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Relating Inspiration

More embodied

What I am most driven nuts by is my longing to feel more deeply connected to you. I know you long for closeness too, but we do different things with this need. I tend to crave and pursue and then get angry when it feels like you don’t want connection. You tend to avoid and move away from your need for closeness. Why do we do this pursue-withdraw dance when we both want deep, connected intimacy? We do it because the openness and vulnerability required for this depth isn’t easy. We don’t yet know how to fully trust close and connected, but we are learning. When we prioritise presence, accessibility and responsiveness we start relating differently. You lean in more, finding me softer and more accepting. I stop grabbing at you out of fear and insecurity, and feel surer you want to be there. Our love becomes more embodied – more of a bodily felt sense, more in the moment, more vulnerable and aware and more joy-full. Deep intimacy becomes a possibility. There is a kind of filling up of our love tanks in that depth that is a potent healing. Often, we need each other to remember the power of love.

Breaking open

When I’m disconnecting from you, what part of me is moving away from connection? It’s often the part that in those moments can’t speak about deeply vulnerable and painful feelings. It feels too sore and it gets too hard to feel so I disconnect from my feelings. And then I disconnect from you. What is so crucial is that instead of blaming you, I keep seeing that it is ME disconnecting. Every time I keep going back to that place in me that opens and closes I learn so much. I learn what hurts and what needs my healing attention. Most often it’s a sense of myself that I am not worthy enough or lovable enough. When I can be with this part, I can keep opening my heart to love.

Love miner

There is so much love everywhere – in me, in you and in our relating. It’s abundant. It’s in our eyes as we look and smile and encourage and in our hands as we reach to touch. Love is there when we listen and stay with each other’s experience. It’s in presence and time together and in the acts of service we do for each other. It’s in our hellos and goodbyes, in anticipating what you’d like or inquiring into how you are doing. Love is in all the small things, like passing a box of tissues when you’re hurting or holding you while you cry. It’s in all the ways we care about each other, but it’s also underneath all the hurt, because it wouldn’t hurt if we didn’t love each other. Love is there in a hundred ways. When I see love everywhere it seems to grow and thrive. I am becoming a love-miner, because seeing love, leads to feeling love and that is a kind-of gold. Somehow tuning into the constant touch of love has a way of reminding me how much love lives inside of me. It helps me feel my essence, which is full of all this love-gold.

Come full

It’s only possible for me to meet you empty of expectation when I feel free. To stay with where I am, I have to acknowledge that I am often full of need. I need to feel that you can open your heart wide to me and that together we can touch the fullness of our love. The parts of you that aren’t open, can get translated by the unsure parts of me as “I’m not loved, lovable, good enough”. I understand how this translation is inaccurate and yet it seems that those parts can only be convinced by your full opening. It’s like we are caught in a rubix-cube dance of opening and acceptance. When you’re accepting I relax and soften. When you’re not ok with my needfulness, let’s talk about it. I’d love to explore with you what frightens you and maybe in that exploring you will find a certain depth of pain that can also be loved. We can keep learning together and loving each other open.

Come empty

I have come to you with my young heart, thinking that everything I need lies inside of you. Somehow thinking you hold the answer to what my heart longs for and I have a menu for this. This has an impact on you: pressure and confusion; some conflict between wanting to meet me and not being sure how. Now I am wanting to throw away my menu, even though I’m not sure I can do without it. I want to meet you just as you are and see who that is. I want to come empty and be filled up by the essence of you that originally drew me in. That scent of you is what I need. And in that I sense a flowering might happen; a new way of meeting where you can be free instead of something I need you to be.

Open wings

I have a tendency to think, “If you can’t meet my needs then I will meet my own needs”, but this doesn’t help the longing in me for you. What I do with that longing is push it underground so that I can deceive myself that I can go it alone. My pulling away leaves me lonely. It’s a fake sense of okness, because what I really want is to be close to you. There are many messages in our world encouraging a separateness: ‘find yourself’, ‘be independent’, ‘take care of yourself’. Where are the messages saying, “find you” or “find my love for you” or “find a way to keep loving you no matter what barrier shows up”. Our relating is a potent awakening opportunity. You hold up a mirror showing me the wounded places in me that aren’t sure it’s safe to be close and connected. I can blame you for this and say you aren’t meeting my needs or I can attend to those wounded places with you; together. I don’t have to strengthen myself separately so that I won’t get hurt. I need to learn how to stay with the hurt so that it can teach me how to love us both more.

Boundaries

Boundaries are the way I take care of myself. I give these up when staying other-focused and making sure you are happy feels safer. I can deceive myself that making you happy keeps me happy, but it’s a falsehood. I am only happy when I am attending to my own happiness. This can include taking care of you, but then its conscious. I’m not doing it from a place of fear that if I don’t you will be angry or displeased with me. I’m doing it because loving you feels good. Learning to care for myself means honouring and caring for all the parts and feelings in me. It’s being able to say YES and NO from a centered place rather than leaning too far into you or too far away from you. Boundaries are essential. When I can’t put them in place, it’s because my need to please you feels easier than staying in my power. What needs the deepest self-care is that younger part of me that believes she has to give up her needs in order to feel safe. It takes courage to set boundaries, because it takes courage to love ourselves.

Repairing

Many couples move in and out of connection. We tend to do a connection-disconnection dance with each other, moving in and out of closeness.

One of the best things partners can do is to learn how to repair with each other. Setting an intention to constantly repair from breaks in our connection is powerful work. In fact, it’s radical work! This kind of consciousness grows us and strengthens our ability to love.

There are a lot of skills that get developed in a repairing process. If we think for a moment about what it takes to repair something in our relating, we can pretty quickly feel the growth edge. It requires that we can feel our feelings and stay with what is painful and difficult for us; that we trust enough to share it with another; that we can move out of blame and anger; that we really hear and listen to each other so that we fully understand; that we can stay with another’s experience even if we see it entirely differently. Learning how to repair is one of the most powerful ways we can stay in love. We can take that beautiful and magical gift we are given when we fall in love with someone and keep it alive. We keep prioritising love and growing. Growing is after all the very foundation of evolution.

New couple workshop on offer: Repairing for couples18 February 2017. Great Valentine’s gift. www.relating.co.za/couple-workshops/

 

Felt love

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A photographer* sought out interesting faces across the world. He wanted to capture how faces changed when people felt affirmed. In the moment of validation, joy or shyness appeared. The need for protection seemed to melt away.

Love, appreciation, affirmation and validation transform. They help partners feel safer and more valued. We can share what works for us and what we need through validation. For example: “When you took my hand I felt important to you.” Our partners don’t often know what really works for us unless we tell them in a non-critical way. Validation helps our partners feel a stronger and more positive sense of themselves. The more we feel loved, worthy and cared for the greater our capacity to love and take care of others.

If validation is so effective, then why don’t we validate more often? It is important to look at what keeps us unwilling to be affirming. Perhaps we think: “Why should I love you if I don’t feel love from you,” or “My heart hurts already so how can I show love?” Perhaps we have developed a habit of focusing on the negative and so we don’t see the ways in which our partners love us or that we have our own inner-well of love. Sometimes we have to be the first to give love – to ourselves and to our partners. When our love tank is empty, we have to fill it. It doesn’t get filled by blame or criticism or closing ourselves off. It only gets filled by love. Love is that ‘light against our being’ where for a moment we feel wholly encouraged.

* The photographers work: www.upworthy.com/see-the-exact-moment-a-photographer-told-these-women-they-were-beautiful?g=2&c=hpstream

Catch 22

ri58-catch-22bEvery couple has their own perfectly designed catch 22; their own divinely-inspired mechanism for growth. Partners have unmet needs or deep longings to feel more loved, accepted, needed and valued. These needs show up in many different ways. It might be a need for more sexual or emotional intimacy, more depth in the expression of love, or a need to feel heard and understood, supported, nurtured or validated. These unmet longings cause a lot of friction in our relationships.

A heart that is unmet is a wounded heart and the wounded heart often loses perspective and gets caught in very painful and difficult feelings. When the heart is bleeding, it often tries to cover its wound in mainly two ways: It can protest in a critical way that leaves the other partner feeling bad. Or it tries to shut its need down or get it met elsewhere, leaving the other partner feeling rejected and inadequate. Both the protesting and the moving away are painful. When we feel threatened, we move into a defensive way of relating and then we start getting caught. A common defensive dance is where one partner protests and the other withdraws. The more the one moves away from intimacy, the more the other partner’s heart gets injured and the more they protest. The more they protest, the more distressed the other partner gets and the more they close off in order to calm things down or to get away from danger. It’s a catch 22 because this keeps happening over and over, like ground hog day, through many different scenarios until partners start realising, “we are in a catch 22”.

Change requires that partners start putting their heads together to work out how to get out of their specific catch 22. To stay in conversation about how we get stuck takes a lot of skill. A lot can get grown in this process. Here’s what helps: Being able to distinguish between defensive relating which closes intimacy down and vulnerable relating which opens intimacy up; honesty and taking responsibility at every opportunity; staying with our painful feelings without running away and when we get hurt, we can take care of ourselves so that we can return to the conversation. When we keep running from our soul’s depth and longing we get caught. Relationships are all about soul and the soul wants vulnerable, authentic love.

Cracked

ri56-crackedA lot of our relating experience is about healing parts of ourselves that we don’t see and own. Love has to come and get pretty rough with us at times to get us to wake up and crack open.

The healing journey begins when we own what needs healing. We can look and see and say, “Ah that part needs some attention!” We can own our woundedness and the scars we bring into our relating. A beautiful metaphor is that we are driving a car with a pink windscreen and so everything we see out of our windscreen is pinkish. At some point we need to wake up to the fact that there is a pink windscreen and that reality is not what we think it is.* The way we perceive things is often seen through the lens of our scarred parts. If we are not holding these scars consciously then so often our relating becomes frought with an over-identification with them. Conflict becomes a struggle with others who we are convinced have a pinkish tinge. Instead of staying busy with them and their short-comings, it is good to learn to stay with the wounded part, because that is where the light gets in.

Wounds are shadow parts, hard to see, often hidden and yet they show up in our relating all the time. Our partners are constantly holding up mirrors to show us our unintegrated, unhealed parts. Wounds come from traumas or very painful experiences where we felt a lot of fear, emotional danger or an unmet need for support. We might have felt abandoned and alone, rejected and unlovable, criticised and shamed, unseen, unaccepted or betrayed. Wounds often show up as specific raw spots and are generally accompanied by a sense of not feeling good enough. Every person has scarred places where they carry their shame and unworthiness. Those cracked places are where the light enters; where Love arrives and does its evolving work. The more we see and feel our woundedness, the more integrated we become; the more integrated, the more full of Love.

* Metaphor from spiritual teacher Thomas Hübl.

Messengers

RI55 - MessengersImagine if every time we encounter something difficult in our relating the first thing we do is STOP, GO IN and take some time to consider: “What about this is difficult for me? We might start with: “What’s difficult is when you . . .”, but when we follow this question to its root we often discover that what is most difficult is to feel a specific feeling. For example, “I find your criticism difficult” when deepened becomes, “I feel bad about myself when I feel you are disappointed with me” or “I feel scared of your anger, because I don’t feel accepted”.

When our partners trigger “negative” emotions our usual response is to defend ourselves (fight, flee or freeze). One of the best ways to get underneath our defensive relating is to stay with the difficult feeling we are struggling with. Usually this is either feeling sad, feeling bad (shame) or feeling afraid (anxious, threatened). Feelings can be very healing when we stay with them. They allow us to feel the scars we carry and to be with parts of ourselves that we haven’t yet integrated. They also show us what we need. What often stops us from feeling our feelings, other than our social conditioning, is that we fear we will be overwhelmed by them and then get lost. For example, we can get lost in feeling bad without even being aware that we are experiencing shame. Feelings are like waves, they pass through. Sometimes we can encounter huge waves or real dumpers, but they subside relatively quickly. When we avoid or repress what we are feeling that is when they tend to hang around.

Our partners become messengers of the inner work we need to do, and our feelings themselves are also messengers or as mystical poet, Rumi, says “guides from beyond”. Intimacy (in-to-me-you-see) is being able to be with ourselves very deeply and then sharing this with another. If I can stay with myself, I can stay with you. If I can go deeply into myself, I can go very deep with you. The emptiness we sometimes feel is the guide that shows us how we long for this depth.

 

Be with

RI54 - Be withBeing with our relating experiences means slowing ourselves down and staying with whatever is arising in the moment. The best place to start is with ourselves. Taking time to be with our internal experience is a rare practice. It takes a moment, but it’s not our default programming. Our default programme is to look outward. And yet we are also constantly in touch with our inner subjective experience. We sense what we feel, but being with what we sense is often not a conscious practice.

What does being with ourselves look like? A good place to start is with our bodily sensations – perhaps we notice a shaking or fluttering, nausea, a heat, a coolness, a contraction or expansion or leaning in. Our bodily felt sensations show us how our relating impacts us physically. Bodily sensations translate into emotions. They let us know the flavour of the emotion we are feeling – sadness, fear, shame, joy and anger. These are the primary emotions, but when combined with each other and different experiences they have different shades and flavours. It’s both fascinating and difficult to keep track of how we are feeling and yet it’s so important. If we don’t know how we are feeling, we can get side-swiped by our emotions and confused about what is happening. Every emotion is a guide. For example, sadness often shows us loss, anger injustice, shame what we need to see instead of hide and fear how we feel unsafe and the places where we start getting defensive. We are walking miracles and yet so often we pay little attention to the profound intelligence within us.

Learning to be with ourselves increases our capacity to be with our intimate partners. The practice of being with helps us see and stay curious, even when we get triggered and reactive. It’s a practice of present, moment-to-moment relating, where we follow our inner intelligence. This kind of relating is one of the deepest spiritual practices.

Keep asking

RI53-Keep askingIn our relationships, an important question we can keep asking is: “What in me is contributing to not being present and connected?”

This question has two directions: self and other. Present and connected with ourselves means we can be with our feelings as they arise. We don’t often hang out with our fear of full, risky intimacy, or our shame and sadness. We want another’s acceptance, but we often spend a lot of energy pushing our own feelings away. What we can’t be with, we can’t integrate. The more we can be with ourselves, the more we can see and own our unintegrated parts. Being with ourselves increases our ability to be with and respond to others. We learn a greater response-ability. Responsibility is one of the highest forms of intelligence because from the place of full responsibility we are as awake and present as we can be in each moment. Looking into the ways we are not able to be  present and connected with ourselves is therefore an essential part of our relating.

When we are present and connected to another it means we are able to stay with their experience. We can listen out for their song and hear their tune, even when it is totally different to ours. We can let them land in us as they are and not how we want them to be. It also means that we can be with all of their feelings, especially the painful ones. Presence is attunement. Presence allows the moment to emerge and unfold as it is, with curiosity and interest and a strong holding, listening capacity. A LOT can get in the way of this and when we stay focused on this question – “What in me is contributing to not being present and connected?” – it shows us where our work is; our growth edge. We are training our capacities to relate. Being seen and seeing another has a potent healing power.

Blessed we are

Blessed are weIf we can view relationship as a spiritual practice, something ‘higher’ that we are doing together, then it is good to be as aware as we can of what it is that we are practicing. A spiritual practice means connecting with our spiritual essence. This could be that part of us that can actually love unconditionally. It also means staying with the present moment as it is. We could say that the spiritual practice of our relating is to practice love and to practice being in the present moment with another as they are.

The intention of a spiritual practice is to transform the parts in ourselves that stand in the way of being fully awake and able to love. As we practice, our capacity to attune, be present, love, trust and stay connected strengthens and so does our ability to be with our shadowy parts. Anything unowned in us is shadow. In order to grow we keep bumping into each other’s rough, unprocessed shadow parts. This ‘bumping” brings our blocks to our attention and we have so much resistance to it. To own our limitations means that we might feel bad; the dreaded emotion of shame arises. It takes a lot of energy to keep resisting our shame. Instead perhaps the liberating thing to do is to own it. We are ‘not enough’ in the sense that we have many barriers in us to look at, to feel, to experience and these blocks are painful because we don’t know how to look at ourselves without feeling bad. The purpose of our relating is to wake us up to ourselves so that we can transform, so it’s good to be able to look and own things.

Relationships become our greatest gift, but because we don’t know how to use them as a spiritual practice we don’t see their divine purpose and then we tend to spend most of our time getting super defensive because every little rub means we are not enough. When we start moving past our defences and seeing the invitation for a higher practice, we can start attending to our relating – our seeing, hearing, touching and attuning to another human being that we love. We can start slowing ourselves down and getting present to what is happening inside of us and how we are impacting another. We start looking into what we don’t want to own and feeling our feelings. The spiritual practice of present relating is so important. Without it we cannot attend to all the barriers in us to love.

*Picture by cartoonist Molly Hahn, BuddhaDoodles.com

Right under your nose

RI51 - Right under your noseOnce upon a time, a shepherd boy dreamt of hidden treasure and decided to follow his dream. He travelled all over the world and as he searched he was constantly led by signs and omens. He learnt much about himself and the “Soul of the World”, which abided in his heart and constantly guided him. When he listened deeply he discovered a deep strength within. Toward the end of his journey the boy was beaten up by refugees and left badly injured, but before the leader of the refugees’ left, he asked him what he was doing digging in the desert. The boy told him of the dream he followed of hidden treasure. The leader laughed and said that he too had dreamt of buried treasure under a Sycamore tree in a small shepherd’s town, but that he was not as stupid as to travel the world to find it. The shepherd, recognising the place as his own town, returned home and found a buried chest of gold.

In our relationships we are also travelling like the shepherd boy into different experiences and difficulties, all designed to teach us about ourselves and how the heart works. In this journeying we can be taken into the darkest and most painful places, sometimes feeling like the end is near. We need this journeying because we need to keep finding our heart. We seem to keep losing it and then finding it again. What we need is like ‘gold covered in dust’. We can’t quite see it, but it’s very near, close-by, just waiting for discovery. Our relating is designed to help us discover the gold. This process may require a journey, but it often leads us back again to what is right beside us. Whether we are having a joyful or difficult experience, the person we share our lives with is always a gift, right under our nose.

[Story from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho] [“Gold covered in dust” is a Rumi phrase.]

No thanks

RI50 - No thanksOne day a wise man arrived in a small town and began helping people. He was so wise that soon a large crowd had gathered to hear him speak. One of the young men in the crowd was angry. He shouted at the wise man, “Go away! Nothing you say can help. Stop giving people hope.” The wise man turned to him and with loving-kindness said, “Young sir, if you purchased a lovely gift for someone, but that person did not accept the gift, to whom does the gift then belong?” The odd question took the man by surprise. “I guess the gift would still be mine because I was the one who bought it.” “Exactly so,” replied the wise man. “If I do not accept your curses; if I do not get insulted and angry in return, then these curses will belong to you.”

One of the hardest practices in relationship is to stay in our hearts when we have anger and criticism thrown at us. It’s almost impossible because reactivity is so catchy. One triggered and reactive partner almost automatically triggers the other. Anger invites anger and love invites love. How wonderful if we could really say “No thanks” to the gift wrapped in anger. What would it take to be able to stay in our hearts in the face of our partner’s angry expression of their pain?

Staying in our hearts requires a consciousness in our relating. It requires wisdom; an understanding of what lives underneath fear-based, reactive anger. When partners are angry they are saying, “I need something from you”. We can help them access their need and to reach for us from that place instead of their angry hurt. It helps, both ourselves and our loved one, to take a firm and loving stand by saying something like, “I really want to hear the message you have for me because you’re important to me, but when you give it to me wrapped in anger it’s too hard to take in . . .” Wisdom lives in each of us and it keeps expanding as we mine the gifts of relational conflict.

Spiritual meeting

RI50 - SpiritIn every moment of relating we meet in a physical, emotional and spiritual way. Couples seldom pay attention to their spiritual meeting and this is perhaps the most fundamental part of our relating.

We are spiritual beings with many layers of armour, made up of our fears, shame, past hurts and stories about why we can’t trust. This armour often becomes the focus of our relating. We battle with each other because we want to get past the armour and feel safe with each other; emotionally secure. The more secure we feel the more we can trust another and our focus in relationship shifts. We move from battling to feel secure to prioritising the evolution of each other’s soul. As the armoured layers are released we can access higher vibrational love and spirit deepens. It’s great when this happens; a trust unfolds that whatever shows up can be worked through and repaired. We can stay in love. We can embrace the messiness of vulnerability and allow the heart to keep releasing its fear and shame and grief until we are emptied out. The emptier we become, the more capacity we have to love.

How do we focus on our spiritual meeting? It helps to keep asking: “Whatever I do next, however I meet you, is that taking us toward love or away from it?” Speaking our truth with love is one of the greatest gifts we can give another, even though it might hurt or break us open. When we meet in love and presence, Spirit is near. Spirit isn’t an intellectual idea, it is the very essence of who we are. Meeting from our essence allows heart-to-heart connection of the deepest kind. No physical pleasure compares to this heart-expanding bliss.

Love’s Alchemy

RI49 - Love's Alchemy

Love is a magical, transformative, alchemical force that keeps encouraging us to grow and evolve. When we are sitting in painful ways of relating it’s hard to keep perspective of the Grand Organising Design. It’s hard to remember that all the hard stuff is happening for us, not against us.

Love is an alchemist. Love provides us with partners who are in so many ways polar opposites. Love turns up the heat; gives us the gift of conflict. It is essential to be able to work with Love’s alchemy rather than against it; to listen to what is being called for and to help support the process. Each couple is like a perfectly designed koan – a paradoxical, seemingly impenetrable question that is perfectly designed to frustrate. We arrive at understanding and insight as we grapple and struggle. Like the caterpillar needs to struggle in the cocoon to strengthen its wings, we also need our struggles. We need the koan, the pain, the conflict to grow. It’s good to stop fighting against what is painful and instead listen deeply to what it is calling for? Even if we don’t come up with an answer, the listening is a way of saying, “I get it, growth necessary here.”

Of one thing we can be sure, Love has a great purpose. Love wants to be known. When we meet a closed door in ourselves, Love wants to break it open so that it can be known. This knowing and expanding in love, fully and unconditionally, is our great task. Love works constantly toward this blossoming.

See my Love’s Alchemy couple courses (click link)

Can love go deeper?

RI48 - can love go deeperA man longed for his wife to look him in the eyes while they were making love, but his wife couldn’t. This hurt him deeply and he felt his urgent need for this, but he didn’t give up on her. He didn’t say, “You can’t meet my needs so I must find someone else who can?” He stayed with her and he gently and continually invited her to look at him. It took ten years, but eventually they reached a place together where she felt safe enough to do that looking.

It is so easy for us to feel unmet in our relationships in some way. It is such a common thing, but what we do when this happens is of the utmost importance. Most often when we are unmet we make a story of it and start getting repeatedly crushed by our story. We can express our distress in many ways: threatening to leave, depression, blame and criticism or withdrawing. If our partners don’t notice these signals of distress and remain unresponsive, then often relationships can fail. Sometimes conflict is necessary to shift things, but we can also keep inviting others to respond to us in the way we need. We can take responsibility for what we want to create and persist with love. Being determined to stay-in-dialogue around what we need is one such persistent way.

Our relationship needs need to be met, but the way we achieve this is so important. We can keep inviting another to love us in the way we need to be loved, while not taking their inability to do so personally or rejecting them for what is probably their growth edge. Partners not willing to grow are problematic, but if there is a willingness then we don’t need to give up. Love goes deeper as it becomes less focused on getting our needs met and more focused on growing together, with patience and trust.

Calvin Harris song – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWWSM3wCiKY.

Call To love

RI47 - call to love

When your partner is yelling at you and finding fault, can you see this as a call for love? Or when they withdraw and become distant, can you see this as a call for love? It’s difficult to see escalated behaviour as anything but an attack on our sense of self, but would this change if we saw them as a partner in pain, needing our love?

In relating there is constantly a movement inward and a movement outward. Outward the challenge in conflict is to show love in the face of reactivity that signals rejection on all fronts. Reactive partners trigger our reactivity. When we are hurt it feels almost impossible to extend our love, but doing this often softens everything. It takes great potency to be able to rise above what is being thrown at us in the moment and keep our focus on the call for love.

The inward movement is a sense that when we are getting triggered or reactive we are calling to be loved. When we know this we can work on asking for it more directly. This requires that we learn how to get underneath our own defensive strategies of fight and flight to the pain in our hearts.  To do this vulnerable work takes courage. To be vulnerable and then to share that with another, takes huge courage. In both the inward and the outward movements, vulnerability is the reliable path, constantly leading us back to our heart, back to love.

Growth edge

RI46 - growth edgeRelationships are increasingly being viewed as having a deeply spiritual purpose. We can turn to our relationships, like we would go to an ashram, for spiritual growth and awakening. To do this we have to be able to focus on and commit to our growth edge. This is the edge of our unfolding self; the constantly present place which invites us to stretch into new growth.

Our partners hold up a mirror to us, revealing our growth edge. This is a great gift. We are designed to be team mates helping each other grow. Unfortunately the mirror is often held up with fear and reactivity, which tends to trigger defensiveness and disconnection. If we are already looking wakefully at what is wanting to grow in us, relationships feel easier. There is an aliveness, a higher purpose happening, a consciousness to our relating. And there is no end to this process. As soon as we integrate and grow in one area, another growth edge emerges. This is essentially the process of evolution. Relationships are perfectly designed to help us evolve.

What are we growing toward? We’re learning to love, to live in our truth, to hold and heal our woundedness. We’re learning to trust, to create safety, to feel securely attached. Sometimes we’re learning to let go, to stop living in fear of the Other, to be able to stay in dialogue, to listen, to give and receive, to be vulnerable, to see our story, to feel our pain, to forgive, to allow joy, to deepen spirit . . . There is so much beauty and greatness in the growth at hand. Using relationship consciously for growth is essential. The gardener has to pick up his spade to create a garden. The knight has to ride into battle. The lover has to keep making love. We can use the gifts we are given.

Choice point

RI45 - kin in that bodySome days our hearts can be aflame with our quest to love. Some days our love feels like an ember dying out. We can get tired of longing and start giving up. A kind of depression can settle in. When this happens it’s a signal that our heart-garden needs some attention.

Our quest to grow Love is harder when we’re sharing the job with another gardener. All sorts of reactions take place inside when we look over and see them distracted, busy, not paying attention, while we are working hard or longing hard. If this goes on and on, we will most likely want to pick up our spade and shout: “Hey you! Wake Up! Are you doing your share? I don’t want to be the solo love gardener here.” There is a choice point now. We can either get stuck in a war trying to get them to be more engaged or we can stay with our own heart. This doesn’t mean cutting them off and doing love separately. It means finding a way inside ourselves back to being able to love them. How do we lead our own hurt and numb heart back to love? Maybe we go over, take their hand and lead them back to us. Maybe we get super clear on what we need and keep holding that boundary. Often it requires being in dialogue and sharing what’s hurting. The way we share makes all the difference. Defensive, angry, self-protective sharing closes hearts. When we share in a way that breaks our own heart open it’s likely to break open the heart of the other gardener too.

When we can hold our own heart then we can offer it, but to hold it we have to know its insecurity and take responsibility for its meaning-making perception of things. We have a great quest to grow our capacity to love. In this constant questing we can learn how to love so that God will think, “Ahhh, I got kin in that body!”

Within-without

RI44 - within-withoutThere’s an age-old idea that we can only love another if we love ourselves. This idea is hard to digest if it’s presented as an either-or – either we are loving ourselves or we can’t love. Perhaps it’s better to say we can only love to the extent that we love ourselves. This then motivates us to work on the relationship with ourselves, rather than making us feel inadequate.

The within-without link in relationships is fascinating. If we are preoccupied with a sense of unworthiness we can project this onto our partners and then feel unloved by them. They could be loving us in their way, but if we don’t feel lovable their love can’t penetrate. Our love gets freed up as we operate less and less from our fear of not being enough. We start feeling more loved and start loving more freely and openly. We start staying in integrity with our needs and asking confidently for them to be met. We become love-focused rather than shame-focused.

It’s useful to keep both relationships – self and other – constantly in our consciousness. Being too other-focused tends to keep us blame-prone and not taking responsibility for the part our self-view plays. There are so many opportunities in relationship to grow our capacity to love. Every time we are able to hold our judgement and criticism of our partner and rechannel it into what we need, we are learning to love. Every time we have compassion for their humanness and help them out rather than turn against them, we are learning to love. Relationship becomes a journey where two people are learning to fully open to love, both within themselves and with each other.

Self compassion

RI43 - self-compassion

Disconnection in relationships is so often a reflection of the battle we have with loving ourselves. Part of this struggle is not knowing how to be compassionate toward ourselves and it follows that we’re not sure others can be loving and accepting of us either.

According to Kristin Neff, there are three core components of self compassion. The first is being able to be kind to ourselves. Kindness replaces the habit of judging and shaming ourselves. The second is a sense of common humanity, which says, “We all struggle . . . We all know the feeling of . . . “. It’s very comforting to know that we are all in the same boat, doing the same work. It helps us compare and compete less and it lessens the need to hide in case how we are “falling short” is exposed. The third component of self-compassion is mindfulness, which is the ability to be with our experience in a non-judgemental way. We learn to be present to whatever is arising, witnessing it and staying with it rather than trying to get away from it. It’s being an accepting friend to ourselves.

As the way we treat ourselves starts to become more loving this impacts our relationships. It may take the form of setting clearer boundaries and finding a voice to speak what we need. It may take the form of softening our hearts and being more present to love in general. How we relate to ourselves is directly linked to how we relate to the one we love.

Recommended 20 min Ted Talk on self-compassion by kristin Neff – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4

What’s under threat?

RI42 - self-compassion

When we are threatened in our relationships our defense system gets immediately triggered and we go into fight or flight mode. But what is actually being threatened? It’s not our bodies that are threatened, it’s our self-concept and our perception of how things should be. We want to protect our positive sense of self, so we fight against the threat or run far away from it.

We can also take the threat and turn on ourselves. When this happens we feel threatened by the other and then we also attack ourselves. The result of self-criticism is often a crippling feeling of shame. Shame then tends to hide and so we shut ourselves off from growth and love. If this isn’t addressed and we can’t find our way back into repair and feeling loved, then we can often get stuck in a negative view of self without knowing how to get out of it.

One of the best supportive practices for having a good relationship with ourselves is self-compassion, which is a practice of relating to ourselves with kindness. It’s growing a voice inside of us that is like a good friend. It can say, “I see you are struggling. It’s ok. We all struggle in relationships. We all want to feel valued and loved and it hurts when we feel we aren’t.” This self-soothing is important, but in relationships the care and soothing of the other is also essential. We need a felt sense that they see the damage of their criticism or the damage of their withdrawal and that together we can find a safer way of relating. When we know that what is being threatened is linked to our view of self, it becomes very useful to look at what is actually under threat and whether it is true.

Miraculous task

RI41 - miraculous taskHuman beings are wired to bond and be in connection. And yet being close to another person is enormously complex. We have blindspots and work to do on ourselves that often shows up as conflict. We are constantly moving toward or away. We withhold certain things and disclose others. How close can we get? How much of ourselves can we allow to be known? How kind can we stay?

If depression is a natural response to disconnection, then surely the great invitation of being in relationship is to keep learning how to stay in connection. Isn’t our challenging and miraculous task to learn how to stay heart-centred? We need the hook of falling in love to ignite and strengthen our commitment to this task.

We often say that relationships have ups and downs, but another view is that we are expanding and contracting in our capacity to love. When things are disconnected and shut down it’s a contraction of the heart. The invitation to repair this is constantly present. And what it takes in us to repair is where the healing and growth happen. With true repair, the inevitable expansion results, as the heart fills with love again. And so we go, constantly contracting and expanding, like breathing in and out, all the while learning how to stay with love.

Staying with

RI40 - staying withA teacher once asked her class of eager young minds, “We either succeed or we what?” They all shouted, “Fail”. “No,” she said gently, “We either succeed or we learn.”

It is useful to understand the part of our mind that believes we can fail. We have perceptions about what is and isn’t acceptable and if we aren’t living up to them then we can feel ashamed. Shame is a feeling that shows us how we don’t love ourselves or where we don’t have our back. It’s no surprise that we often can’t stay with our love for another, because so often we can’t stay in acceptance of ourselves. This inner-outer relationship goes hand-in-hand. The more we judge and blame ourselves, the more we tend to do that to others. The way of connection is to stay with our inner subjective experience, especially in times of pain. This healing ‘staying with’ practice helps us understand and learn from our inner being. It requires great self-honesty.

Once we can see and hold our own experience then we can share it with the one we love. Two beautiful things can happen between partners when shame shows up. One partner can practice staying with their lovers’ vulnerability. They can bring a comfort that says, “I can be here with you while you feel your pain, but I want you to know I see the whole of you and you are beautiful. It’s ok to make mistakes. It’s ok to get stuck sometimes.” The other partner can practice sharing their painful view of self and reaching for comfort. How incredible when we learn to say, “I’m not inadequate. I’m just learning here and thanks for staying with me while I do”.

A Zen tea cup

RI37 - a zen cupA Zen teacher met with a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. The professor had an air of self-importance. The teacher poured his visitor a cup of tea and then kept pouring. The professor shouted, “Stop! The cup is full.” The Zen teacher said, “You are like this cup, so full that nothing more can be added.”

In our relationships, we can so often be like a full cup. We have unchecked assumptions and stories about the other. We hold onto the rightness of what we think, think we know better and control things because we are afraid of getting hurt. We become the full cup of self protection. When we become fear-centered we lose sight of the other. Their voice and their different perception have no room because we’re too full of ours; too full of fear. In this situation partners don’t feel free. They start fighting for their freedom, for some space to be heard or a space not to be judged. Their fighting, however, often becomes another full cup pushing back or withdrawing, becoming full of the need to defend against feeling unsafe. So we go, back and forth, in the fullness of ourselves.

It is a gift to any relationship to keep emptying our cup and cultivating an open, trusting mind. It requires being able to stand in vulnerability and not knowing. It’s saying, “Help me understand you so that I don’t take it personally and close my heart.” The willingness to explore and discover and have a little faith. Emptiness or humility doesn’t usually come naturally. It has to be cultivated. It is so worth it, because the people we love start feeling free and this is a gift of immeasurable worth.

Hold Me Tight

Hold Me Tight is a title of a book written by Sue Johnson. The title suggests that in relationships partners can be a source of comfort and security to each other. When we can depend emotionally on another and feel loved and supported, we feel securely attached. This, however, is easier said than done, because the words, “depend emotionally” can bring up all sorts of internal reactions.

We often grow up with experiences where primary caregivers were not attuned to our emotional needs. They may have been too busy or distracted with their own lives. Often two common attachment styles can result from our childhood experiences, although people also experience both. A child can become preoccupied and anxious about the relationship. This would later become the adult who constantly wonders about whether their partner actually loves and values them. They tend to pursue the other and push for connection, becoming critical, blaming and demanding. This is not healthy dependency. Or a child may decide to minimise or deny their emotional needs. They may have got the message that their parents weren’t too interested in emotions and wanted them to get on with their own thing and be self-reliant. These kids become the adults who adopt a more avoidant attachment style, avoiding or minimising their emotional need for connection. They may appear aloof or distant, which gives the impression that they don’t need love and connection. They prefer to prioritise independence over any kind of dependency.

What is remarkable is that often preoccupied or pursuing partners and avoidant or distancing partners find each other. This sets up the perfect conflictual conditions for the alchemy of love to occur. Relationships become an opportunity for partners to become attuned and responsive to their own emotional needs and to each other’s. We get given the opportunity to learn how to relate from a sense of internal security and to trust in love.

Thawing

RI38 - thawing‘Tis the season to be jolly’ and yet, joy tends not to flow in the unthawed heart. When our hearts get a little frozen, what do we need to unfreeze; to become a little less rigid in our thinking and feeling positions?

Some of us, when our hearts start freezing, tend to go ‘out to sea’. It’s like we get into a boat and paddle away, letting the current take us further and further away. The heart we are leaving stands on the beach, waving a fist at us, angry, blaming and critical. In the relationship dance, both hearts have to thaw and both usually wait for the other to move first. Can we be the brave one, take responsibility for getting back into connection and start the thawing process?

When the out-to-sea heart thaws, it’s question becomes, “How do I get back?” Living with this question often leads to intention and then a decision to emotionally return to the other. This is scary because the other is angry and the homecoming might not be gentle. It’s not easy to know what to say to soften their hurt and angry heart. Sometimes some words like, “Can I give you a hug. I’m sorry I’ve been distant. I want to be close, but I’m sometimes afraid to be . . .” When the heart on the beach thaws it’s question becomes, “How do I soften and understand?” Softening is helped by taking responsibility for their part in the relationship dance. If the fist waving can turn into a beckoning, “Come back to me. I miss you. I’m sorry for the part I play in driving you away”, then it helps to draw the out-to-sea heart back. In this withdrawing-pursuing love dance, both hearts are learning how to make love stay.

Sharpening

RI37 - woodcuttersIn an inspirational story, two men were hard at work, chopping wood. The more wood they chopped the more they got paid. One of the men worked very hard all day, with hardly any rest. He chopped and chopped and chopped. When he happened to look over at the other woodcutter, he would often see him resting, sometimes even sitting in meditation. He thought to himself that he would definitely be the more successful. However, when the end of the day arrived, the other woodcutter had almost twice the pile of wood. He asked him, “How did you do that? I saw you taking so many breaks and not working nearly as hard as I was?” The other woodcutter smiled and said, “When I was resting, I was also sharpening my axe.”

The axe is a tool, which can be likened to our relating. How do we relate to the one we love? Do we chop away, following the same negative patterns of conflict and stuckness or do we take pause and look at what isn’t working, what’s blunt and ineffective. What is required to sharpen the axe, the effectiveness, of our relating? Do we need to be more vulnerable, less judgemental, more honest, more trusting or to feel more known and loved? If we take the time to look inside, each of us knows what we need so that we can keep our hearts open. This looking at ourselves is a moment-by-moment tuning in, that becomes a good habit. It’s a ‘sharpening the axe’ habit. When we can share our inner experience in a way that helps the one we love stay out of a defensive need to protect themselves, then our relating starts to become very rewarding. It starts becoming a love tool from which each person can draw what they need.

Emotion

RI36 - emotionEmotion, or energy in motion, is our body’s way of alerting us to what is important to us. Emotion is miraculous and often a complete mystery. If we learn how to follow our emotion, it usually leads us to the heart of things.

Emotion gets complex when we use secondary reactive emotions to cover up more primary, vulnerable feelings. For example, hurt feelings are often a combination of sadness over loss and fear of rejection, covered up with reactive anger. We have combinations and layers of feelings and often our feelings conflict, such as longing to be close, but also fearing to be close. We also have reflexive emotions, which are our feelings about our emotions. We tend to develop strategies that help us regulate or comfort ourselves so that we don’t get flooded or overwhelmed by our emotion. It’s easier to be critical of another, for example, than to feel vulnerable. We prefer to remain in control and keep safe by numbing, denying, covering up or dissociating from our feelings. This may feel safer, but fear of our feelings leads to self-protection, which inhibits love and connection.

Our emotions are powerful doorways into ourselves. They show us how we see ourselves, how we see others and our sense of safety in relationship. Emotions often just happen and can take us by surprise until we start to understand them. When we start listening to them and following their wisdom, they show us how we think and shape our experience. Learning how to access, regulate and integrate our emotions is crucial for intimate relationship.

Judgements

RI35 - judgementsConflict is often escalated by a feeling of being judged. To judge or make a decision about someone requires an assumption or a story about them that we believe to be true. When this happens, the mind tends to feel fear and narrows in a rejecting way rather than staying open enough to understand the other. The danger of judgement is that it leaves others with no room to move; no room to be free in. Judgements force people to defend themselves, but that defence inevitably escalates conflict.

Relationships provide us with constant opportunities to learn how to keep our hearts open to each other and out of judgement. To do this we need to be able to recognise that we have a story, a judgement or an assumption going on. It helps to know where this comes from and what feels stressful about it. It also helps to understand our underlying need and to communicate from that place rather than the story we have. Catching a forming judgement requires self-awareness and some inner strength to move from being reactive to intentional.

An essential part of staying out of judgement is also being able to be open to the idea that our story might not be true. It requires being able to accommodate a both-and possibility – both what goes on for me and what goes on for you. Can we be honest about what we believe without rejecting each other? It sometimes helps to start by saying, “I have a story going on in me and I’m wondering if it’s true . . .”. Being able to stay open to the other is helped enormously when we believe in their inherent goodness. It’s thinking, “I know you are good, I just don’t understand you.” Once we have worked with ourselves to create enough openness, we can then listen to understand. This requires an authentic interest and curiosity, which turns out to be a perfect antidote to judgment.

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Other posts on this page

  RI49 - Love's Alchemy

Love’s Alchemy

 

RI48 - can love go deeper

Can Love Go Deeper

 

RI47 - call to love

Call to love

 

RI46 - growth edge

Growth Edge

 

RI45 - kin in that body

  Choice Point

 

RI44 - within-without

Within-without

 

RI43 - self-compassion

Self compassion

 

RI42 - self-compassion

  What’s under threat?

 

RI41 - miraculous task

  Miraculous Task

 

RI40 - staying with

  Staying with

 

RI37 - a zen cup

  A Zen tea cup

 

RI39 - hold me tight

 

  Hold Me Tight

 

RI38 - thawing

 Thawing

 

RI37 - woodcutters

Sharpening

 

RI36 - emotion

  Emotion

 

RI35 - judgements

  Judgements