05 November, 2010

Couple in a kayak

It occurred to me yesterday that the best way to understand the dynamic between two people is to put them in a kayak together, and watch what happens. It's the perfect metaphor for the relationship dynamic.

You could really pick any of a number of types of activities, but the thing about a kayak is that you are tied enough to one another's "fate" that it models the interdependence of people in relationship; contrast that, for instance, with hiking, where people are less intertwined. At the same time, you are not so dependent on one another so as to be unrealistically associated, as would be the case with tandem cycling, for example.

The kayak is perfect.

When you get into a kayak, you are not fully in control of your own destiny. There needs to be cooperative decision-making, mutual effort, coordination, consideration, attentiveness to subtle details, patience, positive attitude. And when a couple is struggling in their relationship, the kayak reveals all truths.

I think back on various kayak relationships I have had. I remember bickering over the minutiae of planning a course, and navigating and executing the steering properly. What a fantastic metaphor for the kind of hypercritical battles that I had in that particular relationship! The big picture, i.e. "We are still moving down the river" didn't matter nearly as much as "But I told you not to go over there because of the rocks!" It didn't matter that we made it around the rocks anyway. It only mattered that there was a failure to follow specific instructions. I can recall being irritated with a partner who was not paddling as much as I thought they should be. All these angry feelings started stirring up in me, about how they just expected others to do all the work for them. It probably said more about my judgment and impatience than anything else because, honestly, there was more than one interpretation to their behavior. Perhaps they just didn't feel the need to turn the trip into work. Perhaps for them it was about leisure, and peace, and relaxation, as opposed to getting there.

When you see the healthy couple in the kayak, you see a silent, fluid rhythm. You see two bodies in harmony. Paddles switch sides without a word or a splash. Turns are gradual, and feel natural. Both people coast at the same time, or take turns coasting while the other maintains course, or halt to explore or observe something interesting or beautiful.

The kayak becomes a vessel symbolizing the connection between two people. In reality, there's always a kayak, even if it's an invisible one. The kayak holds us close to one another. Always within reach. Always with a subtle yet surmountable degree of interdependence. Capable of synergy. Moving through the world as one force. With one course, and one wake.

Yet also capable of drifting... listing... capsizing... sinking.


04 November, 2010

Conquering fear in the strangest ways

I am going to Hawaii. Alone.

That's it. It's that simple. But embedded in that simple plan is the intention and apprehension around conquering one of my biggest fears. Being alone. And it's not quite as simple as I stated it. The plan that is "locked and loaded" is the part about "going," and the part about "alone." What remains to be executed is the bigger part of the plan, which is "going alone with no iPhone and no internet connectivity."


Yes. That's the part that makes it even harder. Scarier. But potentially so much more important.

It's a retreat.

I don't know how to describe it in a way that connects the various dots that I've been trying to put together for 20 years. But I just know that it comes to this. And even if it doesn't, it still does.

The first time I heard of meditation was when I was a kid. My brother would come to visit, and he would sit in the corner of the dining room, in the dark, in a chair, with his hands folded on his lap. And he would sit silently with his head down. He was meditating. And I was not supposed to bother him or interrupt. Of course, this made it incredibly difficult for me to not bother him, because I wanted to know what he was doing and wanted his attention!

The next time I heard about meditation was when I was going through one of my first (of many) soul-searching periods in life, either as a result of therapy or some other emotional issues. I read a couple of  books about Zen, and thought it was amazing. The right stuff. Was going to solve everything for me! I was so into it. But I never meditated. Maybe I did for 3 minutes. Or 5 minutes. Or 3 days. But it never became a practice. I was not willing to let go. And for the past 20 years, still I have not. I always joke that I've twice made it halfway through "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" but never finished it. It's somewhat emblematic of my waffling on the journey.

Recently, I started thinking more and more about meditation. It came up in therapy. It came up in relationship. It was feeling more and more like something that was not a magic bullet, so much as a direction that I was meant to go. But still. Haven't gone. I know that my monkey mind is suffering from lack of clarity resulting from constantly diverting my attention to a million "pleasant alternatives" to whatever is right in front of me: work, cleaning, exercise, being present, pursuing various projects, relating to others. Just fill it up with stuff. Fill the bandwidth. Don't ever just be here now.

Of course, the iPhone is the #1 contributor to such things. It's the A # 1 mind-sink, ensuring that we never really need to be present. But all of the "benefits" it provides seem to outweigh the dumbing, numbing, disconnecting effect it has on all of us. On me.

This brings me to part two. A couple of years ago, I came to the epiphany that there was one time, one place, one situation in which I felt totally present. Totally in the moment. That place is snorkeling. Nothing but the sounds of the water, the rocks, and breath. What could be closer to a natural meditation than that? And, in fact, snorkeling seems to be one of the few activities that I am completely content to do alone (or so I think).

So, my substitute for a formal "retreat" is going to be this trip, alone. And it honestly terrifies me. I realize in advance just how reliant I am on the input from others, the presence of others, even just the knowledge that there is an "other" there to greet me, receive me, listen to me, react to me. In the same way that one might ask "If a tree falls in the forest..." I am asking myself now "If I see beautiful fish while snorkeling, and there's no one there to tell about it, is the experience still meaningful?"

And the fact that I am not sure what the answer is to that question is the biggest reason why I know I need to find out.

Truth is, it's really wrapping a few of my fears, habits, and personal challenges all into one. There's "being with myself." There's "being by myself." There's "being non-reliant on technology for every decision." The thought that I will actually need to write down addresses, or print maps is rather scary to me. In fact, as I type it, I am thinking "Maybe I need a cheap phone to take with me in case I need to call someone in emergency." But I know that there's always a phone that can be found in emergency, and that I will not have an emergency where a phone will make a difference.

I have never in my life gone 7 days without speaking to a friend, partner, or family member. And reality is that few of us do anymore, in a world that has become as connected as ours is. So this is an opportunity (pep talk ensuing). It's an opportunity to see what it feels like to have that separation. The hope? That it will amount to a more real and deep connection with myself, that will then lead to deeper connection with others and the world.

Of course, it will be whatever it will be.