[Images stolen from Integral Institute.]
In my never ending quest to examine and refine ideals for an integral relationship model, I have come to Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships by John Welwood. He makes a clear distinction between absolute love (which we often feel early in the bonding process) and relative love (what we have to contend with in relationship).
At the deepest level of our being -- the divinity within that we share with all beings -- there is no separation between me and you. At any moment it is possible to experience the warmth and openness of a heart connection with any living creature: a lover, a child, a friend, a stranger passing on the street, or even a dog. When we appreciate the beauty of another's being, the heart channel opens and a spark of absolute love passes through us. In this moment of connection we no longer feel so separate or isolated. We delight in sharing the one lovely, tender presence that dwells in the heart of all.One of the things that can seriously damage a relationship is when the couple experiences this early blissful union and expects that to be what the relationship is -- blissful, easy, merged. Rather than face the reality of relative love, some couples become fused -- losing all individuation or differentiation. Rather than Dick-and-Jane, they become DickandJane. It is actually that merging energy -- emotional fusion -- that can leave us feeling alone and unloved because it is not authentic, pure openness.
Yet at the same time, on the relative plane, we always remain separate and different. We inhabit separate bodies, with different histories, backgrounds, families, character traits, values, preferences, perspectives, and, in the end, different destinies. We each see and respond to things differently, and approach life in our own unique way.
Yes, we can experience moments of being at one with another. But this can happen only when we connect being-to-being, because at the level of pure being and pure openness, we are one. My openness is not different from your openness, because openness has no solid form and therefore no boundary that separates us, one from the other. Therefore, when we meet in a moment of absolute love, being-to-being, it is like water poured into water.
Relative love, by contrast, is an exchange that occurs on the level of form, person-to-person. Every person, just like every snowflake, every tree, every place, every circumstance in this world, is completely distinct. Each of us has our own unique character and way of unfolding, different from all others. While two persons can know themselves as one in the realm of pure openness, they remain irrevocably two in the realm of form.
One night you connect deeply with another, which leaves you feeling wide open to this person, totally amorous and enamored. But then the next morning, though you may still feel loving, that wide-openness may become clouded by considerations that start to arise: Is it safe to open yourself to this person? Can you accept the ways this person is totally different from you? How deeply is he or she able to understand you? Are you a good match?
Melting into oneness provides moments of blissful union in absolute love. and this is what the great mythic romances thrive on, this pure discovery and meeting that often happens outside ordinary time and space. But the challenges of relative love bring couples back to earth, forcing them to continually face and work with their twoness. This is not a bad thing, however. For without honoring the ways in which they are distinctly different, and exploring how to keep finding each other across these differences, a couple's connection will lose passion and vibrancy, and run the risk of unhealthy emotional fusion or codependency.
From this description by Welwood, and from what I am reading in the Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch, I want to tentatively propose a hierarchy of relationship development: Fusion, Differentiation, Integral.
Emotional fusion is a pre-personal form of relationship. Differentiation is a personal and individuated form of relationship. Integral (whatever that may be) is the post-personal form of relationship.
Among other things, Integral may be the ability to hold both the absolute and the relative nature of relationship in our hearts and minds at the same time.
Any thoughts on this?
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