Separating In Connection

The following is a transcription of a dialogue between Shayla Wright, Eric Bowers, and Melody Greger.  It has been edited for easier reading.

Shayla: My name is Shayla Wright.  I’m a teacher and a coach, and I’ve worked with a lot with couples in the last ten years.  I’m here today with Eric Bowers and Melody Greger who are two dear friends of mine.  I’m here to talk to them about a recent experience they passed through where they made a transition from being in an intimate relationship to being good friends.  We’re going to explore that whole transition because, in my experience, the way that it unfolded was very, very beautiful. I feel like there is a lot to learn about how it all happened.  Eric and Melody are both Nonviolent Communication Teachers and Trainers and Melody is also a Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapist.

I wanted to start off by giving both of you a chance to say what comes up in you, what’s your first thought or response to this experience that you’ve had.  Would you like to start Eric?

Eric:  Well, the very first thing that comes is gratitude and healing: gratitude for the healing I’ve experienced in transitioning from partnership and marriage with Melody to a place of sweet friendship, warm, connected and loving friendship.  And gratitude for the support I’ve received from Melody, from my community, and from the NVC (Nonviolent Communication) process to transition in a peaceful and supportive way.

Shayla: That’s great.  And how about you Melody, what is the basic feeling of where you are now?

Melody:  One of the things that stand out is also a lot of gratitude, especially for the sense of love expanding through this experience.  I’m grateful for being able to explore what would be most loving for both of us, what would be of most service for our paths, for our lives, and allowing that to be the letting go of being a couple.  And I’m grateful for being able to see each other in such a deep way, beyond wanting each other to be in the role of intimate partner.

Shayla:  Thank you.  I’m remembering when we did your ceremony.  We had a beautiful ceremony with Melody and Eric in the summer out in the Slocan Valley.  They invited their circle of community to be with them as they said goodbye to each other and acknowledged all that they had received.  And I’m remembering that our dear friend David Mackenzie spoke on that day about how touched he was by what he felt was the possibility for collective evolution from what you were displaying. I really felt very much the same way.  And so for me there was this question in my heart going on the whole time that I witnessed this process, which was, “How are they doing it like this?”  Because all of my training, especially in neuroscience – the understanding of our limbic nature, our emotional brain – is that once we form those kinds of attachments in intimate relationship, the untangling process is difficult and often brings up a lot of grief and anger and all sorts of things.  And I know that you both felt grief, but the way that you held it and the way that you were with each other was very, very different.  So, I’d like to hear you Melody, first of all.  Just speak to us about how that happened for you.

Melody:  Through this process, I’ve been doing some more exploration and reading around attachment theory and our primary bonds.  I’ve found that the way that we’ve been able to stay in connection, to go beyond blaming each other or seeing the other person as the cause of our experience, and stay in relatedness with one another, has actually been deeply healing for me.  It has been healing of those primary relationship bonds with my parents in terms of the issues that have been there (for me) around their separation and experience of disconnection.  Eric and I were able to continue to stay in dialogue and I continued to share really transparently what was arising for me moment to moment as we went through different phases of this transition.  We had a mutual willingness to be open to each other’s transparency and a mutual, deep commitment to take full responsibility for what it is that we were experiencing, instead of making it about the other person.  It was an opportunity to see what our dynamic has reflected for us around the root issues from our primary relationships with our parents. As we’ve brought our awareness to the fact that our dynamic is a reflection of those issues from our primary relationships and not something to blame each other for, there’s been a dissolving of the intensity of those old patterns. I really appreciate continuing to experience a bond between us.  It has shifted and it has changed form, but the continuing of the bond is part of what has been so healing for me.

Shayla:  What comes up for me is that I know that is a principle of Nonviolent Communication.  That’s also a principle in almost everything:  I am not ultimately responsible for your experience, and you are not responsible for mine.  And it’s funny, as a coach and teacher over the last 35 years of working with people, whenever I’ve asked anybody, “If you really are totally honest with yourself, do you think that   your experience is caused by another person?”  And, whenever anyone is that honest they always say to me, “No, it can’t be.”  But, to know that cognitively is different from being able to live it.  So that’s what I’m curious about.  Is it partly the NVC training?  What do you think it is that enabled you to embody that principle?

Eric:  I would say the NVC training has been very helpful.  And I see that Melody and I have a very strong commitment to what she is talking about – taking responsibility and bringing awareness to what’s going on in ourselves, not blaming others.  That’s not to say that those things didn’t happen.  Those unconscious patterns did come up during our transition, but we were, as we’ve been throughout our NVC training and practice, committed to returning to that place of taking responsibility.  We were also committed to seeing each other as doing our best to meet our needs.  So, it’s coming back to what we are committed to each time the old patterns arise.

Shayla:  It makes me think of what they point to in neuroscience these days, which is that our limbic nature, our emotional nature, all it really needs is connection.  It’s so simple.  And then that’s also, on a deeper, more spiritual level, the same principle.  That is that presence heals everything.

Eric:  I want to add to that because that is the foundation of the NVC practice.  It’s about connection.  I say that all the time.  The thing is I think a lot of us have pretty clear associations with the word connection and what that might look like, especially in a relationship.  For me, this was the deepest practice of holding this quality of connection without being attached to what it looks like.  In fact, now, we would both say very clearly that we are still in connection; it just looks a lot different.  Part of the suffering I had in myself was being attached to it looking like us being a couple, a married couple, and so on.  When I finally did the work to get free of that and just come back to connection then that freed things up and allowed us to transition staying connected, in whatever form it looked like.  It didn’t always look like physically together and often it did.  It was just that commitment to staying in connection.

Shayla:  You know it makes me also see that even though we can say that I am responsible only for my experience, there’s also this amazing thing about how, whenever we’re in connection with someone, whenever we’re contacting them, we co-create a whole field of consciousness.  So, as I was listening to you I was realizing that, if both people are really committed to not blaming or judging, then it creates a totally different field of consciousness, and vice versa.  Because if one person starts to judge or blame, then it’s so easy for the other one to close down even a little bit, get defended, and then it bounces back and forth.  Whereas, if I know that you are as committed as I am in that way, then I can really let go of a lot my defenses.  Then there is more and more and more openness possible.

Eric:  For me, connection also includes the fact that I care about the other, whoever it is.  I may or may not be able to do what they want, and quite often I can’t (or I may not agree with their actions and behaviours).  That doesn’t take away the fact that I care.  Particularly, in my NVC practice, it means that I care about your needs and what you’re feeling around your needs.  I don’t necessarily care about your thoughts and your beliefs and your attachments to outcomes, but I do care.  That’s a huge practice for me around being able to really express that and live that while still not taking responsibility for the other person.

Shayla:  Yeah, that’s amazing.  What were you going to say Melody?

Melody:  Around the time when we came to this clear choice around letting go of being a couple…well, I have this image in my mind of the lightness in my being that I felt.  I’m trying to find words to describe my experience around that.  Part of it was, on some level, disengaging from the back-and-forth of those unconscious patterns that looped into each other, and having this wide perspective and oversight of them. I was able to see them more clearly and be less absorbed in them and then feel the love that was there more clearly, feel the gratitude for all that we did together and the gifts that we gave each other, and the beauty of that.  I also come back into myself in a deeper way and had space for that.  It seemed that, around that point, our paths were starting to go in different directions.  It seemed like, this is my perception, on some level both of us were called to come into our own, our own being, our own path, in a deeper way.  It started to become clearer and clearer that, to serve our calling in the best way, it would be serving to let go of trying to be a couple.  So, as we did that, the support that started to come for each other was so much freer.  It was like there was something freed up.  I remember this joyous exploration around what we were going to do in our lives.

Shayla:  And it happened quite quickly for you.  It didn’t take months.  It was pretty surprising.

Melody:  Yeah, I would say within a week of really coming to a clear choice together, that all these things started to move and shift.

Shayla:  Yeah, and you did speak of a feeling of movement, a lot of movement.  Well, when you described it just now and you said that you were able to have a much bigger perspective of the actual patterning that you had both been engaged in without full consciousness, and then there was this deeper awareness of the love, that speaks to me of a movement in your own awareness where the seeing actually in some way released you from those patterns.

Eric:  I’d like to speak about some of the things I’ve learned, the deepest learning I’ve received out of being in partnership with you Melody and from what led to us separating as a couple.  I’ll start with the concept of needs in NVC, which are, at least the way I relate to them, abstract qualities inside of us that are flavours of our wholeness, of our love energy.  They are flavours of our life energy, love energy, that are trying to move us forward in the world to grow, to contribute, to connect, to celebrate life.  It’s very different from the way a lot people might think of the word need, which is around lack, neediness, and weakness.  For me, it’s quite the opposite.  Needs are places of wholeness and empowerment.

I didn’t have a practice of NVC when I met Melody.  I started it soon after we met.  I didn’t really grasp that concept of needs until, I mean, I’m still trying to grasp (live) it.  Really, that is the deepest part of the practice, to connect to needs in that way and know that my needs are always fulfilled, always whole, always alive and well in me.  My conditioned mind tries to convince me otherwise because of how I interpret the way that other people are acting.

Shayla:  Can I ask you a question just to clarify this?

Eric:  Please do.

Shayla:  So let’s say one day you feel really lonely and you feel this need for company or connection.  Can you explain that in the context of what you’re trying to say about needs?

Eric:  Well, my mind might be saying, “There’s nobody here.  I’m on the road all by myself.  I’m coming into a town where I don’t know anybody.  My friends are so far away,”-this is all the story I’m telling myself.  From there I become aware of whatever I’m feeling in my body, feelings of heaviness, loneliness.  Then I look for that quality (need), which we might call connection, closeness, or community.  When I give my full presence to that word, it’s just a word; it’s just trying to point me to love, really: It’s just a flavour of love, and the only function I want it to serve is to point me to the love that is already in here.  The reason I feel lonely isn’t because there is nobody here; it’s because I’ve stopped being present with me.  My presence has gotten lost in my thinking, and my interpretations.  So, if I can actually stop and slow down and be with the quality of connection – that’s the need that’s alive in me – and allow myself to feel the loneliness and the sadness, then I experience maybe some real sadness, but it’s a sadness that’s connected to love.  It’s what I would call a sweet sadness, a real mourning as opposed to a suffering that’s coming from the thinking that there’s nobody here, nobody cares about me, and so on.

Shayla:  That there’s a lack, something’s missing.

Eric:  That there’s a lack.  Yeah.  The sadness that is sweet is reconnecting me.  The real mourning is like the conduit that brings me back into the love that is always here.

Shayla:  And that’s the principle of needs in NVC?

Eric: Mhmm.

Shayla:  I never really understood that.

Eric:  And that doesn’t mean that I never need to be around anybody.

Shayla:  That’s right.

Eric:  But, what I experience then is the energy of that need for connection moves me from a place of joy, towards, “hmm, maybe I’ll go to a cafe and see if there’s a reading going on.  Or, maybe I’ll call up my sister, or friend.  And now I’m moved.  Because that’s what needs do: They move you in the world to experience more joy.

Shayla:  That’s a very different way than, as you said, the conditioned mind, which would have me move from a desperate place.

Eric: Yes.

Shayla:  And then I usually don’t get what I actually do need, when I’m desperate.

Eric:  Yeah, because what I’ll choose then is I’ll go and get some junk food or I’ll go watch a bad movie, and that’s not meeting my needs.

Shayla:  Yeah, trying to fill up the emptiness.

Eric:  Yeah, exactly.  So, it’s the difference of coming from a sense of wholeness to move out into…  And it’s so easy to talk about; it’s another thing to really do that when I’m out there feeling lonely.  In a relationship, in a deep intimate relationship, boy, you get to practice this all the time.  Here’s my partner.  He or she can’t be with me right now.  Can I let go of all the judgements and blaming and give myself the attention for this need that is alive in me?  Or maybe turn to somebody else. I started talking about this because when I met Melody, I was not connected to the energy of my needs.  I was very much a person of lack – I don’t know, I’m not going to say more or less than anybody else.  I’m just aware that I wasn’t often moving in life from a place of real self-connection and sense of joy.  I was looking outside of myself to be filled.  If you start a relationship that way, you are starting on a very difficult path.  It’s going to be constant expectations and demands on your partner, whether they’re overt or unconsciously expressed.

I see that the practice of NVC that we shared together helped me heal that looking-outside-myself, that place of lack.  And it’s not completely healed, but it’s been helped a great deal.  The gift of our challenges in relationship was… my choice was either to suffer or really do the work of being present with whatever is there.  And it took me a while, but I chose to do the work of being present in myself and got to a place of real peace with my needs.  And I realized that I needed to let go of my attachment to being in this relationship to meet those needs.

Now I’m getting more and more in touch with my sense of wholeness, or at least more and more able to come back to that.  That is another reason I believe we are still in a warm and loving and supportive friendship:  Because both of us are meeting each other more and more from our inner wholeness, if you want to put it that way.  With lots of work still to do, I know.

Shayla:  There’s something that comes up for me when I listen to you Eric, and that is what a profound, far-reaching thing it is that you are actually saying. In relation to our collective conditioning, almost every song on the radio, everything you read about love is, “When I meet the right person, then I’ll be complete.”  So you’re going against a very powerful stream of beliefs and conditionings.  And that is a radical thing you’re offering, just the possibility of that.

Melody:  I have this memory that’s coming to mind.  It was probably about a month and a half ago when Eric and I were going through all of our things in the house that we had lived in for four years.  We sat down to just be with each other.  We sat and just looked into each other’s eyes for a long time.  I felt a sort of dissolving away of a lot of the stories that we’ve carried about each other.  I experienced seeing our journey together from this bird’s-eye view, seeing it on a karmic level – what we came together to work through.  In my experience it became clear that, in letting go of being a couple, in some way we were completing some pattern of suffering, some pattern of the pain that we’ve carried in this life, and the pain that we triggered and reflected for each other.  I had this deep sense of peace, of just appreciating that we learned so much together.  We joked about our relationship kind of being this Masters Program in relationship, (laughs)

Shayla: Or a laboratory.

Melody:  Yes, a laboratory!  An intensive on working through relationship dynamics, partly because we chose to work together and to teach NVC together.  So, in our time together, there was a certain kind of concentration because we spent so much time together, we were working together.  And what we were teaching was so much about communication.  So we were really working the depths of it.

Shayla: You kind of both put yourself in the hot seat for four years.

Melody:  Yeah! (Laughing)  And I just appreciate so much what we’ve both learned and what we were choosing to let go of, in terms of our dynamics as we let go of trying to be a couple.

Shalya:  Wow.

Eric:  I remember that.  We did that in different ways and times.  Last spring we took a morning to share our fond memories and really appreciate what we had shared together and what we had learned together. That was fantastic because it’s so familiar for the mind to focus on the things that didn’t work.  So we put aside some time to remember all the wonderful things we’d shared and then also invite our community, you (Shayla) and others, to witness us – that we are not alone in this, we are still held with love and acceptance and support.  It was fantastic.

Shayla:  That was a very powerful, beautiful ceremony of transition.  I know that there was a lot of feeling, a lot of emotion that day, with all of us.  I didn’t have the feeling of being separate from you, and we all kept saying that.  There was grief, there was joy, there was longing, there was celebration.  It was all there in that circle.  The way that you allowed your community to hold you that day was really beautiful.  I’m hoping that there comes a time when you can assist other people, who need that kind of ceremony too, to design one similar to the one you did, which was very spontaneous.

Melody:  I think it’s really potent to honour these times of transition.  We create rituals for joining and coming together.  I have so much gratitude for being able to celebrate what we lived together, and celebrate what we’re living together now.  Instead of it being this severing and this disconnection and this making-it-wrong.  Or that it was a failure, or all those cultural ideas we have or think about separations of a relationship.

Shayla:  Do you want to let us know a little about that journey you were speaking about with me earlier today?

Melody:  The plant medicine ceremony?

Shayla:  Mhmm.

Melody:  I think it’s about two weeks ago that Eric and I did a plant medicine ceremony together, and I really had a deeper understanding. I had a visual picture of how the stories we carry in our mind of another person, especially in my relationship with Eric with all the stories I had about him and about my relating to him, how we super-impose those stories and they become like a layer around us.  Then we see each other through those stories.  I experienced those stories starting to slough away as I connected on a deeper level to just seeing Eric in the place of his soul, in the place of the light of his being.  I just had so much love, so much love for him.  Yeah, I’m kind of wordless, to be honest (laughing).

Shayla: Yeah, yeah. Because, in order to describe, in order to put words to that, it’s like taking back what you had let go of.  Because what you were seeing in him is almost an indescribable thing: it’s the essence of his being.  And on top of that are all the stories and memories.

Melody:  Yeah.  So being able to see beyond all those conditioned ideas and reactions and emotional patterns that we carry around and through which we filter how we see another person.  Over the last few months, as we’ve been doing little pieces of completion of our relationship and our business, I’ve watched my thoughts going towards trying to find something wrong about what Eric did in our dynamic.  And I’ve really reigned my thoughts back and put  my attention on what that experience reflects to me about how I relate to myself; and how I can shift how I’m relating to that part in myself, so that I can then be meeting those needs in myself by just showing up to them really deeply and truly.  When I do this, I am able to be more clearly available and present to another person without all those filters.

Eric:  I want to add something to that.  The classic NVC expression is something like, “When you do a particular thing, I feel frustrated because it doesn’t meet my need for…”  And I sort of teach it that way to start, but I really emphasize as soon as possible that the reason you’re feeling frustrated is mostly because of your filters that are activated and the fact that you are not fully present in yourself with whatever your need is.  So, I’d rather say, “I’m feeling frustrated right now because I have a filter that’s getting in the way (all three laughing) of my connecting fully to this love in myself.”  So, I know it’s actually not about you. I have a filter on right now; therefore, I’m feeling frustrated because of this filter, interpretation, belief, whatever you want to call it, and I’m not fully connected, present. I’m not fully present with this need for caring, acceptance, or whatever it is.  “And if you just give me a moment, maybe I can give myself that presence, and then I can better hear you.”

Shayla:  When I listen to both of you, it’s beautiful.  I remember a turning point in my own work with couples happened a few years ago when I had a couple in this room.  They’d been struggling a lot with patterns that weren’t working.  I had them do an exercise, and at the end of the exercise the husband had this bewildered look on his face.  He looked at his wife, they’d been married for twenty years, and he said to her, “I just don’t know who you are anymore.”  And she looked at him and said, “Oh, thank God! I’ve been waiting for you to say that to me for the last fifteen years.”

Melody:  Yes, instead of thinking we know who the person is based on all our judgements of them.

Shayla:  I realized at that moment that that’s what we really want.  And that any idea that anyone has of us, even a good idea, is limiting because we’re infinite beings and we can’t be squished into these little boxes.  Even someone who’s never heard of NVC or presence still knows that, that when you tell me I’m this, I feel limited.

Eric:  I remember reading an article about a Buddhist Monastery where one of the students was really, really ill, on the edge of dying.  One of his teachers finally came to him or her one day and said, “I realize I’ve been attached to you staying alive.  I want to apologize for that and just be with you now.”

Melody:  It reminds me of being with my Grandmother around her death, and just connecting to her Being beyond her physical body.  There was an enlivening quality in embracing the death and the unknown of what that death would bring.  In a way there’s been a kind of death (of our relationship).  I think that both of us (Eric and I) experienced some aspect of this aliveness and excitement and the juice of really letting something die.  We allowed the birth of what wants to unfold, without knowing what it was going to be.  There’s just an incredible sense of aliveness.

Eric:  And it’s been a real stretch for me (laughing) to be with our “death” because my pattern in the past has been to get the heck out of there as soon as there is a decision to end a relationship.  I would want to be gone, not be around that person anymore and face that “death”.  And I highly recommend the opposite, even though it hasn’t been easy for me.  Those same impulses of going away have been there.  And I’ve had people I know say to me, “why are you still working through things?” And it’s because it’s allowing me to let go with love and connection – be more present in myself and with people I care about.

Melody:  I think about relationships in my past where there’s been a really painful break, and the way I experienced that confirmed my story around love not being consistent or that I’m not supported, or all the different interpretations that I might have made about life based on my experiences as a child.  Being in a separation with real pain and blame just confirmed those stories.  Whereas, going through this separation in a loving way, actually allowed me to not identify with those stories as true anymore.

Shayla: So, in fact it’s a profound reconditioning of your whole thought stream.

Melody: Yeah.

Shayla:  It strikes me also that one of the reasons I find it so inspiring just to be with you right now and to feel, to feel this…, it’s not even…, connection makes it sound like there’s two separate people; it’s something deeper than that.  The reason it’s so inspiring to me is because I’ve noticed that we’re in a period right now of such speeded-up evolution.  Many, many people are changing and letting go of old ways of being – jobs, relationships – so rapidly right now, that we can very easily find ourselves in a relationship that no longer quite fits, even though there’s a tremendous amount of love still there.  I’ve noticed, as a coach recently, many, many, many couples disengaging and breaking up.  I’ve checked with other counsellors and coaches and they’ve said they’ve seen the same thing.  So, you’re holding out some kind of possibility here of looking at it with very different eyes.  Seeing that, it’s like there’s these two different levels: one is the unconditioned love and how we can stay completely connected with that; and the other is the form of that love, which is always changing anyway, even within a relationship.  It’s changing.

So, anything that either of you feel like you want to say to complete this session?

Melody:  What’s present for me is this palpable sense of the vibration of love and expansiveness.  I get really excited about, for both of us as well as for other people, being able to bring awareness to the conditioning that we carry, to a degree where we’re actually able to free ourselves – to really honour our true nature and see each other, see another from that place.

Eric:  One of the reasons I wanted to do this interview, this exploration we’ve just done, was to support other couples to, like you just said, bring more awareness and be more present for each other, whether they stay together or not.  It’s not an easy thing to really know when it makes sense to keep going together in relationship and when it makes more sense to transition and separate from intimate relationship.  But, what I hope for people is that they can do what they need to do to come back inside and listen as deeply as possible, connect to that place of wholeness, and move, whichever way they move, from a place of willingness and aliveness.

Melody: And loving.

Shayla:  Thank you Melody, thank you Eric very much for sharing this.

Melody:  Thank you Shayla.

Eric:  Yes, thank you very much.

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Shayla:  If you’d like to find out more about Melody Greger and her work, you can visit www.luminoussource.com

Melody:  For more information about Eric Bowers and his work, visit www.roadtocompassion.com

Eric:  And to find out more about Shayla Wright, go to her website at www.barefootjourneys.com