Lately I’ve been using a different model for thinking about human relationships, and it’s working out really well. It may seem a bit unusual though.
As I considered different relationship models like monogamy, serial monogamy, polyamory, and more, I soon realized that what I really wanted to experience wasn’t a good match for any existing labels that I knew of. I wouldn’t want to apply any of those old labels to myself because none of them make sense to me. They all seem too narrow and limiting.
In 2009 I wrote a post about Label-free Relationships. This mindset of trying to avoid labeling my connections with other people was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t quite enough.
What helped me adopt a different perspective was my stepped-up exploration of subjective reality within the past year. I pondered that if life is a dream, then what does it mean to have relationships with other people (dream characters)? In a dream we’re all inherently connected anyway. It may still make sense to classify relationships with your fellow dream characters based on how you relate to them, but labeling isn’t the real issue here.
The bigger issue is how you relate to the dream itself — to life. Clearly there’s a broader and more significant relationship here than your individual connections with other dream characters. Those low-level connections are still important, but focusing on them too much seems limiting.
I began to explore this idea of stepping back from managing my connections at the dream character level, particularly with respect to conscious growth. Instead of thinking about my relationships with people X, Y, and Z, and pondering how those individual relationships might continue to grow and evolve, I began paying more attention to my general relationship with life itself.
I started to wonder that if we’re all connected, then maybe focusing on individual relationships is too granular.
Suppose you’re in a relationship with a woman, but instead of relating to her as a complete person, you focus most of your attention on your relationship with her breasts. Sure you might enjoy such a relationship for a while, but eventually you’re going to have this woman poking you and saying, “Um… hello… there’s more to me than just my boobs, ya know!” And that’s a fairly gentle reaction. She might of course start yelling at you to take a break from her bossom.
Consider this as an analogy for life itself.
Suppose that when you focus too much of your attention on your relationship with just one person, life eventually starts poking you and saying, “Um… hello… there’s more to me than just this one dream character, ya know!” And again, that’s a gentle reaction. Life could just as easily yell at you when your focus is too limiting, such as by giving you the experience of having to deal with lying, cheating, etc. This isn’t a punishment. It’s a wake up call to help you see there’s more to life and to relationships than you previously realized.
Now this makes for an interesting theory, but what of the application?
Well, I’m a dive-in-and-try-it sort of figment, so I decided to give this a try to see what it actually feels like. I can’t say I’m that far along with it yet, but I’ve been testing this for at least a month now, and I’m really falling in love with it.
Instead of putting so much attention on my individual relationships, I’m paying more attention to my relationship with life itself. Actually I wouldn’t say I’m quite that high up yet. The way I currently think about this is to imagine the sum total of my relationships with all the people in my life as if they’re a relationship with a single entity. I hope that makes at least some sense.
From this perspective, my relationship needs can be met by anyone. They don’t have to be met by any particular person.
For example, if I feel a desire for stimulating conversation, I could have that experience with a close friend, or I could have it with someone I just met. Instead of requiring any particular relationship to fulfill this desire, I simply allow life itself to fulfill it without being attached to where it comes from.
The same goes for my desire to give to others. I don’t worry about how much or how little I’m giving to any particular person. I simply focus on giving to life itself. And again, it doesn’t matter if I give to a close friend or a total stranger. It’s the act of giving that satisfies me.
This mindset has really changed the way I relate to people. I feel very unattached to outcomes when it comes to my relationship with any one person. When I’m with someone, I feel very present because I don’t need anything from them. I don’t need that particular relationship to satisfy my needs because I can just as easily have those needs met by someone else. In terms of which needs are satisfied by which person, I delegate those decisions to life.
This has also made me very curious about the nature of each individual relationship and how it relates to the whole. Instead of trying to lead someone or allowing myself to be led by them, I see the relationship as a flowing dance where no one leads. I ask, “Where does this relationship want to go?” A very similar question is: “Where does life want this relationship to go?”
I’d say the biggest transformation is in how I relate to women, especially my female friends. When I think about how each individual relationship is evolving, it can look rather complicated. But this new model simplifies everything. I stopped trying to make sense of these relationships at the individual level, and instead I focus on the big picture of my relationship to women in general… and beyond that my relationship to life.
In practice this means that when I connect with someone, I don’t worry about what kind of relationship I have with that person, and I don’t try to label it. I allow that relationship to go wherever it wants to go, using my intuition to guide me in the moment.
So as to avoid any preconceived notions about where a particular connection may be heading, I like to set up intentionally ambiguous ways to connect. I avoid what looks like traditional dating because that pre-supposes a desire to have a certain kind of connection with someone. When I connect with someone, I like to keep the door open to all possibilities. Will we just hang out and talk for a while? Will we become friends? Will we end up in bed together? Will we do business together? Will we become activity partners? I remain open to endless possibilities for each individual connection.
As a new relationship evolves over time and takes shape, I can try to look back on those first connections and retroactively resolve them by saying, “That was a business meeting” or “That was a date”, but that doesn’t seem to work either. There’s too much fluidity and flexibility.
I rather like not having expectations about how things will turn out in advance. I’ve found that since I started doing this, my relationships have taken on a level of richness and complexity that I’ve never experienced before. I don’t mean complexity in terms of these relationships being overly complicated, but rather complexity in the sense of enjoying the exquisitely delicious creations of an expert chef… or perhaps tasting a really good wine and experiencing all its subtleties.
In the past if I was connecting with a woman I was attracted to, I might be thinking about her in a certain way. I might even try to lead our connection down a certain path. But now I don’t really see a point in doing that. I find it more enjoyable to hold no desires as to how that particular connection turns out — I keep my desires at the higher level of what I want to experience in general, and I avoid attaching those desires to any specific person. I just relax and enjoy the flow of our connection and see where it wants to take us. This just feels so much more natural to me. I know that whatever needs or desires aren’t filled by this particular person will simply show up in some other way.
I rather like this way of living. It feels very freeing and flowing.
You’re basically surrounded by people, so there’s no need to lock your gaze onto specific individuals and demand or expect that they be the main fulfiller of your needs or the primary recipient of your gifts in some areas. Wouldn’t it be better to simply allow life itself to meet your needs through whatever channels it deems best? Life is actually quite good at this, if you give it a chance to prove itself.
To further open myself to a better relationship with life, I’ve relaxed my intentions by not asking for much. I just hold the intention that life will bring me all that I need to feel happy and fulfilled, and it will receive my gifts in return. Then I relish in the delicious mystery of wondering how this will manifest, staying present to whatever opportunities arise and flowing with them as they do.
Consequently, it seems like I’m making much faster progress in certain areas than I was a few months ago, but I don’t feel like I’m personally doing as much. Things are happening, but I don’t feel like I can take credit for them. In a way it feels like I’m allowing life to live through me, like I’m partly stepping aside and allowing it to animate my avatar while I relax into the flow of its direction.
For many years I’ve had that feeling when I write articles. I don’t try or struggle to write; the words flow with effortless ease. I don’t know what I’m going to write in advance. I just get a “knock” in the back of my mind, and I can tell there’s a message ready to flow through me. I’m simply inspiration’s typist.
Now I’m having a similar experience as I relate to other people. I don’t try to be social. I just get a sort of ping — a feeling that it’s time to go out and connect in some way. I sense there’s a certain energy that needs to flow through me, and it shows up in the form of communicating with other people.
The kinds of connections that show up when I hold this mindset seem to have some special beauty to them. Just as I feel that an inspired article is a beautiful work (as long as I don’t get in the way of the inspiration), I have the same feeling towards inspired relationships with other people. I can’t predict in advance how they’ll evolve, but these interactions seem beautiful to me.
Interestingly, it appears that life is indeed bringing me exactly what I need in this area because I’m feeling very happy and fulfilled. I don’t feel like anything’s missing right now, and my intention for this part of my life is simply to remain in this wonderful flow.
I also feel that life is bringing me new opportunities to give, also in ways that leave me feeling very fulfilled. As I mentioned in my previous post, new workshops are lining up. But this came about largely by following the flow of spontaneous action.
One day a few weeks ago I was on the Vegas Strip, and I felt a strong impulse to check out the conference center in one of the hotels. So I did that. As I turned a corner, I saw an employee walking towards me from the opposite direction, and I had an intuitive urge to ask him if he knew who I should talk to about booking some meeting space. My doubts tried to block me for speaking up, but I told them to shut up. He was very helpful and gave me directions to the sales office. Minutes later I found myself asking the receptionist if I could talk to a meeting planner. Shortly thereafter I was speaking to someone about booking workshops. We set an appointment for me to come back later to check out specific rooms (those rooms were occupied at the time).
Note that this was totally spontaneous. I’d only had the impulse to do this minutes earlier, and at first I didn’t even know why I was in the conference center. It wasn’t anything I had planned to do. It just felt like the right thing to do.
In order to follow this flow of action, it was helpful to view the experience through the lens of subjective reality. At the time I was dressed pretty schlubby, wearing jeans, a t-shirt, an old pull-over hoodie, and sneakers. But when I felt hesitant to act, I reminded myself that it’s just a dream. I might not make a great first impression with the meeting planner figment, but I knew that I could speak confidently and enthusiastically regardless of how I looked. Feeling that I needed to dress nicer was just a cowardly delay tactic that cut me off from the flow. It was more fun to take immediate action.
This was just one example of how I’m working on following the flow of inspiration in other parts of my life — not just when it comes to blogging.
Of course I don’t always get it right. One time I was out with a woman I was meeting for the first time, and after only a short time with her, I started feeling very warmly towards her. I felt a strong desire to hold her hand and also to cuddle her as we talked, but it just seemed way too fast and seemingly out of sync with our conversation, and my mind couldn’t make sense of it. I held back from acting on those feelings, so I lost the flow in that regard, even though we still maintained a wonderful connection together. On another day I shared with her what I was thinking and feeling in those moments, curious to see how she would have reacted if I had acted on those feelings. Suffice it to say that my intuition was right. D’oh! This was yet another lesson that I really need to trust these intuitive pings and take more “risks” when my mind is struggling to make sense of it. The irony is that even though she and I talked a lot about subjective reality, I forgot to remind myself that I was in such a reality. This stuff can really bake your noodle (or if you’re a raw foodist, dehydrate it).
Being in the flow of inspiration is easy for me when I write; it’s pretty much second nature now. You might think it should be fairly straightforward to apply the same idea of acting on inspiration to relationships, but in practice I find it more challenging. First, there’s a lot of social conditioning to get past. Second, it seems more challenging to remind myself to think subjectively when I’m in the middle of a conversation with someone. I’m still working through the conscious competence phase, striving to reach unconscious competence when I won’t have to think about it so much.
I’m definitely making progress though, and I’m enjoying the process tremendously.
I know that objectively speaking, it may sound totally ludicrous to relate to other human beings as if we’re all characters in a dream world, but before you make such judgments, let me ask, Have you tried taking this seriously for at least 30 days? If you aren’t willing to test your assumptions about the nature of reality, can you really claim to be objective? That isn’t objectivity; it’s stubbornness.
On a grander scale, I’m starting to wonder what it would be like if everyone related to each other like dream characters. I’ve noticed that when I pop into subjective mode in the middle of a conversation, the interaction shifts pretty quickly… usually within 30-60 seconds. It’s hard to describe, but it feels like the connection becomes brighter and more real. It opens up and starts flowing, whereas it was previously constricted and stifled when viewed through the objective mindset.
I’m going to continue exploring this mindset because I find it absolutely fascinating. Not only does it work better, but it’s a lot of fun as well. The best part is that the other dream characters really seem to like it. When I tell someone I’m thinking subjectively and regarding them as a character in a shared dream, they don’t respond negatively. To my recollection, every time I’ve done this with someone in person, the other person invariably enjoys playing along with me. Their shields go down, not up. I’ve just given them permission to join me in a playful, creative space where anything is possible. I’ve also removed all judgment from the interaction. So consequently, the interactions that result from this mindset flow so much more easily than what you might experience if you try to connect with an objective lens.
When I’m in this mindset, other characters are more likely to engage in playful interactions with me automatically, even if I don’t tell them what I’m doing. And these interactions can take all sorts of strange twists and turns.
A couple days ago I was checking out at the grocery store, and the guy behind me in line says to me, “Hey, I know you. You’re that guy who was in the news.” I paused and wondered what “news” he was referring to, figuring that he must have recognized me. I’ve been recognized in public a number of times before, so that wouldn’t have been a total surprise. But instead he continued, “You’re that gorilla guy, aren’t you?” I glanced at the conveyor belt, which was filled with dozens of bananas I was buying, then looked at him and smiled. I said, “Yeah, I get that a lot.” He told me he thought it was clever. I said, “It is clever… just not original.” Since I buy a lot of bananas, I often get comments from people about being a monkey or gorilla or having one as a pet.
To top it off, the cashier informed me that recently someone had actually dressed up in a gorilla suit, ran into the store, and stole a bunch of bananas. The cashier said it must have been some kind of prank. Apparently the gorilla got away too.
Definitely a dream world.
The objective lens separates us. The subjective lens makes us one. Communicating from a place of oneness is a much different experience than communicating from a place of separation. Connecting subjectively is more lively, vivid, spontaneous, and fun.
I still have to integrate this subjective mindset into other parts of my life. It feels like I’m upgrading a lot of old code little by little. I’m enjoying this gradual unfolding though. I love the mystery of not knowing what lies around the next bend. I don’t think I’d enjoy it nearly as much if I could somehow instantly erase all the old conditioning and drop in the new mindset in a fully integrated manner. I’m getting a lot of mileage from experiencing the contrast between the objective and subjective POVs at a very granular level as I keep making micro-shifts.
Have you had any experiences along these lines? What do you make of them?
Seen any gorillas lately?