The Power of Relational Awareness

Buddhist practice can easily be mistaken for a solitary affair in pursuit of enlightenment. Yet this path—and its key factor of mindfulness—is at its heart relational. 

We first learn about the Dharma from others, be it a friend, mentor, book, or lecture. The Buddha called this “the voice of the other,” one of the two causes for the arising of right view. (The second is careful attention.)

The Buddha’s first teaching to lay followers was to practice generosity. Giving reveals the value of letting go and connects us to one another. It creates a sense of belonging and enhances self-respect and dignity—all essential qualities for meditation. 

From here, he instructs us in ethical sensitivity through the five precepts. This deepens connection to life and heightens awareness of our shared vulnerability. He places great emphasis on the company we keep, extoling the benefits of wise friends, kaliyanamitta. “Just as the dawn is the precursor for the rising of the sun, so having a good friend is the precursor for developing the Noble Eightfold Path” (SN.45.29). 

Even the core teaching on dukkha—the underlying difficulty of life—includes relationship. Suffering is not just personal; it is also relational and social. How much of the dukkha you experience involves relationship with others, our society, or the planet? 

Being alive is a relational experience, and mindfulness is a relational activity. Consciousness is awareness of something, the mind knowing an object. As soon as there is “me here” there is the world “out there.” What qualities of heart/mind constitute that relationship? 

Liberation lies in relationship—with others, and with life. And one of the primary methods for transforming relationship in our spiritual practice is through our communication. Wounds that were created in relationship are often healed in relationship. As we understand the forces that shape relationship, we grow in wisdom, in compassion, and we learn to let go.

Related links you may find useful:

The Practice of Mindful Communication

The Power of Presence

Where Our Heart Meets the World

Oren’s suggestions for Practice

  1. Question your view: Notice if you find yourself thinking that you need to be alone to meditate. What would it be like to include what were happening right here and now as part of your meditation? What if everything you needed to learn were already present, right here?
  2. How are you relating? Throughout the day, periodically ask yourself, “How am I relating to myself, others, and what’s happening?” What qualities of heart/mind are present? Is your relationship to experience characterized by fear, craving, manipulation, hostility, confusion? Is it characterized by wisdom, generosity, or compassion?
  3. Pause: Before speaking, consider your intention. Why do you want to speak? Where are you coming from inside and what is it your aim? How does this moment of mini-reflection affect what you do and don’t say?