Saturday, January 21, 2006

Preliminary Observations on Integral Relationship, Part One

Part One: Foundations

A while back, Joe Perez posted on the idea of polyamory as a post-conventional form of relationship. I suspect there are many who would disagree and see the desire to be in more than one intimate relationship at a time as immoral. I certainly do not think it is immoral, but I am undecided regarding its place as part of an integral model of relationship.

Joe's post also contained a developmental model of relationship based on Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development. This is how Joe described his model:

In the first (pre-conventional) stage, dynamics are characterized by a desire for fluid and polymorphously perverse sexual play with multiple partners, and/or sexual role playing based on power dynamics (fetish, sadomasochistic play, etc.) Non-monogamy is valued; monogamy is derided as something for fuddy duddies and uptight squares.

In the second (
conventional) stage, sexual relationships are characterized by a desire for a balanced relationship with one primary partner, usually in a conventional marriage/domestic partnership. Monogamy is held to be virtuous, and non-monogamous liaisons are forbidden as adulterous or cheating.

In the third (
post-conventional) stage, sexual relationships are characterized by a desire for deep intimacy and passionate sexual aliveness that may be found with one or more partners in either conventional or unconventional relationships. Monogamy and non-monogamy are both recognized as playing important roles in the development of a mature sexuality.

I like these distinctions, but I disagree with a few points in Joe's model.

I would argue (from my perspective) that the pre-conventional stage is not as fun-loving as is presented. At this stage, power and control are more important than anything else. Most of the time, it will be male domination and conquest--one partner will possess the other. At this stage there is no emotional content or concern for the other's well-being. It is a physical act. We see this in the primate world where sex is a form of currency, or in tribal cultures where "wives" are accumulated to ensure the birth of sons. Sexuality at this stage may also be attended by various taboos based on pleasing the Gods, protecting the hunt or the fertility of crops, or preventing birth defects (incest taboo). In modern cultures, this stage may take on some of the traits Joe mentions, but only among those who are consciously participating at a stage below their overall center of gravity.

The conventional stage contains what we think of as traditional relationship forms, especially marriage. Joe nailed this one, aside from perhaps the "balanced" part, which is more appropriate to post-conventional egalitarianism.

I agree for the most part with Joe's post-conventional stage. As I mentioned above, I haven't decided where I come down on the polyamory element that Joe argues is part of the post-conventional stage. My experience tells me that multiple intimate partners is not often tolerated and, even more, seldom works for all involved.

I would like to take the idea of developmental stages for relationship a little deeper using Spiral Dynamics as a model to look at how different worldviews might influence relationship patterns and eventually lead to an integral model of relationship. What I am proposing is a unique "relationship" developmental line that progresses up the Spiral. Of course, a relationship line will be influenced by the moral development line, by emotional development, by intellectual development, and so on, up to and including the spiritual development line.

This exploration is meant to be a first step toward an integral model of relationship. I do not pretend to know how an integral relationship might look, though I have some ideas. I am hoping that this might generate some discussion so that we might work together to create an imprint, an archetype for integral relationship. To my knowledge, this is a new frontier waiting to be explored.

At the animistic/tribal (Purple) stage, most behavior is organized around maintaining safety in an unsafe world. Magic and superstition are primary modes of manipulating the world. Family bonds are important, but families will often have more than one wife per husband. Ancestors are respected and customs, including relationships, are based on how things have always been done. Relationship at this stage is mostly about procreation and commerce (sex for food and safety). There may be recreational sexuality, but there is not likely to be much "sharing" in the sense that we think of it.

As people move into egocentric/exploitive (Red) stage, personal gratification becomes even more central, as do control and domination. Power is the currency of this stage where strength is the key to survival. The world is seen as hostile and dangerous, and each person is on his/her own. Needs gratification is central for men, while women are still looking for safety and status within the group (determined by the man she is with). Rigid rules are not as important here, and individuals might be more open to experimenting with whatever feels good, including same-sex partners, group sexuality, and other previously taboo expressions of relationship.

When the absolutist/traditionalist (Blue) stage emerges, divine authority becomes the central focus of rules and conduct. There is only one right way to do things, including relationships, and all other expressions of relationship are sinful. At this stage, monogamy becomes the preferred form of coupling. Stability and order are seen as necessary for a successful community life, and monogamy fits that model. There is often some form of divinely revealed reason for this model (Adam and Eve for Jews, Christians, and Muslims). At this point in human development, relationship is often seen as solely for the purpose of procreation, but now there is the added element of duty (the father to his wife and children, or a wife to her kids and husband). Sexual taboos are present again, often as a way to limit enjoyment of sexuality so that people will focus more of their attention on serving God (or country, community, church, and so on). For the first time in any large numbers, genuine love can become an element of the relationship.

Eventually, the individual ego will reassert itself and its needs in the materialist/achiever (Orange) stage of development. Rather than subordinate needs and desires to divine authority, individuals begin to seek out what feels good to them. But it's different than it was at the egocentric stage because the individual is entering a post-conventional moral stage where right and wrong are felt from the inside rather than imposed from the outside. Relationships at this stage are built around self-expression and forming alliances. Romantic love is usually the initial magnetism, but a lasting bond will be a partnership of equals who both get their needs met through the relationship. Because self-expression is important, individuals at this stage will experiment more with previously taboo partnerships and modes of relating. Same-sex, role playing, and bondage/fetish expressions are now on the table. Emotion is still not a central element, though feeling "good," desired, sexy, and so on is important to both (or all) partners. This is the stage where I see polyamory being a viable option.

At some point, emotions, equality, and egalitarianism will become central concerns. This stage is known as the relativistic/social (Green) stage, often referred to as postmodernism. Relational expressions become a central concern at this stage. Individuals are more aware of their own emotional life and feel the need to have emotional needs met in their relationships. Reproduction, sexual satisfaction, and status are no longer sufficient. A person at this stage wants to be able to express his/her feelings and feel an emotional connection with her/his partner. Post-conventional relationship patterns are even more likely at this stage. The primary focus, no matter what form the relationship takes, is on experiencing and sharing emotions, building relationships, expressions of spirituality, and creating equality and liberation for all involved.

Having reached this point, and it's fair to say that few really have reached this stage in American culture, a major transition is possible. Integral relationship is on the horizon.

In the next installment I will attempt to outline a preliminary sketch of what an integral relationship might look like and how it might work.

Go to Part Two.


Anonymous said...

I like these initial notes, though I definitely feel that you're going to need some women's eyes to go over them. For example, take a look at your description of orange--a very masculinist view, in my opinion. I'd argue that at orange, men begin to be more concerned with personal (sexual, specifically physical) satisfaction, where as women begin to assert more of their emotional needs for a sexually satisfying relationship to be, in fact, satisfying. Don't you think?

Kai in NYC

WH said...

Thanks, Kai,

I think you might be right about Orange. Although, for the most part, relationships are male-centric until Green, I get your point that from the female point of view, their version of "asserting self" would be more emotion based.

Thanks for commenting. I need more input to flesh out my ideas, so feel free to share any ideas you have (or contribute a guest post, if you're interested).

By the way, my girlfriend is working with me to form the "integral" portion of these notes--to be posted soon.


kira said...

In my opinion, another element of Orange is "partner as status symbol." Kai's comment reminded me of a woman I knew at a previous job who was Orange to the core. Her choice of partners was determined in large measure by having someone with enough status to: 1) confirm her own status and even raise it, and 2) affirm her Orange values (plenty of disposable income, be seen in all the hip places, etc.). I'm guessing this is fairly typical of both women and men at Orange. Also, I think sex at Orange is centered around physical satisfaction and an affirmation that a person is desirable (i.e., image) much more than any soul-level intimacy.

Looking at relationships through the Spiral is fascinating. It helps get me out of my judgments about people being unconscious or shallow. Seen from a Spiral perspective, the various levels of relationship are, to use psychological terms, developmental challenges and developmental achievements. And given how unsatisfied most people area with their relationships (and how many have given up altogether), it'd be great to explore at some point things that might help people move up the spiral.

Thanks for your contributions to this field of inquiry.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking more about this, and there's something--a nuance-- in your description of green (which as is, it seems to me, mostly right on) which could be lacking. One of the things about green that's so exciting is that men, I'd say, delve deeply into their emotional needs for the first time, and can more intimately enter their partner's point of view and hear (her/him) when (s)he speaks with clearer ears; women, I'd say, have a new agency, a new licence to assert their vision of the relationship move the balancing point of the relationship off of purely male concerns or points of view. But there's a problem that green relationships have (boy, do I ever know this), and it's the difficulty green has in all areas: what actually works as opposed to what I personally want. I'm sure there's lots of room to argue the point I'm about the make, but I think it needs to be made: as long as there are two (or more) people in the room, there will be power dynamics at play, and one of those individuals will have more power than the other(s). An effective relationship, one that survives and thrives healthily, involves, yes, assertion of one's needs and personal vision, but also graceful submission--and a whole hell of a lot of it. Green does well with one part of that, but not so much with the other. "Compromise," as we usually understand it, means you get a little, I get a little, we both give something that we want/need. That sort of compromise doesn't actually work (long term) in a relationship, because nobody ever ends up getting exactly what (s)he wanted. Real compromise, the workable kind, means that I get all of what I want, every last bit of it, and you maybe get none, but submit gracefully: later, or in another arena of the relationship, the other way around. Green has trouble with that sort of compromise. What do y'all think?

Kai in NYC

kira said...

You raise a fascinating issue here. Some guy whose name escapes me wrote a book on couples therapy that posits that "compromise" (as it's generally understood) isn't at all a good idea because it's based on the assumption that everyone has to give up some of what they want (not a very inspiring approach to relationship). He instead advocates both people going for what they want while simultaneously holding the idea that both people's needs can get met. My own experience tells me that this is a fuller way to be in relationship and one that's less likely to cause resentment. At the same time, there will, of course, be times when one person's fulfillment means the other person's nonfulfillment. When this happens in my life, I try to use it as an opportunity to be mindful -- for example, of the ways in which I can be reactive or the ways in which I "go along with" rather than speaking up (old pattern). I also get to observe what happens when I don't get what I want -- do I just sit with it or do I turn it into a big thing?

My sense is that many of the power dynamics dissolve when we reach second tier as far as relationships go. (While I don't consider myself a fully second-tier person, I think certain aspects of my life are well on the way, especially my intimate relationship.) My partner and I have had to do some hard work on this, and the work continues to come in waves, but as a general statement, we each have one foot strongly rooted in our own individual well-being, and the other foot is rooted in two things: the other person's well-being, and the relationship's well-being. I don't make choices in my life that disregard my partner's well-being -- but I do sometimes make choices that don't specifically meet his needs (and vice versa). We have a whole lot of communication about issues we disagree on so that we don't feel trampled or disrespected by each other's separateness. We try not to keep score about who owes whom a favor, but instead just be mindful of our commitment to ourselves, each other, and our connection.

One of my bottom lines is: Can I live with something peacefully and free of resentment? When an issue comes up, I ask myself whether I truly can be with it and be okay. If the answer is yes, I'm cool. If the answer is no, I'm learning that to be silent is to undermine my connection with myself, as well as some of the "glue" of the relationship. So my bottom line has more to do with being true to myself than it has to do with whose turn it is to say yes or no or have their way or not have their way. (This assumes a significant level of confidence in my partner's integrity and trust that he's coming from a similar place.)

But the real heart of the matter for me is in regard to something you wrote: "...nobody ever ends up getting exactly what (s)he wanted." Exactly what I want (and have) is a partner who has a capacity for true intimacy and who is interested in and committed to learning, growing, and loving. With that as my bottom line, I'm much more able to let go of the small stuff.

WH said...

Kai (& Kira),

I think your point about the power element in Green relationships is very important. For Green, there can be no higher or lower, more powerful or less powerful. They deny the power element because they don't believe in its existence, yet they live it out every day, creating cognitive dissonance. The result (it seems to me, from experience) is unconscious hostility and passive-aggressive behavior.

One of the enormous challenges to an integral relationship is dealing with the power element in a healthy way. Kira's comments point in the right direction, but as her partner I can honestly say that we are often feeling our way in the dark. [It seems necessary in this case to disclose that Kira and I are partners.]

I think this is the key:
we each have one foot strongly rooted in our own individual well-being, and the other foot is rooted in two things: the other person's well-being, and the relationship's well-being.

Maintaining that balance is the best way to deal with the power issue, but some days it's a tightrope act.

I think this is where we need to look to other developmental lines for help. Emotional depth, intelligence, post-conventional morality, spiritual development (the line, not the state or stage), and a consolidated (as opposed to fragmented) ego/self line are all crucial to holding an integral relationship.

More on this to come.


kira said...

My experience is that our emotions can be all over the place sometimes, but we have a clear vision, plus a pretty good track record, that generally serves as a trustworthy foundation. Perhaps one of the elements of a "beyond Green" relationship is to not base the relationship on emotions; in other words, just because my "stuff" gets triggered or I feel confused doesn't mean there's something seriously wrong with the relationship -- and conversely, the ultimate worth of a relationship isn't measured by how good I feel (in the gratification sense). This is one of the great gifts of our relationship for me -- that I can witness my emotions more frequently and with greater compassion, and at the same time give them less power to determine the course of my life. There's something way beyond my up-and-down feelings that guides me in the relationship.

Anonymous said...

Kira, would you really say power dynamics "dissolve" at second tier or that we gain greater awareness, sensitivity and ability to work constructively with them? I think this is an important distinction, so I'd really like to know what you think. In a disagreement between partners, for example, one will naturally be more articulate--maybe much more, maybe brilliantly so: that partner will have to be enormously sensitive to the other if (s)he is ever to get a fair hearing. (I present this as a real example from a real relationship. Another example--) one partner is much more passionate, and in disagreements tends to let that passion out, not necessarily in inappropriate ways, but nevertheless in ways which can overwhelm and fluster the other, and easily lead, without great sensitivity, to always winning every disagreement. Power dynamics. Neither of those examples, in the essential sense, has anything do with how evolved either partner is, but nevertheless how such disagreements between differently powered partners are handled is of the essence in (1) locating the particular relationship in a given meme and/or (2) judging whether or not it's a healthy relationship.

Kai in NYC

kira said...

Hello Kai,

Great question -- and my response is a work in progress, not a definitive statement of where I'm at on this. And I need to preface my comments with a clarification and say that Bill and I don't necessarily agree on this (or any other issue), though for the most part I believe our views are harmonious.

I also need to preface a response to your question by explaining that for all the things Bill and I have in common (and there are a lot), we're very different in that he's much more based in his intellect and I'm much more based in my emotions. We serve as teachers for each other in some ways around that difference, and we're also challenged at times in big ways by it.

Bill's and my relationship has evolved over the course of the five years that we've been together. What once looked to me like power dynamics doesn't look that way to me anymore. I used to share things with him and he'd "logic" me out of my opinion or reality. I felt dominated by that -- until I started seeing how I was giving away my power and sense of myself. I've learned new tools for dealing with those kinds of situations. And in the process, I've come to understand that some of EACH of our ways of being are our essential nature, and others are our defenses. I've learned more and more to distinguish between my clarity (which I experience more as emotions and intuition than ideas) and my emotional wounding, which sometimes prompts me to feel persecuted when my reality isn't validated by another person. Last year I had a big "aha" about that, and I posted a reminder in my apartment that said: "It's my responsibility to give myself the space, the love, the importance, and the cherishing that I didn't get as a child." I saw that it's not Bill's job to always make space for me -- it's my job to claim that space. Early on when I was waiting for him to do it, we got in lots of tangles. Now when I just say what I need, he responds great, and communication is much clearer between us.

What I'm trying to say here is that I think a lot of relationship tangles come from people expecting each other to take care of them. Bill and I are developing a kind of "mutual autonomy" -- a relationship utterly grounded in both personal responsibility and mutual respect, love, and sensitivity. If I share something emotional with Bill and he responds with hyperlogic, instead of feeling dominated it's up to me to gently clarify that I need instead for him to listen, or hold me, or whatever -- and that we can talk about the ideas later. If he shares something and I go into emotion or action mode or whatever, it's up to him to gently say, for example, that that's not what he needs right now, that he just needs me to just witness supportively. We're both getting better at this, both at communicating what we need (and don't need), and at receiving each other's communications openly and without reactivity. I trust that he wants to be a good partner and wants to support me lovingly -- he just doesn't always know how to, and vice versa. The more we trust each other's good intentions and assume the snags are in the communication (or our own wounding), the more we can work through things without having basic trust undermined. I'm not by any means saying we have this mastered -- just that we're learning and making some progress.

So to get back to your original question: my feeling right now is that a huge part of power dynamics is about grabbing power or giving away power through unconscious patterns from wounding. The more we work to be mindful of those patterns, and the more we see each other as allies in the quest to be conscious, the less the real issues seem to me to be about power dynamics. I'm learning some pretty cool stuff about personal power these days -- that it's about how strongly I'm rooted in my own truths, not about how anyone else treats me. (I think this holds true to a large extent at an individual level but doesn't translate to a societal level. That's a whole different can of worms.)

Kai, I look forward to hearing more from you. Are you the person in the relationship who is naturally articulate and passionate, or the one who gets overwhelmed and flustered? Let's keep this conversation going in one form or another.

Bill, how does this match up with your experience of our relationship relative to the issue of power dynamics?

Anonymous said...

Kira, funnily enough, if you look closely, I'm not sure we're saying different things. I am the articulate one in this relationship (and, if I used my powers for evil, could win every disagreement); I was, in another relationship, the flustered and overwhelmed one (losing every single disagreement), which turns out to have been good preparation for treating my partner fairly and generously (and perhaps overly generously) now.

Something we haven't touched on at all, but which strikes me as terribly important, are relationships between people whose center of gravity (in the developmental sense) lies in different memes. Can it be an Integral relationship if only one partner is Integrally aware? Say (not so hypothetically) one partner is orange/blue and the other green/yellow? Is there hope? Are you two writing the guide book?

Kai in NYC

WH said...


On the center of gravity issue:

My approach to SDi uses Wilber's developmental lines, something I'm not convinced Beck fully endorses but seems crucial to me if SDi is to be truly integral. That said, as long at the two people are within one order of magnitude (one stage) of each other on the relationship line (if there is such a thing), then they should be okay.

For example, a GREEN-Yellow person and an ORANGE-Green person (centers of gravity) could both have a relationship line that is high Green, transitioning into Yellow.

If there is too much disparity in centers of gravity, they're going to have a lot of other problems besides their relationship line. I once was involved with someone who was more than one full level different than me--didn't work on so many levels that it boggles the mind.

I'm still sorting out my ideas on this, so I might have more to add or a different take when I post part two.

Thanks for sharing your ideas! It's good to know that other people are interested in creating integral relationships.

I wouldn't say we are writing the guidebook, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of info on how to do this, so we are making it up as we go along.


kira said...

Kai (and Bill),

Your comment about us possibly saying the same thing sparked something for me. It's kind of like discussing whether duality or nonduality is more real. They're both real, but/and the one we focus on is the one that fills our awareness. I think any relationship can be looked at from outside through the lens of a power struggle, and I'm guessing that most every evolving relationship goes through periods of growing into more awareness and better communication skills around power issues. I used to be much more focused on power issues in my relationship with Bill than I am now -- because (as I mentioned before) I've worked through some of my old patterns around how I relate to other people in general, and men in particular. There's always more growth to do.

One thing that's helped the process is disengaging from "the battle of the sexes" (and choosing a partner who's equally committed to that). Another thing that's helped is choosing a partner who has similar goals for intimate relationship. I was in a relationship for ten years with someone who essentially didn't want to be seen or known, and who didn't have an interest in deeply seeing or knowing me. Not a very good foundation for intimacy, to state the obvious. I don't look at things in quite as much of a Spirally Dynamic or Integral way as Bill, which isn't to say I discount any of it -- I'm just not as well-read, nor is it my nature to take to models as much as Bill does. So I don't really know to what extent the downfall of my previous relationship can be attributed to different places on the Spiral, different emotional lines, different life paths, or what. I'll leave the technicalities of all that to Bill... At any rate, I'm enjoying our group inquiry.

Anonymous said...

Here is where our conversation will get a little wierd. I want to try out some ideas on you two and see what you think. I asked that question above, about relationships across memes, somewhat disingenuously; I already have some pretty strong ideas and was sort of fishing to see where you two were.

It makes me a little nervous to share this, because obviously it's tied to what's most intimate and valuable to me (and I've yet to see such a viewpoint affirmed elsewhere):


To leave behind the technical language for a moment, it's occurred to me that relationships, their success or failure, and capacity to thrive and endure, could, among other things, be traced to what each partner "needs" from the other. "Needs," in the deepest sense, in order to feel psychological contentment/emotional satisfaction.

examples(real ones): (1)to be mine and only mine and love me back passionately and unmistakably and me and only me

(2)to understand me, be interested in what concerns me, to validate me intellectually and as a sexual being

(3)show me your love. How? incorporate me into all aspects of your life (introduce me to your friends and family; invite me to holiday events; plan vacations together, etc.)

When I speak of "needs," I'm talking about something basic, which isn't subject to rationalization or negotiation or any of that: it's a basic component which must be in the relationship for it to work for us. Obviously we all have "needs," in this sense, whatever our tier or meme.

I think that something interesting happens--or can happen, I should clarify--at the second tier. For the first time, at the beginning of my present relationship, my "needs" were not "me" focussed. "I need to love you and help and support you and know that you are happy and well with me." (Of course I "wanted" many other things--and have gotten some of them--but that is what I needed). The love I felt wasn't the be mine and only mine sort of the first example above: it wasn't possessiveness. My partner's needs, as near as I can perceive (without actually asking, which wouldn't necessarily get me closer to the truth since we do not articulate on the level/in the way I am with you two here) are to feel safe, protected and appreciated in the relationship.

So there's an acceptable level of overlap.

Now all this, of course, can be viewed very skeptically: self abnegation, after all, is hardly evolution or second tier. But I must say, from here (this particular upper left perspective), what I'm feeling now feels vastly different from anything I was capable of, or even interested in, before.

As you're organizing your discussion of relationships as they happen within (and across) memes, it might be interesting to look at the strengths--the incremental developments-- of each meme, their characteristic weakness (some of which we've covered in these posts) but also their characteristic "needs" and how these represent an expansion of perspective through a consequent lessening of ego.

Just some thoughts.

Kai in NYC

kira said...

I appreciate you bringing this up (and I don't think it is or needs to get weird). Sometimes it's great to get out of the theoretical realm and talk about the nuts-and-bolts stuff.

I agree that we each have what I call "core needs" in a relationship, and that they are and should be fairly non-negotiable -- especially the ones you mentioned. Someone else might have a core need to be with someone who rides a Harley or loves football or plays chess, and more power to them. There doesn't have to be a rational (or socially accepted) reason for loving/needing what we love/need (within certain reasonable limits, but that's another discussion).

I also agree with you 100% that at second tier, needs aren't necessarily "me" focused. Before Bill and I got together, I had heard the phrase "unconditional love" but didn't really get it -- but now I do (more, anyway). As a simple example, if I want to spend a Sunday with him and he needs to be alone for his mental health, I respect and support him for voicing his need, in part because I want him to have what supports his life, and in part because I want him to be authentic with me, and welcoming his authenticity is a good way of supporting it. He feels the same about me and is supportive when I say I need solitude.

We are also supportive of each other, to the best of our abilities, when we need togetherness, while at the same time respecting the fact that we can only give so much if the well is dry, so we err on the side of respecting solitude. (This also is connected to the fact that we're both loners at heart.)

On a different level, it's my hope that Bill and I will be together for life, but if his life takes him in another direction that feels right to him at a deep level, of course I will feel sad, but I will also support him in following his path. And I know he would do the same for me.

My hit on this is that it's not the same as self-abnegation (though I think people who have never experienced it might view it that way). Self-abnegation is saying I don't have any needs or my needs aren't important. This is different -- it's (for me, anyway) acknowledging, and actually feeling, a connection with a greater whole of which Bill and I are a part, and respecting the fact that the whole has a wisdom and evolutionary impulse that I am not completely privy to. Sometimes there's a fine line between letting things happen (passivity) and making things happen (forcing), and I'm pretty much always seeking the exact center of that line. To put it simply, I don't want to be a doormat, and I also don't want to be aggressively forcing my agenda on the Universe. That quest for balance plays out in my life in general, and in particular in my intimate relationship.

You said what you're feeling now feels vastly different from anything you were capable of, or even interested in, before. To what do you attribute the leap? Did you work through a particular piece of your "stuff" that opened you up to new possibilities? Did you meet someone and feel mysteriously catapulted to a new level? Is this part of a long-term quest for a healthy relationship?

Anonymous said...

Well, I think, for the most part, our self expression in relationships grow in one of two ways: previously, we never asserted our needs enough, and so gaining a healthy relationship of the fullest expression has a great deal to do with coming into our own power and sense of self-responsibility; or, on the flip side, we always hogged way too much of the "concern," the relationship's vital force, for ourselves ("me, me, me") and we never realized the intimacy and synergistic charge that was possible until we began putting our partner first . . .

That's all rather theoretical, isn't it? Me, I was knocked on my ass by tragedy and then, in the midst of my self-pity, saw someone who had lost much more, was suffering more and was beautiful, needing, worthy, and available. Falling in love with my honey felt like a spiritual epiphany (almost "vocation") which took the form of romantic love.

That is another aspect of this, which could be talked about, though I don't have many ready words for it: romantic love as spiritual practice, not in the classically tantric sense, which you may be familiar with from some of Wilber's writings (i.e., playing with male and female and specifically sexual energies), but in . . . gosh, it sounds wierd writing it down, but, oh, well : the sense of "service"; approaching the divine, and dissolving the ego, in service of another's needs. I don't think this particular permutation of relationship becomes possible until after the variations of the 1st tier have been gone through thoroughly (as Wilber, and others, have said: you need to fully develop an ego before you can--or ought to try to--lose it.)

Kai in NYC

kira said...

I completely know what you're talking about regarding the sense of service to another. If lots of people heard that I gain fulfillment from being of service to a man, they'd think I lived in the Dark Ages or was brainwashed by the patriarchy. All of that changes when it's reciprocal -- AND (equally important) when it's not at the expense of one's own needs. For me it has something to do with learning to align my life with some kind of evolutionary force, which includes my own evolution, Bill's, and something much greater, all at the same time.

So, if I may ask, what's your relationship like as far as roles go? Without knowing whether your relationship is gay or straight, it's not necessarily relevant to ask about traditional gender roles (meaning even subtle manifestations of them), but either way, is there a "strong one" and a "weaker one"? A protector and a protected? Any assumptions or "shoulds" about that kind of stuff? For me, this is another aspect of having a conscious relationship -- loosening the ties to that stuff and bringing mindfulness to behaviors, feelings, and impulses. But since Bill and I have never before (to our knowledge) communicated directly with anyone else exploring second-tier relationships, we don't know how this kind of stuff manifests for anyone other than us, or how anyone else actually experiences (as opposed to theorizing about) this adventure.

Anonymous said...

We may both be doing second tier work in the context of our relationships, but as templates of relationship I don't think either of us has very much to offer by comparison/contrasting: they're just too different. My partner is not my peer, in the sense that yours is.

My partner was blue with a strong red streak when we met and is now blue with a strong orange streak: the development has been exciting to watch (and to encourage), but here is what I meant when I talked about "wierdness"; our relationship is not reciprocal in the sense you mean it and many of my needs (in the sense the word is commonly understood) don't get met. He doesn't "understand me"; he doesn't "love me the way that I love him"; it's a litany that could go on and on if I let it.

Well, what the hell do I get out of it then? He's a sweet, gentle, loving, intelligent man who's evolving at light speed before my very eyes. I get to see how that happens I close and take notes. And, of course, some of the most basic and powerful of human relationships are never predicated on notions of reciprocity, or both parties getting their needs equally met (parent and child, for example). Loving, apart from anything one may get in return, is always its own reward.

But that's not the half of it, really. The equation of my relationship is not reciprocal or logical: it's mystical. The more I brush away my passing wants, disappointments, hopes, and instead support, protect and simply love, I enter a sublime headspace I've never had access to before. My yoga, my meditation, my weight-lifting, my scriptural studies, my prayer, my running, (my past relationships) have never brought me here. I can look through myself as if I were glass, distinguishing easily between what are evanescent desires and what is non-negotiatable (not much is the former), and have more and more freedom to act not from emotion or intellect but ... that's where the mystical part comes in--I don't have words for that third mode.

Now this isn't a paradigm of relationship I'd reccommend, obviously. Your ego needs to be big enough and whole enough to be ready to break. Another way to say that is: you need to have already received love, plenty of it (so you no longer doubt its abundance and need constant reassurance), had your adventures, fulfilled your own ambitions, before you can play supporter and helpmeet to another's evolution.

It's hard, it's fun, it's literally enlightening.

Wierd, huh?

Kai in NYC

kira said...

No, I don't think it's weird. I don't think we necessarily know the specifics of why we're called to a relationship, but if it truly is a calling (and yours sounds as though it is), we can open ourselves to the gifts it offers us. Sounds as though you're getting to experience yourself as capable of giving love and stepping outside your egocentric needs, you're witnessing the amazing possibilities for growth and evolution when someone receives good nourishment, and you're experiencing the inner nourishment that can come from being of service to another person. Perhaps you and your partner have a soul-level agreement that involves helping each other grow in whatever ways each of you needs. Perhaps being with a sweet, gentle, loving, intelligent person is its own reward! Who knows -- I think we make meaning however we want to. I just figure that if we're going to make meaning, it's best to make empowering meaning -- and if/when there's no longer a possibility of making empowering meaning, it's time to move on. But it definitely sounds to me as though this relationship is helping you find a very expansive, loving place within yourself.

When you write, "...have more and more freedom to act not from emotion or intellect but ... that's where the mystical part comes in--I don't have words for that third mode..." I feel that, too, in my relationship with Bill. It feels like being a channel for something bigger than myself, and it also feels like some kind of deep intuition that, as I mentioned earlier, feels in harmony with some kind of evolutionary force or some kind of higher consciousness. I don't have the words either, but it's cool to try to find them. It's like stepping out of "little me" and stepping into ... my higher self, perhaps?

Do you do that anywhere else in your life?

Anonymous said...

I should clarify, Kira, that, as I personally understand it, intuition (have you read "Blink" by Gladwell?) is another mode of mundane cognition which instantly synthesizes the total body of one's knowledge (conscious and preconscious) and present sensory input into a snap judgment that usually (not always though) holds an astonishing amount of water (so to speak). Intuition is not the third mode I was speaking of, although it resembles it more than other forms of human knowing. When I intuit something, I feel very strongly that it's not be ignored, and that this impression is more trust-worthy than anything I can reason out with conscious rationality or emotional preferences; when this third mode is active, I simply know. There are no doubts, no questions, no need for hesitation.

With any authentic practice, whatever it is, we should, over time, begin to feel the benefits of it in other (in all) parts of our lives, not simply in the practice time/place. So, yes, not only in the relationship has this third mode been entering. Sometimes (not often) I know that of all possible actions, there is no better action for me to take in the present moment than to do the dishes, then gather the laundry and later begin chopping vegetables for dinner: yes, the knowing can be just that unspectacular! Other times, it's been more spectacular: I glanced at a help wanted ad in the paper a year ago and knew that I should apply, knew that I would get it, and knew that the job would be a wonderful and helpful bridge from the period I was in to the period I will be in: I knew it, no doubts, and so it's played out over time.

I dream of living 24/7 in that third mode, but it very much comes and goes right now: weeks without it at times, then a flash or two. So it I continue my practice(s).

Kai in NYC

kira said...

I haven't read "Blink" but it's been recommended to me, and I look forward to reading it.

I appreciate the distinction you made between intuition and this third-mode knowing you refer to. I don't know if I experience the distinction differently from you or whether I've never before noticed the difference because of not having the distinction. It's good food for thought, and I'll let it cook and see what comes.

I had an experience like yours many years ago of seeing a help-wanted ad and KNOWING it was my job--and more recently (just after moving to Tucson five years ago) applying for a job and feeling in my bones that it was my path to work there. I worked there for three years, which opened up a whole new world of opportunities for me that allowed me to quit the job and become a freelancer (and make a steady living on my own terms). That was an incredible blessing.

I, too, move in and out of "third mode." I often feel that third-mode "me" humming right beneath the surface, even though I'm overly busy with work (I have a tendency to be overproductive). I'm preparing to restructure my life again later this year to achieve some more balance and hopefully have more unstructured time so that I can more easily and frequently hear my soul talking, and have the freedom to respond instead of saying, "Not now--I'm busy."