Continuing from Part 1, here are four more key questions that invite couples to deepen their relationship and conversations. The questions were adapted from an article by inspirational poet, David Whyte, titled 10 Questions That Have No Right to Go Away.
The four questions are as follows:
4. Do I know how to be present in the moment, yet also remain connected to what I’ve learned from past experiences … as well as my vision and goals for the future?
Are you reliving an “old story” in the present, that you’ve been telling yourself (perhaps others) about your self and life? Is it overall a disempowering “story” that describes you as a victim of your background or other persons, rather than an agent at the center of your life?
The challenge here is to stay connected to all three. The past is a vast treasure of gems, ever ready for you to extract, to make conscious, so that you may integrate new perspective, powerful learnings … and the like. Some things belong in the past, and need to be totally let go; other things are gems from which to learn and extract vital information about who you are, what you’re capable of, what you learned, what you most yearn to create and who you most yearn to become. To learn from your experiences what works and doesn’t work defines wisdom in practical terms.
At the same time, to create the future you aspire as individuals and a couple, you need goals that inspire you with momentum, hope and belief. When you approach your future, long and short term goals, with the end in mind, you’ll find yet another amazing human capacity — imagination — that allow you to powerfully create and set intentions in the now, one moment at a time. Think with the end in mind to access the power of your imagination.
Finally, the actual power to extract wealth from your past, and create new possibilities for your future, always lies in the present moments of your life. In its purest most potent form — power is the ability to make choices to optimize your life, your sense of safety, balance, peace of mind, happiness, and how you feel about yourself and life around you. It always rests in the present moment.
To consider new ways of creatively responding, in a given present moment, that would rewire old patterns, you must also access another amazing and uniquely human ability, that is: the ability to think about your thoughts — in this case, to think about past experiences, and the future you aspire to create, in the present! You are the only one who creates your experiences. Your thoughts accordingly produce your experience, behaviors and outcomes. What comes into your life comes in by the power of your thoughts.
Give yourself permission, if necessary, to re-story your life. Choose thoughtfully aware of the present, your past and future. More and more, allow yourself to be in awe of these human abilities for using your possibility thinking to extract new meanings about your past, your creativity to imagine new possibilities for the future, and the power of the choices you make at any moment to shape your habits, thus, who you become and the direction of your life. They’re amazing, sometimes miracle-making.
5) Do I practice mindfulness and meditation to optimally maximize the capacity of my brain and body, mind and heart to “work together” (rather than against each other in “fear mode”)?
Mindfulness and meditation can play a major role in allowing you and your partner to remain empathically engaged with one another in challenging moments. We seem to be wired to have alone time. All of our great traditions, religious or philosophical, speak to the power of being still, and connecting to our inner resources through silence or prayer, mantras and chants, and so on.
In his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, neuroscientist Daniel Siegel, MD notes that certain areas of the brain receive “intuitive” wisdom from visceral parts of the body, such as the heart and the intestines. The bottom line is that, in order to remain in rapport, you and your partner’s hearts need to remain open to one another. Mindfulness helps you retain a calm heart-centered awareness in challenging moments by making it easier for you and your partner to:
- Focus your attention when reactive thoughts are vying to take over.
- Manage your body’s reactions with conscious awareness and thoughtful choices.
- Calm reactivity that would otherwise place your brain’s thinking capacity offline.
- Grow awareness of limiting thoughts and emotions they spawn, i.e., fear, guilt, shame, etc.
- Gain better understanding yourself and others as curious, on a journey to know self.
- Let go of fear-inducing beliefs and replace them with life enriching ones.
- Choose optimal thinking-feeling state you want in a given moment.
Mindfulness works as it allows you to get comfortable with the inherently uncomfortable aspects of emotional intimacy — emotions of vulnerability — and to grow and strengthen your capacity. Growing your ability to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable” is always the only path to growth; the only other option is some form of avoidance and denial, and these always lead to suffering.
6) Do I fully accept things as they are (i.e., myself, partner, relationship, etc.) … yet simultaneously strive, determined to do my part, to grow and reach for an ever better version of myself and my relationship (with myself and partner)?
It’s been said before, courage is not the absence of fear, rather what grows and results from courageously facing and feeling our fears, and taking action accordingly. For human beings, ultimately, there is no path for us to take that is painless, free of hurt, heartache or disappointments. We don’t like to hear this, however, it simply is not possible for two persons to be in a love relationship together, without hurting one another, feeling disappointments, unfulfilled expectations, and the like, on occasion, hopefully, unwittingly.
The sooner we free ourselves from the unrealistic expectation that our close relationships should be painless, the more energy we can conserve and put to better use toward developing vibrant and strong relationships.
It takes a lot of courage to make optimal choices, to treat yourself and others with dignity – in moments when it’s most difficult to do so, such as one or both are not at their best. It takes a healthy ego can harness the inner wisdom of your heart – and not relinquish control to fear.
Since there is no painless path, David Whyte suggests we ask yourself the following “merciful” question:
“…so [then,] why not get on with it and stop wanting these extra-special circumstances which stop me from doing something courageous?”
The avoidance of pain, always intensifies pain, thus, causes needless suffering. Paradoxically, the core emotion that facilitates courageous growth and change is: acceptance.
Like an anchor, acceptance can help you ground your core sense of self in ways that in turn allow you to better regulate your body’s fear response. Emotional safety is a hard-wired directive of the autonomic nervous system that the body’s subconscious mind takes seriously and monitors 24/7. Acceptance is a basic emotional nutrient that makes it possible to relate to your body and inner world of feelings, thoughts and sensations, as you would someone you want to form a caring relationship with, to be in communication, fully engaged and present, and to seek to know, better understand and bring out the best in one another, as lifelong friends.
As a springboard, acceptance optimizes your ego-strength to give you the resiliency and adaptability you need to make optimal and informed choices, especially in moments when challenging situations or events may threaten to throw the energies of your mind and heart off balance.
7. What legacy do I wish to leave, as an individual and a couple, to life and loved ones around us?
The power of the love you harness from within, to shape and express your love in multifaceted ways to your self and your partner … can potentially be a gift that keeps on giving.
What decision or commitment, can you make today to chart a bold path that would lead to a future you can look back on and feel good about your efforts, your actions, your investment in worthy goals for your self and loved ones? Years or decades later, you will be happy, perhaps even grateful. to see the fruit of your labor, though in most cases you may never learn of the contribution you made, the doors you opened and paved, etc., for others.
Regardless, questions that deepen our awareness of our connections to self and other, indeed, life around us, allow us to more clearly see and chart the course for the ever brighter future we aspire to create. They also connect us to continual feedback, from within, thus helping us grow a critical connection to our core, a partnership or “marriage” of sorts with our self, our conscious or wise-self, on the one hand, and our subconscious or body-mind self, on the other.
For the human brain and heart, biologically, relationships are our most precious possessions — or gifts — and “the work” you put into making them healthy, literally, assists you to become an ever better version of your self, to grow your ability to give and receive, and to reach a transformed state of self-actualization in the process. Both you and your partner have shared core-drives to ever keep reaching to realize personal happiness, fulfillment, and make meaningful contributions — step by step, one thoughtful response after another.