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Lennon and McCartney said it.  Rumi, Kabir, Hafiz (and other Sufis) wrote about it. Religion and culture chime in loudly about the importance of it. The  total mass of songs, poems and movies that implore us to find it, keep it and renew it could create another planet. The lectures, articles and books on love and compassion for the human race, a specific “other”  and the self fill the airwaves, bookshelves and ezines of our lives. So what is the fuss all about? Is it about romance or sex, connection or intimacy?

Ask yourself, “What if love were the single greatest tool for personal development”?  How might that change the way you view your intimate relationship?  If we look at the relationship we have with the beloved,  can we connect with the Beloved? Beyond the romantic elements, the physical delights,  the pain and misunderstanding, the frustration and the joy, lurks a path to awakening that accelerates the process of maturation a thousand fold.

“Shelf-help” as Wendy Palmer likes to call it, can advise us about meeting, wooing and  bedding perhaps wedding  the attractive candidate. Only being in a relationship that names “coming home to oneself” as the greatest goal, brings us Love, with the capital L.

Stephen and Ondrea Levine say “Few recognize the enormous power of a relationship as a vehicle for physical. spiritual, and emotional healing.”  Why is this true?

We are enculturated into a view of  intimate relationship as romantic.  And the definition for romantic is fairly narrow at that. Rarely do we encounter role models for partnering as a path to awakening to our true nature.

Relationships are the stage upon which we play out our very young understanding of love in its many guises. What we  were told (and taught) about love by our caretakers  when we were little shows up in our adult relationships. What we experienced in our very impressionable early years of development, before we could speak,  also shows up. How our parents treated one another is often a more indelible experience than their words about “being loving.” The same is true for  the injunctions of priests, rabbis, teachers, scout leaders, etc. How lovingly we were treated effects us long past the exit of many players from the stage of our lives.  What we needed and desired as vulnerable children (and didn’t get) we attempt to redress through our partners. This puts enormous pressure on our lovers – impossible pressure, as they too seek solace for  early unmet  needs.

In psychology, we learn of “object relations”  which deeply affect our loving connections.  These ways to relating to others basically casts them in a role of an important early caretaker unconsciously – so we don’t see the person – we are “back with” the important mother or father or granny. When we unconsciously stop seeing our beloved by replacing him or her with a parent  (with whom we  all have unresolved issues) we attempt to heal the past. By its very nature, the past cannot be undone, but we try again and again to have a “do over” which never works.  What works instead?

Recognizing that a relationship is the perfect place to practice transparency, commitment (especially when times are challenging),  generosity,  healthy boundaries (caring for the other without merging) deep listening, compassion are steps along the path. The method is being Present, both to arises within and to the real other before you,

And when things go awry,  and they always do, looking at the situation from an undefended position, begs us hold the question of “where am I in this?”  What is my contribution? Seeking out the truth of old pain and unresolved suffering  that arises and allowing our partner to be in it with us, rather than suppressing or denying  it allows us to begin the healing. When we can enter into our partners pain without trying to make it go away, hold space for her suffering and be a witness, we continue the healing process. These acts of loving  often are called forth when we are triggered into the old feelings…  yet being with the experience, sharing our feelings of shame, guild, abandonment, loss or grief  creates the intimacy that ultimately heals, that accelerates our maturation.

Rather than leaning on the beloved to hold us up, we become two upright entities that evolve beside one another without creating a hindering shadow. So yes, all you need is love, real love which transcends romance.

Dancing in the Dark (Part One)

Dancing in the Dark
(Part One)

In our living, there’s a dance partner we’ve often ignored, or worse.  Sometimes, we’ve attempted annihilating this partner. Certainly, we’ve confined it to the dark (often called the unconscious).  This partner goes by many names. Here, we’ll call the part of ourselves we’ve discounted, hated or ignored, our shadow. It is our unlived life.

Our shadow is the part of our self, which is incompatible with who we take our self to be.  Frequently, “shadow” is narrowly interpreted to mean those “negative” parts of ourselves we hope never come to light – the parts around which we feel shame, guilt or regret. Actually, any part of ourselves we refuse to bring forward, our brilliance or generosity for instance, or our innocence or vulnerability – any part that we do not wish to see, or acknowledge becomes our shadow.

Roger Housden says in introducing  Risking Everything

“…Yet it is precisely the crack in our lives that can let the light pour through. We do not spring from life perfectly formed. We each have our fault lines, and it is not by turning away from them that life suddenly takes on its full glory. No, I believe that we come to our fullness not in spite of our darkness, but in the embrace of it.”

When we do not see parts of ourselves, we cannot integrate them. Worse, we cannot release the creative energy trapped there.  Our failure to integrate these parts limits our vitality and power. This shadow partner then controls the dance by limiting our steps, holding us back, even shouting, “No,” as we attempt new moves.

Last night, as I was sleeping
I dreamt – marvelous error!–
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.”

– Antonio Machado

When our shadow keeps us from stepping onto the dance floor or moving freely, creatively, constraint, stiffness step in.  Unable to live fully into all of ourselves, our authenticity suffers.  We then have to devise strategies to compensate for the moves we cannot make. Our potential for creativity and inner power is diminished.

How can we move towards being fully ourselves?  How can we integrate our shadow- often wily, usually mysterious, sometimes fiercely tenacious? Can we embrace all of ourselves? What does it take to move freely and creatively in our lives?

This process is symphonic – having several movements infused with reoccurring themes. To begin we must notice when and to what we have strong reactions.  Both strong positive and negative reactions hold clues.  While unable to look into the depths of our own shadow, we often see it reflected outside of ourselves, in others.

When our response to others is strong, we have an opportunity to investigate what about them “triggers” us.  Whether our response is positive or negative, it is useful to
extrapolate the qualities that we notice when we are galvanized by another..

Listing these, checking them out carefully and then using our list to find these qualities in ourselves is a useful first step in shedding some light on our shadowy dance partner.

In coaching we often speak of the need to be open and curious. Curiosity allows engagement, dynamic interest, movement towards lightheartedness. .Joy.discovery, openness -an awake state – exuberance. and  Innocence are present in curiosity. We are inherently experimental and playful as infants – ready to “taste” the world.  Curiosity brings forward our potential which transforms into “hope”. It is a movement towards freedom.

Our assumption, as coaches,  is that we are curious when we ask questions.  On one level this is true, yet curiosity is a much deeper inclination and often illuminates some part of our shadow.

What are we not curious about? What questions will we refrain from asking? And beyond the asking of questions, where does curiosity lead us? Can we feel the exhilaration of it arising or is the questioning mechanical, stilted?  How willing are we try new practices with clients? Or devise fresh self-observations? Do we do our own inquiry? How often will we continue to read something that at first doesn’t appeal to us?  Are we willing to attend a training in an area that doesn’t light us up?

When we have blind spots around our curiosity, there are subjects we avoid entering into fully – for ourselves and with clients. Sometimes this happens because “we already know” – that is we make assumptions from a very limited sampling or insufficient evidence.  Or, we touch into a topic that brings up strong somatic resistance and so we deal with it superficially –  blind to the fact  that we are shutting down an  important vein of inquiry.

The shadow side of curiosity can show up around issues of money, abuse, pleasure, relationships, rage, eating habits, child rearing, power or any of life’s intricate events. For each of us, it develops out of our own unique experience.  Yet, to fully serve our clients, we need to bring light to bear on the very dark side of our limited curiosity.

The issue is further complicated by how we hold curiosity. Is it solely a cognitive experience, a sort of intellectual inquisitiveness?  For many of us acculturated into intellectual curiosity, it remains at that level. We disown sensual curiosity, not willing to engage with textures, scents, sensations or tastes, perhaps.

When we get really curious about the emotional responses that arise in us, when we are listening deeply, or when  we develop enough curiosity for a nuanced understanding of how we are reacting to our client’s narrative, we are experiencing emotional curiosity. Can we hold strong emotions – our own and that of others? Or do we avoid certain emotions, shutting down the curiosity of our hearts? When we become skillful in staying curious about our feelings, we serve both the client and ourselves.

(to be continued)