Linda: We can see intention as a light guiding our way through a dark passage. Or we can see intention as a machete blazing a trail through a thick jungle, opening up a path to traverse. But my favorite image is the mast of the ship in the dark night sea storm. There are no feelings that are more turbulent than those that occur while fighting with someone we love. When we fight, it can feel like we are adrift in a violent, dark night sea storm. When feelings are churning like the wild rolling waves, and we are in danger of being thrown overboard, we can run to hold fast to the mast (the tall, strong, sturdy pole in the center of the ship). It is the safest place to stand when the seas get rough. Sometimes the storm is so violent, that we may have to lash ourselves to the mast so that we are not lost at sea. If we stay close to our intention, we are saved and eventually the storm will pass.
The metaphor of rough seas represents those times when the circumstances of our life become difficult and when our feelings become turbulent. Remembering to come to stand by the mast can make all the difference. But in the midst of the wild winds and poor visibility, we may feel that our very life is threatened. When feelings are this strong, it’s hard to think. It can feel like life and death. The thought arrives, “If I don’t defend myself with everything I have, I will surely perish.” Then we are apt to say and do all manner of unskillful things. It is our intention, spoken inside our own mind, and announced out loud that calms us down, soothes us, holds us steady, so we don’t go flying across the deck to be tossed over board into the sea.
These are just a few examples of what mighty intentions can sound like. Yours may be somewhat different. And each person’s intentions are unique and can change over time. The most important part is to remember clearly what they are and to remember to hold fast to them when the boat of our relationship begins to rock. I offer them as examples of words intended to bring a desperate situation into the realm of reasonableness. The words of our intention can coach us through our worst emotional storms, and may sound something like this:
- to find my responsibility in this breakdown
- to remain committed to you, but I will not stay in any relationship if it requires me to give myself up
- to find my power and courage to voice my truth even if it upsets others
- to create a consistent stable family for our children to grow up in
- to make some sacrifices to keep the peace, but I will not sell myself out or compromise my integrity
- to heal this wound from my family or origin so it does not keep erupting to negatively impact my life
- to be open learn everything I can about why I am being so reactive
- to bring an attitude of curiosity and wonder to our challenges and learn more about healing our wounds
- to come through this closer to you
- to become a more patient, accepting, tolerant, forgiving, loving person
When we are reciting truths like these inside, we are soothing ourselves, keeping calm, bringing down our heart rate and blood pressure, and disengaging from being run by our primitive reptilian brain that only knows flight or fight. Only then are we able to engage our neocortex, the more advanced section of the brain, where creative thinking can occur. Only then can we be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem. After we soothe ourselves, we can be of assistance to another.
When we speak our intentions out loud, we offer them to our partner to soothe them. Our challenge does not get hidden or forgotten, but room for it to be addressed becomes more expansive. When we are both soothed enough, feel safe, no longer in danger of being thrown over board, we can think straight about how to proceed. When the fear, anxiety, and panic recedes, all manner of creative solutions are available. We are once again working as a team, no longer adversaries.
We may relapse into our combative defensive postures in the course of a single discussion and have to reach again and again to hold on to our intention to steady us. There is effort involved, a strenuous effort that is well worth the exertion. The storm always passes eventually. The sun does come out once again. We may be battered, bruised, nauseous, and tired, but we survived the storm. And now that things are calmer, we can begin to explore our areas of sensitivity that created such big waves that rocked and threatened the relationship.
The intimate connection that can come out of the exploration has the potential to uncover those places inside us that need healing, and how to accomplish that healing. The learning that can go on after the storm subsides is an exquisite opportunity, not to be missed. There is gratitude from having survived the storm and gratitude too for learning how to get through future rough weather with more grace.
If we use the power of our intention consistently, our experience will teach us how to remain steady, and what brings us through to light, warmth, and calm waters. Over time and with many repetitions, we find that what was so effortful in our early years of our relationship is no longer difficult. With deliberate practice, staying calm becomes second nature. For many of us, learning how to soothe other and self is one of the more difficult things we are challenged to master in life. Harnessing the mighty power of intention will bring a bonanza of benefits. Try it out for yourself and see what you discover.
Linda and Charlie Bloom are excited to announce the release of their third book, Happily Ever After . . . and 39 Other Myths about Love: Breaking Through to the Relationship of Your Dreams.