Life is Simply Not That Simple — it seems as if, with practice, or time, life would get simpler. Not. There are layers and layers of complexity.
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I had quite the conversation with a friend not so long ago. He’s freshly out of a relationship and trying to figure out what happened.
He described a typical conversation — how things had gone before the break-up. He said that practically every conversation would slide into a power struggle over who was “right.”
I mentioned several of the layers contained in any one conversation. His eyes glazed over over.
He said, “I never knew it was so complicated.” Well… obviously.
Darbella and I then had a conversation about complexity. We began by listing the different approaches to life and communication that we use — and then listed ones used by friends. We came up with several layers within any one exchange, and were only stopped by the clock — we both had a play rehearsal to get to.
I’m going to try to be as simple as possible, so bear with me.
Each action we perform, each communication we engage in, has within it several elements. Here is a list of some of them.
· Consequences — Each action creates an actual, “non-predictable” result.
· Desired Outcome or Intent — Beneath every action I perform is my hoped-for result.
· Self-responsibility — If I don’t like a result (it doesn’t match my intent) I may choose to respond differently, by changing my behaviour.
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 black and white thinking is based upon the premise that only one way of thinking or acting (coincidentally, my own way!) 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 a consequence attached to it — it is impossible to imagine a consequence-less action!
Since we’re using communication as an example, 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 black and white thinker who is experimenting with freedom, I will not care what “y” looks like. My freedom, as my only criteria, completely eliminates sensitivity to the result. This would be so even if my partner burst into tears, then got extremely angry, then left the room.
From my black and white 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 herself.”
This is actually the case. But not if my goal or intent is to communicate well. It’s only a perfect response if what I’m trying for is to live my life by myself, with no friends and no relationships.
Let’s add in one more layer.
Remember my article from 2 weeks ago, on 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 either: “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.
The dilemma: unlimited freedom, as our only perspective, is only possible if I choose not to be in real, healthy 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 engage in healthy relating. In order to do this, I need to form an intent — in this case, to be in a deep and meaningful relationship.
Once I have created an intent, I can then observe the effect of the choices I make in relation to the intent.
To go back to “x” and “y.” This time, I do or say “x.” I notice that my partner bursts into tears, then gets extremely angry, then leaves the room. At this point, I 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.)
- However, and it’s a big however, I can hold in my consciousness my intent — to deepen my relationship with my partner. I look at the response my action elicited, and I ask myself a simple question: “Did my words (or 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 actions or words move me deeper into relationship, I will choose to repeat that behaviour. On the other hand, as in our illustration, if my words or actions result 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 might just decide to make a better choice.
Remember, a black and white 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!”
Or, “Hmm. Interesting. I’ll apologise for violating my intention, then experiment with saying or doing this differently next time. I can’t control her choice of reactions, but I certainly can choose what I do.”
And then, without delay, you apologise and start again.
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 the results of 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?
Each life transaction contains, (every time!), all of these elements (and many others!). Each action has a consequence, both for the actor and for the recipient.
Each response comes from either self-responsibility, or from self-righteousness, or from a myriad of other possibilities.
Every exchange with those you care about is best presented from a place of loving intent.
It simply isn’t simple. But spending your life alone (even within a relationship!) is not a palatable choice.
So, choose to have your freedom in dialogue with your intent. Every time.