At the moment, I have a very long commute to work – one hour and forty minutes each way – 25 minutes of winding single lane country road, and the rest on the Pacific highway, navigating endless road works and speed changes from 60 to 110 km/h. What to do with all of this time? I love podcasts, so I’ve been listening happily to them, but this week, I decided to try something new: an audio book, through the Audible app. The first book I chose was The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship by Miguel Ruiz. Ruiz is the guy who wrote The Four Agreements:
Our heart, Ruiz explains, is a magic kitchen where we can cook up any meal that we could ever want. It is self-replenishing and allows us to be completely self-sustainable when it comes to love. When your heart is full, Ruiz explains, if a guy knocks on your door offering you a daily ration of pizza if you’ll do whatever he wants, you’ll just laugh and close the door. However, if your magic kitchen is bare, and you’re starving, that offer seems like a lifeline. But that set up for a relationship leads to a power imbalance, and a dealer/addict scenario, where one person has the goods, and the other partner will do almost anything to get their fix. That is not love, my friend, that is hell.
So, how do we fill up our magic kitchen and cook up everything that we need so that we can be self-sustaining? How do we have relationships that are based not on lack, but on overflowing abundance?
We identify and tend to our own needs. We take responsibility for our own fulfilment, rather than expecting someone else to do it. We stop looking to our partner to be the magical source from which all good flows, instead, making our own choices that generate a deep sense of purpose and love. The moment in which we do this, is usually the moment we look back on as a major turning point.
Like most people, I thought that my partner was somehow responsible for my happiness or unhappiness. I blamed other people and situations for my life, which seemed flat, limited and lacking in conviction or purpose. At the same time, I was paying much more attention to my partner’s pile of garbage than to my own. And then one day, sick to death of myself, I began the process of accepting responsibility for my life, sorting through my rubbish, identifying my needs and desires, and doing something about them.
So, some 6 years later, here we are. Our relationship of 17 years is vastly different from the one we had at 11 years. When one partner moves to claim their life , the other either needs to do the same or risk losing the relationship. Our partnership has been lost and found several times over that period as we both dig deep and find new ways of relating to each other within our new parameters. We have become each other’s teachers as we come to know our own strengths and weaknesses intimately.
This week I was listening to Dani Shapiro talk about her new memoir, Hourglass: Time, Memory, Money, which is a memoir of her and her husband’s 20 year marriage. My first thought was I wonder how she got him to agree to that? My second thought was, what would the themes be if I wrote a memoir about the Bear and me? And my third thought was the first 2 sentences of my memoir:
When I was a child, my parents used to say that I was going to make one lucky man very happy. It wasn’t until I was 40 that I realised that they weren’t being entirely serious.
The Bear is a heart person, passionate and at times intense, subject to greater depths of emotion than I can fathom. When things get tricky or sticky, my instinct is to withdraw to my ivory tower to get perspective, identify patterns and get clarity. Left to my own devices, I want to withdraw into my books, projects, work and study; the Bear constantly drags me back into our flesh and blood life, insisting that I pay attention to him, sometimes to my great irritation :).
The truth is, that I can sometimes be hard of heart and of heart. I am impatient and tend to shut down and shut off emotionally to protect myself. I like to ship, I like to fix, I like solutions, I like to understand, I like things to be tidy and simple. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work like that!
The Bear forces me to climb down out of my ivory tower (my mind) and clamber around in the squishy chambers of the heart. I have been learning both to be vulnerable and accept vulnerability, be engaged and present within our relationship, even when things get hard. I can feel my heart opening, feel it as a physical sensation – and miracles of all miracles, our relationship is getting better and better.
As Ruiz says, we have to take responsibility for our own garbage. There is absolutely no point in trying to clean up someone else’s garbage, while being surrounded by our own stinking pile. Right? Right. And the somewhat surprising thing is, that when you start to attend to your own rubbish heap, not only is your attention distracted from that of your partner’s faults and problems, but your partner now has the room to get to work on their own dump.
Or, if that moment has yet to come for you, what are you waiting for?