Radical Sabbatical: Relationship

This post comes from the road (or the air, to be more accurate) somewhere between Houston and Charlottesville.  I’m returning after a week with Helen and Joe Terry at Soma Ranch in Montgomery, Texas, where I was re-taking the Nia Blue Belt training.  It was a rich and multidimensional week and I’m grateful for the experience, the connections, the insights (or to be truthful, the little baby edges of maybe-insights that I started to uncover).

First, an aside about Soma Ranch:  I confess that I don’t think of myself as a big Texas fan.  I didn’t really know what to expect an hour outside of Houston at a ranch in the middle of hundreds of acres of farm land with rescued donkeys in the pasture and a Cowboy Church just up the road.  For an old New Englander, it seemed like a bit of a stretch.  And you know what?  It was fantastic.  It was beautiful and peaceful in a big sky, deep breath kind of way.  Studying in the self-contained environment of the ranch allowed me to really focus on the training without distraction or external disruptions.  Helen’s vision for a beautifully designed, peaceful spa atmosphere offered (in general and tangibly in the three main rooms) Peace, Love and Joy.  Joe’s incredibly good cooking that awaited us thrice daily, left me feeling cleansed and nourished.  If you’re considering a Nia training, this is the place to do it.  If you’re looking for an introduction to the Body Ecology Diet, come here.  Soma Ranch is simply lovely.  Do go.  (And when you do, give Moonbeam and Luna – my two favorite donkeys – a little chin rub for me.)

The Nia Blue Belt focuses on Relationship, Communication and Intimacy.  Those three words have so much attached to them, so much complexity.  As I type them, it makes sense that I feel more than a little pooped after working with them all week.  At this moment, most of the training is a jumble of yet-to-be-processed sensations, ideas, emotions and possibilities.  I don’t have a great humming wisdom to bestow on you at this point, just a mumble jumble sense that that it was basically good and full of possibility.  However, as I travel home today, serendipity suggests that I share one sliver of the training with you.

Today, while waiting at my gate for my first flight, I read one of Rick Hanson’s Just One Thing blog posts.  He actually sent it out more than a week ago, and I didn’t have time to get to it then.  Usually my anal-retentive office manager-self demands that my email box be purged of any such detritus.  Instead, something about it caught my attention so I didn’t delete it.  The post was called “See What’s Likeable” and you can read it here.  Dr. Hanson talks about connecting with people, experiences, and objects with the intent of finding something to like about them.  He invites us to begin by “pick[ing] something simple – a meal, a room, a view out a window – and find something you like about it. Perhaps it is a particular taste, or the curve of a favorite armchair, or the way that light is playing on leaves outside. For a few seconds or longer, stay with it and let the sense of enjoyment grow. Be mindful of the experience of liking something.”  The idea is that by finding something likeable, we open up to the world and connect with it rather than withdraw.  And liking something or someone feels good!

During the Blue Belt, we played with a similar practice.  In Nia, we recognize that we are (in a mind-blowing kind of way) in relationship with everyone and everything on the planet (and in the universe, for that matter) all the time.  I’m in relationship with my friends and family in Charlottesville even though I haven’t seen them in more than a week.  I’m in relationship with the camp I went to in Canada when I was a teenager and the forks in my kitchen drawer and a cowboy hat for sale in Dallas that I’ve never even seen.  (Truly, it can be a little crazy-making.)

The key is that for every relationship there are three entities:  the self, the other, and the relationship.  Instead of BEING something in a relationship (that is, “I am selfish,” “I am loving,” “I am confused”), in Nia we talk about what we BRING to the relationship.  This is helpful to me in that like a gift I bring to a party, it is separate from me and I can bring more than one thing.  AND (and this is key), I have no control over what the other brings to the relationship.  Think about that:  how often do I say, “They are doing this or that and making the relationship crappy.  It’s not my fault.”  Instead, if I can let go of what the other is bringing, I can focus on making a conscious choice about what I want to bring to the relationship and let go of the rest.

In my relationship with my cat, Phoenix, for example, I bring affection, care, attention, annoyance and love.  Phoenix brings affection, a relentless pursuit of food, a love of warm places, and a tendency to use the box the second I’ve scooped it.  To my relationship with my new leather backpack purse, I bring satisfaction, pleasure, and gratitude (especially since it was only $2).  My bag brings three handy dandy compartments, comfort and ease for carrying, and snappy good looks!

Like Dr. Hanson, Helen wisely invited us to begin by looking at our relationship with simple, inanimate objects rather than something outrageously complex (oh you know, like my relationship with an actual person).  So I spent some time this week looking at my relationship with my favorite cashmere socks, my four-color pen, and my PG Tips Decaf tea.  It sounds absurd, right?  And yet it is surprisingly illustrative.  It helps me notice my tendencies (for example, I tend to take things for granted and expect things to just do what they usually do).  The practice helps me break down the complexities of relationship.  What do I bring?

Dr. Hanson suggests bringing a willingness to find something likeable.  His practice invites a choice.  I choose to like something, at least one thing about the object, person, or situation.  Nia suggests looking at all the things we bring, and then invites us to question whether we are consciously bringing what we want to bring to the relationship.  Either way, I find that the practice sheds a whole new light on how I relate to things, situations, people and myself.

Give it a whirl for yourself:  pick something simple and begin by finding something to like about it.  Then ask yourself what else you bring to the relationship.  Then ask yourself if that is what you WANT to bring.  We can’t control what the other brings:  the cat will do what she will.  Heaven knows I have no control over her.  AND we do have a choice about what we bring even if the other insists on getting underfoot and making a mess in the box.

There is release in that awareness.  Release and freedom.  And that, I think, is pretty cool.

I’d love to hear about your dance in relationship and what you choose to bring.  And I promise, as those the little baby edges of maybe-insights come through, I’ll share them.

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