Monday, November 27, 2017

Why challenging as opposed to easy relationships are ultimately more fulfilling, engaging and growth inducing

Hi all,

I know that titles a mouthful ;-) but we decided on it being the best fitting and most appropriate for what this article conveys.  Derek, a close friend of mine and myself co-wrote this one together as we both believe, via our own personal experiences, preferences and additionally likely a result of our mutual artistic and romantic temperaments, that challenging relationships are generally the better way to go.  As opposed to easier, more mundane, simple relationships, if you will.

First, its important to define what exactly we mean by challenging. 

Our definition of a person who might be more "challenging" if you will, would likely fit many of the following descriptors:

Intense, sensitive, more emotionally attuned to others, analytical, passionate, potentially more opinionated, ambitious, empathetic, more prone to moodiness, intellectual and curious, daring, critical, interesting life experiences, romantic, a thinker, adventurous, brave, a seeker, risk taker, and *a great communicator.

*Important note:  "Great communicator" is a prime differentiating trait on this list, as without this trait, someone is less likely to be "challenging" in a healthy, growth inducing, engaging way and more likely tending towards being something of a train wreck.

Now, conversely, by a person or relationship being "challenging," we do NOT mean:

Controlling, emotionally chaotic, abusive, manipulative, dishonest, someone with addictions, arrogant, self righteous, selfish, self serving, bombastic, or toxic.

And now, with the definition of what "challenging" means out of the way, here are the reasons we think that having/being engaged in/part of a more challenging relationship (as opposed to a more simple, easy one) is usually the more fulfilling way to go:

1.  When something is challenging, it keeps your attention.  Sustaining any relationship over the long term tends towards having difficult aspects, often becoming more so as time passes further.  Now, add in the inevitable downward tug of domesticity and routine, which can nudge relationships toward the especially mundane.  When relationships go this route, it can leave people listless, less emotionally involved, and less engaged.  We can mistakenly take these relationships for granted over the years.  When something is easy, we also sometimes value it less.  Something that continually challenges us tends towards holding our attention and interest.

2.  When something is challenging, it brings you face to face with learning, not only more about another human being and how to relate closely with someone, but more about yourself.  We all have certain ways we believe ourselves to be.  A particular idea and perception about who we are, the values we believe ourselves to hold true, what we imagine ourselves as being capable of.  A challenging relationship can often turn many of these beliefs on their head, and in a great way.  Pushing you in ways unlikely imagined.  Ushering forth parts of you that you hadn't imagined existing.  Bringing about life experiences you might never have explored otherwise.  Shattering emotional, intellectual, and literal (experience based) personal ceilings.

Brooke:  In my first relationship, I entered into it with very low self esteem and little sense of self worth.  I didn't see myself as being loveable.  Over time though, this relationship was a stepping stone in helping bring me more face to face with my own lovability.  Something that, prior to and during that particular time in my life, I hadn't experienced.  Slowly but surely coming to (finally) see that I actually have much to offer, that I am intelligent, strong, and very worthwhile.

Additionally, growths and shifts I have experienced as being prompted by other connections in my life (both platonic and romantic) have included: challenging myself to be more patient, reconsidering my ideas about what it means to be faithful, calming and maturing in my communications and approaches to sensitive issues, and continuing to challenge myself when I feel afraid of trusting (something I still fluctuate back and forth between succeeding with and having moments of shakiness/not doing so hot on).  Each of these, specific things I have been prompted in within my connections to various others.  All, worthwhile personal challenges.  All, resulting in my continually learning more about myself and the others to whom I have been connected.

Derek: I have been challenged by friends on lifestyle choices.  I’ve had friends challenge me to question monogamy and consider polyamory.  I’ve had friends challenge the language I used when, as a teenager I used the word “retarded”.  I’ve had roommates help me to be better at cleaning and keeping up with chores.  I’ve had friends and partners challenge me to stand up to people when they are saying something sexist or racist or unkind.  I’ve had friends inspire me to improve upon my punctuality, to brighten up my fashion, and to be more free on the dancefloor.  I’ve had friends challenge my assumptions about marriage and urge me to consider the wisdom in potentially not having children, or to at least adopt if I do decide to have kids.  I have had friends inspire me to garden and to live simply, to leave a smaller footprint.  I’ve had friends inspire me to learn languages and to travel, which I am still planning on getting around to.  I’ve had friends help me to empathize more with a myriad situations, to slow down, and more closely consider how to truly best assist.

I think the sort of people that accept challenging others into their lives are open people: open to new ways of thinking and doing things.  But I also think that I have come to learn the difference between toxic conflict and constructive challenge, and this is an important distinction.  Sometimes in life, it is hard to tell the difference and I like to think as I get better I’ve narrowed it down more.  I know the type of challenge I want in my life.  I want someone to challenge me to be a more compassionate and selfless person, a better therapist, friend, ally to marginalized people, a better community member, and a more skillful songwriter.  I want someone to inspire me to grow toward the light and someone who will, in turn, take inspiration from me.

3.  Through challenge is where we often grow the most.  Personal growth isn't prompted by routine, the mundane, the easy, or the uneventful.  Its spawned by things that make us pause.  By moments that push our comfort zone.  By experiences we never imagined encountering or navigating.  By feeling and exploring emotions and thoughts we had typically avoided, or just never touched on previously.  This is where the most prominent personal growth is found.

Brooke:  One relationship in my life, while not the right fit because of a particular demon he carried, as well as some emotional maturity and ambition issues, coincidently brought out my best side.  With this person, I was the partner I wished I had been earlier.  The one I was too much of a mess to be prior.  In this relationship, I was a far more centered, healed, much more ready version of myself.  I was patient.  More emotionally flexible.  Braver.  More communicative.  And far more vulnerable and open with my heart.  I loved who I was as a partner in that relationship.

However, I realized that the real challenge of my second major relationship was to be found in the admitting that we weren't meant to work out.  That I needed to both see that in its fullness, and accept it.  That I was far beyond him in terms of my ambitions, sense of adventure, personal excitement and just general hunger for life.  That he was stuck, while I was moving forward in a blur of color, while continually mistakenly reaching back and grasping, attempting to pull him along with me.  Instead, I had to acknowledge that letting go was the best decision I could make, and further, that only in letting go could I spring forward and bloom into all I was meant to become in my life overseas.  I saw this in its starkest clarity only after I was able to fully let go. (It can be quite hard to see clearly when still clouded by being within the emotional midst of a situation)  Realizing that in fact, holding on had been hindering and stunting me.  Sometimes, we mistakenly think that holding on is the stronger, more commendable action or declaration of love.  When in reality, equally as often and depending on the relationship and time, its in letting go that can also be the stronger, braver, more right act.

For another poignant relationship example, I will reference one of my closest friendships that's spanned the past decade (Ill call her "S").  Never have I felt more loved, supported, nor more truly seen by a friend than I have by S.  And yet, she is a friend that challenges me openly and honestly when I need it.  If I am acting in such a way that is hurting or hindering myself, or might be expressing a point of view that seems a misperception, she is the one who lovingly points out where I might be stunting myself.  She is one of the people who knows me the best, both my strengths and my weaknesses.  Telling me often and with enthusiasm how much she loves me, lamenting my strengths and lovability regularly.  While also reminding me, in the most loving of ways, where my weaknesses or personal struggles lie when they come towards the surface, and helping guide me back towards seeing more clearly.  I have flourished and grown immensely through the course of our friendship, as a result of her insights, and in coming to see the Brooke reflected back at me through her eyes.

DerekI've been in relationships with strong women who have inspired me to express how I am feeling instead of holding things in.  In the past, when I've had reservations about an aspect of a relationship or an offhand comment that bothered me, I would hold it in and mull it over.  But past partners have taught me to be more honest in the moment instead of having to wait to have it all neatly figured out in my head.  They have challenged me to be more authentic.  I've also had partners who have suffered emotional wounds, who have taught me to slow down and understand my blind spots and my own privileges.  They have challenged me to be a better listener and to be more understanding.  All of these relevant lessons have taught me to be a better person and though it was difficult and stressful at the time to look in the mirror and see areas I needed to resolve or change, they have made me a better person.

Ideally, we are in relationships where we can both constructively challenge one another. When someone challenges us it’s not always going to hit its mark. Sometimes the same people that have genuinely helpful feedback also challenge us in ways that we think are off or we don’t agree with. Sometimes a friend will challenge us and we will adamantly disagree with them until years or months later when we see their insight in a new light and reconsider it.  Conversely, sometimes, we think that someone has inspired us to grow but we realize later that their advice was actually pretty terrible. It can go both ways.

But at the end of the day I would rather be with someone – whether close friend or partner - who is critically engaged with our relationship and the world around them. I prefer this as opposed to someone who is passive and only lives on the surface, who never questions themselves or those around them, and who never values change. If there is one constant with people who gravitate towards constructive challenge in their lives, it is that they value changing themselves for the better.

4.  Challenging relationships are like a puzzle of sorts.  If both people come to the relationship with the mindset of "we are two mysteries, ever in progress, complex, and slowly but surely unfolding, evolving and growing together over the course of our journey together," this makes it a far more engaging and exciting relationship.  Approaching things as a perpetual discovery together.  It can
makes disagreements or challenges less scary or potentially damning and instead, more something to navigate through using openness, interest, a sense of discovery and intrigue.

5.  People who live life intensely can often be more passionate lovers, more emotionally attuned to others, and just more engaging and inspiring to live alongside of.  Because their brain knobs are "turned up" and/or amplified, if you will, they can be more adventurous, captivating and emotional.  On the flip side, this can mean their sometimes being moody and/or difficult.  However, this is not the same as someone who is a loose canon or emotionally chaotic.  What we mean is, someone intense but grounded.  Someone who has harnessed their intensity, for the most part.  Someone who may have had to work for it, and may still be to some degree, which is ok, but they are generally grounded.

On the flipside, one thing we would note is this: more fiery people may have a greater capacity to burn us.  So while the payoff and potential for life enrichment is often higher within challenging relationships, the pain can possibly be more intense at some points as well.

6.  In challenging relationships, these tends towards being ripe for greater emotional depth.  In having the type of connection in which frequently delving below the surface, in pursuing growth and change, in being open to new ideas and altering the perception of who you are and who you can be, in being emotionally candid with one another and vulnerable- revealing your deepest selves to one another, this often results in something deeper than usual.  More poignant.  With more...invisible, entwined threads weaving between the two people, if you will.

Ultimately, Derek and I believe there are far greater riches, growth opportunity, poignant potential for emotional connection, more engaging learning, and generally further overall satisfaction that comes from a more challenging relationship over the long term, as opposed to an easier, simpler one.  We aren't saying one is better than the other, but more so that one offers greater overall life potential and satisfaction.  With greater possibility for paramount moments, potent personal evolution, intense emotions felt, and life changing experiences to be navigated through.

And, the two authors of the article.  Great friends for going on 16 years now!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

What is a soulmate? And how to have this type of relationship.

First off, what is a soulmate?  Being a hardcore romantic, this is a topic that has perpetually piqued my interest, as well as inspired and fascinated me.  Thus far, within my lifetime of reading, coupled with my own personal experiences, I believe a soulmate is classified by a handful of aspects.  So, to go into some detail on what those aspects are...

A soulmate is someone with whom you can be yourself.  Someone around whom you feel comfortable.  Relaxed.  A sense of being home.  A coziness and comfort alongside of.  Knowing this person either has already seen (or, feeling that even in when they do see) both your light along with your dark, that they will love you just the same and think just as highly of you. 

I also believe a soulmate to be someone with whom you share a poignant emotional connection.  The nature of this, not typically easy or even possible to put into words.  You just feel it.  There is a voice inside of you that doesnt use words, it just knows.  Listen. 

A soulmate is someone with whom you feel a resonating click.  Someone you are equally comfortable with in silence, but with whom you can talk to about anything and everything. 

And no, this is not the same as saying you will always agree and see eye to eye with this person :-).  In fact, soulmates are the ones who hold the most authentic of mirrors up for your own self reflection.  A soulmate is the one who challenges you in the most important of ways.  Who shows you where your own deepest struggles, roadblocks and challenges lie, so that you can potentially break through and surmount such.

A soulmate is also the one who inspires you to great lengths.  Who stirs something inside of you towards being your best self.  Who makes you want to jump far, and hard.  Who inspires and moved you deeply.

I would also venture to say that, contrary to popular perception and assumption, soulmates do not always have to be romantic.  You can have a soulmate-like platonic connection.  Either with a friend, or family member.  They can be romantic, but just as often, soul mates are not romantic.  Its more about the nature of feeling and connection between the two people, not so much about sex or romantic interest.  Sex/romantic interest do not make a soul mate.  Your connection/understanding/closeness/sense of openness and honesty between the two of you does.

However, for the purpose of this entry, I am going to focus on soul mates primarily in the romantic vein.

Next question: are all close/good romantic relationships the same as being soul mates?  No.  Absolutely not.  You can have a good romantic relationship, one that makes you quite happy, and this does not necessarily mean its of the soul mate nature.  In fact, the majority of romantic relationships are not of the soul mate category.  This doesn't make them any less relevant or special.  It

I believe there to be a difference between a soul mate versus a life partner.  I think what a majority of people pair off with and have in their long term relationships tends towards life partners.  Different from a soul mate.  To me, a life partner is a companion, often a friendship, a stable individual whom you can rely on, enjoy being with, who you will love, and build a life with.  This classifies a significant majority of romantic relationships.  A soul mate however, is something more powerful, sometimes more challenging, and definitely more poignant.  A soul mate is someone aligned with your soul, as well as someone sent to challenge, awaken, and stir different parts of you to a higher level.

Lastly, in terms of what makes a soul mate, I would say that both in my own belief as well as life experience thus far, a soul mate is a combination of both chemistry felt between two people right off the bat, a resonating click/reaction of sorts, as well as a depth of connection that grows and deepens over time between these two people.

And why might it be, that most romantic relationships are not of the soulmate depth/ferocity?

A majority of people remain in, or have, life partner type relationships as their primary romantic connection(s).  There is nothing wrong with this.  Its perfectly pleasant.  Its easy, comfy and usually pretty good.  However, why most do not end up with their soul mates may be the result of several factors.  Some of those reasons might include...

Lots of people have a subconscious fear of being alone, so we stay whom we are with because we care for them, have history together, and its good enough most of the time.  However often times we prolong relationships that are meant to have already ended, out of things like fear...comfort...shared history...laziness...whatever the reason may be, all circling around to because its easier to stay.  Each one of these reasons of which, ultimately stems from fear.  When in reality, it might be time to go, moving on to something that provokes a higher level of learning, is a more resonating, better match, and will bring us far greater satisfaction over the long term.  But because searching for that would require risk, letting go, and venturing into the unknown, most people stay in relationships that may no longer be to their greatest potential.

Its important that, if wanting to find that soul mate like romantic connection, to ask yourself these (often uncomfortable) questions, which are: 

-Is this the person I am still truly meant to share my life with and grow alongside of? 

-Do we actually compliment and challenge each other in numerous healthy, as well as special, noteworthy ways? 

-Or did I settle/attach/jump in too quickly to a relationship with someone who is likely not right for me in more than one relevant area? 

-Am I making excuses for staying, out of fear, sadness or laziness?  Even though my heart knows its no longer right and/or that the end has come?

-Might this person be someone who in fact hinders or could be stunting my growth, or taking away from my life's full potential and big picture joy over the long-term?  As opposed to being a truly awesome, fulfilling, worthwhile addition?

This takes some real, unbiased, brave, honest analysis and inner commentary.  As all of us know several people who claim their partner to be ideal for them, likely lamenting loving this person, remarking that their partner is an great match, all while as loved ones/outsiders looking in, we know and can see this to be a far cry from the reality.

Additionally, sadly, there are many people out there who either are not interested in or are not emotionally capable of such inner stretching and challenging of themselves.  People who do not have the interest or capability towards such inner growth or exploration.  This isn't a criticism or a put down.  Its an observation and truth.  So this is another reason that some people may have trouble finding and thus, creating such a poignant soul mate like relationship.  Maybe the partners they have been choosing either have no interest or aren't emotionally/intellectually capable of such.  Or, it might be that you yourself are not emotionally or intellectually ready for challenging yourself in such a way.  Another potential possibility worth critically examining and considering, if this is the type of relationship you ultimately want, a soul mate like connection, but are having trouble finding/creating it.

(Worthwhile side note: this is an excellent TED talk, 15 minutes long, more than worth your time.  She gives some eye opening, insightful, phenomenal insight about picking the right partner.  One of my favorites.  Inspiring and interesting).  

So, with that introduction out of the way, both with regards to what makes a soulmate, and why many people do not end up having relationships to that poignant soul mate potential, now onto the question of some specifics.  Such as, what are the aspects present in a soul mate relationship?  How can you create this type of connection or bond with the person whom you already feel poignant chemistry with?  Because of course, crackling chemistry alone does not a soulmate make.

To name a few in brief, of particular approaches/mindsets that will majorly help towards creating a soulmate like depth between you and your partner:

1. Your own personal beliefs.  There is a direct relationship between your beliefs and your actual experience.  As well as, having flexibility about your beliefs is important when it comes to keeping your relationship vivid and alive.

2. Learning to love your body.  Our perfection-obsessed culture encourages the picking apart of our bodies as various parts, as well as continually identifying the "flaws" and rejecting the "imperfection" in those parts.  By the time we are young adults, the habit of scanning our bodies for what doesn't measure up is deeply ingrained.  The truth is though, our bodies are nothing short of miraculous and incredibly beautiful.  Think of the things your body is capable of, the things you can feel via your body. 

Tasting delicious food, going on an exhilarating run, hiking a mountain, grasping something in your hands, holding someone you love close, watching a brilliant sunset of golds and oranges splashed across the sky, kissing someone you're have feelings for, smelling something delicious, experiencing sexual pleasure, the sensation of massage, looking into someone's eyes who you care for, going on a bike ride, painting a picture, swimming in a lake on a hot summer day, dancing, the list goes on and on.  Its all just a pretty awesome, amazing thing. 

Learning to love your body as whole, instead of picking it apart and remaining ever convinced its never good enough, is a recipe for keeping you from the deepest possible connection/emotional experience you might have with someone otherwise.  (Note: this is not to say one should just throw up their hands and choose to be complacent in being unhealthy, putting in zero effort to maintain a healthy diet/weight/lifestyle.  What it means is caring about your health, taking care of yourself, all while accepting and even loving your body at the same time).

3.  Seeking a higher possibility.  When faced with challenging circumstances, people with a high degree of soul mate potential will strive to stay open to other ideas, options and approaches.  They've learned that there is another possibility in any situation, even if its not obvious at first.  Our society loves black and white.  We also love labeling things.  Thats because its easier.  Less scary.  Less stressful.  Less emotionally challenging.  We dont like to take things outside of the box.  Fearing judgement and difficulty in doing so.  People with a high potential for being soul mates though, are willing to do exactly that.  They are willing to be brave, to chuck the labeling, to toss aside the black and white thinking, to explore the edges and corners sometimes where most people fear and avoid venturing.

4.  Treating your partner as a guest.  Often enough, especially in long term relationships, we slowly but surely end up taking our partners for granted.  Assuming that they are just there.  That we "have them" now.  We forget that in fact, this can change at any minute.  In treating your partner as a guest, this can maintain a sense of gratitude and poignancy to your relationship.  Meaning, treating them like the kind of guest you love to be with- someone who enhances your life rather than weighs it down.  When you have a guest like this, you feel honored they would appear in your life and hang out for a whileYou know your time with them is limited, so you make the most of it, looking for every opportunity to experience and share all the joys of life with them.

5.  Creating a context in your relationship.  We often go into a relationship without fully knowing why.  Yes, weve met someone were attracted to, we love spending time together, and we are feeling great about ourselves.  But then what?  When asked, many people say they want a relationship for intimacy or companionship.  For others, it might be about having a family.  But all too often, being in a relationship is really about attempting to find fulfillment via our partner.  That, by virtue of being in a relationship, we expect they will fill many of our outstanding needs.  If you really want a soulmate type of connection, its essential to examine why you are in a relationship or looking for one.  And, rather than focusing on what you want from a relationship, the recipe for soulmates is instead to turn your attention on what you can offer and have to give.

6.  In the absence of expectation, everything can be a gift.  The more beliefs you have about who your partner should be/is, and what they should do, the less you will see them for who they truly are and the more you will limit their ability to surprise you.  Very often, we come to have certain expectations about how our partners should behave and who they will be/are. 

In soul mate like relationships with another though, there will be a sense of continual exploration and prompting of growth within one another.  So when you pigeonhole your partner via a boatload of assumptions, you can be majorly missing out on the chance for them to surprise you.  In the absence of expectation, each encounter can be a sweet surprise as well as a gift.

These six mindsets/criteria for soulmate like relationships, just listed above, were inspired by and can be found in "The Soulmate Experience" by Joe Dunn and Mali Apple.  I was shocked to find this one of the best relationship books I have ever read.  (There is a stable list in my mind of 7-8 non fiction relationship books that remain solidly placed among the top as the best.  This is one of them).  I highly recommend reading it.
However, aside from the six criteria that are mindsets towards building soulmate-like relationships, the rest of the article is originally and totally my own.

In conclusion, those six mindsets were just touched upon in brief.  In coming blog entries, I will revisit each of the above criteria and delve into them in greater detail.

Additionally, there are further equally important aspects of soulmate relationships, including: -Handling jealousy
-Learning to channel jealousy into desire
-Growing into being totally open with one another and able to express anything
-Playing leapfrog with each other (sounds fun doesn't it?  Wondering what this is?  In a blog entry to come)
-And, exploring the "edges" of your relationship together- which involves bravery, trust and daring.

Each of these slightly more intriguing, subtly more challenging/a tad more intense aspects often requiring bravery, trust and a sense of exploration, in some ways more so than the first six I outlined.  The first six basically being the foundation of creating a soulmate like connection with someone.

I am not claiming the adapting and exploring of these mindsets and ideas to be easy.  They arent easy at all.  In fact, its likely to be one of the greatest challenges of your life.  Taking on these mindsets/ideas/emotional challenges.  I am continually working on and towards them within my own self.  Some aspects of the soulmate-like connection, I feel skilled in.  Others, I still very much struggle with, as they are difficult and scary.  However, if you want a soul mate relationship, these are the challenges they entail.  But the richness, fulfillment and awe inspiring experience that comes along with growing this type of poignant connection with another human being?  More than worth taking on the fear and emotional challenges of these approaches/mindsets.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Montage of Blessings

Happy Thanksgiving, all :-D

I wasn't going to post today, what with all the Just Dance play going down over here, the food prep (including a particularly enticing pumpkin spice gingersnap cheesecake on the menu, as well as my usual personal favorites: stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, and something with green beans in it), vacuuming, chatting on Skype with my dear friend, Dali, and more.  However, the mood struck just now in such a way that I changed my mind.

I've been thinking today about all in my life that I have to be thrilled about, grateful for, excited by, and am blessed to have.  Much of which will be reflected in the following photo montage.  No captions, no explanations.  Just photos of people I am lucky to know and have as part of my life.  Awesome adventures I have been lucky enough to embark on.  Things I love, that fill me with a sense of satisfaction and joy, reminding me how awesome it is just being alive and being able to enjoy/revel in/experience them.

(These pictures span between the present and a decade + past.  All are my own photos :-)).