Simply stated, few of us are well-practiced in the authentic, vulnerable requirements of this little understood work/art. That’s one reason the field is open for innovation. Another is that human beings are unfathomably complex creatures. Put them in relationship with one another and you get complexity to the unfathomable degree squared. No one prescription is ever going to fit all. It’s one of the reasons Stephen and Ondrea Levine pointed out to me many years ago that: “The yoga of relationship is the most challenging yoga of all.”
There’s nothing “wrong” with a relationship changing its form through divorce or separation. It’s just that when we do, our work doesn’t simply cease. Whatever the issues were that I abandoned in one relationship, they almost immediately begin surfacing with a vengeance in the next. And often with a lot more tangled threads woven through them. So, for example, my desire to control what people say to me, along with how and when they say it, in order to preserve my own precious peace of mind, gets me unwittingly into relationships where more and more upsetting things end up being said to me. And then by me, in a painful, unskillful recurring cycle. So, that’s one small personal example. Sarah Randolph tried to help me years ago by writing this collection of right-on guidelines: Fighting the Good Fight. Some people think I’ve even made the teensiest bit of progress.
Two Possibilities for Relationship Repair
Off the top of my head two possibilities for relationship repair come to mind (I’m sure there currently are, and one day will be many, many more). One is doing repair directly with the specific person with whom I have the rupture. The second is, with the aspects or elements of the person that live within me, i.e. “reclaiming my projections.” What this second approach to repair implies is that the difficulties I’m having that trigger the rupture may not actually be coming from the other person. They may simply be a distortion, projection or a misunderstanding I’ve overlaid upon them. The other person is showing up expressing disavowed shadow aspects that live in me. But what part of me wants to fully acknowledge I can be harsh and judgmental with my words? Less painful to call attention to the speck of sawdust in the other person’s eye, than to the log in my own.
As my garden pals Ellie, Mully, Stephanie and Cary point out, we can find other guiding clues for relationship repair in the garden. When plants fail to thrive they look first to the surrounding environment: soil, fertilizer, unhealthy comrades nearby, toxic invaders, too much or too little water, insufficient light, too hot or too cold, etc. If all those elements appear to be in good order, they then look to the plant itself: what in a particular plant might not be of solid integrity? Has it sprung from a bad seed? Has it been planted from a poor start? If any external or internal circumstances show up, Cary, Mully, Stephanie and Ellie do what’s necessary to put things back in right relationship – enrich the soil, relocate the plant, increase water, remove toxic invaders, etc. Repairs often require a conscious, creative, intentional response.
The relationships we repair with others, we invariably repair with ourselves. This is nowhere more powerfully evident than in Richard Kamler’s Table of Voices, where the parents of murdered children opened a healing dialogue with the murderer, some of them on Death Row. By listening to the dialogues at the Table, a keen awareness of a deep and painful unconsciousness living in a brain and body that was often damaged from the get-go begins to emerge. “They know not what they do” – all damage to others is simultaneous damage to oneself, as anecdotal accounts of PTSD in military snipers seems to confirm. Many harmful experiences we perpetrate upon others, lives in memory in the right brain below conscious awareness. They often revisit us as nightmares and seeming accidents in the waking world.
Nowhere is the damaging lack of awareness or unconsciousness more evident and more readily accepted than in children. The immature, disorganized brains of children can be responsible for great cruelty. Such brains can then operate in adults at the level of small children, especially under stress. A friend of mine has a sign on her wall instructing: “Be nice or leave.” A more skillful sign oriented toward relationship repair might read: “Be nice; and I’m sorry for your suffering.” The only whole and healing response to temporary unconscious- ness in others is expanded consciousness in ourselves. That is our work to do. What that looks like is an expanded heart, brain, mind, and body capable of processing more and more energy and information. What that looks like deployed in the world is: eventually or immediately softening into compassion and forgiveness. Compassion and forgiveness lie at the end of the road for all of us who suffer. It is from skillful work with our own pain and suffering that we each begin to walk the Subtle Way to wholeness and healing.
One Further Repair Possibility
We first need to realize the importance of relationship repair for ourselves, our children and the world. As an alternative to Divorce Court or Family Court, we might add a formal or informal Community Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Currently mediation is kind of a weak sister to such a commission, since few mediators have the breadth and depth of understanding to hold Big Healing Space. Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners would be trained in generative listening, developmental psychology, traumatology, somatic psychology and interpersonal neurobiology (for starters). Unlike psychiatrists whom many medical schools no longer require to have any therapy at all, Reconciliation Commissioners will have done large pieces of their own mental, physical, psychological and spiritual work. They would have a deep understanding of relationships as Sacred Contracts, to use Carolyn Myss’s term. (The people we have deep connections with in our lives aren’t there by accident). Such a commission would hold sacred space for and provide representatives for each person involved in a seriously ruptured relationship. The results could be profoundly healing as this story from a native New Zealand tribe suggests: What is it You’re Not Saying?