Friday, February 20, 2015

A holding environment for ourselves and our lovers

The more we allow another person to truly matter to us, the more likely it is that just by being themselves, over time they will be sure to trigger just about everything that remains unresolved within us. To whatever degree we have not psychologically, emotionally, and somatically digested unmet feelings of dependency, abandonment, loneliness, grief, shame, and rage, we can count on our partners to continue to offer this opportunity to us, in a seemingly endless number of ways. We might come to see this as the unique gift of the beloved – his or her fiercely compassionate invitation into the burning alive crucible of intimacy, vulnerability, and healing.

We each come into adulthood with a bias toward connection, separateness or, disorganization. These strategies correspond to an early environment where our caregivers were not consistently available, engulfing, or abusive, respectively – as well as to avoidant, ambivalent-preoccupied, or disorganized attachment styles. As all of our emotional wounding arose in relationship, it is best untangled and unwound within a relational matrix. While solitary practice is immensely helpful in this area, many have come to discover that it is not enough – most meditative practice was simply not designed to work with this level of the developmental spectrum, intertwining with the unfolding of our subjectivity and traumatic narrative. This is not a fault of the meditative traditions; they are excellent at what they do, i.e. introducing and deepening the realization of one's true nature as open awareness itself. Many have found it helpful, skillful, and kind, however to explore pre-personal, personal, interpersonal, *and* transpersonal dimensions of what it means to be a human being, not getting lost in and over-emphasizing one at the expense of abandoning the others. 

The notion that a 'good' or 'healthy' relationship is one where we are 'met' by our partners is a fascinating topic, and spans multiple levels of inquiry (somatic, psychological, emotional, and neurobiological). As infants, we come to know who we are through having our experience mirrored back to us. Through consistent and attuned contact to our developing subjectivity, we are able to develop a sense of confidence, integration, and cohesion in our sense of self and unfolding nervous system.   

While we carry forward this longing for mirroring into our adult lives, we may discover that it is not actually possible for another to provide this function for us, and the expectation that they do (which is often subtle and unconscious) is quite a burden to place upon them. As long as we are relying on our partners to mirror back to us our essential lovability and self-worth, we will not be able to live as love itself, open to our true nature, fully open to them, love them as subjects in their own right (not merely objects and functions in ours), and to take the risk that radical, transforming intimacy will always require. If we take this dependency to the extreme, of course we then end up in the very sticky territory of codependent dynamics of all sorts, shapes, and sizes. 

This is not to say that we cannot or should not ask for help from our partners and make requests of them to support us on the journey along the way. Of course we can and should do so, while simultaneously taking ultimate responsibility for our own experience, knowing they will not always be able to meet our needs. It is reasonable, healthy, and intelligent to ask our partners to be kind – to make contact with us and our emotional world, while not fusing with it – and to provide us the space that we need for our experience to unfold, illuminate, and transform on its own. These qualities of contact and space are the exact qualities that grow babies' brains and nervous systems – and are likewise supportive for us as adults to continue to mature, individuate, and move into deeper levels of awareness and sensitivity.

May we make the revolutionary commitment to offering a true holding environment – for ourselves, our lovers, and our fellow travelers – and above all else to practicing a wild and uncompromising kindness as we walk the path of love together. For it is a radical path that will demand everything from us... and even much more than that. Yet if we allow it, it comes bearing fruit beyond our wildest imagination. 

Art by Adam Martinakis