It's Simply Not That Simple
I was having quite the conversation with a client the other night. He's freshly out of a relationship and trying to figure out what happened. He was describing a typical conversation, and how the conversation would slide into a power struggle over who was "right." I began to discuss the several layers contained in any one conversation, and his eyes began to glaze over.
He finally said, "I never knew it was so complicated."
Dar and I had a conversation about this topic this morning, over coffee. We began by thinking about the different approaches to life and communication that we use - and that are used by people we are in intimate relationship with. We were able to discuss several layers within any one exchange, and were only stopped by the clock - Dar had to leave for school, and I had to write Into the Centre.
I'm going to try to be as simple as I can be here, so bear with me. Each action we perform, each communication we have, has within it several elements. Here is a list of some of them.
· Freedom - I have the ability to do pretty much whatever I want to do.
· Consequences - Each action creates an actual, "non-predictable" result.
· Self - responsibility - I have choice as to what I do and how I respond to anything that happens.
· Desired Outcome or Intent - Beneath every action I perform is my hoped-for result.
Now, I could probably extend this list forever, but let's start here. First of all, and this will likely be the hard part - all of these levels exist simultaneously, and none takes precedence over the other. Let me unpack that.
Despite the fact that, at around 15, we all become capable of abstract reasoning - which is really the ability to be situational and to hold multiple points of view at the same time - we were born as black and white thinkers. And b & w thinking is based upon the premise that only one way of thinking or acting (coincidentally, my own! - and, of course, initially, my parents') is the "right" way.
So, let's just play with this. Let's say that you begin a "freedom" project. You may decide to do or say whatever comes into your mind. You're doing this to move past the parentally imposed, and now self-imposed restrictions of your upbringing. All well and good.
Now, each action has attached to it a consequence. It is impossible to imagine a consequence-less action! Since we're talking about relationships, let's posit that I say "x" to my partner. My partner, upon hearing my words, will do her "thing" and reply with "y." Thus, the consequence of "x", in this case, is "y."
If I am a b & w thinker experimenting with freedom, I will not care what "y" looks like. My freedom, as my only criteria, completely eliminates sensitivity to result. This would even be so if my partner burst into tears, then got extremely angry, then left the room. In my position of freedom, I'd say, "I have the right to say whatever I want, however I want to say it. She needs to get over it."
Which is all well and good, if I choose to live my life by myself, with no friends and no relationships. Or, as Janis Joplin put it, in "Bobby McGee," - "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."
Now, let's go back to last week's Into the Centre and add in non-attachment. Surely, that means not attaching myself to my partner's reaction, right?
Non-attachment is choosing not to attach a self-definition to the results of an action. Non-attachment is to simply say, "That got me closer to my intent." Or, "That got me further from my intent." As opposed to what we usually do - telling ourselves "Boy, am I terrific!" when we get "positive" feedback, or say "Man, am I stupid," when we judge that things have gone wrong.
To recap, then add the next piece, unlimited freedom, as our only perspective, is only possible if I choose not to be in intimate relationship with others. I'm going to say or do whatever occurs to me, and will not care about, nor even hear or see the reaction of others.
Here's the next piece. So, let's say I want to experiment with freedom and want to be in intimate relationship. In order to do this, I need to form an intent - in this case, to be in a deep, intimate and meaningful relationship. Once I have an intent (which, of course, given freedom, I can change as I choose to) I can then observe the effect of the choice I make in relation to the intent.
To go back to "x" and "y." Now, in my freedom, I do or say "x." I notice that my partner burst into tears, then got extremely angry, then left the room. At this point, I again have a choice. I can get all righteous and say, as above, "This is her problem." And that would be so. My partner has chosen to have the reaction she had, out of all possible reactions. Each of need to learn to get over ourselves.
However, and it's a big however, I also hold in my consciousness my wish to deepen my intimate relationship with my partner. I therefore look at the response my action or words elicited, and I ask myself a simple question: "Did my words (actions) get me closer to or farther from my intent to deepen my relationship?"
As soon as I ask this question, I am reminded that my ultimate freedom is the freedom to choose another way. Clearly, if my act or words moved me deeper into relationship, I will choose to repeat that behaviour. On the other hand, in our illustration, if my words or actions resulted in a disconnection between me and my partner (and now, in addition to whatever "x" was, we'll have to deal with her hurt, her anger and her walking out of the room) - I also have a choice.
As we've said above, a b & w thinker will retreat into self-righteousness. "Phooey on this crap! I'll be damned if I'll change my behaviour just to make her happy! Besides, I can't make her happy. She's choosing this! Let her sit there in her misery! And the next time, I'll do it all over again!" Ouch.
Or, "Hmm. Interesting. I wonder how I can say or do that differently next time. I can't control her choice of reactions, but I certainly can choose what I do."
Let's put it all together. I choose, in my freedom, to declare a flexible intent. In my freedom, I act. I then pause, and in non-attached quietude, I reflect on my action. What were the consequences of my action? Did I move closer to or farther from my intent? From a position of self-responsibility (as opposed to self-righteousness,) what will I freely chose to do next?
Within each transaction between intimates are, every time, all of these elements (and many others!), interacting. Thus my client's glazed eyes. Each action has a consequence, both for the actor and for the recipient. Each response comes from self-responsibility, from self-righteousness, or from a myriad of other possibilities. And each intimate exchange is best served from a place of loving intent.
It simply isn't simple. But spending your life alone (even within a relationship), for me, is not a palatable choice. I choose to condition my freedom in dialogue with my intent. Every time.
The Phoenix Business Focus
On Building Relationships
One of the issues we all confront is coming home from work and remembering not to take work pressures out on the rest of the family. That's not to say we can't talk through the dramas. That's to say that we might be best served not shredding our nearest and dearest because of work pressure.
Here's a letter from a reader (of the other publication) asking about this issue:
My girlfriend comes home from work everyday and complains about everything that has happened that day. She does this every day. We are both factory workers.
I like to come home after a days work and just relax. She comes home angry and stays that way. She is always ruining my good mood. I have discussed this with her. She seems to think that since we are in a relationship, that I am obligated to listen to her problems.
I am very tired of her complaining every single day. How can I get her to not bring her work problems home every day??????
Interesting question! You're beginning to understand the complexities of being in relationship. You and your partner are demonstrating two classic responses to "coming home for the evening," - wanting to gripe vs. wanting peace and quiet.
We all experience some form of "work pressure" - from deep enjoyment to despair. While we could take some time looking at changing things at work, let's just stick to your question.
You want peace and quiet, she wants to talk, to vent. They seem mutually exclusive, if that's all we're looking at. But what about the "building a relationship" part? The question I would ask you is this: "Would you rather your partner "behave herself" and do what you want her to do, or are you working on building an intimate relationship?"
The first lesson we have to get is this: no one "does" anything to us. Your girlfriend complains, and you choose to upset yourself - in total honesty, you ruin your good mood, not her. Because most of us have grown up blaming others for our misery, your idea that she's ruining your mood is predictable. It's just not accurate.
True relationship is about dialogue that brings deeper connection. You and your partner would benefit from a discussion about getting both of your needs met. Not one or the other. Both.
An interesting approach would be agree between the two of you to set aside 30 minutes when you both arrive at home. For now, let her go first. Set a timer for 15 minutes, sit down and encourage her to complain long and loudly, about work. You task is to sit quietly and open-heartedly, not attempting to "fix" anything, not having the expectation that "she get over herself." Just listen and hold in your heart the thought that you love this woman, and she's hurting and wants to share that with you. If she cries, hand her a Kleenex and let her cry.
When the timer dings, it's your turn. Re-set the timer for 15 minutes. Ask for what you want. You may want to sit in silence for 15 minutes. You may want to hug or cuddle. Or dance. Or go for a walk. Your partner agrees (in advance, remember) to be quiet and simply do as you ask. When the timer dings, have a hug and thank each other for being there and for being loving. Do this each evening for one month, without comment, without fail.
Rumi, the mystic Sufi poet, said,
"Essence is emptiness, everything else accidental. Emptiness brings peace to loving. Everything else, disease. In this world of trickery, emptiness is what your soul wants."
Please note, the word "disease" has as its components, dis-ease - not being at ease.
At the end of the day, we are in relationship to know ourselves and to share our knowing, thus being known by another. In this process, we find ourselves. We all are looking for the opportunity and the security to be ourselves. It's not about "making" people behave. It's about being open to sharing all of what our partner brings. By being "empty" of the desire to change the other, by being "empty" of the need to have it all our own way, transformation takes place, and the soul sings.