Old Relationships, New Possibilities: Breaking free of unhealthy relationships and the effects they have on us - Dzigar Kongtrul main info.
I was introduced to this by a teacher who works with many who are trapped in difficult relationships. During my years teaching I have found students are often affected by these issues and it feeds into how successful they are in dealing with their animals, in the cases I have dealt with, in particular their dogs or horses. They may be less effective than they could be due to this entrapment and this is because how effective we are in relationships in our own lives, will have a direct impact on how we conduct our relationship with our animals.
Making changes in one area can bring about change in other areas. A number of people have said that they are much better at managing their home lives or their working relationships because of what their dog or horse work taught them. Of course, beware, as some have found that if they become more effective, then the seals in their lives don’t necessarily like the results as they have to learn to stand on their own feet also! “Seals?” I hear you ask - yup, seals - read on and all will be revealed!
"WE ALL HAVE SOME rough relationships in our lives that seem held together by the stickiness of attachment and expectation. It is true that we love and care for these people, but, at the same time, it’s not so clean; there’s plenty of complexity. Inside, we feel an emotional tug when we see or think of them. This is often exaggerated with the people we are close to and with whom we share a strong dynamic, such as our parents, children, close friends, or spouse, however it is relevant to all relationships where a lot of expectations tend to arise. There are many unspoken demands. In the midst of our romance, marriage, or parenting, we find ourselves responsible for someone else’s loneliness and their emotional or physical pain." It often also applies to the relationships with have with our animals too.
"There is a Tibetan term that describes this kind of dynamic: lenchak. Len literally means “time” or “occurrence,” while chak refers to “attachment,” “attraction,” or the notion of a pull toward someone, usually in an unhealthy way. So lenchak could be understood as the residue that revisits us from the dynamic of a relationship from what some would call a past life (eg an ex partner): a dynamic now strengthened by habitual responses. Lenchak is most often used to explain or describe why a particular relationship is how it is.
With those with whom we have lenchak, we feel an immediate pull beyond our control or sense of resistance. Our name is called, and we jump at once to serve them. This is not a conscious decision—not a joyous decision—but more like being propelled by a strong wind. Our reaction— whether with anger, jealousy, attachment, or what have you—only serves to reinforce the dynamic. People have done many things “in the name of love.” But if this is love, it’s not a healthy kind of love.
There is an old story in Tibet that tells of a lake where, during a particular full moon each year, the seal-like creatures who live there gather fish in their mouths and offer them up to hordes of owls who hover in the trees above, waiting to eat. There is no apparent reason for the seals to offer the fish other than the fact that the owls seem to expect it. As the story goes, the seals gain nothing from offering the fish, and the owls are never satisfied. So, they say, since there is no obvious reason for this dynamic to be as it is, “it must be lenchak.”
The lenchak dynamic has two sides: the seal side and the owl side.
If we are the seal, we feel an unspoken emotional responsibility for someone else’s mind and well-being. We feel pulled toward this person as if they have a claim on us. It’s a strong visceral experience, and we have a physical reaction to it: the phone rings and we check our caller ID—it’s “the owl.” We should pick it up, but we are overcome by a strong wave of anxiety and repulsion, as if we are being attacked by our own nervous system. We brace ourselves for a problem or a strong emotional download. As much as we want to detach ourselves from this person, we can’t break loose; it’s as if they have captured us, and there’s no escape— checkmate! Of course, this is not the case. In truth we are held hostage by our own attachment, guilt, and inability to resist the pain that comes from feeling unreasonably responsible for them. On one hand, we can’t bear watching the owl struggle. On the other hand, we can’t let go. This dynamic brings us down; it makes us lose our luster as human beings.
Meanwhile, the owl is never satisfied, no matter how many fish the seal tries to feed it. Of course, when caught in the owl syndrome we don’t see it in this way. We feel neglected, isolated, and weak. The reason for this is that we are depending on someone else in hopes that they will manage our fears. We have so many unspoken demands, although we often express these demands in a meek and needy way. The owl syndrome reduces us to a childlike state. We begin to question whether or not we can do things on our own, and we lose confidence in our ability to face our mind and emotions. Interestingly, the owl—so frail, needy, and insecure—is not necessarily as feeble as it seems to be. In fact, often the owl has the upper hand. It is often a little manipulative, if you want to know the truth. The owl just doesn’t want to clean up its own mess. This is a privileged attitude. If the owl couldn’t afford to be weak—if it didn’t have the seal—it would naturally rise to its own challenges.
The irony of this dynamic is that, in most cases, the more fish the seal offers the owl, the more resentful, demanding, and dissatisfied the owl gets. For both the seal and owl, this kind of dependence and expectation gives way to a lot of ugliness. It’s true, the seal may temporarily pacify the owl, but no mutual respect arises from this kind of arrangement.
We need to cultivate a “Can do! Why not? No problem!” kind of attitude toward our neuroses and obstacles in order to overcome them. If we have no confidence, the smallest fear or neurosis will entirely overpower us. Falling under the sway of the lenchak dynamic is like losing possession of our very lives. It’s like letting others lead us around by the nose ring as if we were a buffalo or a cow. What could be more detrimental than losing our freedom in this way?
Getting clarity and focus, building this self-confidence, all begins with rising to the occasion of our lives and facing our minds - we have to make the choice to change. When we help our animals we must do the same thing - help them be part of the decision making process and understand that compassion is not about bunny hugging! Compassion can be tough love and sometimes we need to create that bit of stress in order for our animals to break through their attachment to their problems. It is particularly important because most of those problems have arisen from human influence. Yes, external factors can and do create issues in the first place, as the saying goes "no man is an island" (and neither is his dog) but it has to be the individual's choice to break out of those problems.
We cannot eliminate all of the challenges or obstacles in life but we can learn to rise to the occasion and face those challenges. As a fridge magnet on one of my teacher's fridge doors says: "feel the fear and do it anyway".