Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The healing potential of the relational field

To whatever degree we have not metabolized unmet feelings of abandonment, loneliness, shame, and rage, we can count on our fellow travelers to offer this opportunity to us in a seemingly endless number of ways. This can be excruciating, but we might come to see this invitation as the unique gift of the relational field, a provocative summons into the very charged crucible of intimacy, openness, aliveness, and healing.

We each come into adulthood with a bias toward connection, separateness, or disorganization, corresponding to an early environment where caregivers were inconsistently available, engulfing, or abusive, respectively. As nearly all of our emotional wounding arose in relationship, many believe that it is best untangled and unwound within a relational matrix. Solitary practice is immensely helpful in this area, yet many have come to discover that it is not enough, realizing that most contemplative practice was simply not designed to work with this level of the developmental spectrum, intertwining with the unfolding of subjectivity, trauma, and narrative.

The notion that a “good” or “healthy” relationship is one where we are consistently seen and met by our partners is worthy of exploration. 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 acquire a sense of confidence, trust, and cohesion in our sense of self and in the validity of our emotional world. While we carry forward this longing for mirroring into our lives as adults, we may discover that it is not possible for another to fully provide this function for us, and the (often subtle) expectation that they do so is quite a burden to place upon them.

As long as we rely on a good other to mirror back to us our essential lovability and self-worth, we will not be able to fully open to them; it is just too risky because we have given them so much importance in our own psychic development, assigning functions to them that are ultimately ours to provide. To the degree we see the other as a mere object in our own experience, there to meet our needs and confirm who we are – and not as a subject in their own right – we will not be able to cultivate the clear perception required to explore with an open heart the shaky, at times terrifying, relentlessly precious territory that radical, transforming intimacy is by its nature.

This is in no way to say that we cannot or should not ask our friends and partners for help and support along the way, to hold us, encourage us, and stay close as we navigate the chaotic, glorious, messy, very human journey. Of course we can, and should, while simultaneously taking ultimate responsibility for our own experience, knowing the other will not be able to care for our inner worlds for us, to walk the path for us, to know what it is like to truly open our hearts and touch the infinite, and to also know what it is like to experience utter heartbreak, deflation, and disappointment.

It is valid, healthy, and totally honorable to ask our partners to be kind – to make contact with us and our emotional world, while not fusing with and impinging upon it – and to provide the space we need for our experience to unfold and illuminate on its own. To allow us to succeed and to fail, to hold it together and at times to fall apart, to rest in joy and to crumble in despair. To forget who we are and to remember again… only to forget once more. To know the full-spectrum of what it means to be an open, vulnerable, tender human being. These qualities of contact and space are the exact qualities that grow babies’ brains and nervous systems, and are likewise supportive of us as adults who 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 the heart together. When in doubt, be kind, to yourself and the others that mysteriously come into and out of your life. For it is a radical and astonishing path, this journey of intimacy, that will demand everything from us, but offers fruit that is worthy of our deepest gratitude and awe.

My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available