“I want to know/if you can sit with pain/mine or your own/without moving to hide it/or fade it/or fix it [….] I want to know/if you can live with failure/yours and mine/and still stand at the edges of the lake/and shout to the silver of the moon/Yes!” –Oriah Mountain Dreamer The Invitation
“To listen to your soul is to stop fighting with life-to stop fighting when things fall apart” -Elizabeth Lesser The Seekers Guide
Where do our relationship maps, the very maps that often unconsciously we use to help us navigate the territory of intimate couple relationships come from? Did we, do we, survey the landscape itself or are we relying on out of date Ordinance Survey that effectively collides and conflicts with the same in our romantic partners?
It takes a brave heart to explore our maps and attempt to redraw them using the territory itself. But what is this territory itself? It’s us.
It all starts with us. It starts with progressively getting to know ourselves, our history, our motivations, our character flaws and character armour-and our wounded selves. Especially our wounded selves, for at the core of many of us, existing in shadow there lies suppressed fear and loneliness that cripples our development, and it could just be this wounded self that is driving the map making, not a more reflective sense of self.
A more reflective sense of self is crucial here, understanding our stories of love and regret, the part we play in our couple relationship “for better or worse”, seeing challenges and stresses in the relationship as potentials for growth (growing pains) rather that threats we have to react or defend against, positioning our relationship not as various problems to be solved but as a dynamic connection to be lived with.
Cultivating a brave heart is often having the courage and motivation to explore our past wounds in a bid to seek out and heal disabling, incomplete or edited family stories that cast shadows and secrets over your past, that have made us unawarely incomplete.
Intimate relationships will stir the pot of the past (they are meant to) and can skew how we engage and relate with our partners, so it is crucial we have the daring to cultivate the brave hearts of relational investigation with compassion. Compassion is key to this process; a brave heart is not to be confused with a foolish heart, a brave heart also cultivates wisdom and discrimination, it seeks to relate with acceptance and kindness, yet this acceptance is not just agreement or collusion. A brave heart challenges softly our wounded, self-critical stories, for these wounds arrive with a message, if we dare listen closely enough. Compassion explores and evaluates our stories and deeds without blame, shame or guilt, giving us powerful tools for transformation. It allows us to be on our own side and get out of our own way.
Wounds are a cry for healing, they ask for nurturance, growth and transformation, and in them we can learn a lesson that might just release us from the never-ending circle of going around and around the mulberry bush of past hurt and regret.
This can be a complex and shadowy process: it takes a brave heart to venture inward; Ken Wilber calls this “growing up and waking up” -waking up to a more reflective, contemplative self.
This is the tip of a very big iceberg-and it literally might be engaging with parts of us frozen.
Cultivating a brave heart is exploring ourselves in the following relational domains:
- Connection: how we put the glue in our relationships, what kinds of attachments we had growing up and how this is expressed now
- Communication: are we communicating across a range of domains effectively: e.g. verbal and nonverbal? How do we touch? How do we linger in our looking at each other? What are saying with our bodies? How was this done in our respective families? Did it work?
- Compromise: when do we just want to get our own way? What familial or cultural messages are there here? Are there messages of gender here?
- Capacity: can we permit growth in our relationships? Can allow the difficulties that this might bring for future wisdom and greater connection? Are we threatened or energised by this? What stories of non/academic success have we?
- Commitment: do we know what we have committed to? What is the “purpose” of a committed relationship? To have children, a mortgage or more? How do we know these things?
- Compassion: how do we care for each other-and ourselves? Would we rather care for others and not for ourselves? Where did this come from?
- Conflict transformation: not resolution-how can we understand the roots of longing and the messages in our conflicts that are yearning to be heard and learnt from?
Exploring this territory will mean truly turning towards this landscape with an open-yet aware and boundaried- heart. It asks us to grow, to develop past our past and into a future of deeper intimacy.
And that’s getting real love.