A very dear friend of mine told me this funny story a few days ago. It was about one time when she was trying to convince her husband, in a non-intimidating way, that the both of them needed to work on their relationship. She knew that coming on too strong would completely shut him off to the idea, so she decided that she would avoid using textbook terms like ‘communication’, ‘intimacy’, etc. To most subtly, and efficiently, put the message across to him, she brought in the analogy of the plant in their living room.
She pointed to the plant and told him, “Imagine this plant as our relationship. The both of us went and bought it together, and now we have it in our home. If we don’t care for it, it will surely die. The plant needs sunlight, water and nourishment. So, its up to us to take on that job, if we want to keep the plant healthy and alive”.
She thought she was doing a great job until she saw the puzzled look on this face. After what seemed like a long pause, he pointed to the plant and asked her, “Why do we have this plant here anyway? Whose idea was it to buy it? I don’t remember buying this plant!”
That was the end of that conversation. It just flew over his head. I don’t think she went that route again.
Jokes apart, I have often compared a relationship to a garden. When two people come together it’s like growing a garden together. A beautiful garden, that brings joy to their heart, with large beautiful trees, birds, bees, bright beautiful flowers and anything or everything they want in their garden. Initially, the garden is so beautiful! It’s all nice and pretty and caring for it feels like a walk in the park. There is the chemistry, romance, connection and everything that keeps the garden alive.
In a lot of relationships, after a period of time, life starts kicking in, work, responsibilities, children, obligations, illnesses, crises, distractions, expectations, ego, etc., get in the way of tending to the garden. Before we know it, the garden begins to wither away, since it is no longer a priority. With its over-grown weeds and untrimmed leaves, the garden looks abandoned and dead from the lack of attention. Maybe the two people involved expected the other to take care of it. Or, they just foolishly assumed that it would magically remain beautiful like that forever.
Eventually it reaches a point where your garden is no longer recognisable. Some just suck it up and live with it unhappily. Sometimes it seems easier to give it up than to work on it. What would have started out as fear, avoidance, laziness, lack of commitment, overwhelm, lack of time, or lack of responsibility has now resulted in this huge, huge mess!
For one, we are not the same people we were, when we started out the relationship. We evolve and transform as time goes by. Familiarity creeps in and we also take the other for granted, which is kind of like a life sentence because there is no room for the ‘new’. What we love in someone is our idea of them and not really who they are or who they capable of being.
When we don’t connect to our relationships or if we don’t work on getting to discover each other, we might soon get to that place where we would have grown in different directions into strangers who don’t recognise each other.
Crazy thing is, we assume relationships are like a one time investment. Once it’s all done or made, we assume we can sit back and cash in the rewards for the rest of our lives. I don’t believe it works like that.
I have a personal curiosity about why people get into committed relationships. Do you choose them because you really want to be in a relationship consciously or are you following or conforming to default social construct? I see many people continue in their unhappy relationships without making any changes for years. By changes, I either mean change by working on it or by walking away. I wonder why we are so hell-bent on maintaining our status quo.
Wouldn’t everyone want to be in a nurturing and loving relationship? If the basic need for every human being is unconditional love, why do we suffer and make people in our lives suffer too?
Okay, so coming back to my garden analogy, I think that all of us bring in our personal baggage into that garden; when we get into relationships. They include our limiting beliefs, fears, blocks, perceptions, attitudes, our view of the world, etc., and we function from there. We accept and hold our baggage as the truth, and are not really tolerant to the other. That like saying “my mess is better than your mess”. We don’t accept and celebrate differences in each other. It almost becomes a mission to make the other just like us, agree to us, or accept your views. And there lies the challenge.
Apathy and fear can also suck the life out of relationships. I have often seen people resigning or giving up, from a place of hopelessness and indifference. It kind of goes along the lines of- ‘What’s the point?, It’s not going to work anyway so why bother? Nothing will change.’ We enter the battle wearing pessimism on our sleeve. Truth is, we’ve lost even before it’s fought. How can we invite change when we step into anything believing that nothing will change?
The indifference and belief that nothing good is going to come out is actually a mask that hides our unwillingness in addressing something that’s hard and challenging for us. It’s far easier to justify with an excuse like that rather than admitting to ourselves that there is fear involved and we are scared. What we are not saying is “I don’t want to because I am afraid, I feel vulnerable and exposed.”
The only way to work around apathy is connect back to our dream or vision behind the situation or relationship, because they are more powerful than our fears that hold us back.
Strange feeling vulnerability is, for when we step into it, it literally feels like peeling layers off ourselves. There is awkwardness, pain, shame, doubt, fears etc., all we want to do is run away and hide. This I know from my experience! Once we let ourselves go through that process, something shifts within us in a deep and powerful way.
There are many of us who step courageously into it (not in the absence of fear, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway), giving up the need for perfection.
There are times we cross some edges, make big shifts and at other times we fail and fall flat on our face. Yet, we pick and dust ourselves off to begin again, knowing that we might never get it all right also knowing that’s not the goal.
I believe every person comes into our life as a teacher, a guru. We have plenty of lessons to learn from them. When we get stuck in our relationships, one question to ask ourselves is what lesson are we supposed to learn now, regardless of whether we choose to stay or leave. I have also heard that we choose our life partners or they get chosen for us because we have the most to learn from them hence might be triggered by them the most. So unless we look for those teachings we may continue to live our lives is misery and keep repeating those experiences until we learn our lessons. Sometimes our lessons are to let go and move on.
In many ways, our relationship with others is also a reflection of our relationship with ourselves!
At the end of it all, it comes down to creating deep, intimate, authentic, compassionate and loving relationship with ourselves.
I feel that we are so used to these ‘textbook terms’ we’ve grown up hearing, that we’ve sometimes developed an indifference towards them. Here is a paragraph full of them and how they make sense to me. Another reminder to self as its hard to walk the talk but as long as we keep walking I will be fine !
It’s hard to truly ACCEPT & UNCONDITIONALLY LOVE another unless we truly understand, love and accept all of ourselves- the good, bad, and ugly. How can we truly practice FORGIVENESS if we haven’t been humbled by our mistakes and truly forgiven ourselves for it? How can we build TRUST in our relationships without learning to trust and believe in ourselves? We begin to ACKNOWLEDGE & APPRECIATE another when are open to appreciating ourselves. Our RESPECT & VALUE for another is a natural consequence of our respect and value for ourselves. . We can create JOY around us when we are grateful for what we have. True COMPASSION and KINDNESS towards our loved ones comes when we can tap into that compassion and kindness towards ourselves, amidst all our self-judgment and blame. We create that space of FREEDOM around us and for the people we love, when we have given ourselves full permission to be free.
When we are in right relationship with ourselves, we will be in right relationship with the world.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi
With love, respect & gratitude
December 28, 2015