Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Relationship: A Model for Spiritual Development

Once questions begin they build on each other, providing a certain lift or push in the direction of discovery but no real map of where one is going. There can be a pondering of the future, but no directions laid out of easy left and right spring out of the void from which imagination pulls every other thought. When the term “God” is once determined as having no inherent substance, no central form that is distinct from human thought and intent, the once easy directive within religious fundamentalism is replaced with wary curiosity. From whence does such a concept come and why does it persist? There are as many answers to this as perhaps there are definitions of “God.” I hardly seek to answer definitively and frankly I find the question not quite legitimate anyway.

I’ve written before in “Answers To A Question: Yes, No, Maybe” concerning how the meaning of “God” is so often assumed rather than questioned from a position of skepticism or agnosticism. We are trapped in the social homogenization of an idea, suffocating in our lack of inquiry and drowning in the shallowness of our imagination. Rather than beginning with this social simplicity it is far better to immediately question what one means when using the term, embarking perhaps on a journey of rebelliousness but ultimately one of greater concern.

If the Muslim were to ponder the historical validity of jihad rather than unquestioningly accept the dictates of a singular imam, would there be less violence? If the Christian were to investigate the notion that their parents are merely parroting ideas they have never questioned and thus find themselves doing the same, would the unbroken line of familial authority be broken? If the believer in mystical energy suckling upon the media-hyped teat of all manner of ego-focused gurus peddling their wares were to engage in a more scientific questioning of data rather than blind acceptance, would we have less anxiety? I think the answer to these questions is a profound yes and the authoritative overreach of inbuilt cultural standards would largely crumble, no doubt this being a central reason why such behavior has yet to happen on a global scale. Rather than a resultant chaos though, I posit the occurrence of a greater appreciation for relationships rather than the structure of them, of shared phenomenology rather than forms of power.

By relationship it is meant the basic building block of all communication as communal union, a term denoting the flow of energy and its usual manifestation in the form of information (see Daniel Siegel’s work The Handbook to Interpersonal Neurobiology). Note that there is no form here assumed, only the flow, only the communal aspect of the human connection with the universe both in the immediate experience of basic physical sensation and in the broader existence provided by our imaginative potential and cognitive constructions. Many books have and continue to be written in an attempt to describe why the notion of “God” continues to exist, created as it was in a period of technological simplicity and ignorance. Like the phlogiston, should not “God” have disappeared as well, a dead idea in the face of the constant changing reality of a world of instantaneous communication and the full extent of knowledge at one’s fingertips? Certainly there is some truth to the notion of some definitions no longer serving us, of some ideas associated with divinity that have been supplanted by the growth of our understanding, though just what those definitions are I leave open for this entry for further discussion. However, underlying all the forms “God” takes, from the happily mystical to the condemning patriarch, there is at the center a relationship between humanity and existence being played out.

In Frank Herbert’s The Jesus Incident, there is a short dialogue between a poet and Ship where the poet is asked why there is a god, the poet answering with: “God is the source of information, not of decisions. Decisions are human. If God makes decisions, they are human decisions.” Here is the inspiration for the current entry, a declaration of humanity’s relation to movement, one where direction or decisions are predicated upon understanding or information and here then is where “God” still finds a pervasive hold upon us. There need not be a devolution into the supposed glory of ignorance for “God” to exist, this is only true if the intent is one of power and control, of patriarchal demands and hierarchical structure mandating purpose before thought. Rather, in the pregnant questions of a yearning for understanding there lies the potential birth of expanding knowledge and tentative constructs or narratives. Where “God” continues to pop up is precisely at the edges of our understanding, but rather than making a leap into the unknown it can provide an impetus to proceed further, to propel oneself on the firm ground of the inter-relational reality of our existence, a naturalized spirituality if you will.

We can, like many already do, ponder the origins of “God” and ask why it still exists but this assumes a particular definition that not only do I find suspect but is not required of me to take on for myself. There is undoubtedly great questions to be answered here and such academic inquiries I am all for, but this can often lend itself to a greater emphasis on form than is perhaps healthy. Back of form is idea and back of that is a fundamental union that we all are bubbling blips being manifested out of. If we begin here, in togetherness and shared humanity, we stand a greater chance of creating better forms of evolving grandeur rather than static controls. In the reality of relationships there is a model of spiritual development in which no one is left behind or shamed.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Well-Grounded Integrity

When I contemplate upon integrity I am reminded immediately of the first agreement noted by Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements, “be impeccable with your word.” As anybody will attest to, who have spent any more than a fleeting moment with me in conversation or debate, I am often parsing phrases and words out to determine as concretely as possible what is meant by a person’s speech. This is done not only as a personal projection of my own principled agreement with word usage but also based on a recognition that how we describe or create the narratives of our lives provides the structure upon which and through which we choose our behavior. This is true from the broad stories we tell of our families and social connections to the smallest of phrases in the slightest of interactions with others.

While our words do not encapsulate the entirety of our lives they are the means by which we socially organize our experiences, have the unconscious become conscious and form the dialogue that is back of every relationship we create, from the random platonic to the long-term romantic. The stories we tell then, based as they are in the bio-physiological reality of our physical union with the universe, will determine the shape of our connections and whether they will serve the purpose of growth in ever-increasing awareness or keep us asleep to the inherent potential for greatness that lies within each of us.

This is the ground upon which our integrity rests, the conscious acknowledgement of our interconnected and reciprocal relationship with all things/people and the belief that as we endeavor to awaken to a greater appreciation for existence so will we do so, thought breeding action and returning upon itself in a reciprocity of union. This is the principled means of defining a healthy confidence, Stephen Batchelor noting that, “Self-confidence is not a form of arrogance. It is trust in our capacity to awaken. It is both the courage to face whatever life throws at us without losing equanimity, and the humility to treat every situation we encounter as one from which we can learn.” (Buddhism Without Beliefs)

Notice that with a solid ground the result is equanimity though this should not be confused with placidity. As I’ve noted before in Yes These Are The Emotions You’re Looking For, our capacity for resiliency in the midst of emotional upheaval is not found in the removal of disparate emotions or to ignore the power of their influence but to intentionally accept that emotions are an identification of the presence of change and a pointer to what we upon appraisal find important.

The performer balancing on the ball does not do so by standing still but by making small subtle changes in their posture to flow with the forces coming up through the ball, recalibrating their center in a reciprocal relationship. To do such in life requires a convergence of word, deed and thought, where each is a supportive block through which and upon which the others manifest. In Buddhism it is referred to as Dharma, the living out of the principles given by Gautama for the purpose of ethical non-attached living. “Dharma practice cannot be abstracted from the way we interact with the world. Our deeds, words, and intentions create an ethical ambience that either supports or weakens resolve.” (Buddhism Without Beliefs)

Integrity is grounded practice, an emergent property based on the acknowledgment of a particular narrative, identification with the principles of growth which give that narrative structure and an intentional respect for the reality of an existence for which every word and deed we utter and do have consequences of which we will largely be unaware. This is not an abdication of contemplating an objective ethical life, but an appreciation for living in a world the complexity of which will likely always be in its fullest sense outside of our ability to grasp.

When we act from integrity we do so with an intellectual/emotional empathic relatedness to all the creatures we encounter. The dwelling place of empathy allows for no space for ego-centeredness or projection of a self without context or the declaration of principle without humanity like the absolutist and the adherent of dogmatism. “While rooted in empathy, integrity requires courage and intelligence as well, because significant ethical choice entails risk. And while we cannot know in advance the consequences of the choices we make, we can learn to become more ethically intelligent.” (Buddhism Without Beliefs)

Our words/deeds send vibrations out into the universe, dissipating with time but no less important for their diminishing strength, seen most clearly in the immediate aftermath of our choice and yet even then there still exists consequences of which we are unaware. The military and politicians have a word for this called “blowback,” the returning repercussions of events put into practice of which the original actors are unaware. We will never be capable of plotting out the entirety of the consequences of our actions. The pursuit of increasing awareness, based on the belief that by doing so will inevitably lead to an awakening, can strengthen our humility as we courageously understand more of reality and the greater appreciation for risk entailed in every action.

To be impeccable in word is to live a life of integrity out of which we build the structural strength for the continued practice of being impeccable. Practice is constant movement and never stagnation. In an ever-changing universe in which the karma of cause-effect relationships is cosmically complex, our willingness to live a life of integrity is commensurate with our commitment to being awoken to an ever-greater though still tentative grasp of understanding the nested reality.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Nature of Love

Popular sayings and cliches abound, songs are written as odes to and diatribes against, lives are made and destroyed in its embrace and the forms it takes are at the center of a great deal of social debate and religious theological musings. The nature of love and its practice guides, shapes, cajoles and inspires a host of behavior and yet none of it brings us any closer to an understanding of just what it is. Like referring to sleep as that thing we do when we’re not awake, noting the behavior inspired by identification with love certainly gives us much to discuss concerning that behavior but isolating the commonality is a bit more difficult. I’ve often over the years, usually from the ideologically conservative corner, heard that love is a term over-used and marketed to the point of absurdity. There may indeed be some truth to this, a word can come to include so many disparate things that it in fact becomes meaningless except as a pointer or directional word, always guiding away from it and never towards and as such we rarely stop to question just what it is we’re talking about when we breath out the term.

What makes the situation even more compellingly frustrating is that there exists no commonly understood definition of emotion either and while certainly love may not be consonant fully as an emotion, it definitely is bound within it to some degree and yet this provides little in the way of helpful direction. With this in mind I came across a discussion of emotion by Daniel Siegel as it relates to attachment in his book The Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. When considered from an elevated perspective, there is a point of consilience amongst the various descriptive uses to which emotion is put, that being linkage of differentiated parts. Whether it be the linking of child to caregiver in psychology or person to tribe in sociology or neural engram to engram in neurophysiology, emotion is the process of linking these disparate and differentiated aspects of systems into a coherent whole. How this then is applied to love as a particular instantiation of emotional energy is where I want to draw focus to.

I have loved many people, just as I am quite certain those reading this have loved many as well. I love my biological family, I love my friends and lovers, those who are no longer in my life and those who are merely tangentially connected to it. I love the song I Won’t Give Up by Jason Mraz and how when the subject of the song is shifted from a singular person in front of you to humanity as a whole there is only an expansion of meaning rather than confusion, a quickening desire to not give up even as the skies get rough, to make a difference and not to break or burn, learning to bend and acknowledge who each of us is and what each of us isn’t and who I am even in the midst of it all. All of this, all of these manifestations of love are encapsulated within a singular term and yet at no time is there a creation of a flatland of feeling, a singularity to how such a feeling of love is to be felt, allowing for gradations to the warp and weft of the land. Some may lament that I have merely succumbed to the over-use of love, noting it when in fact I merely mean “like.” There is some legitimate concern here though personally I find myself still being able to not only use the term “like” but differentiate it from my usage of “love.” The reason for this is the strength of the intent back of the term.

If love, as an emotion and therefore process of linking disparate aspects of a system, is here to be used holistically (utilizing Ken Wilber’s terminology) then the linkage I am referring to here is that which is found in the interconnected holism providing the ground of all being. This is not some declaration of an actually existent underlying force, except in so far as energy can be applied here, but a means of organizing cognitively one’s placement in the universe. Consciousness as we know it is in no small part an arisen property, one that requires a particular biological and environmental structure to become manifest. Whether this structure taps into a force of consciousness or whether it is created out of it is open to debate and not the point here. What is at issue is that we human beings, possessed as we are with our form of consciousness, reside in a special place as the universe creating its own intent. As a beautiful person in my spiritual practices class noted, the interrelation of all things is like being placed in a room of perfectly placed mirrors so as you look you see yourself go on infinitely no matter where your gaze rests. I would add that as you set your sight upon any particular image there is yet found one more thing unnoticed before, some variation unseen until that moment. This here is love, the linkage of differentiated aspects of the universe through the reciprocity of being grounded and yet projecting outward into infinity all the potential manifestations of that being-ness.

I use reciprocity here because as we see through studies in attachment, the sense of being we all possess is bound within the triumvirate energy structure of biology, environment and relationship, where an understanding of any requires the inclusion of the others through the variations of their interconnection. When we love we are not simply noting the casting outward of a feeling but acknowledging a recognition of union amongst differentiation. What love is, is a counter to disillusionment, the opposite of dissociation, the cure to ennui and it knows only expansion. When we see union as the fundamental ground of our being-ness, this love then provides a space for all the behavior that stems from it, life-giving and respectful, tolerant of differences without being obsequious to moral complacency via ethical subjectivism. This also provides more nuance to the simplistic declaration some make that to love others one must first love themselves. It is not so much that one must love their self and then others as if in a linear cause-effect relationship, rather to dwell in a recognition of mutually held identification with universal union. Differences become variations of unity rather than pieces to be held up as showing separation.

When loving another then it is within this unity, within this holistic universe and it is provided by the conscious recognition of an interconnected existence. We celebrate in all their nuances the person in front of us just as we celebrate those around us and she or he who stares back in a mirror. Love is joyful exuberance within the process of this celebration, bound with the threads of our interconnected nested reality. We hold that space for ourselves and others and by doing so find that love brings peace.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Return Of The Ex and Hope For Rebirth

The pain has subsided; the angry letters written, destroyed, rewritten again, ripped up and burned; the drunken one-nighters have passed and many gallons of tears and rage have flowed on down rivers of chocolate. If you’re lucky perhaps you went through only one of these. Depending on one’s predilection towards emotional hari-kari perhaps all of the above and more were wallowed in. This is not to disparage the reaction to a break-up, but to put it in perspective and like any painful event there is a need for some humor even in the midst of sorrow, because the joke ultimately is, with shaking of head and rueful chuckle, that this too shall pass and all the time spent on ruminating over past hurts and present feelings of rejection or betrayal will be small and slight in comparison to the vast amount of time that came before and will come after. The loss is often so large, so ridiculously painful, not because the other person wasn’t worth it (though let’s face it, there really isn’t anybody worthy of invoking the feeling of soul-spasming pain felt by romantic loss) but because in a very real sense the world created by the connection was torn away. This isn’t poetic license, this touches upon attachment and how our minds work, giving us a bit of insight into why even after all the tears and sorrow there’s a part of us that leaps for joy at the possibility the ex may return.

David Chalmers has spoken of the “extended mind,” a conceptualization of human mental activity that broadens the understanding of mind to include those objects or people with which we have a relationship or connection thereby extending the practice of the mind from a singularity to a multiplicity. Often this extension concerns having something else take over and do more efficiently (at least hopefully so) what the mind used to do, as is the case for smart phones and computers with us no longer having to use up mental space for phone numbers, directions, etc. This extension also encompasses other people and provides a means of constructing just why with certain relationships taking place over time there come moments of finishing thoughts, intuitively grasping what the other is feeling as they enter a room and even taking on certain manners of speech and behavior. “You are like the company you keep” is more than just a saying, it is a mental equivalency, as our minds take on and incorporate into the so-called individual world all those variables referred to usually as people and shape a new narrative and structure of the self. I’ve spoken before of this transcendent need within us to expand by necessity our connections, either by religious or personal connections. This natural and inevitable creation of attachment is seen in the yearning a child has for their care-giver, in the charging maelstrom of neurons exploding for human touch, in the bond of parent to child and in our protest behavior as anxiety breaks open due to feelings of loss. This dependency is not, however, a loss of freedom but the means by which we interact with an increasingly complicated world of evolving societal and cultural forms. To return to Chalmers, we have a need to organize our emotions/thoughts, which cannot be done within a context-free universe as emotions/thoughts are the emergent entity out of that very context and so our minds reach out to extend the self and find avenues for their development.

There are any number of points of advice peddled about, in magazines and books and most certainly from our friends and family, as to whether when or if the ex returns we should reengage and start over. I’m not here to offer pithy sayings though at times I’ll do so for the sake of fun. What I am here for is to provide a potential context or structure to help each person in the decision-making process. Doing so begins with acknowledging the reality of the nests or baskets of our existence and with humility understand that we never make a decision all on our own as if plucking from the sky a free-floating behavioral possibility. That former romantic connection or friendship, however much they may have hurt us, provided the means for pain or did not live up to their potential integrity, still provided for that time together a means of constructing the experience of life; the stronger the emotional bond the strong the connection must have felt and still likely has a hold on us. This is not because we are weak, as some unfortunate people have mentioned of those involved in abusive relationships, but because our minds don’t operate outside of context, even when that context is not of an objective life-giving form. Standing in the waters of a river you’re going to get wet and no amount of believing otherwise, no amount of looking only for the good things, is going to remove the increasingly strong undertow. In fact, even the removal of oneself from it is not simply a matter of stepping out of it, as there must be a ground to get to, a branch offered to grasp. Being able to look at one’s emotional life and consequent mental creations from a broader and more awakened perspective allows us to see all those connections which provide the means or space to allow us to step out and away.

Once having accepted the inevitability of creating attachments and feeling their pull even when thought to have gone away, the next nest encompasses value and is the legitimately powerful side of the positive-focusing that I irksomely noted above. Like a mashed and crumpled dried-out sponge, the emotional waters of previous relationships can quickly return us to a form waiting to be reborn. By projecting forward the highest form of our needs, not just attachment but honest and open connections, not just anyone but someone who is walking alongside on their own path and by doing so opens up vistas of growth we had hitherto not known, we can take note of when such occurs and becomes manifest in our lives. When that former lover/friend returns we can stand in the waters of that familiar stream of emotions and step out of it by grasping the branch of the highest values we want in our lives, strengthened and given form by the communities in which we are involved. Then we can look at what is being offered and reject from a place of strength that old companion of lack and pain and move on into connections of plenty and joy.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Principles of Polyamory

As has been noted with increasing repetition, I practice polyamory (“poly” as shorthand). Defined simply as multiple love, the social practice of this idea is found in consciously and intentionally engaging in multiple relationships of which all are aware in the spirit of openness and honesty. Much has been said in popular culture in American recently on t.v. shows and magazine articles and began in no small part with Dan Savage’s non-monogamy or monogam-ish discussion. I have no desire to go into a debate concerning the roots of polyamory or get bogged down in what I consider to be ridiculous and spurious debates concerning whether or not human beings as a species are biologically prone towards polyamory or monogamy, as this almost invariably devolves into an over simplistic conflation of biology and culture. That people are capable of loving a multitude is so obvious as to be rank absurdity to deny it. We love our family members, we love our friends, we continue to love those who have passed and much to our chagrin we continue to love even those who have hurt us horribly. The particular form that love takes is of course different with all of these, from the poetic license taken to express one’s romantic emotional explosions to the other extreme of intense anger covering the still persistent love for those having done us wrong. All of that could take up multiple entries and likely will in the future.

Here and now the discussion is on just what it is to practice polyamory, not behaviorally per se but principally. Far too often when I initially entered the hot-bed of sexual depravity (yes that’s sarcasm) that is polyamorous culture I was faced with a steady stream of debates concerning just what is and what is not polyamory. After a time passed and heartache required that I determine just what it was I was doing with myself, I figured out that the discussion too often made the same mistake the research on human sexual practices makes, conflating two different things. In this case, the confusion stemmed from conflating principle and action or form. Rather than deciding what was consonant with all forms, debate would center on triads and quads, living with or separate households, on and on in a constant and emotionally-charged fruitless debate. While some of this seems inevitable in a so-called counter-culture movement struggling for its own identity, after a while I just got really tired of it.

So, in an attempt to answer the question of what poly is for myself I will thrust my ego-laden opinion all over the Internet and then go hide in a bunker with whatever friends and/or lovers would like to come with. Let me first declare that I do not like and try to remove from my vocabulary the term “alternative.” Poly is simply a means of expressing love and tenderness, appreciation and joy with and for other people. This is a transcendent desire we all as human beings can and often do share, though obviously the how of it is open to a great deal of debate. For the purposes of a discussion on principle, poly here is not looked as alternative because just what is loving others an alternative to?

1. Open/honest communication.

I’ve written before, quite recently, on how communication is a matter of communal-creation, about communion with the intent of building a community of people involved in the practice of communication. Being open is both self-expression and self-reflection, a dedication to honestly appraising one's actions, intents and desires, expressing them as clearly as possible and taking feedback in a spirit of humility though not abject acceptance of. That latter concerns not denying one's own thoughts, however much some people seem to think feedback entail inevitable agreement. In other words, feedback is part of communion, it is not about declaring the "right" view and having the other obsequiously curtail their thoughts to it, though of course this in no way removes the passion of someone’s belief. What someone says about another is in no small part often about themselves and while the community created by two or more people is an emergent relational organism, it is about whole people coming together, not separate parts attempting to make a chaotic jigsaw puzzle work itself out.

2. Willingness to intentionally pursue all emotional connections within the bounds of principle one and the negotiated comfort of all parties involved.

This is a big one juxtaposing poly from monogamy as the latter, particularly in American society, puts definitive limits as to the pursuit of emotional connections with others, however foolish that may ultimately be. The number of angry conflicts over a discussion as to how a partner can care about someone else and therefore whether that means the partner is no longer cared for is a profound source of pain that has no issue being done except in light of personal anxiety and a pie-metaphor of love (where it must be given to only one person or with a piece gone there is thus less leftover for others). This principle also indicates the difference between poly and swinging as the latter is less concerned with the deliberate pursuit of emotional connections though clearly there’s still an admission and acceptance of their occurance. The second part of this is a bit gray as the notion of comfort is nebulous, hence why I am placing these principles as one building or being nested within the other, therefore requiring the previous in fulfilling the next. Comfort is determined by open/honest communication, the communion of those parties involved and the recognition that such creates a particularly nuanced community between the relationships, one that is by necessity different than other groups as there are different people and therefore different attachments involved. This does not mean that all potential emotional attachments are of a necessary nature to be pursued, only that the intent is there to do so if desired. One of the cliches within poly is “love is infinite, time is not.” Quaint for sure but utterly true. Emotional bonds and pursuing them requires dedication and time, especially when done within open/honest communication.

3. An intentional desire to pursue the expression of relational bonds in all ways negotiated/discussed including that of a sexual bond.

This last principle is the juxtaposition between poly and monogamy, as a healthy and trust-filled monogamous couple can provide space for the deliberate pursuit of other emotional connections without damaging their own primary connection. In fact, much suffering would likely be averted if more couples would pursue love from a place of wholeness rather than anxious lack. This last principle also simply cannot exist in a healthy manner without the previous two. Without the first it just boils down to using people and manipulation. Without the second it is nothing more than rutting or swinging (I in no way want to disparage the potential ethical practice of swinging) or using others for basic physiological release. Nothing wrong with this if it's openly acknowledged and honestly practiced but it isn't poly. Notice here that like principle two, poly does not necessitate the pursuit of any and all expressions. In fact, it doesn’t even necessitate sex but rather the deliberate pursuit of expressing the relational bond in whatever way is comfortable as discussed between those involved. This may include sex, it may include touch or any number of other things openly and honestly dealt with in a community of communal communication.

These are principles only, they in no way necessitate the form of a relationship though certainly principle one will be helpful in creating a form that is both healthy and of benefit to all involved. Whether you practice polyamory or monogamy, the issue is to do so ethically and with the care of self and others constantly in focus. The key here throughout this all is a focus on openness, honesty and the pursuit of happiness without unnecessary pain and betrayal as we endeavor to not live a life of illusion or from any place other than our complete and whole nature as beautiful people.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Interest Wanes, Intention Expands

Communication is, as I have noted before, a communal creation. The creation is of a “relationship” between two or more parties that is greater than but not wholly other than the sum of the people involved. Looked at this way, to have a healthy relationship, to express oneself authentically with others is to first and foremost center oneself in the principle of open and honest communication. This openness is not a passive receptivity but an active intentional stance of personal expression, of pushing the metaphorical hands into the deepest mud of the soul and bringing forth the most current and fully understood aspects of oneself and how one relates to the other(s) involved. Self-honesty does not quite fully encapsulate what I’m going after here as self is only fully manifested within the relationships being created. Openness and honesty are means of relating to that communal creation through a recognition that what has been made initially by interest becomes more by intent and it is this shared reality, full of the strengths and anxieties of those involved, which must be kept at the forefront of dialogue and discourse. The what of a self-narrative is only ever fully realized in a relationship, whereas a focus on the individual is to forego enlightenment for ego worship.

This business of interest and intention is the basis for both the establishment of a relationship and a means of determining when that connection is no longer serving the needs of the parties involved. There is so much written in various magazines concerned with cheating and straying, the latter an interesting metaphor assuming the relationship is like a path of which deviation from is separation and destruction. Articles scream out the headlines of helping women figure out when their man is cheating and others attempt to explain why he does through various dubious usages of evolutionary psychology.

There is, no doubt, a great deal of emotional pain and heartache, anxiety and concern over the loss of a relationship, particularly of the romantic kind, and were I able to give an easy checklist to determine the how and when of a relationship breaking I’d be certain to appear on Oprah and peddle my wares with exceeding gusto. Alas, I have no such model as the multiplicity of human behavior is not so easily categorized. Instead what I offer is a rumination on healthy relationships based on that principle of communication I began with. By focusing on what is healthy, what is good and right, we become less concerned with the negative and anxious-inducing possibilities and judge the strength of a connection not on its potential for failure but on its ability to provide a self-transformative space for growth and honest expression.

Erich Fromm in The Art of Being, notes that “The basis for any approach to self-transformation is an ever-increasing awareness of reality and the shedding of illusions.” The action of increasing one’s awareness of reality is promoted through greater understanding of one’s being-ness requiring the open and honest communication talked about leading to the dismissal of illusions. These illusions are often at the heart of what makes us anxious concerning the loss of relationships and the fear/concern over someone straying. This metaphor is one I’m being particularly struck by right now. The term “straying” evokes such strong images of a path being left, of a road being departed from, the result as is found in any number of stories one of destruction and pain. Oddly enough however, this departure is, in those very same tales, an experience of personal development.

While I am not at all declaring that a loss of integrity and the breaking of one’s word to another is a good thing, I do want to note that the straying here perhaps can be focused on departing from one’s illusions. The central one of most concern here is that of any single person being able to complete another, of providing the necessary pieces to fit into every lack that the other person has, for the two to become one in anything more than a poetic sense. This illusion is particularly problematic as it is predicated on the notion of someone having a lack, of beginning a search due to the recognition of an already existent loss. Like focusing on what is potentially wrong with a relationship, the eye only sees what is negative and provides ample examples of concern for suffering. If we begin with one’s wholeness, with a person’s already existent secure place as who they are, perfect and complete as a manifestation of humanity, then what another provides is not missing pieces but a means of expanding the greatness that a person is already. The path here does not become more well-trodden, sinking everyone involved into greater depths of muck, but rather becomes wider, encompassing a greater degree of reality or increased awareness.

The illusion of being completed in another provides the foundation for all manner of anxiety and the impetus to focus on loss rather than fulfillment. If one is completed by another then a lack of integrity on their part in keeping to their word becomes more than just a lapse in judgment or an indication of their character but reflects on you as well in a reciprocal process of emotional pain. While it is well and good to consistently reflect from a place of compassion upon what various behaviors can be changed to better exhibit the values of a life-giving existence, if such reflection occurs within the space provided by the loss of their completion or destruction of their symbiosis, despair is the only result, not growth.

“In contrast to symbiotic union, mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity.” (Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving) Clearly Fromm here means more than the male gender and is concerned with love, not simply in its romantic form, as a source of human expansion, of the removal of one’s focus on the feeling of lack or separation characteristic of so much of modern society, yet remaining in a place of personal integrity. Such is the nature of communal creation in open and honest communication with both self and within connections.

A partner may cheat, they may stray, but if the focus of a relationship is on the expanding quality of honest and open shared reality then their actions reflect only on their particular rivet in the road, not on who you are as a complete person. Interests change, what was once the powerful experience of the power of lust and initial neural explosion at newness, shifts and changes based on circumstance and the meandering flow of life of which we are so often caught up in rather than controlling. This is an inevitable though not fatalistic process in the art of forming relationships and provides a space for the expansion of intention, both in keeping to the principles of a life given over to expressing integrity and joyful identity but in seeing the myriad of potential connections waiting to provide the space for widening the road of one’s journey.