I feel like this past year has been the hardest, most emotional year I have had to face so far. It has also been the year of the deepest reflection, self-awareness and change that has occurred in my life.
I read the Screwtape Letters earlier this year and was reminded of the importance of time. Time is an interesting concept. We often find ourselves existing in three different possible times: the past, the present, and the future. Many relationships get trapped in living in the past. More successful relationships live in the present with an eye toward the future. Those who are most successful in their relationships learn to live in the present, leaving the past where it should be…in the past.
Don’t think you live in the past? You may not live the majority of your relationship in the past, but you surely move there when it is time to change. When change is suggested you may respond with “I don’t think it will work because it didn’t work…in the past.” This eliminates the possibility for change.
Change is free to happen in the present and into the future. This notion cannot be underestimated. When you find yourself believing nothing can change, at least ask if that feeling is because of a reflection on the past. I even caution about living toward the future. That doesn’t mean you don’t plan for the future. Lack of planning leaves you vulnerable. You do your planning, then you live. Let the planning take care of things.
Living in the present is learning to have an appreciation and awareness of what is going on around you. When you are having a conversation, it is truly listening to what the other person is saying. That is different than what we often do, hearing enough to move us to think about our own response. We suddenly leave the present and move into the future – what we are going to say. Or we get caught in the past, considering what we said or what the other person said another time.
Living in the present is cultivating an awareness of the food we are eating, the fun of playing with a child, the feel of the wind on your face. It is an intimate interaction with your surroundings, a connection that moves you out of your head and into your senses.
We create the past and remember the future. In other words, we use the present perception to interpret the past events. This creates the past. Then, we use what comes from the past to steer our destiny. Our future is “remembered” as we experience it. Our perceptions of the past are never accurate. They are our views of the events. These events have been registered through our paradigms, leaving imperfect viewpoints.
Further, our future is affected by that created past. The past is inaccurate and the future can become caught in this inaccurate viewpoint.
The alternative is to live in the present, to stay in the moment. When we feel pulled toward the past, we must remind ourselves that this is an imperfect memory, and not entirely trustworthy. Pull toward the future is also countered by recognizing that we can be held back by the limitations of our memories and perceptions. The future unfolds when it is allowed to unfold. Otherwise, we find ourselves unfolding our lives in costly and painful ways.
We all expect that our lives, our finances, and our relationships should follow a certain path – upward toward better. We believe it should be a constant process of improvement, and getting better. But life does not seem to point in this direction. I would encourage you to give up on this model. It mostly leads to disappointment and frustration. Instead of relationships following the constant growth model, I propose and believe that relationships follow a paradigmatic process of development. In other words, relationships, when allowed to, EVOLVE!
Relationships often find themselves caught in a cycle of conflict, disagreement, struggle, or painful existence together. At the end of this struggle, the relationship can go in either of two directions. Either the relationship moves to a higher level of evolution, or one of the persons in the relationship decides to end it. Unfortunately, in the moment, the couple is most aware of the struggle at hand. And since we have been led to believe that relationships are supposed to follow a steady degree of growth, the points of conflict feel like trouble points. They are, instead, opportunities for growth. Indeed, they are crises, but crises that open the opportunity for growth. In the Chinese language the word symbol for crisis contains the symbols for danger and opportunity wed together. Each crisis point marks the place where an old paradigm is failing, and where a new paradigm is needed. It is not the failure of the relationship, merely the failure of the current paradigm. When failure occurs, it is time to create a new paradigm – not return to the old one. The new paradigm may allow for more of each person in the couple to emerge. More of the individuality of each must be included in each shift, encompassing more and more of the whole of each. Then we finally arrive at a place where we are allowed to be who we are. We become who we are in the context of a relationship that includes where the WE is!