3 Riffs on Relating

3 riffs on relating  —  ideas and concepts about exploring the depth of intimacy

The great­est error in rela­tion­ship-build­ing comes from the idea that your part­ner can “make you whole,” or will “make you hap­py.” Here are 3 riffs on relating!

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Riff the First  —  The black hole

I look at my core, the cen­ter of my being. I push deep down with my fist to find a calm­ness I can take out­side myself and spread on my arms and legs and face. But when I get there, it’s like an earth­quake. There is no calm cen­ter, no big ted­dy bear at the core of my soul. It’s all frag­ment­ed and shat­tered and quak­ing. And as soon as I rec­og­nize it, I give it per­mis­sion to come out and shake the rest of me. And it does.

Kel­ly Stern, THESE ARE MY BONES, Dis­ser­ta­tion, The Grad­u­ate Fac­ul­ty of The Uni­ver­si­ty of South­west­ern Louisiana, 1997

A friend said, “I just real­ized that, for all of my life, I’ve been look­ing for some­one to fill up this black hole I feel inside. I now know that no one can do that for me.” I has­tened to add that he couldn’t do it for him­self, either. The black hole is real, always present, and its feel­ing is anx­i­ety.

Its source is our fear of non-being – our fear of death.

We need to under­stand that all of us are anx­ious, all of us feel the black hole, and most of us have been con­di­tioned to either deny the feel­ing, or blame it on exter­nal cir­cum­stances. Many of us have forged rela­tion­ships for exact­ly the rea­son he states – to have some­one else in our lives to make it all better.”

Our death fear blinds us the the truth that no one, includ­ing our­selves, can fill in the black hole. There is no cer­tain­ty to life, beyond the final one – death.

Life, as a pur­pose­less drift, is a series of accom­mo­da­tions an organ­ism makes as it moves through a medi­um. By def­i­n­i­tion, every accom­mo­da­tion is suc­cess­ful, except the last.”

Lan­guage Struc­ture & Change, pg. 47)

So, we can sit down and feel sor­ry for our­selves, or we can get up and engage with the present moment. Right now–is Now.

Riff the Second  —  shining light into the hole


I spent a lot of time encour­ag­ing my clients to go out and have a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one they find inter­est­ing. I’d invite them to make con­tact  —  eye to eye and knee to knee. I’d ask them to go and lis­ten to some­one else; to find out what anoth­er per­son thinks life is all about. They didn’t have to buy into what the oth­er per­son was say­ing, or change in any way. 

I want­ed them to learn to reach out, to lis­ten and to share.

Why? Because life is a purposeless drift – but not a meaningless one.

In the con­text of life and liv­ing, pur­pose implies fol­low­ing a “path of pur­pose” imposed from the out­side. Mean­ing describes the expla­na­tion I give to my life.

Meaning is personal.

I loved work­ing with cou­ples, many years mar­ried, who final­ly talked to each oth­er from their depths, inti­mate­ly, soft­ly, with care and com­pas­sion. And almost uni­ver­sal­ly, one or the oth­er looked at the oth­er with won­der and exclaimed, “Oh my God, you mean you’re scared too? I thought it was just me!”

Riff the third — Meaning becomes meaning-full through intimacy.

As I inter-act with Dar­bel­la, I remem­ber that she has been lis­ten­ing to “me do me” since 1982. When I come up with some new ver­sion of me, which may be so over­whelm­ing­ly inter­est­ing to me that I just swal­low it whole, Dar can offer the per­spec­tive of long asso­ci­a­tion, and ask me to come off of my cloud and test what I’m saying.

And I can do the same for her.

This is NOT about Dar mak­ing me whole. It’s not about find­ing some­one to com­plete me. No one can. But me.

Relat­ing, for me, is a place where I feel free to share who I am. My goal is to learn about me, accept, joy­ful­ly, my being in the face of my non-being, and to share myself with at least one oth­er per­son, deeply and inti­mate­ly. And then to sit back and watch and lis­ten to Dar­bel­la doing the same with me.

With inti­mate relat­ing, any­thing is pos­si­ble. We have the chance to trust, to open, to be vul­ner­a­ble, and espe­cial­ly, to explore our own dark­ness, in the pres­ence of some­one who is curi­ous and choos­es to acts as a mirror.

In the depth of our dark­ness we reach out and enter into a dia­logue. And in that reach­ing out and mak­ing con­tact – in the touch – there is light.

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