What is firmly established cannot be uprooted.
What is firmly grasped cannot slip away.
It will be honored from generation to generation.
Cultivate virtue in your self,
And virtue will be real.
Cultivate it in the family,
And virtue will be abound.
Cultivate it in the village,
And virtue will grow.
Cultivate it in the nation,
And virtue will be abundant.
Cultivate it in the universe,
And virtue will be everywhere.
Therefore look at the body as body;
Look at the family as family;
Look at the village as village;
Look at the nation as nation;
Look at the universe as universe.
How do I know the universe is like this?
Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching: Fifty-four
Translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, 1972
Everything is relationship. At a fundamental spiritual level it seems to me that as soon as we leave the level of non-duality (which is unattainable for me as anything but intellectual speculation these days) we exist in a world where everything is happening in and as relationship.
From the simple truths of taiji and bodywork to the complexity of Actor Network Theory, most of the stuff I find interesting these days deals with the importance of relationships – focusing on what is going on between elements, rather than on the elements themselves.
Skillful living thus seems to be all about relating harmoniously. To my body-being. To others. To society. And to nature.
Relating to myself – the personal
In the Manuvision school of body therapy we are taught that everything in the body is in relation to everything else. If you want to help someone heal their neck and back problems it makes sense to also look at the tension in their hips, legs and feet. We try to help people to be in their bodies rather than avoiding/resisting the signals from their body to create harmonious relationships between the parts.
For me relating to myself implies courage. It is about daring to feel how my body is actually doing rather than moving away from the tension and pain, and on a mental level allowing myself to be in what is there. I have found that a core difficulty for me is my tendency to hold on to emotions because they seem important, rather than allowing myself to be “inconsistent” and be with with the present moment. Relating to self isis breathing out what I am today, so that new life can enter me.
Relating to others – the interpersonal
When relating to others it seems to me that a central element is trusting in experience. I recently heard someone say that “everything registers in the field” which for me pointed to the idea that humans at an embodied level know what is going on in every situation – but that it can be hard to trust the immediate experience and allow that which is present to emerge fully. Often it takes some courageous soul to name what is there before it can be fully allowed an integrated in the relationship.
I find that a crucial element of relating harmoniously with others is to allow my not-knowing and my limitation rather than trying to be perfect and whole. Simply sharing my experience (which is not the same as what I know – or rather think I know), including my fears and doubts seems to be the best tool for creating connection. The Danish author Bent Falk calls this “the process of love”:
– To see and hear the other
– To tell the other what you see and hear
– To tell the other what the seen and heard does to one self on and emotional as well as a will level.
This process of bringing consciousness to whatever is present in the moment seems vital for harmonious connection between people. Bringing honesty and authenticity rather than staying within the confines of politeness and social rules. This also includes clearly expressing what you want (and don’t want) in the relation.
For me it can be particularly hard to set boundaries, because I am afraid of causing pain or of people not liking me. A practice that inspires me right now is to bring my boundaries with an AND rather than a BUT; “I feel care for you and I see that you are longing for connection and I need time on my own right now.”
Another central element is daring to be with the experience at difficult emotions of the other, rather than trying to change their experience by comforting them. I find that when we feel the need to change someone’s experience or emotions, the impulse comes from not wanting to be with that experience in ourselves.
It requires courage to stay in connection. This short animated video puts it quite nicely.
A concept I find very useful when it comes to relating to others is the “invitation”. An invitation is an opening that allows the other to step into something together with you – rather than an attempt to force or push someone to change. When doing body therapy I try to invite the client to be in/with their own body and their own emotions by applying different kinds of pressure, when dancing I invite my partner to move by moving my own body, when circling I invite the other to be with me by showing up vulnerably with my reality.
Relating to society – the political
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
When I teach design students and urban planners I urge them to contest what can be deemed “the official future”, the future that seems like it has already been decided by someone else – the politicians, the economists, the engineers and the planners, and to challenge the “politics of necessity” that are driving contemporary western societies.
Harmonious relating to society for me is a question of simultaneously having a deep sensitivity and understanding of what constitutes the reality we live in, while never accepting the status quo as “normal”, “true” or “real”. We live in a world of pathological over consumption, a condition that is threatening our existence on the planet – and action is needed!
In the “world scientists warning to humanity – a second notice” from 2017, a publication signed by 15.364 scientists from 184 countries, the authors present the challenge quite clearly.
To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.
I find that if we are to relate harmoniously to society, it requires acceptance and understanding of what is considered real and possible right now, and why it is so as well as a conscious process of staging experiments that suggest alternate ways of doing things. I find that the concept of the “invitation” is also vital in these matters.
Similarly as to when I am working with a body, the invitation for me is a useful way of conceptualizing non-forceful way of opening other realities at a societal level – by allowing people to try out ways of being and doing that are not seen as possible in the mainstream reality. Inviting people to co-create new ways of being is for me also the best way of mobilizing them (and myself) behind more harmonious developmental paths.
Relating to nature – the spiritual
Relating to nature is for me about accepting that we are not separate, but rather part of the ongoing creation of everything. That we are really in relation to the wind, the water, the trees and everything else and couldn’t exist without it all. Being is interbeing. I find that this is easy to say, but not easy to be with in practice, where I often find myself feeling other than the world I inhabit.
But I really trust that, as Alan Watts would put it, we are not just accidents in a unwelcoming and cold mechanical world, but rather some of the fruits that this living universe is growing.
Relating to nature for me means being in love with the world and wanting to honor it by bringing the gifts we have as humans – figuring out our part in the greater manifestation of being. A more sentimental way of putting it is that everything we do with love can be considered a prayer to the universe.