Real Relating  —  Relating 101

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Real Relat­ing

Relat­ing 101  —  learn­ing to let go of the past and the future is key to relat­ing… and living

Note: If your present rela­tion­ship needs work, well…
check out The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.
It’s my rela­tion­ships book… you’ll find all the help you need!

First, a relationship is not a thing.

Cou­ples often tell me, “I want to work on our rela­tion­ship. I typ­i­cal­ly look around the room, then look con­fused, and final­ly say, “OK, I’ll work on it… but where is it? Can you bring it along the next time? Because at the moment, all I see are two indi­vid­u­als, who appar­ent­ly have trou­ble relat­ing.”

Some­times they laugh, some­times they don’t.

That does­n’t change my point. I have no per­ma­nent rela­tion­ship with any­thing. All there ever is, is how I am act­ing, right now, toward the per­son, place, or thing.

Relat­ing, then, is an activ­i­ty, not a state.

Second, we cling to beliefs.

Now, there are only three ‘times’  —  past, present, future  —  and two of them are an illu­sion. The present (this end­less moment) is real, and is the only place any of us have ever lived. Past and future are total­ly, com­plete­ly imag­i­nary.

Sure­ly not! I have a past! An identity!

I did a work­shop for injured work­ers. I men­tioned to the work­ers that much of their suf­fer­ing comes from cling­ing to their past — to “how they imag­ine they were, pri­or to injury,” and cling­ing to the future — to their imag­in­ings of “how the pain will be unre­lent­ing and get worse.” One woman walked out at that point and lat­er told some­one she hat­ed me because I had the audac­i­ty to chal­lenge her story — her misery.

Fun­ny. I thought she was there to change her rela­tion­ship to her injury and pain, not sup­port it. But cling­ing to one’s sto­ry is a pow­er­ful drug.

Here’s how clinging works.

You have a pic­ture in your mind of ‘how things should be.’ The ‘thing’ can be a per­son, place, or object. So, it might be, “Here is how my hus­band should be.”

This pic­ture in your head is quite real-seem­ing and fleshed out. You have spent decades cre­at­ing this pic­ture of how anoth­er should be, and you hold your pic­ture to be both true and real.

It’s nei­ther.

It’s no dif­fer­ent than the imag­in­ings of direc­tors of Hol­ly­wood movies. Even the most real­is­tic movies are inven­tions. As are doc­u­men­taries, which always present the bias of the direc­tor / writer. As does this blog, which is total­ly and com­plete­ly a reflec­tion of my biases.

Noth­ing you remem­ber of the past, and noth­ing you imag­ine of the future is true. It’s a movie.

Until you get this, you are well and tru­ly stuck in your dra­ma, and are thus con­demned to cling.

Back to “the hus­band” in my illus­tra­tion. How he is, is how he is, right now, and if I am with him, I get to relate to him, not to my imag­ined version. 

Now, we are pre­dictable, to a cer­tain extent, most­ly because we’re bor­ing, stuck, sti­fled peo­ple, but that’s beside the point. I may know what “he” has done in the past, but that, in and of itself, is no predictor.

What I do know is this: if I deal with him as I always have, the odds are the same thing is going to happen.

Now, if I am invest­ed in my sto­ry of how he ought to be — “everyone knows how a hus­band ought to act!” —  then I am no longer present with the per­son in front of me. He is com­pared to my imag­in­ings and comes up short. I then begin a cam­paign to get him to become who I imag­ine he ought to be.

This pat­tern applies to everything — to how I relate to money — “I should be able to spend more, more, more!”  To my sex life — “How much, how var­ied, with whom, etc.” To my job or career — “I should be get­ting more, and every­one at work should cut me slack.” 

In oth­er words, there is the ‘thing’ out there, which I can choose, in the moment, to relate to, and there is the sto­ry about the ‘thing’ I have in my head.

Always, there is a story, and a reality.

If I choose to cling to my sto­ry, pre­tend­ing what’s in my head is real, I will suffer.

If I choose to relate, in the moment, to the per­son, place, or object I am relat­ing to, there may be dif­fi­cul­ties, but I will not suf­fer.

I will not suf­fer because I am not expect­ing any­thing oth­er than ‘what is.’

Is it possible to live this way?

Yes, it is.

The key is under­stand­ing the movie in your head. You have to com­plete­ly ‘get’ the con­cept that your sto­ries are not real, are not pre­dic­tive, and are not very valuable.

Now, the sto­ries will be there until you die. We are mean­ing-mak­ing crea­tures, and our mean­ing-mak­ing comes via the films in our heads. Buried in all the sequences are labels, descrip­tions, warn­ings. Our safe­ty depends on know­ing not to step in front of the onrush­ing bus.

Beyond that, stories are just stories.

Real­i­ty is in the moment, and only involves the present choice. Do I lis­ten or shut down? Do I express curios­i­ty, or deliv­er crit­i­cism? Do I stay put or run away? Do I try to keep things “just as they are,” or do I know, deeply, that this is impossible?

As you inter­act with the things with which you relate, notice how the movies start run­ning. Have a breath and drag your atten­tion back to the moment. Let the sto­ries, the demands, the expec­ta­tions, fade, and just be present, with curios­i­ty. You may be sur­prised at how much more inter­est­ing the moment becomes. 

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