Recently one of my favorite teachers delivered a life lesson that smacked me in the head. It was not Heraclitus, who famously said The only constant in life is change. It was my 10 year old son, teaching me a similar lesson about flexibility and stagnation.
He reminded me of the danger of behaving as if relationships are fixed and unchanging, rather than experiencing the other person as they are showing up right now. From there, we can actually BE in relationship, as opposed to having our projections collide with each other. Which is, at best, disastrous. Feelings get hurt, communication goes haywire, connection and personal growth don’t happen.
Relationships allowed to go stagnant would simply die. There’s nothing alive in them. Our work is to stay aware of the changes in ourselves and to be open to the changes in each other.
Parents know that kids go through impressive growth periods, where they plow through a shoe size a month or are suddenly taller than all their friends. But kids (and grownups too) also change on the inside, and while it’s less obvious to those of us living with them day to day, these changes are fundamental and absolutely must be responded to.
When we relate directly to the person in front of us, we are flexible, responsive and present. From here we can see and be seen by the other person. When we relate to the idea we have about them, or our projections of who they are, we are not present. We come face to face with stagnancy, and it’s a dead end for any relationship.
My son had been showing his increasing interest in autonomy over the past few months, and without giving it a lot of thought I’d been granting him more. But when he turned to me with frustration and told me I was treating him like a baby, I realized that I really hadn’t been paying close attention to him. He felt like he wasn’t being seen. And truth is, I was treating him as the nine year old he’d been rather than the ten year old he is becoming.
In recognizing the changes in my son, I also got curious about him in new ways. In a sense, we’re beginning a new phase of our relationship and I’m thrilled to see what’s here. I’m behaving differently now, and he is too. Our relationship is changing and growing as we do the same.
Which relationships in your life are you allowing to go stagnant? Where might you show up fresh, seeing the other person as if for the first time? What old beliefs about the person are outdated and ready to be canned?
And what goes for relationships is also true for situations in your work or in your personal life. What scenarios are you currently facing that might benefit from a fresh perspective? How can you wipe the slate clean and take a good look at what truly is?