In the classic film, Alfie, the song that became the rage was “…Alfie, what’s it all about?”.
Before that and since many of us more curious souls have been doing all we can to find “what’s it all about…” especially in respect to human relationships, with greater, but probably lesser success. As time goes on, the human being is one increasingly complex organism. This is just organically, prior to the increasing interface with artificial intelligence and the Internet of Bodies. (IoB).
I’m going to imagine that being a tree, a flower or even a three- or four-legged would be easier than this, certainly less complicated. It appears that the other members of the eco-system are part of the whole rather fluidly without arguing, resisting or trying to change it.
It’s almost like human beings have to look for their place in the ecology and the Cosmos - the awareness is not intrinsic. A bee knows that it is serving the Queen Bee through its daily actions of fertilizing flowers one to the next and making more bee nectar. Ants too know that they are there to build colonies, always serving the good of the whole.
Human beings, however, have motivations which may be good for other members of the species or not, and have explanations for just about everything and anything. One doesn’t get the sense that they are inherently “in the flow”, even though there have been always philosophical and reflective types, poets, artists and spiritual teachers who have spoken at length about the value of ‘being in the flow”, such as Lao-Tse in the classic poem, Tao Teh Ching.
As children, we look at Nature and her flowers, trees, birds, animals, array of colors, mountains, lakes and oceans, and are easily spellbound by the beauty, the fragrances, the shapes, the patterns. What intelligence could have created anything so beautiful and so mysterious? Food grows right on trees!
Life on planet Earth during this innocent time in our lives, looking back, was for many, of course not all, fairly and relatively pristine. Parents, family, friends, community. Once we learned skills for survival which consist of bonding, loving, laughing, smiling, socializing, storytelling, dancing, singing, art-making, and well, sometimes bullying and fighting, things started to get a little more complicated.
We don’t know exactly when, but it looks like it may have been at the very beginning of the agrarian age when land became owned instead of communal. The idea of “mine” and “yours” began to emerge. Rather than working together to build a fire, collect berries, hunt or fish, it became one person telling another what to do because one now owned the land, ultimately creating a servile class. Food grown on the land could be kept, sold or hoarded. Men began telling women what they can and cannot do, such as stay home and make babies.
Some say - and there is some historical evidence - that the first efforts at farming were to grow barley to ferment into beer. While the idea of altered states of consciousness began to arise, so did the idea of ownership and perhaps domination.
While this is but one fictionalized version of our past, and I borrow a bit from the novel Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, it does appear that with the onset of farming came the idea of owning land and indeed, the ownership, on one level or another of “owning the help” as well, including one’s wife.
Of course, this later came to flourish in the form of slavery, a sin that even many thousands of years later, as a species, we have not fully evolved beyond - it just goes by less offensive names, and I think expanded to include all shades. These ideas became embedded in the respective ‘codes of ethics’ that arose around the planet, usually called religions, affirming the superiority of one gender or quantity of melanin so one group can lord over another. If this sounds random and bizarre it is because it is - but this has certainly not kept humans from such profoundly irrational and nasty thinking and behavior.
By this point, the crisis has begun - it is in its infancy but the battle-lines have already been drawn. This stands to reason because no insignificant portion of human history is military history - wars and conquests, arguing about God, territory, money or women! And the rest of humanity are people living their lives, growing their food, providing for their family and building community.
As we look around today and the layers of complexity that besieges our world, one naturally queries: “What the heck happened? How did we as a species veer so off base that we lost our innocence, lost our precious relationship to Self and Nature, and are ready to destroy each other and planet at the drop of a hat, or for something such as the acquisition of ever more money?
How could we take this pristine sphere of the most bio-diverse life-forms to be found no doubt in this corner of the Universe, or possibly any corner, and make a mess of it so thoroughly when other options abound to create a veritable Heaven on Earth?
What that looks like varies of course by the individual but Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward brought forward this idea in his utopian way, and Bellamy Groups formed everywhere of people so eager to create utopia right here! Recognizing that we are creators, we can make whatever we want: Heaven or Hell. Here are a few definitions from my perspective:
Hell: “Food has been chemicalized, processed, de-natured, genetically modified and micro-waved. So much of what is available called food has little to no nutritional value which is a large part of what food is to provide, besides taste and pleasure”.
Heaven: “Hippocrates is credited with saying “Make food thy medicine”. Food is healthy, ripe, delicious, abundant, healing, rich with nutrients, tasty and enriches our lives”.
Hell: “For purposes of sheer profit, food has been bastardized, corrupted and distorted into something far away from Nature and her purposes and far from being medicine. The exception to this is organic farming, which has been compromised in large part by soil that has been tragically abused for a couple of centuries. Thankfully, regenerative agricultural methods are beginning to both sequester carbon in massive quantities and restore the inner life of the soil”.
Heaven: “Water, the element from which all life emerged, tastes fresh and wonderful, we love swimming in, drinking, bathing and splashing in”.
Hell: “All over the planet water has been contaminated with chemical dumping, polluted, fluoridated, chlorinated and otherwise distorted from Mother Nature’s original gift of life to us”.
Heaven: “Soil, the body of Mother Earth herself, gives us nutrient-dense, delicious food, and it smells so earthy! Hands love playing in it as do children. It’s soft, moist and teeming with life”.
Hell: “Soil has been despoiled with chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides and every unimaginable chemical rendering it nearly inert. As long ago as 1933, the USDA declared U.S. soil depleted of proper mineral balance. The soil, water and air have been so fouled, that in certain areas of the world, people cannot see each other 10 feet away because of smog and cannot drink the water without getting ill”.
How did we take this pristine, fecund and gorgeous planet and mess Her up so badly so that now we have entered what is called The Sixth Extinction? This is the state in which the eco-system collapses and our and many other species go extinct.
I suggest that while there are many contributing reasons, from highly imbalanced hormones to addictions to power, money and substances, a primary one is an imbalance in human relationships.
If there were more sustained love and harmony in our relationships—all of them—the tendency toward abuse and exploitation of Self, Other and Planet, wouldn’t be occurring. The opposite would be true: we would have taken this pristine planet and nurtured her, cared and stewarded Her, to help life thrive for all in harmony with Her. It is the opposite of how we interact with Mother Earth now.
As a therapist for decades, I have seen many couples as clients, and have borne direct, intimate witness to the hell people put each other through. Thankfully, I have also borne witness to the Heaven that is brought forth also, but quite honestly, more hell, and I have seen people be habituated to it, that they no longer even recognize it for what it is.
When one is in an intimate relationship, there is all too often this sense of ‘license’ that one can speak “any which way”, no matter how demeaning, injurious or insulting and this by default becomes the “new normal”. This kind of speaking is often done in the name “of being honest” but it’s all too often destructive. There are ways of communicating that are responsible and honest—it’s a skill to be developed and is best taught to children early in life.
What’s ironic is that most of the insult and injury is done in the name of love! Love-making or intimate relations do not confer an honorary badge for primary process speaking, that is, whatever is top of mind spurts out from the bottom of mouth. Yet, this is what so many couples do while sporting a host of not-so-interesting rationalizations for the behavior.
A glaring example of this is to be found in the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. The caustic nature of insult goes beyond any sense of proportion or reason. The value of a play like this is that it shows us what boundaries are appropriately set up, what guardrails there need to be to sustain healthy relationships.
Everyone sometimes goes ‘off the rails’. We are then given the opportunity to forgive, to be empathetic, compassionate and patient. When our sense of self though, if the behavior continues, gets truly offended, we have a felt sense that “enough is enough” and we back off, re-assert a boundary and remove ourselves from harm’s way.
My job, when working with couples, has been to teach them that disagreements are not the end of a relationship, but an opportunity to listen and to learn, to be patient and ‘grow ourselves’ to accommodate the other beyond what we thought may have been possible! We seek then, if not agreement, a more fundamental sense of alignment with the Other. Share what is common while seeking to appreciate the differences.
Granted, the relationships we attract are surely formed, like Freud, Jung and Buddhist Psychology surely agree, from our relationship with our fathers and mothers, those earliest of imprints, from pre-natal to post-natal times. We are magnetically, consciously and unconsciously tied, even bound, to our parents and tend to attract those who we hone in on like radar in our teenage and adult lives who remind us of them in one curious way or another.
We always say: “How uncanny…this dark-skinned, dark-haired woman who I’m about to marry is a Hindu from Guyana yet she is the exact replica of my fair-skinned, blonde-haired, Jewish Ukrainian-American mother from Queens. They have uncannily similar intelligence, a frighteningly similar sense of humor, flare up about the same things and one can be every bit as charming as the other. Did God make the same woman in several different packages? Was it to save time, to make us laugh and cry at the same time, exclaim the ineffable power of the Divine or just to confuse the hell out of us?!!”.
It's too odd, too anomalistic, it can’t be! Yet it is, over and over. Interestingly, if the woman does not have such quirky attributes as one’s mother, the bond in the relationship may be good but not be as strong, gripping or compelling. It may be healthier, but not felt to be as dynamic. That’s the unconscious speaking.
Werner Erhard, found of EST and The Forum, used to say that if you walk into a room and find yourself automatically attracted to someone from afar, stay afar, or run! That is the unconscious ‘sniffing out’ an “oh so familiar” energy field that you likely grew up around, yes, your father or your mother, drawing you in.
Yes, they say it’s God’s way of giving us a chance to do it over, hopefully, better the next time!
The issue beneath the fun above and the innate humor of it is that men and women (I’m not limiting my comments to just men and women as it can apply in any human coupling, or tripling for that matter, but I will refer to everyone and anyone through the man-woman classical gender paradigm for simplicity’s sake in an otherwise increasingly complex gender-identity question), seem to torture one another often, finding fault and blame each other for what doesn’t feel like is going ‘right’ in each of their respective lives and perceptions of what their primary relationship should be, look like and ‘feel like’.
This is of course puerile at best, but indeed, isn’t that exactly the problem: People grow older but they don’t grow up. Bodies ripen and mature but the emotional life tends to stay quite arrested in the earlier years, somewhere between 4 and 13. Sometimes this is due to trauma, sometimes due to agonizing fear or gripping anxiety.
Whatever the cause, it is rarer than it is common for someone to reflect on oneself and challenge oneself to rise to a higher level of emotional intelligence and maturity. It’s truly an inside job and a voluntary one. No one can force you to grow up, even if life is pushing you toward it—one may resist and one often does.
The problem as I see it is this: when one resists growing up, emotionally maturing, which often means resisting getting along with one’s parents, one’s spouse or partner, many of the feelings, especially the hurt ones, go underground, they get suppressed and they make themselves known in other areas of our lives. If one is a teacher, one can be inappropriately assertive or aggressive with one’s students or fellow staff. If one is a politician, one will act on one’s own behalf instead of on behalf of their constituents.
If one is a businessman, one can express one’s pent-up frustration, suppressed feelings and anger in their relationship on the world stage such as exploitive, drilling practices in oil, fouling the air, water or soil, food supply and on with a devil-may-care attitude. Sensitivity toward the environment and others is lost. One becomes lost. Armoring, as Wilhelm Reich eloquently spoke of it, increases. One walks and talks ‘defended’, looking to making others wrong, rarely looking at oneself. Ego abounds.
Internally, one tends to feel ‘lesser’, the sense of self-worth is challenged by their partner, self-esteem drops and their sense of self depletes. Most of this is done in the subconscious but it emerges in the outside world, justified and rationalized as “business-as-usual”, “what’s the big deal?” Well, the ‘big deal’ is indeed very big. The eco-system is crumbling. The ice is melting. Storms are raging, Both droughts and wildfires are populating the planet. Snow falls in Southern Texas. Our political and economic structures are virtually hopelessly corrupt, our infrastructure is sinking. Our relationships are more divisive in family and community than ever. That’s what’s the ‘big deal’.
There is a sense of resentment which leads to revenge against Other and Planet. The planet becomes the Rorschach Test, the canvas for the anger and revenge to splash upon in whatever chaotic, incoherent way it may as in a Jackson Pollack painting. The suppressed feelings from an unfulfilling relationship or several of them, gets ‘taken out’ on the world in the forms of dominance, greed, prejudice, corruption and an attitude of indifference.
This is a sad state of affairs that is effectively homicidal and suicidal. It then can become genocidal.
Another area of intimate relationships is that of love-making and sex. If it were more often love-making, there would be less of a problem—we’d be making more love.
If it’s ‘just sex’, it suggests that the communication possible in this sacred space is at a lower ebb. In this space, communication can make for a heck of a good time, the non-verbal, sensual cues and communications can be subtle, artful, erotic and deep joy. But if there’s anger in this space, or ‘taking something out’ on someone, or much frustration or insult, the pain, due to the vulnerability of the space, will be amplified. This can cause serious reverberations in the world when there is pent-up sexual energy or much self-doubt in this precious space. Again, responsible communication of feelings is key to success.
We don’t think of it this way, but if one looks deeper, one sees that these aspects of imbalance are what it is in motion. Otherwise, there would be “peace and love across the planet” as the song Aquarius in the Broadway Musical Hair sings of.
In short, we compensate when we feel low, and we often feel low when our human relationships are not in balance but have swung into blame and anger.
This compensation, I suggest, is what has led us down this path of destruction of the environment, of self, of relationship. From this point of view, it should not be a surprise that the world looks this way: so many of our relationships are a mess.
Restoring, nurturing love, kindness, respect, dignity and integrity in our human relationships “changes everything”. With love in the heart, the heart becomes wiser, more sensitive and sacralized. One doesn’t want to harm even the smallest creature, let alone forests and fishes and everything else and everyone else.
Good communication, verbal and non-verbal, is the hallmark of good and thriving relationships. Too often though, people use communication to ‘get back at’, or hurt someone verbally ‘death by a thousand cuts’. It may look innocent, but it is very hurtful, sometimes nasty and definitely irresponsible even if common.
However, this can be turned around by a conscious decision to do so. True, the early childhood, sometimes pre-natal, subconscious programming, so often negative, critical and self-doubting needs to be neutralized. This can happen when one ‘tastes Heaven’ in their love of another person, and chooses to cultivate that instead of going for its opposite. When the state of being in love is present, it is to some extent an alpha state, an excellent one for re-programming and re-habituating to Heaven as the “new normal”.
The remedy lies largely in learning how to responsibly communicate one’s feelings and thoughts to others who are intimate or close to us. And one listens, with one’s mind and heart. This listening creates a ‘love vessel’ in which magic happens, and the listening contains the magic of healing. The healing is the uptick of self-esteem, self-confidence and embracing one’s own higher nature.
The funny thing is that it’s not very hard. It’s the development of a belief system that “good is better, love is better and respect and humility are better” than anything else. That belief system with practice becomes a good habit. And before you know it, you’re habitually in Heaven, treating people with dignity, respect and love. And in the physics of relationship, this circles back, “feeds back” to you.
Before you know it, you’re in a state of love all the time. The funny thing is also that you become funnier! And the increase in humor, then smiling and laughter, ‘feed back’ too, into our organs, all the way to the DNA. Blood flow and circulation increase. Cortisol levels reduce.
The state of love floods your body with endorphins and with oxytocin, the love and bonding hormone. Your attitude and outlook shift and you see the good in others. The idea of blame and shame, of guilting someone simply dissipates and disappears.
The state of love in which, I believe we were born to live in, upregulates genes that will continue to support these good sensations and feelings and these feed the neural network so one begins to memorize these feelings and identify them as a “normal” state of being.
Imagine now that this is your normal state as you rise in the morning, move throughout the day and into the night. Imagine now that you are sharing your life with someone and they get ‘infected’ with the love field that you are radiating simply by being your ‘normal self’.
Do you see how we create a better world? Do you see how this gets verbally and non-verbally communicated to others? The field is infected with love. It can go viral, the best kind of viral!
In this higher, more communicative state, we can create a harmonious and better world for all.