Recipes for transfiguring relationships
Barbara Langton and John Heron
First edition, January 2003
Updated: April 2004
South Pacific Centre for Human Inquiry
Auckland, New Zealand
Barbara and John together drafted a detailed outline of this document. John wrote it up in full, and Barbara thoroughly edited his draft: we went through this procedure four times.
These recipes describe what we find nourishing and delectable. They are not prescriptions for other people. Instead we hope they may stimulate others to evolve their own forms of two-person inquiry. We welcome feedback on this cookbook. We are also interested to hear about and learn from the dyadic recipes of others.
Our relationship is to do with three basic values: loving, inquiry and creativity.
These values we experience as living human processes which mutually support each other. Each of them, we find, is necessary for the other two, and no one of them can be reduced without remainder to either or both of the others. If we symbolize them as an equilateral triangle, then inquiry is the side on the ground. We often refer to our relationship as a dyadic inquiry.
We are inquiring into relationship as a primary, fundamental component of being; and into what's involved in celebrating and creatively elaborating relationship - the reality between - as revealed in a woman-man partnership. And we are inquiring with the embodied whole of ourselves, that is, with the distinctive somatic, subtle, and psycho-spiritual energies of belly, heart and head.
The inquiry is grounded in relational forms of spiritual practice which constitute primary threads in the fabric of our life together. We follow a simple action research cycle: we live out a whole set of practices for several months, then have a period of reflection and review, in the light of which we change the programme for the next phase of application. The basic criterion for the review is this: 'Is the relationship, as we have recently been living it in terms of its current strands, authentically spacious, liberating, fulfilling and ego-transcending - that is, creatively and transformatively participating in the interconnected community of being?'
Such a two-person co-operative inquiry necessarily includes for each of us a continuous first-person action inquiry, in which each one is attending to how, when and whether she or he is applying the various strands and modifying his or her actions accordingly. Each one is also attending to how the relationship, overall or within a particular strand, is serving her or him.
The whole inquiry sequence has now been going on for nine years. It is managed with great flexibility, adaptability and variability, in relation to the changing rhythms of life.
The dyadic practices of the inquiry are set in a context: of the purely individual spiritual practices of each of us; and of the engagement of each of us with transformative concerns in our wider social, cultural and political worlds. So the cookbook only deals with one third of a total life-style.
The ways in which two people relate are not commonly thought of as spiritual practices. However, we believe that persons become most fully transformed in relation with other persons.
We find that our various forms of intentional relating, which we describe in this cookbook, open up our embodied spirituality in three interdependent ways.
We discover that while all our practices involve in different ways this divine triad of the indwelling, the situational, the transcendent, there is a sense in which the situational – the presence between us here and now – is paramount. For us as human beings the Many-One divine is evident where we stand in relationship. This is where our inquiry begins.
The human and divine triads interlace to form a provisional, dynamic symbol of embodied, relational spirituality, grounded in creative inquiry into our present situation:
There are four relational forms to do with decision-making and action-planning. Together they are pivotal for our shared life of inquiry.
Autonomy and co-operation in decision-making
Our core spiritual practice is how we make decisions. On very many conjoint choices before us, however major or minor, we each first of all decide privately what our personal preference is, and only when both of us have got clear about this, do we disclose these preferences and in the light of these proceed to a negotiated shared decision. Honouring each other as autonomous beings in this way grounds us in sacred energy.
If the preferences are quite different, then depending on what the decision is about, we use one or the other of the following procedures:
This whole procedure has been a rigorous interpersonal discipline for many years, and may be exercised several times a day.
As well as being rigorous (we don't allow each other to avoid the first crucial step of determining personal preference), we keep it light, easy and playful. It is also intrinsically interesting and liberating. On matters large and small, each one continuously discovers who she or he is and who the other is, where he or she stands and where the other stands. This process keeps the relationship sweet and clean, creative and respectful, and avoids collusion, control and muddling along. It ensures that co-operation is authentic and not cobbled together unawarely. It means that each person can check in with the deep inner ground of their motivation, in the belly and the body, to get a sense of where they truly stand as a basis for creative agreement. Thus immanent, embodied spirit is a spacious co-creative partner to the contract.
In a recent review of that process, we realized that there may have been a number of invisible decisions, not made in that way. ‘Invisible’ because they were made relatively unawarely in some other arbitrary manner. So we are intrigued to see if, in the future, we can spot these invisibles and identify how they are done and what it is about them that has made them unnoticed.
Once or twice a day, every day that our respective arrangements allow, we have a check-in, with an uninterrupted turn for each of us, while the other gives supportive attention. If we are both in for the day, the check-in is in the morning, with maybe another one later, depending on the structure of the day. If one or both of us are out for the day, it is when we first meet again in the early evening. At the morning check-in we may:
At the evening check-in, after we have been apart all day, we share what each of has been doing and experiencing during the day, and look forward to any plans for the evening.
This is a meeting which is held every six to twelve months, and at which we review all the main elements of our life-style, the balance between them, their claims to holism, and how we are interpreting them. We consider what we are learning from our various activities, their successes and failures, and what changes to make in the light of this learning. In our dyadic inquiry, this is a top-level of reflection and decision-making, and it shapes overall policy.
This year, in late August, we launched a three day review of our past and current life-style, with forward planning into the future. The review covered:
The forward planning included:
The review of the many dimensions of our relationship was fruitful and rewarding as a living growth process: good strong, clear, open, rigorous and refreshing loving. The review of our past and current dyadic programme of shared practices led into forward planning of the dyadic programme for the next three and a half months. The cookbook describes the items on this programme. There is a chart on a wall between the open-plan kitchen, dining and living areas. Many of the practices in this paper are put on the chart, scheduled for various days in each week. Several practices, however, don’t need scheduling: they are integrated into our everyday being and doing, and follow their own rhythm. We have at the time of writing been busy with the revised and extended programme for many weeks.
Update, April 2003: In the current three-month programme, which started in mid-April 2003, we put put up only three basic named items per week on the wall chart, plus three "pink slots" (reach slot is a thick line made with a pink marker pen) spread over each week. On the day of each pink slot, we choose which one or more things to do from a list of 21 dyadic practices. So most of what we do is chosen just before doing it. This has made for some lively and interesting innovation in how we do certain things.
This meeting is intermediate between a check-in and a life-style review, both in terms of content and frequency. We use it to review and sustain the current thrust of our life-actions with creative planning; and to keep an eye on what is falling by the way, and needs to be re-integrated.
The above four practices require and develop the following basic skills:
There are some relational forms which affirm and enhance our way of being, the quality of our here and now relating. They are to do with our immediate experience of situational spirit, the divine reality of the between: our process and presence where we are.
This basic interpersonal and emotional process is an ongoing practice, a continuous way of being together, of doing our relationship. It has two prime components. The first is being nonverbally emotionally engaged with each other, and feeling resonantly attuned to and supportive of each other's presence. The second is being verbally self-revealing: sharing openly what is going on within oneself, both light and shadow, in a way that enriches and empowers the relationship.
Our personal and interpersonal process is a continuously open book. An honourable relationship makes it quite clear what you reveal, and what you silently process until it meets the life-enhancing criteria that authenticate disclosure.
This is the complementary process. We knowingly and mutually each bear the other’s afflictions, limitations and restrictions, stemming from the shadow side of the idiosyncratic mix of nature and culture in each of us. And to avoid collusion, every once in a while either of us may use supportive confrontation: see Interpersonal clearing below.
This is an ongoing overview practice of loving: it seeks to keep a balance, over time, between making our love visible in deeds, audible in words, and tangible in touch.
Before each meal we make eye contact, often open our hands in a receptive gesture toward the universe and each other, and say together the following: ‘We affirm and celebrate our coming into being through this food and wine, in the presence of our archetypal, oceanic, loving energies’. We invite friends and visitors at the meal to join in, if they so wish.
We have a short alternative version which occasionally better suits the social and temporal exigencies of the situation: ‘May we flourish with this food’.
Our mutual appreciation session is a joy: we take it in turns to celebrate a quality, a way of being or doing, that we have recently been appreciating about the other, up to a limit of three each – so we don’t overdo it. What these six declarations and celebrations create is a very engaging and charming archetypal field, a spacious qualitative zone that opens up around us. We are revealed in the expansive mirror we each hold up for the other.
Before or after the appreciations, we often decide to do silent mutual gazing. For a significant period of time, currently around twenty minutes, and without speech, we open fully to eye contact, sustaining and deepening it down into our embodied being. As our souls settle into this enlivening process we often find we become immersed in the dual-unity of Shekinah, the living open reality of the sacred Between. It’s like immersion in the ocean of being, the Between savouring the unity of our duality.
This mode of access to embodied divinity really is so sweet, so rich in ambrosia. It is the true and universal form of satsang: peer to peer transmission of divine presence. The skill required is simply that of being fully present to each other as whole beings while deepening this mutual presence into living beatitude - the enjoyment of divine favour.
Erotic energy declaration
We take turns to declare how our vital erotic energy has been ebbing and flowing over recent days, in and out of our diverse activities, both together and apart, in relation to ourselves, each other, other people and the world and situations at large.
As an intentional way of being together, we lie in a naked embrace, close, flesh to flesh maybe for an afternoon siesta, or early in the evening, or any time of the day. We merge into a luminous, tactile, alert swoon, our togetherness fed with the archetypal nectar of goddess and god embraced within the unity of being. Another version is to lie naked on our backs side by side each holding one hand of the other, or without physical contact, bathing in a sweet and subtle energy field. All these versions tend to affirm and harmonise the distinctive psycho-spiritual embodied energies of belly, heart and head.
Our intimacy is primarily about attunement of soul and nurturant affection, and our erotic activity is a celebration of this prior intimacy. But it adds something else: adoration at the frontier between flesh and soul. Our sexuality, mediated by the whole body, is a potent subtle energy communing intimately in that ineffable place where flesh first appears in form. This divine abundant space between seamless body and soul constitutes their intimate union. Through erotic communion we celebrate the ecstasy of this open space, each the mirror of the joyful generation of our living flesh. We rejoice together, with full intensity of sexual passion, in the sacred intimate presence between.
The primary blocks to this kind of intimacy are emotional wounding of the flesh by socially induced and destructive guilt, shame and embarrassment; and a relatively unconscious contraction of the primary energies of our body-mind, due to basic tensions inherent in the human condition (for one account of these tensisons see pp. 78-80, Heron, J., Feeling and Personhood, London, Sage, 1992).
Wide-ranging intimacy is a celebration of the relation between our two embodied persons, and of the reality found in this connectedness. In our One-Many universe, reality does not reside in our individual substances, but in a spacious unitive relation present between them, including them and enhancing them. And we find this liberating relation in diverse contexts: in soul resonance, in nurturant union, in erotic union, in interactive ritual, in a variety of shared spiritual and subtle practices, in shared decision-making and life-planning, in conjoint practical projects, in engagement with the living presences of the natural world, in recreational pursuits, in aesthetic celebration and creativity, and in the balance between these various sorts of togetherness and our several kinds of apartness.
There are a range of practices which might be called developmental. They seek to heal, explore, unfold some aspect of our being. The process of doing them involves a dynamic relation to indwelling spiritual life, at the root of our vitality and everyday motivation.
We have regular co-counselling sessions, alternating between us counsellor and client roles. Each of us also has sessions with other members of the local co-counselling community. This is peer self-help psychotherapy. Sessions can have several functions, but the classic use of them, by a conmbination of body-work and imaginal methods, is for catharsis and self-generated insight. The client deconstructs defenses; discharges emotional distress - triggered by current events and originating in early wounding - that is distorting attitude and behaviour; and reconstructs self-understanding and intentionality. We take the view that the cathartic release of distress emotion is complementary to the transmutation of distress by other practices, such as co-creating below. Both catharsis and transmutation are processes of embodied soul co-generated with a spontaneous life-impulse emerging from deep within us, prompting idiosyncratic healing, regeneration and creative endeavour.
Every once in a while, as a particular form of co-counselling, we each take a turn using a simple and effective technique to uncover a build-up of any unaware projection (transference) that may have been at work in our relating; to withdraw it; and disperse the emotional energy that has been running it. The simple question is: has any unfinished emotional business, from a past relationship with anyone from birth onwards, got unawarely triggered and displaced into the dynamic of our current relating?
Every few weeks, or in and among when needed, we take time out to give each other feedback on any interpersonal behaviour that is causing difficulty of any kind, emotional or practical. This is a simple exercise in supportive confrontation. Issues that arise in this clearing may, or may not, call for a co-counselling session or identity check (just above) to help resolve matters.
‘Co-creating’ is a wide-ranging term, and we also use it specifically to refer to primary theatre or charismatic expression. We take it in turns, for anything from five to twenty minutes or more each, to express in breathing, movement, gesture, posture, sounds and words, our living, aware here and now participation in the presence of being, in the One-Many divine reality, in any of its aspects or modes. This kind of inquiry is a form of spiritual disinhibition and enlivenment. We respond to the spontaneous promptings of our indwelling, embodied spiritual energy, giving dynamic form and voice to, and inquiring into, our immediate relation with what there is. We explore, reveal and affirm, in nonverbal and verbal ways, our original participation in creation. For more details see ‘primary theatre’ under Practices.
This participatory enlivenment is impromptu and unrehearsed, on the emerging crest of human-divine becoming. The one not taking a turn gives silent, supportive, celebratory attention. We have been practising this in a series of cycles for several years, with a fallow period between each cycle. The several cycles have varied in intensity from sessions once a day to sessions once a week or once a fortnight. Each of us may also practise it with other people in a pair or in a group. And it is the basis of what goes on in The inquiry group every fortnight (see below).
This is also a practice we do in cycles, with fallow periods. One evening a week, for a maximum of 40 minutes, we sit opposite each other in the dark on top of the ‘pyramid’ within our house (the upper floor is reached by two staircases, one from the east and one from the west, and we see these as visible sides of an imaginary pyramid interpenetrating the house on the top of the hill). We take it in turns to say out loud what we sense and perceive with our inner faculties. Each rings a small bell to signal the end of a turn. The descriptions move to and fro between us several times. What one person sees, hears or senses may be elaborated by the other. Or sometimes the accounts may be independent and complement each other in interesting ways.
We take it in turns each week to propose a focus for the inner perceiving. Sometimes the proposal may be not to have a specific focus, but just to open up to what presents itself. Either way, what we are attending to is some aspect of this reality, or a complementary reality (or the relationship between these two), or a parallel reality. So we may take an extrasensory look at the hill-top site of our house in this reality, or explore the possibilities for contact with mentors in a complementary reality, or tune in to forms of culture in a parallel reality.
By a complementary reality we mean one which has a dynamic, functional, interactive relationship with this reality; and by a parallel reality one which does not have such a relationship.
In an extended series of co-visualizations in Italy over one summer, we had a session on each planet in the solar system, attending to the qualitative impact and features of the complementary reality interacting with it.
Feeling and Personhoodexercises
Currently we are dipping into my book Feeling and Personhood and doing one of the exercises in it once a week or so. The exercises cover a wide range of personal and interpersonal explorations in the context of a participatory, spiritual worldview, and they keep opening up developmental vistas.
Here are a range of ritual practices which continue the developmental theme, and also have a sense of broadcast, of planetary transmission and co-operative interaction with presences and powers in complementary and parallel realities. They engage with the spirit between, are rooted in the spirit within, and open to the spirit beyond.
Ritual uses charismatic voice, the evocative power of human sound manifesting intent through transformative speaking. This mode of voice is a wind that conjoins the flame of animate being. For there is a kind of divine being that is alive, moving, changing, doing things, constituting persons and worlds of all sorts and their transformations from and into each other. The performative, transformative use of language wells up out of the hara, the life centre in the belly. Co-creative, divine-human animation generates sounds and words that are transformative epiphanies: they call forth the potencies to which they refer.
The inquiry group
We have been regular participants in what we all simply call ‘the inquiry group’. It has been meeting regularly for over eight years, and is now in the second year of its second seven year cycle, meeting on alternate Monday evenings for two hours. It is currently inquiring into Shekinah practice - a distinctive version of primary theatre or charismatic expression.
Shekinah in Hebrew means 'residence', 'dwelling'. In Jewish tradition it is the name for the divine presence as it makes itself known in the material world, 'overshadowing', 'hovering', 'indwelling'. It is also associated with the feminine aspect of the divine, concerned with interpersonal relationships. In the mystical system of the Kabbalah, Shekinah is linked with the tenth Sefirah of Malkhut and the manifestation of the divine kingdom on earth.
In what follows Shekinah refers to the spiritual reality that is between humans, and between humans and other entities and presences. It is the everpresent reality of the relation between.
We light two candles on a low table altar and sit in front of it, either in the middle of the ‘pyramid’ (in the centre of the house on the ground floor) or on the the upper platform (the centre of the upper floor). We may sound a Tibetan bowl, by stroking its rim with a piece of wood for some minutes. We then enter our breathing, empty the mind, and meditate in silence for up to twenty minutes - on whatever each person chooses, in the context of situational divinity, the divine space between, the sacral reality that constitutes relationship. This is a variable feast, occurring once or twice or week on some weeks and not others.
The cosmos ritual
We have created a developing series of two person rituals over the years, both in Italy and New Zealand, as we commuted between the two locations. Now we are settled in New Zealand, there are three rituals currently in use: the cosmos ritual in the house ‘pyramid’, the fire ritual in the glade, the ritual walk round the seats and sites.
We do the cosmos ritual once a week, indoors on and in the pyramid, on Wednesday evening.
Going round the seats and sites
We do this once a week, around midday on a Sunday. In the middle of it, within one of the seat sites, we do the flame ritual (see below). We start indoors, at the top of the ‘pyramid’, with a declaration of intent to celebrate our forthcoming journey; we then visit each seat in turn and sit for a while communing with the worldview of which the seat is the centre. Each seat, solidly made of macracarpa timber, is specially sited to be for us a Tantric window on to our Many-One world. The circuit, and location, of the seats is as follows: top of the hill east lawn; bottom of the hill east of the pond; west of the pond; half way up the hill in the glade some way below the house and ‘pyramid’; below the cottage to the west; then through three bush sites at different levels back up to the top of the hill and to the seat there on the far west lawn; the middle of the top lawn at the solar circle. Then we go back into the middle of the ‘pyramid’ in the house and close. It is a very refreshing, grounding and expansive circuit.
The flame ritual
We do this once a week, as mentioned above, in the glade site in the middle of going round the seats and sites (see above). Here is the current version. There is stone circle fireplace in the centre of the glade. We each have a percussion instrument for use when moving round, and to echo declarations made. We move three times round the space and end up in the east, then proceed to the north, the west and the south, making the following declarations:
Barbara lights a fire in the central fireplace. We stand East and West facing each other on either side of the fire and declare together: ‘We affirm the flame within and between’. From the same positions, we both face the East and declare: ‘We affirm the flame within the earth’. Then facing the North: ‘We affirm the flame within the sun’. Facing the West: ‘We affirm the flame within the galaxy’. Facing the South: ‘We affirm the flame within every being everywhere’.
Now we stand North and South and say together the invocation below: the first stanza facing each other, the second facing East, the third North, the fourth West, the fifth facing outwards:
We circle the fire once and close.
Here are some overall guiding norms of our dyadic life-style.
Balance and integration
Balance is multi-faceted in its application, generating and integrating a varying pattern of development strands, of life-style diversity. Some of the central kinds of balance over the years have been between:
Age and history
We have a number of years age difference and periodically review and share our respective age-related issues, both individual and interactive. We take the view that the energy of relationship is to do with various dimensions of embodiment; and a key component of our inquiry is what goes on with the interaction among these, within each of us and between us, and how this relates to authentic age, as distinct from culturally induced, stereotypic age.
An important guiding norm stems from a significant overlap in our respective personal histories prior to meeting. We have both independently chosen for this relationship to be exclusive, i.e. monogamous, after some years’ experience of open and varied relationships. We both experience that our exclusive relationship enables a deeper level of intimacy, trust and respect.
We symbolize archetypal gender, that is, gender as cosmic qualities, by the names Shekinah and Logos. By Shekinah we mean to signify divine presence in relationship. By Logos we mean the divine creative word. We use these designations in various rituals. They are, of course, derived from past spiritual traditions. We think they are relevant in appreciating the nature of what there is. But there is nothing aboslute about them, they are in principle under experiential review. We think they are both equally relevant to each of us.
Cultural gender, although related to physical gender, is about social norms which ascribe different social roles, functions and behaviours to women and men. The purpose of our dyadic inquiry is to reinterpret all this and create dyadic norms which fulfil us as persons - who happen to be a woman and a man - in a relation of mutual respect.
We also like to celebrate Barbara's womanliness and John's manliness. We are currently reflecting on how these qualities relate to our physical gender, our transformations of cultural gender and our expressions of archetypal gender.
Togetherness and apartness
We distinguish between two basic kinds of togetherness, and therefore of apartness. There is the existential and lived through dimension; and there is its legal and financial format. We give examples of these in the next two subsections..
With regard to apartness, we further distinguish between authentic apartness and alienated separation. Authentic apartness nourishes togetherness, like sleep nourishes daily life. Alienated separation is a breakdown of togetherness. Togetherness also breaks down when it becomes an alienated huddle: two people glued together through a collusive fear of integrating authentic apartness into their relationship.
Authentic apartness is essentially about a person doing their own thing, engaged in an autonomous activity that is not interactive with their partner, although it may (or may not) be interactive with other people. This often includes physical apartness, but it needn't necessarily do so: two people can be in the same room, each independently busy with a different kind of activity.
Finally, togetherness and apartness are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, in an established relationship, every kind of explicit apartness takes place within a implicit field of subtle and spiritual togetherness.
Existential and lived through
This is about interaction, being together and doing things together, and their opposites.
Legal and financial
This is about conjoint and separate ownership and management of our material assets.
This cookbook gives an account of recipes which satisfy our taste. We offer it as one possible way of living out a relationship as a co-operative inquiry. We believe there is an emerging culture of people engaged in relational forms of spiritual practice rooted in lived action research. We look forward to hearing from other participants in this culture about their own practical explorations, both similar to and different from our own.