Elena Brower: Spiritual Partnership - On Respect as Our Practice
We are honored to kick off our 2013 Speakeasy video series with an exclusive column written for the Wanderlust Journal by Elena Brower, who has packed the house every year since our Speakeasy series began. We proudly present her Wanderlust Stratton 2013 talk, Spiritual Partnership, below, followed by her carefully-crafted crib notes to the lecture, so that you can easily apply the lessons in her discussion to your own relationships. It's time to get clear, to get truthful, and cop-to-it with Elena Brower.
Last year for my Wanderlust Speakeasy on Spiritual Parenting, I suggested that we make peace with our own parents by practicing acceptance; accepting that our specific lessons were precisely what our soul needed to learn in order to do what we've come to do in this world. Acceptance helps us be more respectful of our parents, which helps us be more respectful of ourselves. This year has taught me with great clarity that when I don't accept myself, my relationship falters.
How then, can we develop a truly reverent attitude towards love within our closest intimate relationships? So many of us enter into relationship expecting to be disappointed, always on the lookout for reasons and ways to disrespect our partners, because this is mostly what we've witnessed as kids.
With this talk, we learn how we can practice a respect that connects our hearts and infuses our partnerships with more awareness of spirit.
A woman's lowest calling is to seduce and separate man from his soul,
and leave him aimlessly wandering.
A woman's highest calling is to lead man to his soul and unite him with Source.
A man's lowest calling is to ambush and force way into life of woman.
A man's highest calling is to protect woman, so she is free to walk the earth unharmed.
Love is not just a feeling, and emotions are not reality. Never are these two truths more apparent than in the domain of relationship. For endurance, relationships need to be built, brick by brick, like a house, which requires practice. Many of us weren't taught this; we saw in our families and in the media that relationships end. I sought out solutions to this faulty reasoning of my own, and got some pretty incredible answers.
Consider what LOVE means to you. Think about your past, and the way your family sees love, your favorite film, your favorite character in a book… all of these impressions shape your understanding and determine the tone of your love relationships today.
When I was introduced to Bentley, my boyfriend, the woman who brought us together became the person who would irrevocably stand for the health and endurance of our relationship. Lauren Zander, one of the co-founders of the Handel Group, an influential coaching company that brings awareness to thousands of households across the world, is greatly responsible for the success of our love, because she reminds us to practice being in love, to practice communicating, and to practice caring about one another's happiness. We didn't enter into this relationship knowing how to do any of that.
Dozens of times we've called her, at a seemingly impossible impasse, asking for guidance because we were both threatening departure, but really didn't mean it. We don't want to be apart - we just want this rancor and poor treatment of one another to end. Both of us need to invent respect in relationship, and all of this work with Lauren teaches us the privilege of practicing respect to get through our breakdowns consciously.
When we're in that argumentative, repetitive space, we're antagonizing, raging, storming, and then sort-of apologizing. I want to learn how to accept more and above all, I want to learn how to be kind to my Man in a tough moment. We're learning how to make time and space in which we can communicate.
I'm making his happiness and success important to me. And we're both learning how to keep both feet in the door when things go south. This is big.
Through the coaching work, I've learned that we can put our attention on our partners the way we put our attention on our businesses, or our yoga, anything that's got meaning to us. We're meticulous and elegant and impressive in those realms, and then at home, we fall into the same insidious patterns. The way out of those patterns, and that conflict between who we are when we "care" and who we are when we don't, is what Lauren calls "cop tuition" - how willing we are to "cop to" or own our contribution to the painful dynamic that keeps happening.
"Cop-tuition" and Creating a Container for Peace
To avoid the separation (humanity's "lowest calling" from the proverb above), we get to practice intimacy. The KEY to genuine intimacy is our ability to cop to our part in it all - "cop-tuitive-ness."
How willing are you to accept feedback from your partner without defending? Are you willing to accept that what they're telling you is their real experience? Are you willing to see your part and say you're sorry? This willingness is key to intimacy.
We've been taught a process that Lauren practices and teaches, called "Getting Resolved." This process posits that most of what we might say in a moment of tension are just feelings passing through - not really true.
To KNOW this while we're creating this space to talk is key. To KNOW that what's being said is just a passing feeling; to hear and acknowledge it kindly and not take it as a judgement of our entire being, is the exact practice of getting resolved.
We create this context, this "vessel" for communication, as a container for peace. Bentley and I flail around a lot of the time, because there are steps, and I like to rush, and I don't like to be wrong. My righteousness gets in our way a lot of the time. Then we both feel like we're being antagonized, so we react from old wounds, and that's our second biggest hurdle aside from my righteousness.
Lauren's teaching us to practice owning our parts, and practice accepting one anothers' apologies. It's truly the practice of getting through breakdowns consciously. There are a few aspects to being great at being respectful, and these are the few that I have been practicing. Note: I am not claiming that I'm good at any of them, but I'm proudly, actively working on it all.
Rules for Getting Resolved
Important : Don't roll over a tough moment of discord - even if you think you can. Lauren is adamant about this, and it's been proven many times that if we ignore something between us, it grows and gains power. Clean it up. Get resolved.
1. The first person to go can be the one who's the most agitated, or the one with the longest hair - you choose. That person gets to say everything that's on their mind - and the other person gets to hear it all, not responding, just listening. The listener might even wish to take notes.
2. The listener then repeats (gives back) everything that has just been said, to acknowledge that as the speaker's experience. "I heard that you're really upset that I said x, and I get that it landed on you in this way, and you felt x when i said it." When you're the listener, give back what's been said with compassion and patience until the other feels fully heard.
3. Ask the speaker if they feel like you've heard them. Really really. They might have more to add, and you're responsible for waiting, listening, and giving that back to them too.
3. Then switch places. Follow steps 1, 2 and 3.
4. By the time you've both been heard, you may find that the core issue is softened, or even dissolved. If there are apologies to be delivered, deliver them with kindness.
5. Accept and believe the apology.
Getting resolved helps us to hear what our partner is going through, see them with love, begin to yearn for their happiness as much as we long for our own, and practice acceptance. This acceptance is what keeps romance alive.
Tell your secrets. I know it sounds crazy. The things that we're most afraid to say, the things that we think will surely ruin everything - those are the things we MUST say, because if we hold onto those things, they will make us sick, and jeopardize the sanctity of our relationship. The work has taught us to share with care and create space for a new way to hear these things. Keep in mind that coming clean is not just about getting yourself or relationship better - it's about healing the planet, and being an inspiration for others to do the same. To do this, follow the steps for Getting Resolved, and read this entire piece together with your partner if you can; it will help you both be on the same page and help loosen up the space between you.
Your "bodega" is the aspect of your life together that you do best. Two of my bodegas are cooking and making the house feel like home, and I'm the boss of my bodegas. Bentley is the boss of making sure there's a house in the first place, and works very hard as the boss of his bodega. You're the boss of yours, so together, you and your partner have to sort out who's in charge of which area around your home, and you have to trust the boss to do their job. Put someone in charge of each area, and don't meddle. For example, If I start telling Bentley how to run his lighting business, he feels diminished and we lose ground as a couple. If instead I ask questions supportively like a member of his team, it flows. Plenty of spats start with one person taking over someone else's bodega. Make the boss the boss, and trust the boss. And if you have an issue with how the boss is doing, treat them like you'd treat a boss you truly respect. Don't treat the boss with disdain or disrespect. Sorting out your bodegas is empowering, funny, and it's simply the right thing. It's a specific practice of respect.
Lauren's taught me that I have to love my partner - my "Person" - like I love my child, unconditionally. I don't make loving my son Jonah into a conditional love - I love him no matter what. So If that's your person, LOVE THEM UNCONDITIONALLY. Why?
If either one of us has one foot out the door, our partnership loses profound power - we can both feel that, and it spirals quickly down the path of who's out first. It's terribly hurtful and unproductive.
Both feet in. No conditions on your love. And anytime your partner feels empowered by your love, it's YOUR sweet victory too.
Love thrives in the sanctuary of acceptance.
Lastly. Remember that you're dating, or married to, your "lesson" in life. What makes us crazy about our partners is precisely what we need to work on in ourselves. In a precise and daily way, the practice of getting resolved helps us to hear what our partner is going through and ACCEPT their experience of things, which helps us learn what we're here on Earth to amplify and what we're here to release. If we practice acceptance through getting resolved and being respectful, we get very good at accepting our partners, which helps us accept and respect ourselves.
Learning how to accept the meanderings of the other's mind, again and again, keeps us both feeling safe, heard, seen, and part of something promising, nourishing and spiritual. Love thrives in the sanctuary of acceptance.
~ Elena Brower is a mother, an author, a teacher, and co-owner of VIRAYOGA in NYC, a destination studio for travelers and New Yorkers alike. Her first book, Art of Attention, an artful yoga workbook, is in its second US printing and its second translation. Influenced by alignment-based Hatha, Kundalini and Yin yoga, Elena offers yoga as a way to approach our world with realistic reverence and gratitude. She is always honoured to collaborate with fellow teachers and thought-leaders, and her classes are a masterful, candid blend of alignment and attention cued that speak to body, mind, and heart.
As the Executive Producer of On Meditation, she's helping curate a film that takes us into the lives of meditators to introduce and inspire practice. Writing can be found on Huffington Post, Positively Positive and Elephant Journal, and classes can be found on YogaGlow.
Cover photo by Ali Kaukas. Speakeasy photos by Patricia Cousins. All other images from Elena Brower's Instagram.