I have been thinking a lot about relationships and impermanence lately. I recently lost someone close to me and that always gets us thinking about the rest of the folks in our lives. On top of this, among my friends and associates, there seems to be a cluster of loss, accentuating the pondering.
In episode 127 the Swingset crew were talking about the impermanence of relationships. It had been a tough year, relationship wise, for our intrepid band, and they were discussing the natural ebb and flow of relationships.
It was postulated that relationships are impermanent. We need to cherish them while we have them but understand that they are already gone, we just do not know when. The Buddhist midrash about a master’s favorite cup was employed. He maintained that his favorite cup was already broken; he just did not know when it would happen. He therefore cherished every moment with the cup. It also helped him accept is eventual loss since, for him, it was a pre-supposition of the cup’s condition.
In expecting something’s demise, are we less likely to take proper care in protecting it? Why protect, strengthen and grow something if it is already gone? I am not saying this is how folks actually behave, but I am afraid it would be my temptation. We need to be careful, however, to resist the temptation to over protect something as well. It is easy to keep the cup from breaking if we encase it in concrete and lock it away, but lying there in the rock and dark, we will never enjoy its beauty or utility.
I would suggest, rather, that for relationships to be vibrant, they cannot be hard and brittle like glass. If they are, or become that way, then they are surely like that master’s cup and already broken. Rather, relationships need to be like muscle. They need to be flexible and powerful. All parts need to work together to achieve. They need to be tended to. When exercised, they become sore, but then heal and become stronger. If stretched too far, they become damaged, but can be repaired with proper care. Sometimes, however, we can destroy them by lack of exercise (complacency) or over stretching (betrayal).
So, how do we exercise relationships? We take them out and enjoy them just for the fun of being with the other(s). We also let them face challenges. These can either be the natural challenges that the regular storms of life throw at us or challenges we choose to face together. As I discussed back in ‘Fear Is The Little Death’, one of the ways to challenge partner relationships is with new boundary stretching adventures such as swinging. If done with intent and care, these can really exercise things. If they are not ready, already damaged or ‘exercise’ to extreme, however, we can break things.
How do we care for damaged relationships? Author Steven Covey uses the metaphor of the emotional bank account. Time, care, love, good deeds, attention and other kindnesses put deposits into the account. Damage makes withdrawals. How do we fix an overdrawn account? We tend to it with new deposits. We look to how we got overdrawn and take care not to do it again.
Mrs. Duncan and I have one of those wonderful relationships worth cherishing, nurturing and protecting. There is no brittle cup, just strong muscle. Do we sometimes overwork it and damage it- sure. Do we sometimes let it atrophy- sure. We just make sure we care for it to bring it back stronger than ever. The fact that I am in this kind of relationship also explains why I feel the way I do about them. Our feeling and beliefs, after all, are shaped by our experiences.
Some may say that I am just kidding myself and am being overly sentimental. That I just cannot see the broken cup. Perhaps. But I am not going to accept that until the day comes when the cup falls off the shelf. Like Robin Williams’ Chris and Annabella Sciorra’s Annie in What Dreams May Come Mrs. Duncan and I are among those blessed with a relationship that can survive earth, heaven, hell and even New Jersey. I truly believe that some relationships are like that (and more than you might imagine). There are bashert (soulmates) out there. I have seen them. I am happy to count myself among them. And before I get accused of being too ‘woo woo’ new age metaphysical, I would suggest that ‘There are more things in heaven and earth… Than are dreamt of in our philosophy.’
‘Well, certainly your relationship with your lost loved one is gone’ you may be saying. Nah- They live in my heart and memory. We talk often.
An interesting read. It reminds me a lot of the mentality that I went into my current relationship with Bunny. I went in acknowledging that it likely will one day end. Instead of preventing me from investing, it gave me permission to invest in our relationship without worry about “will it be worth it” and questions of “am I wasting my time?” It allowed me to focus on being utterly present with her, which allowed us to build a deeper sense of intimacy with each other. Definitely a different mindset.