Relationship is the ultimate and most arduous yoga. If we understand yoga to mean union, then relationship is a direct path to that union. Abdi Assadi (2008:57), Shadows on the Path.
I often feel that I am hopeless at long term, happily-ever-after relationships. For me, it hasn’t happened. A terrified, secret little me fears that I just can’t do it. This time, I want it to be different. I desire this to the core of my very soul. Right now, I have the kind of relationship others only dream about. This time, I want my relationship to last the rest of my life.
This post lays bare the recurring patterns in my long term relationships. My hope is to render impotent those behaviours and thoughts that no longer serve me. To burn them up with the harsh gaze of exposure, so that they no longer hold power over my life. I hope to inspire others to undertake this most difficult and brutal of self-assessments.
A truly intimate relationship can be a vehicle for spiritual development. It can be a safe place where we can learn about ourselves while we dig beneath our socially perfected masks and learn what makes us tick. Abdi Assadi (ibid).
I had not consciously thought of relationships as yoga until I read Abdi Assadi’s Shadows on the Path last week. Yet in so many ways, relationships are the most perfect form of yoga. Like the problems that arise in yoga practice over a period of time (pranayama is boring, ustrasana makes my muscles burn, I can’t sit still today, I just want this to be over), relationships mirror our internal thoughts, insecurities and emotions.
I have never had real difficulties entering into relationships. Across 25 years, I’ve had four long-term relationships varying from 9 months to 14 years. Typically this would be called –and I despise this term– serial monogamy.
For me, there is a very clear pattern to the way in which my relationships begin, proceed and end. Thus it’s time to name and shame them. I’m going to identify each stage in the pattern and share some self-talk I’ve had with myself about each step.
1. I fall in love and project perfection.
Yep. Falling in love is great. You feel like you’re eating chocolate or having an endless runner’s high (for me, it’s the latter). Life is euphoric and intoxicating. And then I do that dumb thing: projecting perfection. No one’s perfect, Amanda. He has his faults, just like you do. No one perfectly matches you. It’s New Age hookey, all this other-half of-the-sky soul mate stuff. You’re a social scientist. You know we’re written by nurture and nature. Not even identical twins are each other’s soul mates.
2. Comfortable stability.
Ahh… domesticity. Setting up a home together, moving in, waking up with each other. Showing the world (and most importantly, your parents) that you’re a real grown up. You get a mortgage, do the weekly grocery shopping (ok, Gary does it cos I DETEST grocery shopping in the way that others hate exercise or the dentist), squeeze each other’s pimples. It’s stable. It’s easy. It’s …
3. … Boring and I retreat into my fantasy world.
For my entire life, I’ve had a fantasy world. And I mean, a real Lord of the Rings, Star Wars-type fantasy world complete with characters that have adventures and lives as real as my own. I’m a writer, you see. As long as I am not depressed, I can step into and out of my fantasy world and tell amazing stories in my head. As domestic bliss becomes domestic routine, that’s what I do. Fact is, this gives my life deep and utter creative meaning. I AM NOT going to give this up. It sustains me. When it’s not there, depression sets in. Got it? I have to have this to survive. Here, I acknowledge it as part of my relationship pattern.
4. But there is also an external search for excitement.
As I find internal excitement through the adventures my characters have (wars and quests, betrayals and dark magic), my external life and mind also seek adventure. It might be a new hobby or career – like geocaching, bushwalking or becoming an anthropologist. It might be a physical challenge, like training for a half marathon or going to yoga classes. It might even be a lifelong dream, like going to Mt Everest (which I did, 5 years ago).
Whatever it is, it is the crucial turning point for my relationships: I have an existential need for my partner to share my adventures. If my partner doesn’t want to join my adventures, I go by myself. And if my partner doesn’t come along, at some deep, unconscious level, this signals their disinterest in me. The beginning of the end of the dream.
Now, I know it’s unrealistic to expect that my partner will be interested in every whacky, hare-brained adventure my overactive imagination conjures up. But life has to have passion. I am a passionate person, and I fall in love with passionate people who live to have hare-brained, whacky adventures.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have this ideal. But it’s passion, you know. Passion for life that makes my world go round.
What if he doesn’t and can’t share some of my passions? Ahh! Dilemma. But at least I’m aware of this now, and I’ve shone some hard light on this issue of mine.
5. The relationship begins to falter.
Not sharing in my whacky adventures fractures the partnership. Internally, this creates a separation between me and him (this is a metaphoric, previous him). There’s resentment; all those little (or big) things that irritate me about him are exposed in my conscious mind. Internally and externally, I create or magnify the fault lines. There are arguments, silences. He withdraws or tries to down play the differences. Sometimes, he just doesn’t care enough to address the problem or even want to talk to me about it. Not caring or acknowledging signals he doesn’t want to be in the relationship.
6. I disconnect.
Emotionally, I withdraw. This is painful. This kills me as I am failing again and again. Failing at being a grown up. Failing at life, failing to stick something out. I become a failure – a bad, useless person.
7. I seek emotional closeness elsewhere.
Without fail, every time my serial monogamy begins to fail, I find the connection -a someone– to share my whacky adventures, elsewhere. This is fraught with danger, further heartbreak and disappointment. My sense of purpose –of meaning- is then invested in my search for a fictionalized other half of my soul without whom I am nothing. And it is not a logical or morally sound journey. See my previous post in regards to the inappropriate relationship that was a major factor in a five-year major depression.
The sad fact is, as I pointed out above, the perfect soul mate of New Age literature is an illusion. The only soul mate I can really have is myself.
Lessons, if any, I Can Take From This?
I began this post with a quote from Abdi Assadi about relationships as yoga. One solution he offers is a method of gauging the amount of healing one has done on oneself with successive partners:
…I am always amazed at how each successive partner reflects back how much healing one has done –or has not-done. The core issues do not change with changing partners. They change by healing work done within the relationship. Abdi Assadi (ibid, 57-58).
Following this, the question for me might be: what healing work did I do within these relationships?
Assadi (ibid, 71) suggests setting aside time each week to inquire about where our partner is internally at and to examine with brutal honesty with our innermost selves. In two of my four relationships, my partners have actively disliked and shied away from such introspection. One of them –my relationship of 14 years- would clam up. Absolutely refuse to approach anything remotely revealing about his inner mental life. Our son has inherited this tendency. Another boyfriend was too immature and damaged to understand introspection. My first long term partner, also Rhiannon’s father, was good at communication but not at introspection.
My current partner loves talking about these things. He sat through psychological therapy with me. He will talk about his feelings and probe mine. He’s not afraid of introspection. So there’s a very good sign there – provided I can maintain my openness to such things. Talk about stuff. Get it out there.
So perhaps it should be something I do every week: make a check in time for Gary and I to talk about where we are at, as a couple. To share our deepest hopes and fears, feelings and anxieties. This might sound simple. I am not so naïve to imagine that it will be as simple as that.
Stephen Cope, a psychologist and yoga teacher at Kripalu, also writes about recurring patterns in relationships and offers a solution. Cope (2007:14) calls the state I’ve experienced Samvega, defining it as a complex and deep disillusionment with life:
Samvega is a state not mentioned in Western psychological texts. It brings with it a realisation that objects of grasping (money, fine things, titles, fame, even people – when seen as objects) cannot supply true satisfaction. It involves a radical realisation that all objects are intrinsically empty of the capacity to feed us in the way we wish to be fed.
What part of yoga does Cope recommend as a solution to samvega?
Living in and observation of the now, in other words, mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness eventually leads to dis-identification with the endless traffic of thoughts and the ego, calmness and an ability to step back and observe restlessness, grasping and thoughts as they just are.
I already have a meditation practice. The challenge is to take this mindfulness away from the meditation cushion and out into the world. Not easy. So not easy.
There are some other issues that arose for me as I drafted this post across the space of a week. I’ll hold them back for future posts on the yoga of relationships. Have you noticed similar patterns in your relationships? Have you thought about relationships as yoga? I welcome your observations and comments.