Relationships: A Path to
Who You Really Are
Many people are in deep despair in their relationships and have stopped even hoping for harmony. Others are asking: "Is there life after power struggles? Can relationships be more than places to settle in for a long snooze or a struggle for part of what I want?" Human beings haven't considered creativity a possibility until recently in our history, and they usually haven't considered it in the same breath with relationship. I want to suggest that the big frontier in close relationship is co-creativity, creating together more than either of you could possibly imagine on your own.
My husband Gay and I suggest a primary commitment that opens the gates to co-creativity. The master commitment is to see your close relationships as a valid spiritual path, and to practice this path by using every relationship interaction as an opportunity to learn. When you make a wholehearted commitment to learning, each moment becomes rich with opportunities to experience more of your essence, who you really are. With the energy freed from intimacy wobbles and power struggles, you can continue to discover new ways to celebrate the essence of those around you.
Here's a meditative practice to embrace this commitment. Spend some quiet time thinking of the main three to five issues you complain about in your relationships. They could be anything from who controls the checkbook to who should take out the trash. List your complaints in a sentence or two. Then take one at a time and ask:
"What can I learn about essence, who I really am, from this situation?"
The lack of a model or example for true co-creativity blocks most of us from considering that possibility in our own relationships. As I've studied the relationships of thousands of couples and dozens of communities, I haven't found many co-creative partnerships. People are familiar with the solitary artist or even the musical ensemble that reproduces the composer's work. However, when people consider the act of creating together, they usually struggle over whose creation will be birthed.
You may have seen or experienced how a great basketball team will suddenly break out of a familiar routine and create a perfect and unrepeatable pass and dunk. Business teams who have worked together for a while with trust can build reliably on each other's communications and contributions to create something brand new. But in close relationships most people don't seem to expect or envision the possibility of living in co-creativity. Many people identify committed relationship with constraint, the lessening of options or compromise. Those pervasive attitudes and expectations block co-creating.
What conditions are needed to grow a co-creative relationship, one in which both people flow in combined creative waves that enhance the vitality and contribution of each? There are attitudes to avoid or drop and attitudes and practices to take up. Each time you co-create you step into the unknown consciously. If you come into each relationship interaction with a willingness to learn, you take a risk by stepping out of familiar routines. You also open the gates for possibility. We suggest several soul choices that put the primary commitment into practice by shifting relationship from power struggles to possibilities for co-creating.
Choosing generosity shifts from getting to giving. We call it leading with gratitude, letting an appreciation of life itself lead your actions. One particular area where co-creativity flourishes is in generous listening. If you listen fully and with an open heart to your partner, new depth, new ideas and new vitality often flow. Instead of asking, "What's in it for me?" the question becomes, "How can I contribute?"
Authenticity is the soul shift to transparency. Rather than conceal and pretend, you reveal and discover. Thousands of people have been thrilled to discover new aspects of themselves and their partners when they shared simple truths, said unarguable things to each other with the intention to reveal. That's one reason we say that the biggest sex organ in your body is between your chin and your chest. The more you vibrate your voice box authentically, the more new possibilities for co-creating open. You ask, "What can I say that is authentic? How can I invite authenticity in others?"
Wondering, is a soul shift that generates enormous co-creativity. Wonder is the opposite of making yourself right and making others wrong. When we wonder, we evoke whole-body and whole-brain learning by approaching life with curiosity. Instead of blaming and finding fault, we enhance co-creating when we "wonder how I'm contributing to this issue? I wonder what I really want here? I wonder..."
Co-creativity flourishes in a playful atmosphere and withers under the sharp glare of criticism and judgment. Anytime you can shift from the conviction that this time you really are right, and furthermore, this is not at all funny, to play, co-creating blossoms. A radical question that invokes play is, "How can my learning be friendly and fun?"
Co-creating is a constantly renewable game. You can develop skill at this game even if you have had little previous training. One practice we have developed is what we call bouncing the ball. To illustrate, if one of us makes a pun, the other returns the ball by making another even if it evokes groans. Sometimes we just have a two-bounce game; sometimes a rally erupts. Another example: Gay may start singing in the kitchen. I'll do my best to add a line or do the bass do-wop chorus. Why? For the sake of play, to exercise co-creative muscles and develop a foundation to share the field of creative possibilities when the opportunity arises. Natalie Goldberg describes this training for writers in a way that applies to all creativity:
"We aren't running everything, not even the writing process we do. At the same time, we must keep practicing. It is not an excuse to not write and sit on the couch eating bonbons. We must continue to work the compost pile, enriching it and making it fertile so that something beautiful may bloom and so that our writing muscles are in good shape to ride the universe when it moves through us."
When Gay and I first began to focus on developing co-creativity together, we found that interrupting routines gently jiggled us out of predictable, flat interactions with each other. I remember one period of time when we changed the side of the bed where we slept randomly over several weeks. We interrupted routines by having breakfast for dinner, communication routines by singing or miming our messages to each other, and role routines by taking on tasks that the other usually did. Gay learned to cook, and I often drove on long trips. Since many couples use their relationships as an excuse to slip into a trance, interrupting routines is a quick way to generate the energy for co-creative play.
The most powerful step you can take to open creating together is to commit your full energy. Close the door to making yourself right, and put your focus on generating wonder, play, authenticity and gratitude. When you turn your attention from complaint to contribution, the whole universe celebrates.