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Month: August 2014

Co-Creating Relationships

Co-Creating Relationships


There is a thought I have been mulling over about romantic relationships as well as what sort of audience I would like to reach with this site. How can we create the relationships we desire? We all know people in clearly unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships, what are the things they are doing that make them dysfunctional? And conversely when we look at an example of a healthy relationship, what are they doing to continue their success? I believe the secret to successful interpersonal relationships has to do with actively creating the interaction together. In this article I would like to take you on an adventure of consciousness, and give you some activities to try with your partner. These do not have to be done with a romantic partner by any means. Anyone who is willing to take a moment to practice raising their awareness in their interaction with you is a perfect participant for these exercises.

Often people express their displeasure with their relationships to me. And I notice a few recurring themes: Boredom,  resentment, distrust, immature communication. incongruities in the verbal vs. behavior and jealousy, to name a few. I find that often people are not mindful of the types of interactions they want to have with others, and have a laissez faire sort of approach to the relationships that are formed. And while spontaneous connections with incredible people who mirror your goals and values do happen I find people surround themselves with people they are close to in proximity more than similar interests or ideals. I theorize that the trouble begins at the inception of an interaction, this sort of falling into the company of whatever rift raft happens to be around. An example being those who take people home from the bar and then seem shocked that the person drinks heavily and enjoys an active social life picking up people in bars. That would be akin to bringing an opossum home and lamenting that he does not act like a cat. It is ludicrous to ask an opossum to behave like a cat, he cannot be other than what he is. By and large people seem to like those who express interest in them, and begin spending large amounts of time with the interested parties because “Why not?” This is a very passive way to interact I believe, and I think will often lead to incongruity in your own behavior down the line. Consider this; if we are not the master of our choices, if we do not make them consciously, then who is responsible for the places we end up in life?

I know several very clever people who were with romantic partners that seemed highly in-congruent with their lifestyles, which was often a source of discord between these couples. A highly motivated woman with a high paying job was dating a man who was chronically unemployed, and a man with strict ideas about monogamy repeatedly returned to a partner that was unfaithful and openly expressed their disinterest in settling down, are two prime examples. When I inquired what common ground they had with their partner and what sort of interaction they were hoping to achieve together, in both cases these people looked at me as though I had sprouted a third eye.

“Well I mean…I don’t know. We just kind of hang out, I guess we haven’t really talked about that.”

“I am afraid to have that conversation. What if we are not that serious?”

Their answers baffled me. Both of these couples had been together for years, it seemed very odd they would not have discussed their goals together. The idea of having such a conversation seemed to horrify both parties, as though discussing this would highlight the incompatibility. Taken a step further, when I inquire why they are spending their time with these people, what drew them together, and how they met their partner, I received an interesting answer.

“They hung around the same people I did.”

Or “He was at a party and he said he was interested in me. I didn’t have anything else going on so…”

In these answers not only do I perceive a lack of energy I see a lack of enthusiasm. I hypothesize this goes with the flow, devil may care attitude is actually victim mentality in disguise. I wonder if perhaps seeing the word through the lens of a victim, allows a certain freedom to blame others for the occurrences. This sort of thinking is categorized by the sentiment that everyone they have dated is an asshole, or all their previous romantic partners were crazy. By not taking responsibility for your own choices in company you allow yourself to be flotsam washed up on the shores of your own life through no fault of your own. And i think that is a load of malarkey.  I do not think that physical proximity and someone expressing interest is a good enough reason to become involved with another human. Through our choices we carve out a future for ourselves. If you are not actively participating in those choices what sort of life would you expect to live in? One in which you feel powerless? One in which we feel like you float on tides of events that just happen to you? I encourage you to put on the brakes, and stop seeing yourself as a victim. Relationships, romantic or otherwise, are not something that just happen. We must treat them like any other area in which we desire success. So how do you bring the process of cocreation in the interactions with those around you? A great place to begin would be by sharing the idea of co created relationships with your partner. Express a desire to try the ideas on for size. Share this piece of writing with them, or summarize the idea in your own words. But I find the results to be most productive if both parties are aware and actively participating.

Exercise One: Intention

The practice of setting your intention is a powerful goal setting tool. It is akin to meditation in that you are seeking to quiet the chatter of the mind for a moment to find clarity. In this exercise you are trying to build a cohesive statement for your intention of an interaction with another person. Find a quiet space to think about your intention within the context of the interaction. You may want to write these things down, or simply have some moments of meditation over the ideas. Whatever your method, take this moment seriously. Examine the thoughts that come to you, and then share them with your partner. Some questions you might ask yourself may be something like the following: What kind of interaction do you have with this person currently? What sort of interaction would you like to have moving forward? In what ways is this interaction successful? In what areas does the interaction need improvement? What are your expectations in this interaction?

Exercise Two: Observation

Set a timer for two minutes and sit facing your partner. During this two minute period I want you to maintain eye contact with the other person. For the first two minutes one person is going to describe the observations they have about your interaction. At the end of the two minute period the other partner will do the same. The catch is while one person is speaking the other partner is to remain silent. Your jobs as the silent partner is to listen and absorb as much as you can, and your role as the speaker to convey your perspective as clearly as you are able. How did that feel? Which was easier for you, speaking or listening? After the time is over I want you to spend a moment trying to look at your relationship from an objective perspective. Pretend if you like, that you do not know the intricacies of all the moments you have shared together. Try to observe yourself from a third person perspective if only for a few moments. Perhaps make notes at this stage of the process if that helps you. What does your mental state feel like when you encounter this person? What physical sensations do you notice when preparing to encounter this person? These thoughts are not something you have to share with your partner, although it is certainly an interesting point of conversation if you so desire. This is something that can be done with an existing interaction, or with new people you meet.Feel free to continue these practices with your partner or with new people. I have found there are new things to discover about your partner at various times, and these are a great place to begin a dialogue. Brainstorm ways in which you can be fully present in your interactions with each other, even if it is only for ten minutes at a time. Carve out time to craft your interactions.

I encourage you to take an active role in your interactions with those around you, be present in the moments, and actively participate. I imagine you will begin to notice a change in the texture of these encounters, in how you communicate and respond as well as how you approach changes in your relationship. A quick word about expectations before moving forward, it is important to introspect and investigate your inner values, and ask yourself if someone existing in a different frame of mind upsets your expectations. However herein lies the dangers of expectations. There is nothing at all wrong with having wants and desires in a relationships, but it is quite detrimental to hang your personal expectations on another person as though they are a coat rack. Without clear communication and honesty one party is bound to feel resentful, and begin throwing of the weight of your expectation coats. I want to caution you here about expectations. They belong totally to you, they are your thoughts. Just because you have them does not mean your partner is responsible for upholding them. Keep in mind the purpose of this is accepting responsibility for your own emotional state. Remember, you are the one steering your own life.


The Power of Words

The Power of Words

I have a pair of friends, Courtney and Fred, who were once in a polyamorous relationship with another man named Alen. This was my first introduction to the world of multiple partners and I found their arrangement very inspiring. Never before had I been told it was okay to love more than one person at a time and that each love for those people would be unique. From their interaction my own views on romantic relationships was forever shifted. I dabbled in polyamory for a time, and have great respect for those I find who make it work, even though I no longer seek that kind of arrangement. Eventually Courtney, Allen and Fred’s relationship shifted and dissolved but they remain very close friends’ years later. However every now and then when Courtney was upset with Fred for whatever reason she frequently tell our mutual male friends lurid details of their previous foray into a threesome relationship. One of her favorite stories was how Fred was often the ‘bottom’ or receiver in the two men’s sexual encounters, often to the horror of the listeners. This struck me as incredibly personal and a very strange the first few times I heard her craft this story. Until one instance she divulged this information to our friend Jack, who like myself had heard the story multiple times and at this moment became fed up with it.

“I don’t understand why you keep telling me this. Fred is my friend! And I don’t want to have sex with him. And even if I did, I wouldn’t think less of him because that is what he likes. It’s like you are trying to embarrass him by telling us this, like you are trying to tell me he is less of a man because of that stuff. I don’t care, Fred is my friend.”

It was at this moment that I realized the full extent of what Courtney was trying to gain by telling and retelling this story when she became angry with Fred. By casting Fred as a receiver in that interaction and purposely telling that story the Fred’s male friends, she was seeking to embarrass and call Fred’s worth as a “man” into question. It seemed to me that she was trying to encourage judgment and labeling our friend when he had done something to displease her. This cycle of behavior appalled me, but also sparked the thoughts which became this piece of writing. Here I wish to explore the way in which we use words specifically to belittle or discredit young men and then I want to propose an exercise to examine these types of judgments we may have adopted.

We use words to create our reality. From the time we begin learning languages as toddlers we use them to decode an unfamiliar world around us. Words give the world a texture, resonance and meaning. The first three years of life are critical periods from a speech and language perspective. It has been documented that without proper stimulation at these stages language becomes very difficult for an individual to learn. It is at this time we grasp our first impression of what it means to be an individual; we begin to learn the labels for our surroundings.We begin to form a picture of self during this time, what it means to be a separate being from our parents and the sensations we feel. This is also around the time children will begin to identify male and female distinctions and it is at this time we begin to imprint appropriate behavior for each gender.There is a trend I have noticed in which we use derogatory words to imprint cultural norms and mores upon people. And I believe this begins in very early childhood in the way we begin to distinguish what is expected of each gender.

For example if a young girl trips and begins to cry her caretaker will immediately pick her up and begin to soothe her. This continues until the fear response stops and the young girl stops crying. When a young boy encounters this same situation however I often see a response from caretakers to be very different.The caretaker doesn’t immediately offer physical comfort to the boy and instead tells him that he is fine. Neither of these reactions to the child falling is inherently incorrect, but I think it is something very interesting which continues into our later life. Those first impressions about the world around us and what is expected begin right there; boys are encouraged at a very young age to not respond to physical or emotional pain.I have heard adults remark that a young boy was a ‘sissy’ or a ‘crybaby’ if he showed a strong preference of spending his time with his mother rather than his father, or if the child expressed an interest in a type of play that wasn’t designated for boys when referring to a child who was three years old. I have heard a father tell his son of five years to ‘man up’ when the child began to cry while the family was on an outing. Both of these sentiments struck me as incredibly sad. The same behavior in girls is not often remarked upon nor is it seen as a negative mark upon her personality if she displays emotionality or neediness on occasion. So why is there a drastically different set of rules for young boys? This is the very place we begin to instill the acceptable differences between the male and female emotional responses. This is where we tell young men that they are supposed to be stoic and reserved. We shame them with derogatory words which are analogous to behaviors we encourage in women. And i wonder if this is because crying or showing weakness is perceived to be something exclusively for women; who are ipso facto considered weak.

And this is where my anecdote about my friends Courtney and Fred comes into play. I began to observe and take note of similar types of stories and the language used in the situations around me. When my friends expressed disinterest in a man because his occupation as a nurse, I inquired as to why. Her response was that his choice of profession was “women’s work” and if they were in public together she perceived that others would perceive him as “less of a man” and that she felt her femininity was called into question. It seems that if a man expresses an interest in a perceived feminine activity or profession he faces ridicule. Most insulting things you can say to men have to do with stripping them of their masculinity and giving them a feminine title. Again and again we run into this idea that there is something wrong with being homosexual, specifically the receiving partner in a homosexual encounter. Why? Is this because the most insulting thing you can compare a man to is a woman? Is there some sort of inherent limitation in simply being female? I think that is a very odd message to send into the world. This common occurrence of belittling a man by suggesting he is feminine I think must give men some really strange beliefs about women. And conversely gives women some strange ideas about masculinity. Not only by suggesting that somehow being feminine is universally weak, but that somehow a man can lose his status and slip into some strange pseudo female status. None of which is true.

You have lost your ‘man card’.
Why don’t you man up?
Why don’t you grow a pair?

All of this because it is shameful for men to be like women? I think we must completely rethink the way we think about the words we use, and how we use them against each other. Sexism is not something that affects solely those of the female persuasion. Sexism hurts all of us. The feminist and men’s rights movements should be working together to create an equal world where we do not shove each other into assumed roles of nonsense. Just because we face different difficulties doesn’t mean than those on the other end do not have equally complicated paths to walk.

I would like to encourage you to think outside the box a bit, and practice awareness in your daily interactions with people. Do you begin to use some of these phrases in your daily encounters with people? What beliefs do you encounter about the roles of men and women? Examine the thoughts you have about sexuality, about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Where did these ideas come from? What are some assumptions you find within your mind? And most importantly how are these ideas helpful to the growth of you as a person? Firstly I challenge you for one day to try and be aware of the times you attach a judgment to another person, especially in times of stress. Notice the things you become judgmental or defensive about. And when you notice these thoughts do not scold yourself for having them, simply let the thought pass on. See if after practicing this for a day you notice a change in your mind space. Does it feel less cluttered? Do you feel less pressure releasing the judgments that come up surrounding people? In removing the judgments from others we often begin to notice the times we label ourselves harshly as well. I encourage you that when this begins to happen you do the same exercise, notice the thoughts, but do not rebuke yourself for having them. Show compassion for yourself and others and slowly your pattern of thinking will begin to change. We will not be so quick to deal out harsh conclusions of those around us, because I believe you will begin to see we are all very similar. And if we turn that high powered perception we use to craft those unnecessary, derogatory phrases we use to attack the character of others upon ourselves, I think we will find those words to be erroneous.

Instead of using words to label and deconstruct people, for one day I want you to practice using words to inspire others. Give someone a compliment, tell your partner you appreciate them, or let someone know how much their hard work means to you. How does this feel different from using words in a derogatory manner? Do you encounter anxiety or resistance to this particular exercise? How do you feel when approaching people to say something kind to them? How does your perception change after you have done this activity?

10 Ideas to Shift Perception

10 Ideas to Shift Perception


For my introductory post I have begun with a list of ten principles which I have found particularly influential on my journey of self development. The ideas here are presented in a list format for the sake of brevity, as I do have a tendency to be a bit verbose. These are thoughts or in some instances quotes which have assisted in shifting my perspective, or which have brought clarity to a situation. It is not however a rigid charter of behavior, or code of ethics. There is a fantastic bit of dialogue from the film “Dogma” in which two characters are discussing the purpose of belief, which I feel is fitting.

“Rufus: Christ said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.”

“Bethany: Having beliefs isn’t good?”

“Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier.”

I think that little bit of conversation holds the essence of what I would like the share with you.You have a code of ethics you live by, and upon discovering that I am living by a different set of values you begin to encounter internal friction or angst. Afterall are we not all the heros of our own story? Everyone you meet believes they are absolutely doing the right things. You may encounter all kinds of interesting reactions within yourself when confronted with differences in belief. Perhaps you become angry and combative. Or maybe you feel fearful and defensive. Perhaps you make an outward gesture of acceptance of this person with the different idea, but within your mind you slap a label on them. All of these things are a reality you have created, your emotions and thoughts coloring in the blank spots.So I ask that you approach this collection of thoughts with an open mind. No one has carved this onto stone tablets. These are not beliefs. These are ideas.

Everyone you meet has something to teach you.

Emerson said it in a slightly different way:

“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”

Embrace the opportunities to get to know people. Each person has skills and insights you have not come to just yet on your journey. Clever people tend to fall into a mental trap of believing there are the smartest person in the room and therefore stop engaging with those around them. This leads you to stop absorbing information and pretty soon you will not be the cleverest one in the room.

The “Self” is an Illusion.

It is natural to develop a sense of self. That sense of where “we” end and the universe begins is an important process as we try to navigate through a world with a multitude of stimuli. Unfortunately that process tends to get away from us and we all begin to see ourselves as islands in a vast sea of alone. The idea that there is a “self” is an elaborate story we crafted for ourselves.I had an experience in my early twenties in which I became aware that the capital “I” I perceived myself to be was not true. That which I identified as “me” was simply a collection of belief, assumptions, memories. But none of it was me.After being terrified of what I was experiencing I realized that this moment was an opportunity. This is what non attachment felt like and I was given a few moments of forgetting everything I believed. I refer to this as my ego death. The capital “I” perspective is an illusion, a story in which we cast our self as a hero. Ego death is not some permanent state I have achieved, it is something that comes and goes, and sometimes I am still telling myself stories about myself. But it is a reminder to remain aware. I encourage you to experiment for one day and notice when you begin telling yourself those stories about about yourself. Bring your attention to those moments, let them pass, and carry on to the next moment with awareness.

Live in the moment.

I know, I know it is the most cliché thing one could say here. Everyone seems to say this. At some point I realized that each day, each moment I have the choice about who I am becoming. If I want to become a doctor or a circus clown the only thing standing in my way is myself. Past events may have guided you to this moment but it is NOT the sum of you. I can put down the baggage I have carried with me from that past and leave it right here. That is my choice. Every single moment is an opportunity to create the exactly future I want. Invest in the future version of you; create that kind of authentic and actualized life you want with your actions. Not tomorrow. Not after breakfast. Right now.

You can create the life you want through visualization.

The mind is a powerful thing. There are studies which suggest thoughts we have for extended periods of time rewire the neural pathways of the brain, effectively changing how we perceive things. ( Colotla, Victor A.; Bach-y-Rita, Paul (2002). “Shepherd Ivory Franz: His contributions to neuropsychology and rehabilitation”) Anyone who has experienced a bought with depression can relate to this. When you are in the doldrums of depression it feels as though the world has always been and will always be that way. And there is evidence to suggest if we do not use certain neural pathways they can deteriorate. So if we do not practice awareness, or non judgment or being happy, the brain can forget how. Now I am not talking about “The Secret” or refering to “The 48 Laws of Power”. I am referring to an actual practice of goal setting and follow through. Visualization of the goals you have set your sites on is a fantastic beginning.

Labels Separate Us.

Beliefs and labels are the dividers we shove in between “us” and “them”. Sure labels are an easy way to compartmentalize, and came about as a way to organize the world. But this is another one of the ways our minds warp concepts into something that stifles growth. In order to seek truth and freedom it is important to start taking down these beliefs. Beliefs or assumptions about religion, love, family, and self. Question everything you believe is “supposed” to be a certain way. As you begin to deconstruct the ideas it is easier to see the connection between people who previously seemed vastly different than you. I am not any of the various labels I paste on myself in order to describe my proclivities. I am a human being. And the differences between you and me are very small compared to the similarities.

No matter where you go, there you are.

This is an idea my father suggested to me during a partciularly stressful time in my life. I had an intense desire to pack up my things and leave when a situation became overwhelming. Have you ever noticed yourself repeating the same cycles, dating the same types of people, getting caught up in the same feelings? Your environment may change, your hairstyle and clothing may change, but you are the constant factor in the equation. Unless you practice awareness, and make adjustments to the things that are destructive in your life, you will find much of life to be a rerun of an episode you do not particularly enjoy. If you learn the lesson of a given cycle you don’t have to repeat it, you know the solution and you do not get sucked into the external drama. Be aware of patterns you notice in your behavior and begin to adjust your thoughts and actions to produce a different and desirable outcome.

Everything you need is already inside of you.

There was no fall from paradise, no expulsion from Eden, there is no Magrathea. One of the fallacies I have encountered in my study philosophy is the idea that humanity is on some heroic quest to return home. We take cues from literature such as Homer’s “Odyssey” and Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”; the idea that we have been sent away from some great love or understanding and our job is to return home. I must disagree. We are already home. The quest for understanding is an internal one. Every tool you need to create an authentic life is inside of you. There is nothing wrong with seeking advice or assistance in understanding or accessing those tools, but understand that those outside forces are not more powerful than you. You are the authority on your life, I cannot presume to know your life better than you. It is entirely up to you to accept responsibility for your life and make the changes you want to create balance.

The cause of suffering is desire/craving and ignorance.

This is the second of the Four Noble Truths put forward by Buddha in his teachings. He suggests that all things are temporary and clinging to them is what causes the suffering we experience in the world. I have struggled with this concept on and off again, fearing that if I became attached to people or my own existence, or if I desired something it was hindering my progress. But I do not believe that is what this truth is implying. It is a reminder. Suffering is a symptom of these irrational sorts of behaviors, so if you find yourself suffering examine what you are clinging to. This does not mean we should pull away from the world, or not express love for others, or become hermits.I interpret to mean we should take a moment to examine the why behind the feeling.

The opposition of love is not hate, it is apathy.

I am not talking about romantic love. I am talking about compassion. I perceive the currency of the universe to be compassion and understanding, and taking action to see beyond the capital “I”. And the corrosive force in the world isn’t hatred, or ignorance, it is apathy. To do nothing with yourself is a travesty. One of the worst things I have ever heard comes from an episode of the show “Derek” created by Ricky Gervais. A character who shows no real ambition or direction remarks:

“I am not a failure because I failed. I am a failure because I did not try.”

This resonated with me immensely as one who has been paralyzed by fear of failure to the point of non action. This is your life and you have the ability in each moment to change the direction if you want. Do not let apathy eat into your motivation.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” –Albert Einstein

Curiosity is one of the most fascinating parts of the mind. It is this brilliant piece of us which allows us to create, explore and grow exponentially. The most influential people I have encountered in my life seem to have a natural curiosity about the world which encourages them to ask unconventional questions and more importantly come to unconventional conclusions. The practice of finding things which interest you and asking the right questions, of pushing yourself beyond your mental comfort zone is one of the most beneficial skills one can develop. I encourage you to investigate the things you are genuinely curious about, use those curiosities to find that which fills your with purpose. Begin in small ways if this seems intimidating. Dedicate half an hour a day to researching something that tugs at your curiosity and after a week of this practice examine how your perspective is different. As you practice, diversify your research; examine ideas which are contrary to your perspective. Most importantly; enjoy the process. That is the point after all.