I heard someone talking the other day about relationships, and why they seem to self-destruct over time. The person was specifically talking about romantic partnerships. A lot of us start out in relationships playing roles. It’s not often conscious, but we start out being the person that either we think we want to be, or that we think the other person wants us to be. We’re play-acting. We’re being the protector, the artist, the mother, the child, the provider, the sex-bomb, the happy-go-lucky person, the one who takes control, the one who gives it up, the one who keeps house, the one who doesn’t. Fill in your own blank.

The problem with roles is that over time we work through whatever need we had in playing them. Either I or the other person, or both, get tired of the dynamic and want to move into something else. If the relationship is built around this dynamic, there will be a lot of conscious effort required by both people to rebuild it around something else.

Romantic relationships are a microcosm of how our ego functions in the larger world. The ego is the me-first part of our survival instinct that drives us to cultivate a sense of belonging. We play-act roles, defined by our families and our culture and our times, in order to fit in. We are driven by expectations. It’s worthwhile to ask: who is running my life? Me? Or “them”?

Zen wisdom says that if we drop knowledge––including our name, our identity, everything that has been given to us by others––we will have a totally different quality to our being. That quality is Innocence. Innocence is not childishness. Innocence is a child-like state of curiosity and wonder and open-ness. A spirit-centered life requires that I return again and again to this original self, the being I was before I came into physical existence, the I who came before personality, that which I will become when my earth journey is over.