September 16, 2018
“And suddenly you just know it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” — Meister Eckhart
What’s really going on between us and those we love? Why are relationship so hard? When we’re not sure who we are, or what we stand for, it can get confusing. When I’m uncomfortable with myself, or overwhelmed by a world that seems wildly complex, it’s easy for me to slip into blaming someone or something outside of myself for making everything so hard.
What’s the alternative? How do I experience my discomfort without getting pissed off at them for not making me feel better? How do I take responsibility for communicating my truth with kindness, and listening without judgment to theirs? How do I avoid falling into the predictable and familiar repetitive patterns I’ve been using, and defending myself with, for years?
I think it begins with kindness. Kindness is the key predictor of successful marriages according to research done through the John Gottman Institute in Washington State.
Though we all consider kindness to be a nice characteristic, I don’t think It’s commonly seen as the crucial ingredient in a successful partnership. But Gottman’s research says different.
Practicing kindness doesn’t mean not getting angry. It’s about getting real in ways that support the relationship rather than erecting barriers to create artificial distance, or worse, balling the relationship up and throwing it away in a fit of rage.
Setting an intention to be kind transforms our communication from a weapon to a tool. Kindness shows up as honest, yet vulnerable strength.
Many of us have been taught, or learned through the modeling of others, that vulnerability is weakness. That. Is. Not. True. We don’t have to be loud and aggressive to tell the truth. We don’t have to be mean or act self-righteous or holier-than-thou.
Instead of shooting poison arrows, we can tell them what has made us feel hurt or angry or frightened.
We can tell them we know that relationships are inherently hard. We know they aren’t doing it to us. We know they’re trying just as hard as we are to navigate their own discomfort without inflicting harm.
We can remember that they, like us, probably have some history that is contributing to the intensity of what’s happening in the relationship today.
Without tools, we are likely to fall into controlling behaviors, or shooting poison arrows, or worst case scenario, getting divorced from the relationship, figuratively or literally.
Kindness, like mindfulness, is a muscle we can develop. Self-disclosure is a skill we can learn. A great book for exploring this further is Sharon Salzberg’s Real Love.
Or consider doing daily ‘morning pages’, an idea proposed in The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. You wake up in the morning and do three pages of hand-written brain dump. No editing, no pretty pictures. Just dump everything that shows up. “I’m sick of the rain. The refrigerator is making me nuts, maybe it’s going to break. I hate this exercise. Why was Jack so mean. I’m amazing. I’m a loser.” If you’re like me, your first thought is why can’t I do two pages, or use my laptop?! Cameron says the act of writing by hand gets us out of our heads and into our hearts, and it slows us down, both of which can help us be more present. Those who do the morning pages say that by page three they’re feeling lighter, clearer, and less anxious. The pages take time, but they seem to make more time because we are more efficient as we move through our day. Play with it. If the idea grabs you, check it out here..
You can also get to know yourself, and explore your beliefs about relationship, by downloading the Mindfulness Playbook. (Play being the operative word.)
The next time you’re having an interaction with someone you love and you find yourself blaming them for your discomfort, stop for just a moment. Breathe all the way out and soften your body. Ask yourself if this exchange feels familiar. Is it being intensified or magnified by unfinished business that needs some attention? Then tell the truth, say that, instead of ‘What’s wrong with you?!”
Start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. You’ve got three new ideas. I hope you’ll play.
There are many of your Seedling articles that seem like you are speaking directly to me. I suppose that’s because in many ways, we ALL have the same issues in some form or another. I suppose this is a small part of the meaning of the Buddhist idea of “not self” – we are pretty much all the same on the inside, vulnerable bags of water and bone with often self-defeating minds.
Three things got stuck in my head as I read your words this morning:
– Do I really want to make the effort to try to try to rebuild (or maybe find for the first time) the intimacy in my marriage? Do I really care or have I given up? It seems I continuously just go through the motions without any intent to make things better – or maybe it’s just the Fear holding me back. Fear of failure, Fear of success.
– If you really commit to show kindness towards someone who you view as unkind (or at least not willing or able to be compassionate for whatever reason), what are the chances for success?
– Is the second question even a valid question? This comes to mind because of the mobile effect we have discussed – when the wind blows one blade of a mobile, the entire mobile cannot help but be changed. So again, I have to ask myself – do I really want to make that first mobile blade move or is the unpredictable result too frightening?
Lyle these strike me as profoundly honest and important questions that won’t be easily answered. But none of the important questions are easily answered. And another question strikes me from what you wrote. How do you define success? If success is making someone else change then that’s a really challenging goals. If success is behaving in a way that’s most consistent with who we want to be, with our best selves, that’s a whole different story.
This post really provided me with a much-needed perspective. Thanks for such an amazing post. Vulnerability is a strength. This post made me think about all the elements required to be vulnerable. Being courageous and strong enough to be vulnerable is no small fete. If you are strong enough to be vulnerable you are strong enough for many other things.
Hi Ryan. Thanks for your thoughtful response. It probably won’t sirlrkse you that I write these posts as much to myself as for other people. Learning to be vulnerable is for me turning out to be a lifetime process.
The newly emerged plant is a good symbol to your theme of the magic of new beginnings. New life is magical. As I explore new ways of thinking about things and becoming more mindful, I hope to build a conscious awareness toward kindness. One area I’m working on is becoming more reflective of listening to others and less a conversational narcissist.
Thanks Frank. This made me laugh out loud. Oh what I would give to stop being a conversational narcissist! But I’m working on it! Glad to know I’m not alone 🙂
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