Simply put, the Relationship Gods seem to be trying their best to move us in the direction of increasing awareness, health and well-being. Call it evolution. Call it human potential. Call it karma. Call it a pain in the butt. Call it what you will. NYU professor Diana Fosha calls it the way she sees it: “People have a fundamental need for transformation. We are wired for growth, healing, and self-righting, that is, to resume impeded growth.” While it might not be obvious, Becky Hammon becoming the first female assistant coach in the NBA is a prime example of this species-wide developmental trajectory.
Interestingly, no matter what I call it, I’m rarely really up for what the Relationship Gods want, even if, theoretically, they have my best interests at heart. I’d prefer to operate in the world according to what I want. In other words, I want my life to evolve according to my plans, not the universe’s. To which, I can hear John Lennon whispering with smiling irony, “Good luck with that, mate.”
A good proxy for the Relationship Gods though, a kind of agent-in-essence, could be my right brain. And if I’m really lucky, many of my right brain neurons working in close, often secret, cahoots with my heart.
I Am Right Brain, Hear Me Roar
For those of us who have trouble recalling, here’s a list of a few things some neuroscientists think the right brain is primarily responsible for (remember, the whole brain is in actuality, a network distributed across both hemispheres), lifted from a recent award-winning Mercedes-Benz ad: I am the right brain, creativity, a free spirit (although both hemispheres generally work in concert for most operations, with one side or the other dominating). I am passion, yearning, sensuality. I am the sound of roaring laughter. I am taste. The feeling of sand beneath bare feet. I am movement. Vivid colors. The urge to paint on an empty canvas. I am boundless imagination. Art. Poetry. I sense. I feel. I am everything I want to be.
What Mercedes-Benz curiously forgot to mention about Right Brain up there (not accidentally, I’m sure) is, “I am the buried repository of every painful experience that ever happened to you which still remains unresolved in your heart.” Oops!
If you’re like me, we’re both like Mercedes-Benz: we don’t want to willingly go anywhere near the right brain Vault of Pain. Let sleeping dogs and neurons lie. But then, given this predisposition, and if you have to “feel it to heal it,” what are the Relationship Gods, bent on moving us in the direction of increasing awareness, health and well-being left to do? Why, bait and switch, of course.
Here’s one way it happens … I was once at a Carolyn Myss presentation in Oakland, California. She was taking questions and a woman stood up and asked her: “Why am I having such trouble finding my soulmate?” Carolyn’s response: “You want to find your soulmate? I’ll tell you how to find your soulmate. Think about the one person in your life you absolutely can’t stand. That’s your soulmate, sweetie.”
Needless to say, this advice makes total sense to social neuroscientists. The people we can’t stand are the people we often have a negative transference to; people who trigger painful responses in us; the people who charge up the buried right brain’s bare live wires. They frequently activate our dissociation capsules, ideally in the service of healing integration.
But few of us are ever going to deliberately hook up with people we absolutely can’t stand, those secret-sharing pain-bringers. We need more subtlety than that, so we concoct Other Plans. Leaving what sole option open to the Gods? Why, bait and switch all over again, of course. The Gods bring someone into our lives instead with whom we have wild, unadulterated … “chemistry.” Yep, that’s the ticket. Better living through chemistry. We all know the feelings: instant connection, excitement, obsessive thinking, grand plans, wonderful futures easily imagined, world-changing collaborations … I can hear the Gods already offering themselves smiling Self-congratulations for another match made in Heaven.
And it will be. Until the bloom is inevitably off the rose; until inhibitory neurons go excitatory. Until the day we wake up and wonder in wide-eyed, right brain astonishment, “Who the hell IS this person I’m supposed to be in love with? When did s/he turn into JUST the kind of person I swore I would NEVER get involved with?” (In case it wasn’t crystal clear: teenagers are often the Relationship Gods’ coup de grace when it comes to bait and switch on parents).
At some point, the Relationship Gods do their best work by eventually passing the bait-and-switch baton over to the Heart. For Heart holds infinite capacity for transforming the boy/girl “I ain’t been thinking of,” into the boy/girl I love. One way Heart does this is by hooking up with brain to begin integrating what Stanford professor Carol Dweck calls a Growth Mindset. A Growth Mindset, as opposed to a Fixed Mindset, allows us to actually work and learn together, to change and blossom. Easy? Sometimes. Possible? Absolutely.
Bet You Can’t Break Just One
In addition to his well-known wager, French physicist Blaise Pascal is also known for his observation that the heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of. Essentially, Pascal is identifying the sneaky collusion that often goes on between the heart and the right brain/Relationship Gods to move us, kicking and resisting for all our worth, in the direction of increasing awareness, health and well-being whether we like it or not. So, what to do?
Surrender. Take a few deep in-breaths. Exhale them out. Recognize there are forces at work over which we often have little or no control. Take control of what we can; be wise enough to release what we can’t. Pay attention to our inner bear; feed it, play with it and let it fire our passions. And then next time around may we show up fully loaded and – with a wink and a smile – be willing to take the Gods’ bait all over again.