This is a short-ish version of something I have been thinking about for a while. I put it here because I am having part of this conversation again, and again, and I hope to be able to say: this is my starting position, let’s build on this.
I have no idea if this will work. At the very worst, I can just copy and paste this.
I also feel it is somewhat related to the Cookbook I am hosting tomorrow on Adult Relating.
The short version of my position is as follow:
having an ethical, open, consensual, healthy interaction in a relationship can be seen as a practice similar to meditation, in the realm of social interaction instead of your mind.
With that I mean that:
if we cannot have a quiet and pleasant enough mind state when nothing bad is happening [I]you are fed, sheltered, physically safe, with nothing urgent to be done, how can you hope to have it when life hits us from all sides?
Similarly, if we cannot have a healthy and ethical interaction with someone we care about, that cares about us, and that we choose, how can we hope to have healthy and ethical interactions with a community, a group, the whole society?
Let me expand this position:
First of all some assumptions and definitions:
Simple does mean easy.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler“. Additionally, the way I see it: simple is the easiest possible configuration of something, it does not mean it is easy.
The simplest possible configuration of an intrinsically hard problem is not easy: it is just as easy as it goes. It does not even mean it is possible: the universe is under no contractual obligation to make it possible for us to do what we want to do.
NP complex problems come to mind. Finding the prime factorials of a very long number too: it is a very simple problem. It is also incredibly hard.
A simple scenario allows us to test assumptions.
If the scenario is good enough, if it models what we care about well enough, we can test some assumptions: if it does not work in the simple version, it probably won’t work in the more complex one, at least, if it works or not won’t be under our control.
“I would have not managed to pay my bills, but someone left a bag of cash outside my door at the right moment”
is not something you can count on every time, unless you are sure the bag of cash will keep on appearing.[II]let me know how, I am in
A good enough simple scenario allows us to learn skills that will hopefully scale to more complex ones.
Think about any sort of good training: we try to keep the important part of what we want to learn, make it simple and safe, then hope it will generalize.
It does not always work: any training for an emergency situation tends to leave out the actual emergency, the panic, the risk of injury, death, or humiliation.
And yet we spar with blunted weapons, we do fire drills, we learn skills in environment where we won’t be able to do huge messes.
What do I mean with practice?
For me, a practice is something that has a value in itself, with possibly good side effects.
The movements from yoga tend to be a bit silly, and not that functional. Same for dancing. Spending 30 minutes observing one’s breath does not seem like the most important life skill to acquire.
And yet, somehow, they give us building blocks that are useful elsewhere: we do the practice for itself, and it brings benefits.
My idea of a good practice is something I can learn to enjoy (so that I want to do it and get better at it), and has also long term benefits, without having to have a direct goal.
As Alan Watts said (I quote from memory): when you dance, you are not trying to see who gets to the end the fastest.
The fact that dancing is often not the most efficient way to move from A to B is not the point. As a bonus, sometimes, dancing will make us good at getting from A to B when we need.
And here we are:
the way I see it, the first step in meditating is “making friends with your own mind”. That is what differentiates “learning to meditate” to “meditating”.
They are different beasts: learning a language is not the same as speaking it. We can learn as we speak, but, trust me, learning it tends to be less fun.
Here is my baseline:
when nothing problematic is happening, you are safe, fed, warm, rested enough, and with nothing on your to-do list, and no problem currently happening to you, can you be content? Can you at least stop being miserable.
Before you answer: did you try to meditate?
Have you been at a meditation retreat?
I have seen several people going crazy around day 5. “I cannot quiet my mind, this does not work”. Many left.
I think they confused the learning phase with the result phase: working out makes you weaker, will leave you more tired. In the long run, it will leave you stronger, harder to tire.
Meditating will make your mind feel like a mess. If you get through it, it will be less of a mess.
And here is what I strongly believe:
if realize you are still miserable when nothing bad is happening, now you know that part of your being miserable does not depend on external circumstances.
And you can work on that: as some people will assure you, it is possible to be content in your own mind. That it is fine.
There are techniques that helps but, mostly, it boils down to this: once you realize you create your own misery, you have a fighting chance to fix it.
A bit. Enough. Maybe.
What has this to do with relationships?
Here is my simplest scenario: a relationship between you and someone you care about, that cares about you. Someone that likes you, and that you like. Someone you choose, that choose you. Let’s go the extra mile: someone you respect, and that you trust to have your best interests at heart.
See, I am making it as easy as possible. I cannot imagine it getting any better than that. If you can, please add it and let me know.
In this situation: are you able to be honest, authentic, respectful, consensual?
In this situation: are you able to be content, not dissatisfied?
Are you able to express a desire you are afraid the other person won’t like, and stay with it in case they actually do not like it? Are you able to find a common ground?
Are you able to lean in into conflict?
Are you able to show yourself, and respect the other person when they show themselves?
I know it is hard. I am not saying it is easy. But it is a very simple scenario.
If we cannot do it in this situation, how can we hope to do it when things are more complicated, when the other person is a bit problematic, when there are more people, when we care less?
There are techniques and processes to help with that, but mostly it boils down to this: once you realize you would be miserable in the simplest possible relationship scenario, once you realize you would not be able to have a healthy relationship in that scenario, you have a fighting chance to fix it.
A bit. Enough. Maybe.
As a bonus: it is a fun practice.
Having a healthy relationship feels good.
Feeling good inside your own mind feels good too.
It is that simple.
Even if it is not easy.