What is a ‘Relationship’?
One of the areas for coaching that clients often come with, is how to work in relationship with other people.
Mostly that’s literally at work — usually the case for my leadership clients, and sometimes it spills over into the personal, the love relationship in our lives, children, colleagues, or others in many directions.
Sometimes it’s specific, a ‘difficult’ member of staff for example, a (seemingly) problematic teenager; and sometimes it’s general-a changed, or expanded leadership role and a client who wants to understand how to do it to the best of his or her abilities.
Whatever the context, one of the places we look is always the same,
What is the nature of the self in relation to others?
Because, when we understand what we are looking at and what it’s made of, then it’s much easier to know how to work with that to create what we want.
The Self Versus ‘Other’
My leadership clients have usually been on some kind of course or programme, or at least heard talk of the idea of understanding someone else’s perspective. Sometimes it’s been about listening, sometimes it’s emotional intelligence, sometimes they’ve been taught models of the personal and the work and how these pieces fit together and when (and how) to focus on one versus the other.
And, of course, in romantic relationships we have all manner of conceptual models and expectations. And sometimes we wonder why life doesn’t play out quite like the three-act play on the small (or large!) screen in our living room.
Whatever the model, I find there’s usually both a grain of something true and beautiful (who hasn’t experienced times when we’ve worked joyfully with a colleague who seems to be in complete agreement with us, and who doesn’t want the kind of loving partnership so well portrayed by Hollywood?), and there’s a lot of confusion about what it is that makes up that experience and what to do to have more of it.
So then, how can we strip away the misunderstandings to create a more simple, and more beautiful experience of life and work?
The Reflected Self
I can look at my dog and think he’s the most beautiful and loving animal I’ve ever seen. Then I can look at one of my cats think he’s the cutest, cuddliest, most loving creature I’ve ever seen. And both of those things can be true at the same time.
The nature of another person (or animal ;-) ), or even the ‘relationship’ I think I have is that it only exists as I see it.
When we watch a puppet show, we see the characters and the story and we can laugh and cringe at the missed opportunities and stumbles along the rocky road of romance.
The difference between a puppet show and what most of us experience as real life, is that we usually know it’s a puppet show.
Even the smallest child, lost in the wonder of it all will have some awareness it isn’t ‘real’, and yet can be completely immersed. My youngest son was like this, he loved live theatre, he still loves movie and story and the weaving together of imaginary worlds.
Sometimes we get a glimpse of this playing out in life, that we are seeing a projection of something that is coming through us, or from us, and is therefore coloured by our looking.
Just as there is no puppet character beyond the paper and the voice, what if the ‘character’ we think is there across the table at work, or in the bedroom, also exists solely in our perception?
At some level we know this.
I know that, when I feel annoyed ‘with’ someone, the annoyance is in me, and so I pause before acting (mostly!). And, occasionally, my angry reflection leaps out of its own accord and makes a snippy comment. Oh well. Sorry!
However we articulate it, whether my words resonate with you or not, we are only ever seeing what we see, not what is.
The Pure Self
At another level, it’s possible to sense an understanding of who we are and what we are made of.
The puppet is made of paper and light shining through. It’s the light that makes the puppet come alive-the light that allows us to ‘see’ the form on the curtain and to experience the formless in our imagination.
If we look through what we see on the ‘outside’ of the person in front of us, then we might experience that same feeling, that they are also made of something alive, as are we; something that is living an experience (their own personal puppet show) and has an awareness and experiences of that existence (just like we know it’s a puppet show).
If we look at little less at what is experienced, and look more to the nature of experience then we can see something that (to me) looks like a shining light of pure potential, an infinite innocence, and an unlimited beauty.
For me that’s a very precious experience, and, in practical terms, when I see that the person in front of me both appears as I see them, and is actually made of (metaphorical) light, then I have an incredible freedom to act from compassion and kindness and unselfishness.
I have the ultimate freedom to step outside of ‘me’, of ‘them’, of any ‘relationship’, I have no need to do anything, and, I can do anything.
When I am not thinking about their reaction to what I might say, or some future action I am trying to influence so that a future outcome is created (the one I think is ‘better’, of course), then we have the freedom to turn over a new page and do whatever we want to do, together.
The Collision of Realities
Of course, you might be saying, real people are not paper puppets. They are not simply a project of light through paper. “That’s a cute metaphor. Cathy, but, really…?”
And I agree, of course they are not, they are versions of us creating their own puppet show, interacting, or existing alongside our puppet show.
And it would probably take many more brain cells than I have to try to understand and model in my head all the permutations that creates.
What’s way more helpful, and graceful, in my experience, is to see that this is what is going on. Because, at the level of a higher awareness, we don’t need to engage in each others’ puppet shows, we can simply be with each other without judgement, without disagreement, without anything getting in the way of two souls looking at each other without anything clouding the glass.
If we have no judgement, and no preconceptions, and no ‘relationship’ to preserve or manage; if we accept that we are all existing in the experience of our awareness, then we can put that aside and create something beautiful.
In a professional relationship that usually brings us back to the work: what can we do here today that is the most impactful, or innovative, or interesting work possible.
In personal relationships it’s about what is most loving, or kind, or joyful. When we have the freedom to ‘see’ the other person without any filter or curtain, then we can fall into what many of us are looking for- pure, unconditional love.
The Nitty Gritty
Whatever thoughts we bring to something, whether we’re anxious or excited, admiring or suspicious, curious or opinionated, they all arise in the moment, and only exist in the moment. When I stop thinking whatever I’m thinking, the only thing that’s still true is that stars are made both of molecules and of light. Just like me and you.
It doesn’t matter how we describe what this means to each of us, or what examples we put in place, the piece that makes a difference in ‘relationship’ is that we are all made of the same stuff.
We’re all made of stars. At a molecular level we’re all comprised the elements that were set free in the big bang. Cool!
We’re all made of stars. The infinite light of the universe I see in you is that same light reflected in me. Cool!
I don’t mind whether you have a penchant for the practical or the metaphysical, it takes us to the same place in the end, and that’s both a very special and a very practical place to begin an exploration.
Originally published at https://cathypresland.com on May 4, 2020.