The Conscious Heart;
By Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D.s
The Tablecloth Trick
let’s get down
in the pit of your fears
hip to hip.
Let’s swing the maypole of lust
through your butterflies and
free their belly dust.
your dirty fingernails
from the antic box
where howls and yelps
flutter and scratch.
let’s pull the thread
your naked source.
through the rollercoaster
of your heart
and run our toes
through the muck.
in your mind
and scatter the knobby pins
of your fort.
let’s do the tablecloth trick.
out the smooth assumptions
you squat over and see what’s left.
let’s go eyelash to eyelash
and see who blinks first.
I’ll devour you to
the last earlobe.
A Personal Welcome
(page xiv) We have two main goals in this book. We want to help create a world of relationships in which the essence and creativity of each person is nurtured and brought to full flower. Second, we want to show how the evolutionary speed bumps of close relationships can be dealt with in a new way that allows for maximum growth in each person.
(page xv) In our work with several thousand couples, we have discovered a set of attitudes and simple skills that allow all our relationships to deepen essence-contact with ourselves and the universe.
(page xvii) Conscious Loving talked about doing things differently. We have sometimes referred to it as practical magic ¾ the openings that occur when we change patterns or communicate differently. We could almost say that in that book we worked from outside relationship patterns into the core. By changing practices, we changed the fundamental quality of relationship. In this book, however, we are moving from the inside out. By shifting our deepest intentions, attitudes, and purposes, we are shifting the emerging choices and actions that shape the flow and future of a relationship.
Readers of Conscious Loving consistently told us that four principles stood out: the six co-commitments, telling the microscopic truth, taking 100 percent responsibility, and the Upper Limits Problem.
The six co-commitments provide a solid, safe foundation for change they also expose the counter-commitments, or barriers that aren’t apparent prior to stepping into commitment. Our readers have also used the co-commitments to recommit when they got stuck, rather than give up or struggle to do it perfectly the first time. We have changed the wording in the years since we published Conscious Loving. Here is our current version of the co-commitments, with their counter-commitments (We think humor is an important part of conscious relationships.):
· 1) I commit to being close, and I commit to clearing up anything in the way of being so.
Ø Counter-commitment: I commit to holding back and to keeping hidden my barriers to closeness.
· 2) I commit to my own complete development as an individual.
Ø Counter-commitment: I commit to holding back from expressing my full development as an individual.
· 3) I commit to full empowerment of people around me.
Ø Counter-commitment: I commit to holding back those around me, so they won’t leave, so they’ll need me, because I’m comfortable.
· 4) I commit to taking full, healthy responsibility in my close relationships.
Ø Counter-commitment: I commit to a lifelong search to find who’s to blame for this fix I’m in.
· 5) I commit to revealing rather than concealing.
Ø Counter-commitment: I commit to hiding.
· 6) I commit to having a good time in my close relationships.
Ø Counter-commitment: I commit to suffering, to finding out how much pain I can endure without flinching.
The principle of telling the microscopic truth has embroiled us in more controversy than any other aspect of Conscious Loving. People either expand with joy or explode in outrage at the suggestion that they tell their partner the truth about everything. We recommend telling the truth about facts, such as affairs and broken agreements; about fantasies, such as imagining a different partner during sex; and about feelings, such as fear and anger.
Most people associate responsibility with blame or burden. They either take it on as duty, or they point the finger of blame at their partner, themselves, or the world. We have learned from our readers and clients that the moment either partner steps out of 100 percent responsibility and makes a run for the victim position, power struggles begin. They end only when each person chooses to take full, healthy responsibility for creating the conflict. The heart of responsibility is genuine wondering, and we’ve witnessed thousands of people reap the benefits of making the shift from blame to wonder. We got so much feedback about the importance of this principle that we have expanded our exploration of responsibility in this book.
The Upper Limits Problem strikes people as obvious, both literally and metaphorically, once they understand the dynamics. Here is the Upper Limits Problem in brief: We each have a thermostat setting for how much love and positive energy our nervous system can handle. When we exceed that limit, our unconscious patterns and behaviors bring us back to a more familiar, safe level. Readers have documented Upper Limits vignettes for us, some hilarious and some poignant. Some people have Friday-night fights on the verge of an intimate weekend. Others worry, get busy, or wreck their car. Sometimes whole families participate in Upper Limits patterns: When one member gets really successful, someone else gets very ill, starts a fight at school, or loses the dog.
We began to see that the Upper Limits Problem is actually about our relationship with essence. Will something bad happen if I feel too good? Is it selfish or immoral to be happy? Can I actually expand into a larger version of myself? How? Can I express my essence fully and still be in a relationship, and can being in relationship accelerate that process? We began to explore the possibility that relationship itself is a medium to grow an expanded sense of purpose and contribution in the world.
Introduction ¾ Plum-Blossom Courage
“Life is fired at us point-blank,” said the philosopher Miguel de Unamumo, and nowhere is that more true than in relationship. In relationships, we are always having the experience we are supposed to be having, in spite of how we protest our innocence and victimhood.
Another problem that many people encounter is that they come into relationship with an expectation that nearly guarantees misery: the expectation that conflict is a sign of failure and therefore should be avoided. Lack of meaningful education about relationship, coupled with fairy-tale programming from childhood, may lead us to expect that if the relationship is sound, we will not feel ruffled, either inside or out. But the exact opposite is true: In a sound relationship that is opening your conscious heart, you will be bringing to the light the deepest feelings and ancient patterns that are stored inside you. They come to the light to be welcomed into yourself, to be bathed in the radiance of the spirit. They are the path, and how you handle them determines your progress on the path.
Each moment requires us to choose either commitment or complacency. As we’ve encountered that choice-point daily, we’ve learned something valuable each time we’ve chosen commitment over righteousness. It was in those moments of going beyond the power struggle ¾ of surrendering the need to be right in favor of the authentic experience of wonder and not-knowing ¾ that we first felt the clear, open spacious warmth, the essence-connection with our own inner being and that of our beloved.
There is ultimately only one relationship, and it’s where you are right now: The universe itself is the sum of all our relationships. Whatever we withdraw from ¾ or whatever we go toward and embrace ¾ becomes the universe that we have created. If we feel angry at a loved one, we have a choice to embrace that anger and tell the truth about it, or to hide it. We may think this choice is simple, with few ramifications, but it is actually the cosmic moment that defines the universe we will live in. When we withdraw from any experience ¾ love, anger, sexuality ¾ we condemn ourselves to repeating the lesson until we learn it: the lesson that everything in ourselves must be bathed in the light of truth and love. The ultimate learning at the beginning and the end of the journey is: Love everything and yourself with exactly the same embrace, and you and everything are forever changed.
We have only one choice to make, now and always: to open ourselves to embrace truth and its constant companion, love; or to withdraw from truth and love, defining ourselves through contraction and resistance. This choice is placed before us relentlessly, with exquisite precision, in our close relationships.
This is why close relationship opens the conscious heart.
Chapter One ¾ How We Found the Conscious Heart of Our Own Relationship
There was nothing I knew for sure that would produce transformation in myself or others; I felt the lack of a deeply felt organizing principle.
I was filtering everything through my intellect. Like Mr. Duffy, in James Joyce’s Dubliners, I was “living at a little distance from my body.” The answer continued: “Let yourself feel deeply, let yourself open up to who you truly are, and you will have the unity you seek. If you simply feel and express what is unarguably authentic, you will always be grounded in a space of integrity.”
The answer continued: “The real problem is that you do not love yourself and the world exactly as it is. Every moment is an opportunity to expand in love; your job is to love yourself and all your experiences as they are, then make new choices from that space of love.” Again I took the advice: I loved myself for everything I felt, and I embraced others ¾ even those with whom I had deep conflicts ¾ exactly as they were. The process of loving myself and the universe around me brought intensely pleasurable waves of bliss, which swept through my body with each breath. When the waves subsided, I felt cleansed, brand new, and whole.
This new knowledge gave me the organizing principle not only for my life for my therapy practice. When people would talk to me about a problem, I would help them lovingly embrace anything about themselves or their problem that they had not accepted. Once they were grounded in a sense of loving acceptance, I would ask them to make new choices and brainstorm the required action steps.
The Hardest Barriers We’ve Had to Confront
Letting Go of Controlling the Other Person
As if by magic, when we let go of trying to control each other, we began to see evidence of change. Gay became tidier; Kathlyn put a higher priority on her creativity; and we both pitched in to do more housework. Letting go of trying to control and reshape each other gave us a lot more energy to spend on having a good time together.
Going Through Complete Cycles of Feeling
The point is that resisting or interrupting feeling-cycles prolongs them; when we made a safe space for ourselves and each other to feel them completely, their unpleasantness disappeared.
No matter how many thousands of times we’ve tasted the power of transparency, and no matter how many times we’ve seen it work miracles in therapy, telling the truth is still a challenge.
Taking Healthy Responsibility
There are no victims and villains in the real world of relationship, only people who have not yet learned to operate from a place of true empowerment. We’re still learning ¾ often in the heat of conflict, while we’re making a mad dash for the victim position ¾ to ask ourselves, “What am I bringing to this conflict? How is this my creation?”
As Tom Peters once said, “There’s no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity,” and in our relationship we have found those words truer than we would like them to be. We discovered that even the smallest unclear or broken agreement, when swept under the rug, always came back to haunt us.
A well-known psychiatrist once said that if people spent an hour a day dancing, we could close down all the mental health clinics because there’d be no need for them. We certainly agree and would add meditation, breathwork, and stretching, along with a daily touch-in of intimate communication.
Giving Up Being Right
Sometimes we say that our relationship works well because we’ve added one word: We’ve progressed from valuing Being Right to valuing Being Right There.
We noticed that when we got stuck in our conviction of our own rightness, we were always scared. As we caught on that fear drives the conviction of rightness, we began to make progress. … Whatever the fear, we found that when we could express it clearly to the other person, our need to be right would melt into intimacy.
It really come down to choosing and re-choosing a thousand times to be present rather than to be right, to be intimate rather than protect our own cherished patterns of defensiveness. After making a few hundred sticky choices like this, we found that the short-term glee of being right was nothing compared with the deep, resonant satisfaction of harmonious essence-communication with each other.
Chapter Two ¾ The Master Commitment That Opens the Conscious Heart
How to Make a Soul-Level Commitment
The Master Commitment
· I accept relationship itself as my primary teacher about myself, other people, and the mysteries of the universe. I open myself to letting every relationship interaction, no matter how seemingly trivial, deepen my connection with my essence and the essence of others. I invite all healing powers in myself and the universe to remove any obstacles to my relationships being a source of joyful fulfillment to me in all my depths.
· I commit to clearing up anything in me that keeps me from full loving unity with myself and my loved ones.
· I make a commitment to intimacy that is greater than my commitment to being right and perpetuating my conditioned patterns.
Finally, after one particularly bad time, I woke up. I saw that I had not accepted this relationship event as my teacher. I was using it as an opportunity to feel bad about myself and defend myself. I paused, closed my eyes, and said the master commitment a few times in my mind ¾ I accepted relationship, and this pattern in particular, as my teacher. Within seconds I fetd a big shift in my body. Something dropped away down in my belly, as if I had dropped my defenses. A few seconds later I had a major realization: …
Further, in making the master commitment, you are agreeing to let a transcendental energy-force assist you in removing barriers to enjoying the path. You are committing to enjoyment. And why not? What is the use of meaningful relationships unless they are joyful?
[Gay tells about a Zen meditation practice.] He said to count our breaths until we got to ten, then to go “back to one” and start all over again. If we lost count somewhere on the way to ten, we were not to judge ourselves but simply to go “back to one” and begin again. He said that if we got to ten without our minds wandering, we should not stop to pat ourselves on the back, but just go “back to one.” “No praise, no blame” was how he put it.
That’s the way commitment works. You start making a master commitment as best you can, with our whole being. The act of making this commitment flushes to the surface any places in your being where you are not yet capable of living up to it. You fall off. Then you go “back to one” and start again. You look at the issue that threw you off, then remake your commitment and get back on again.
Chapter Three ¾ Seven Soul-Commitments That Allow the Conscious Heart to Thrive
As we began to inquire into it, we saw that most people were focusing on the wrong kind of commitment. They were making outcome commitments rather than process commitments. … [Outcome commitments focus] on the goal rather than the journey, ignoring the fact that outcomes can’t be controlled. In a process commitment, two people make an agreement about how they will travel together, not about where they are going. Process commitments focus on things that are absolutely within their control, such as telling the truth, keeping agreements, and listening nonjudgmentally.
By making soul-level commitments to seven specific processes ¾ each of which is completely within your control ¾ you take ownership of a reliable map of the path. Then reaching the destination becomes a real possibility.
The First Soul-Commitment
I commit to realizing my full potential for both closeness and autonomy. I open myself to learning about and honoring my essence-rhythms of closeness and separateness, and to learning about and honoring those rhythms in others.
The Second Soul-Commitment
I commit to full expression, to holding back nothing. This means telling the truth about everything, including my feelings, my fantasies, and my actions. I commit to telling the unarguable truth ¾ truth that no one can argue with ¾ instead of giving my opinions, beliefs, and prejudices. I also commit to listening, nonjudgmentally, to what people say to me.
The Third Soul-Commitment
I commit to becoming the source of full responsibility for my life, including my happiness, my well-being, and my life-goals. I absolve everyone, living or dead, past or present, from any implication that they cause my feelings or actions in any way.
The Fourth Soul-Commitment
When faced with the choice between being happy and being defensive, I commit to choosing happiness. I commit to doing this especially in those situations when my defensiveness seems most warranted and when it is totally obvious to me that I am right and the other person is wrong.
The Fifth Soul-Commitment
I commit to learning to love and appreciate myself and others in my close relationships.
The Sixth Soul-Commitment
I commit to the full expression of my creativity, and to inspiring thefull creative expression of those around me.
The Seventh Soul-Commitment
I commit to celebration as the dominant emotional tone of my relationships. Particularly, I commit to celebrating the essence of myself and those close to me.
Committing to Closeness and Autonomy
Committing to Full Expression and Truth-Telling
Committing to Listening
Committing to Full, Healthy Responsibility
It took us a long time to realize that relationships only exist between equals. Each of us has 100 percent responsibility to create our connection because we are each whole beings. People get into trouble when they stop acting from full creative participation. If you take less than 100 percent responsibility, it’s easy to feel that other people are at fault. As one of our clients said to his wife, “If you’d just stand still for a moment, I wouldn’t feel so chaotic!”
It’s usually easier for us to recognize what we call a victim role, taking less than 100 percent responsibility, than it is to acknowledge the problems caused by taking more than 100 percent responsibility. If you’re drawn to criticize or correct your partner, especially if it’s for their own good, it may be difficult to see your actions as an attempt to control. The truly uncomfortable confrontation with yourself comes from recognizing the helpful suggestions and debris collection as the disrespectful gestures they are. When we take more than 100 percent responsibility, we communicate to our partners, “You are not capable, and I need to take over here because I’m right.”
We found only three maddening role possibilities if we weren’t taking full, healthy responsibility: persecutor, rescuer, or victim. Only three choices ¾ but the combinations, skirmishes, and escalations they generate can look at first like real connecting. Some people even mistake the dramas caused by playing these roles for a relationship.
Relationship is not possible within these roles, only entanglement and encumbrance. As Edna St. Vincent Millay once said, “It’s not one thing after another. It’s the same damn thing over and over.”
Committing to Happiness