Relational Freedom


Last weekend I was away in New York City for a Movement Workshop. Every day we went through a blend of movement experiences that sometimes we did on our own, and sometimes in partnership with others. During one of the last exercises, I was partnered with someone whom I knew instantly, I did not want to touch, nor be touched by. Instinctively, and without thought, my body gave a clear and resounding message of revulsion. This did not happen on the thinking level, as in “that guy is gross or creepy,” but at the body level, where waves of unease and disgust washed over me. Over and over again.

There was absolutely no denying how I felt. Until, that is, a lifetime of conditioning rose up obliterating that most basic and fundamental body knowing. The primal information that said, “Do not partner with him.”  Instead, I felt myself giving over to all kinds of things. Like how this would look. Or how he would feel, or what he might do. Things like imagining I would be seen as socially unacceptable, hysterical, overly sensitive, bothersome, or problematic.

Add to that all of the subconscious programs that were running. The ones that say I do not have a right to say no. The ones that say there must be something wrong with me that I can’t just suck it up and deal with it. The ones that say I am making a big deal out of nothing. The ones that say that somehow this is my bad.

I do not blame him. Nor do I blame myself. What I am left with is the inherent messiness around being in relationship. I am left with the recognition of the burden that we all struggle under where our social and familial conditioning all too often squelches necessary and vital instincts. The very same ones that may at times run contrary to what is polite, expected or socially acceptable. I am left with the struggle of what it means to be a human being with an animal body, and how it is that I can both navigate and make use of important built-in instincts, while also being part of a social fabric that sometimes requires me to squelch base instincts for the good of the whole.

Upon returning home I happened upon a description about being in relationship where it was proposed that any interaction with another is not a 50/50 split. Instead, it is about being 100% responsible on your end for you, while the other person is 100% responsible on their end for them. Otherwise, it is an entanglement; a kind of imbalanced, unsatisfying and potentially harmful interaction.

I see this in the experience I had with this man. For if I could have acted in the moment, based on what was happening for me, it would have been a purely natural and situational response, as opposed to something traumatizing and personal. Like an animal encountering something in the wild that it was repulsed by, and just naturally moved away from. No judgment. No drama. No need to bypass anything. Just a kind of “This doesn’t work for me right now so I am going to go in another direction.” No explanation. No apology. No big story about what this means for me or for you.

But to do this requires lots and lots of permission. Permission to be in our bodies and to act on what we are feeling. Permission to get stuck and to make mistakes. Permission to step beyond social parameters. And most importantly of all, permission to decide for ourselves what and who we will move towards or away from. No matter what it looks like.

Moving towards what works for you and away from what does not is true relational freedom. This approach requires a lot of practice, and a lot of discernment, for it is not always as obvious as it seems on the surface. Truly, it is the work of a lifetime. And why not? Why not pour ourselves into understanding how we are in relationship? For is this not one of our greatest sources of both joy and pain? One of our greatest sources of both dissatisfaction and pleasure? Misunderstanding and recognition? Contentment and dis-ease?

This takes us to an undeniable Truth: It all begins with you. No matter the “who” or “what” of any given encounter. If this makes sense to you, it then requires a kind of willingness on your part to commit to being in your body, while learning to receive the signals it is sending you; every minute of every day.This skill not only makes for an authentic and satisfying life, but it goes on to become the basis for all that you do and all that you are; both on your own and in relationship.

And if you would like to try it but are unsure about how to start, begin by noticing something, anything, in your body when you are having an encounter with another person. Don’t judge it, try and fix it, or make it go away. Just be with it, seeing if you can sense what a “No” feels like, and what a “Yes” feels like, in your body. For any of us to be 100% accountable to our end of any relationship or encounter, we must always start with ourselves and our own experience. Then, and only then, do we factor in the other.