Before runners begin a marathon, they stretch. After a long plane ride, passengers stretch. When graduates graduate, their commencement speakers urge them to stretch. And when new challenges confront a couple, they may need to stretch to be able to meet them. The advice, “get out of your comfort zone”, can be wise. Exploring new lands, new limits, in body, mind and spirit, is how we grow, both as individuals and in our relationships.
I don’t need much convincing on this one. Even with more than thirty years of committed yoga practice, I am still in wonder each time I unfold my mat, breathe deeply, and allow my body to do what it needs to do to re-balance, redistribute oxygen, allow tight muscles to loosen and knots to unravel. In a relationship, we need to keep the same “beginner’s mind” — each day is different and we are different in each day so encountering one another as though it is a first time maintains the wonder of discovery and the dedication to being in the present moments. This “mindfulness” permits consciousness to inform our understanding and direct our behaviors. In the words of the song from “Auntie Mame”: sometimes “we need a little Christmas, right this very minute” and it is important to be able to recognize when that minute has arrived.
In what ways do we stretch?
Our bodies. Our bodies change from moment to moment. As my orthopedist reminded me after a knee replacement, cells are constantly moving and rearranging themselves. The innate wisdom of our bodies guides them to move toward health, but we need to push them a little to develop and maintain strength. Not too much, not too little, just enough so that muscles add endurance and tone. Remember that the heart is a muscle and the brain behaves like one.
- Our minds. In addition to the puzzles and planning that help strengthen our brains, we need to stretch our imaginations. Only when we can envision what Hazel Markus calls our “possible selves”, can we explore roads where our free will — our choices — may lead us. The reassurance that we can cope with challenges along the road removes one of the major sources of anxiety that can plague our stream of consciousness; it dilutes the fear and replaces it with confidence in one’s flexibility and adaptability.
- Our relationships. In what ways can we stretch our relationships? Can we discover a new level of intimacy? A new way to communicate? A new way to appreciate each other? To benefit from the gift of knowing another human being in a close relationship? Can we find ever new ways to show love?
How do we stretch in our loving?
Source: International Yoga Day under the Eiffel Tower/Public Domain
We honor the old. Before jumping into that inviting lake headfirst, take a minute to survey the old and appreciate what is working well in your relationship. What brought you together in the first place? How did you resolve your initial crises? Can you make a note to retain the essence, perhaps updating the expression?
- We accommodate the new. At the same time, changes require space to thrive. Just like clutter needs to be cleared to make room when a new member enters a family, a novel interest needs space for equipment or resources, or a new passion pushes the boundaries of current physical and psychic containers, relationship stretching needs space too. Time and place need to be set aside so that the edges can be safely explored and perhaps rounded. Bumping into constraints is limiting, although boundaries can help us feel safe.
- We let go when it is necessary. Sometimes what needs to go has outlived its usefulness, served its purpose and invites us to move on. We were happy to give our rarely used telescope to a family with a budding astronomer. We welcome opportunities to toss old files into the recycle bin and free up space to store maps of new bike trails we can ride on together. But some letting go is more difficult: souvenirs of trips that brought smiles; gifts from friends or family that remind us of them; artwork we bought at that craft fair visited when we were making up after an argument. When we can take the kernel of love with us, the memory lives inside rather than in the object or even a photograph of it. Our bodies encode the sweetness (as well as the pain) and their memories are more accurate than those reflected in actual objects or digital images.
Why does stretching show love?
- It allows us to go into the unknown together. Just like the first day in a new school can be easier if you have already met a schoolmate, going into unknown territory accompanied brings the comfort of a second set of eyes, skills, sensibilities, talents, and support. Close relationships can bring untold benefits.
- It honors our individual need to grow and desire to make sense of our world. The impermanence so intrinsic to human development pushes us to continually evolve. This thrust to learn, to adapt, to explore and to invent is part of our essential motivation to master, originally proposed by Robert White and recently supported by research of Alison Gopnik and her colleagues. We feel better about ourselves as we permit our thoughts and emotions to differentiate, becoming richer in complexity and more nuanced with wisdom as we age. In doing so, our relationships benefit from our evolution.
In what ways do you like to stretch? To what extent do you and your loved one enjoy stretching in the same ways? In different ways? How has stretching made your relationship stronger? Has it ever led you to disconnect from your loved one? How did you repair the potential rupture?
Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower