partner’s spiritual practice

[00:36:05] Scott Snibbe: Yeah. You’re married to another deep Buddhist practitioner. And I wonder if you could talk about how we support each other’s practice in a relationship? You’ve given some beautiful advice so far that applies to any kind of relationship. But how do we support each other’s spiritual practice in a relationship? What is some Buddhist relationship advice?

[00:36:24] Elaine Jackson: Yes. Typically for instance, in Tibetan Buddhist practice, people have different practices, right? Acknowledging that and not feeling the need for a person to do exactly what you do, respecting that, I always feel that all roads lead to Rome. And I don’t mind if you’re a Christian practitioner or a Jewish practitioner or a Muslim, I don’t mind.

The point of spiritual practice is to lead to a happier and happier life. 

What is the foundation of spiritual practice? What is it? I think it is kindness. It’s an active kindness. Ponlop Rinpoche says, Go kind, not Be kind, but Go kind. So at the end of a retreat he says, Go kind, which is an active kindness, looking for ways to be kind. Go kind. I love that. I just absolutely love that.

[00:37:31] Scott Snibbe: Oh yeah. That’s beautiful.

It’s beautiful because as you discover you aren’t anything, but you can have things pass through you.

[00:37:38] Elaine Jackson: And I think in terms of relationships and in terms of supporting one another’s practice, it’s holding each other, each one having their practice and each one being each one’s practice is equally important. Each one sharing, giving you time to do your practice and my time to do my practice.

How can I support you? For me, I have that support and it’s really beautiful. So I don’t ever feel guilty that I’m going to go do a retreat for a month. Because I know that we both feel that the end game is the same.

And we both have our eyes on that. And we both know that when we practice well, that the other one benefits.

The importance of solitude

[00:38:32] Scott Snibbe: Yeah. And what about the role of solitude? That’s a very important part of practice. A relationship is being together, but what’s the role of solitude in a relationship?

[00:38:43] Elaine Jackson: I think when you spend too much time together under the same roof, not able to go out, having to wear a mask. I think when you see the whole jam pack of family under a roof and not being able to separate and not having solitude, it’s more difficult.

So creating space for oneself even if it’s in a small corner of the room and each one giving the other, we’re fortunate in this country in many cases to have enough space. And we can create that space and we can allow one another to have that space. I carve it out and I demand it. It’s sacrosanct, so I don’t know if it’s the same for others, but it’s almost impossible for me to not be able to have solitude and to go deep. 

In other words, I want to be able to sit without interruption. But the thing about my relationship is that, until 10 o’clock in the morning, we neither one, we don’t answer a phone. We don’t talk to one another. That’s the way it is and that’s cultivated over time. 

How to manage meditation practice with children

And for having children, sometimes that can be challenging. But children can also learn. But solitude in small bites is very important and also very nurturing. And everybody benefits, you know? They say, When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So people learn that this is your time and you leave it. And if you can train a dog, you can train a human to leave it.

Meditating with children

[00:40:33] Scott Snibbe: And kids too need that. They need their space of solitude.

[00:40:36] Elaine Jackson: They do. They do. 

[00:40:37] Scott Snibbe: No. I’ve learned that with my daughter. Sometimes she’ll come to my meditation room and I’ll still be doing my practice. She joins me there one way or another every morning. But sometimes I have a lot more practice to do and it took some time, but now she just sits quietly.

She doesn’t sit with her hands in her lap and her eyes and her legs in half lotus. But she does just absolutely sit there. And she’s in a state. And I don’t want to disturb her either. It’s very beautiful because she’s quite an active person, but yeah even a kid can learn that. We have to encourage each other’s solitude.

[00:41:10] Elaine Jackson: We do. We do. I’ve had the benefit of having a lot of solitude. 

Relationship advice for supporting a partner on a different spiritual path

[00:41:15] Scott Snibbe: What about someone who’s a Buddhist or a meditator with a partner who isn’t that religious or isn’t spiritual or has different values? Do you have any insights on how to navigate relationships like that?

[00:41:28] Elaine Jackson: I have a friend whose partner is not Buddhist, but they totally respect the practice and support that. So I don’t think you need to bring anybody along into your trip nor do you need to give yours up. So you support one another. 

As much as possible, if you support your partner in their work, in their growth, in whatever it is that brings them joy, then that’s your practice too. So you can carve out some time to sit on your cushion and look at your mind, to do some practice, to grow that sense of loving kindness and compassion. And then you use that. 

And I think in time, what happens is that people appreciate what happens to you when you sit. They appreciate that and then want to support that. So you can support one another, regardless of whether you are a meditator or not a meditator. You know, sometimes people, they like to read, so their quiet time is reading. Okay. Support that. And while you read, I’ll sit for a bit.

[00:42:40] Scott Snibbe: Yeah.

[00:42:42] Elaine Jackson: And not judging my way is better than your way.

[00:42:45] Scott Snibbe: Or doing yoga or running.

[00:42:48] Elaine Jackson: Yes. Whatever it is that people enjoy doing, that brings them a sense of peace of mind. And also being able to try to connect the dots. Why is it that running brings you joy? What is it about running that brings your mind to a state of stillness? Which people admit it happens, they go into the zone. So where does that come from? And having discussions about that and supporting one another and whatever practice it is that brings them joy. That’s what I think.

[00:43:21] Scott Snibbe: And it’s just an offshoot of the loving kindness you described at the beginning. 

[00:43:25] Elaine Jackson: Right. When you have chosen to be in a relationship and have a family, that is your practice. In the beginning of my practice, I had three small children so I had commitments. I had agreed that I would say these numbers of mantras every day. And I would say them while I was walking to the car, or driving, or… 

Cushion time was somewhere else. It didn’t happen for me when my children were little. My children were my practice, but I did try to keep my commitments to my lamas.

[00:44:01] Scott Snibbe: That’s good to know. And it gives people permission too, if you’re in a relationship, if you have kids, that your practice isn’t tangential that.

[00:44:10] Elaine Jackson: No. And it’s mostly, your practice is your motivation, it’s your intention. My intention is to be the best I can be, to wake up, and to bring happiness to others. So to think, Oh, I have to have my cushion time. You go over there and play with your Legos. 

That’s wrong thinking.

How a Buddhist deals with divorce

[00:44:30] Scott Snibbe: Here’s a tricky question. We’re both Buddhists and we’ve both been divorced. So how does that fit into the path? How do we figure out, how do we know when a relationship is over? When that’s a very difficult decision to make or to be a thrown upon you, if someone has made it from their side. How do we deal with that? Whether it’s deciding that really saying something’s the end or dealing with someone else saying that?

[00:45:00] Elaine Jackson: Yeah. A relationship needs energy to survive. We create the cause for a relationship to continue. So when the karma for the relationship finishes, the relationship finishes. And for me, the initial impact was big. I remember I walked down to Vajrapani. I left the house and I walked down to Vajrapani, and I went into the library and I just, the book that jumped out was Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart.

So I just took it off the shelf and I started reading it as I walked home.

And for me, I do believe the hardest part for me was other people. I realized that our relationship had finished. And the hardest part was, I didn’t know how I was going to tell my parents and my children. 

I felt quite broken. And at the same time, I realized that if we don’t create the cause you don’t experience the result. This is the law of karma. So I went to my cushion. I said, all right, if you created the cause to experience this result, then what will you do? How do you move forward? So it wasn’t as if this happened to me without any cause. And by that, I was able to embrace it as coming from my side. And I had one confidant that I was able to say “na na na na na.” Other than that, my retort was always, karma finished.

[00:47:15] Scott Snibbe: Wow. Very disciplined.

Navigating breakups, divorce, and still being happy - Buddhist relationship advice

[00:47:17] Elaine Jackson: Because of that, any kind of sandpaper around the relationship finished very quickly. Very quickly. We’re both really good friends: dear friends, hugging friends. There’s absolutely no sandpaper. We understand. 

The hard part is when you hold it and you natter away at it and you tell everybody, and so then what happens then is that the relationships that you have cultivated mutually, then there’s a separation. This goes in this camp and this goes in this camp, but if you never do that, there’s very gentle movement. And everybody loves everybody. And it’s not an issue. It’s a non-issue. But if you set up camps and she did that and he did that and they did that, then it becomes a problem. 

I know many people who don’t get over it because they did that and continue to do that: the blame game. But I do think that Buddhist practice, if we think of the idea and embrace the idea of cause and effect, then nothing comes without cause, and we create the cause to experience our result. So then we embrace that. And how do I create a different result in the future? 

How do I do that? So nurturing relationships, recognizing if you want to stay in that relationship, you have to nurture it. Otherwise someone else will nurture it.

[00:49:03] Scott Snibbe: Yeah. And even if the word karma doesn’t make sense to you, from a neuroscientific perspective, from a psychological perspective, it’s the same thing where everything we say has an impact, has an effect. 

And it’s very nice what you say about the aftermath of a relationship because every little thing we do has affects that ripples out. From a conventional ordinary perspective, you say one bad thing about somebody and it starts to ripple out and it affects you. 

[00:49:30] Elaine Jackson: Oh, it’s so true. It’s much better to just leave it, just not ever talk about it. Don’t say anything about it, just leave it. And people want to know, What happened? Somebody came up to me at Land of Medicine Buddha about six months later and said, It’s not okay. And I said, what? She said, if you two can’t make it, who can? I thought, oh, that’s a rather heavy burden. Isn’t it?

Grief and change

[00:49:57] Scott Snibbe: You were their role model. 

Well you are the role model now, though, you’ve made a good example of how to gracefully deal with a separation too.

[00:50:08] Elaine Jackson: The thing about it, Scott, is that we want to be happy. And if we don’t respond with kindness, we create unhappiness and we wallow in it for a long time. Any kind of a break in a relationship is difficult. Death of a partner is difficult. 

And we can grieve. We can grieve any kind of disillusion of a relationship for whatever reason. Yes. And we should grieve. We should allow ourselves that grief. But when you think about it, realistically, the heartbreak of loss doesn’t come so much from the loss as it does from clinging to our dreams and they’re broken. 

So recognizing that, how we live in a dream world.

[00:51:13] Scott Snibbe: Yeah. I’ve thought about that a lot when people close to me died. I was very close to my grandfather for example. And he died. But I remember still being able to think about it logically, like, why am I so sad?

Not for him. Like, no matter what you believe he’s onto something else. So then I thought, what does it mean? And I had those few thoughts, like you, like, oh, it was my fantasy. It was my wish that I could just keep talking to him and keep being with him. But that’s unrealistic because it ends.

[00:51:45] Elaine Jackson: Realistically, all compounded phenomena are impermanent. And so is every relationship. At some point in time it will come apart. But we put it in the box, wrap it up and put a ribbon around it. And we think we can keep it that way.

So you’ve offered to lead a meditation, which I really appreciate.

Can you just talk a little bit about that? For the listeners that will be next week. We’ll have that meditation. But for now, could you just describe a little bit what that meditation is going to be, and then you can listen to it in the next episode.

So this is a meditation that I do quite regularly, and I find it’s so helpful to grow our loving heart. And it’s especially useful in any kind of a situation where you want to grow a current relationship or mend one. You can do that through this. Sometimes it’s called tonglen. And if we think about how the purpose of meditation is to familiarize the mind, “gom,” to become familiar. This is a gompa, the place to become familiar.

So when we think about familiarizing our mind in these enlightened attitudes of loving kindness, and compassion and wisdom, which creates joy, love, compassion, joy, they’re intertwined. So this meditation, I find, is so useful to changing a tight mind, just dissolves all of it. So we can see. If it’s useful, good.

[00:53:36] Scott Snibbe: Great. Thanks so much for joining me, Elaine. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation and I think anyone who is in or has had a relationship, which is basically everyone, is going to benefit from it.

[00:53:47] Elaine Jackson: I hope some words have some use. You’re welcome. Thank you for having me. 


Written and hosted by Scott Snibbe
Produced by Tara Anderson
Audio mastering by Christian Parry and Chris Boulton
Theme music by Bradley Parsons of Train Sound Studio
Digital Production by Jason Waterman


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