When I attend weddings, funerals or other rites of passage, I deeply appreciate the couple tying the knot, or the loss of the one who has died, or whatever the circumstance. I am fully present for it and grateful to be participating.
At the same time, I am open (sometimes involuntarily) and feel the fullness of so many other similar occasions.
When I attend a wedding, my own wedding oozes from my cells and floods my nervous system. I remember how it felt to walk up the aisle, and how it felt to walk back down that aisle, forever changed. I think of my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding and the magnificent hillside where it was. Grand weddings and simple weddings, when I know the couple or I don’t, family or friends—the other weddings I have experienced are accessed every time.
When I attend a funeral, I am so very sorry for the loss. And, I also remember the very first funeral I attended. And my mother’s… my father’s… as well as various grandparents, great-grandparents, friends, teachers…and the list goes on.
I know this happens, and I have come to appreciate such ceremonies as an opportunity to tap into what is below the surface during the day to day routines of life.
Even so, I was entirely unprepared for how that same phenomenon would be true at a college graduation.
On Memorial Day, our daughter graduated from college. It was a sunny day, on a beautiful campus, in a ceremony that was unique and timely. She took courses and majored in areas I never touched when I was in college. She went to a landlocked school in a very small town and I went to a school on the coast. There were so many differences–or so I thought.
As I heard the processional music begin, loads of thick memories started to arise from my own graduations from high school, college and medical school. I remembered when our daughter went off to kindergarten, completed eighth grade, and walked in her high school graduation, and I remembered the graduations of our other children.
I thought of my mother and grandparents and where they were when I graduated. I thought of my brother’s college graduation and how I had missed it. I asked my husband and in-laws questions about their respective graduation experiences—questions I hadn’t once thought to ask in the 26 years I have known them.
Pomp and circumstance is a real thing.
The unique, nuanced subtle muscle memories and long forgotten, rarely activated sensations are just as real.
Intimate relationships are the same way.
They consist of moments that are what they are in the present, while also being all the prior experiences which can rise to the surface and influence our experience.
Sometimes, in happy moments like graduations, we are cognizant of this happening. More often, in both challenging and mundane moments in relationship, our prior experiences are rising to the surface and influencing what we see, feel, believe, and think but it’s mostly unconscious and we aren’t aware that is happening.
When your partner tunes out in the middle of your story, how do you feel? Uninteresting? Rejected? Unimportant? Whatever you feel, it surely isn’t the first time you felt that way. It’s the accumulated feelings that come from many prior experiences.
In my work with couples, it can be radical, and somewhat shocking, for each person to realize their internal dialogue—to become aware of what they are telling themselves and what they believe is undeniably true. It is even more remarkable to share that with their partner and find out it just isn’t what their partner intended at all.
For example, Chloe was sure Harold didn’t really cherish her because whenever she would tell stories about her day at work, especially stories detailing her successes, he would tune out. She felt uninteresting and small every time this happened, like he didn’t really care about her or see her accomplishments. In a coaching session Harold revealed that actually, when she started telling stories about work, he felt inadequate and uncertain. At first he didn’t know why, but eventually he was able to tap into his childhood experience where his mother’s success at work ultimately lead to his parent’s divorce, and Harold unconsciously concluded that Chloe’s success meant she would end up leaving him.
Neither Harold or Chloe had any idea this was happening, they just knew that when she told stories about her successes at work they both ended up feeling rejected and rotten.
The natural consequence of inquiry and personal exploration of your internal experience is more self-awareness, often accompanied by a new experience of freedom.
When I teach the 6 Qualities of Conscious Partnership, I always start with Quality One: Cultivate Curiosity. It is incredible how much love and warmhearted feelings begin to flow when partners are genuinely curious about one another’s experience.
What I don’t mention, as I instead guide couples to experience it for themselves, is how essential it is to have curiosity about yourself. You may believe you already know your experience well–you know what is happening, how your partner treats you, and what your typical relationship dynamic is.
But once you start looking at the prior experiences from your past, the ones which are coloring your vision in the present moment, you realize how much more there is to know about yourself and who you are.
What arises for you in intimate relationships becomes as much or more a function of who you are than anything someone else is doing to you. It is a hard won shift, one that becomes available through your openness to receive feedback and your willingness to receive guidance/coaching/mentorship.
As a coach, I am not interested in understanding for understanding’s sake; I am interested in understanding insofar as it leads to new insights, and then lasting change and wonderful new experiences.
In my group program for committed couples, the Conscious Partnership Program, I teach couples how to be curious about one another and invariably, they become really curious about themselves. This curiosity turns out to be the golden key which unlocks the door to emotional intimacy and sensual passion.
If you want that key, let me know! I would love to tell you about the Conscious Partnership Program and hear your thoughts on this topic.
And, please, tell me your experience when you attend weddings, funerals, and yes graduations too. Do you relate to what I have described?