One last time: this blog series is in no way intended as a negative judgment of unpartnered women. The central aim has been to offer uncommon possibilities that might provide food for thought leading to some kind of healing integration and the lessening of suffering.
Over the last year or so, I have had contact with an increasing number of single women who have disclosed a preference to me that they wish they weren’t. They are all lovely, intelligent, spirited women, thus I found their struggle somewhat surprising. In contemplating their situation, I’ve come up with six possibilities you won’t find in The Star or Us magazine that I thought might be worthwhile offering for consideration. Rather than simply offer six capsule summaries, each week I’m offering a different possibility in depth…here is the sixth and final possibility.
Possibility 6: Practicing the Art in Answering The Big Brain Question
Just as Rumi observed, there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, it’s my deepest sense that there are at least that many ways to answer the Big Brain Question – Are You There For Me – “Yes.” That in fact, we can approach answering it for ourselves and others as artistic action in relationship, as a kind of practice in answering this fundamental neurological question positively.
To begin answering this question as art at the most basic level, we can practice opening our hearts to the widespread unconscious, unskillful actions in the world. Suffering touches every single life, and as Brené Brown reminds us, we can’t simply choose to feel happy, positive emotions in response to this First Noble Truth. We can only become Skin Horse Real by cracking open our hearts, perhaps only a little bit each day, to take in as much as we can of Zorba’s “full catastrophe.” Especially, the full catastrophe of our own lives destined to unfold in a body that will inevitably grow older, weaker and ultimately one day no longer be able to sustain our vital life force. As this lovely academic research on Terror Management Theory demonstrates, and as Don Juan wisely advised, maintaining regular death awareness inversely and paradoxically often works to focus pursuits and expand joyousness. Death awareness, as this recent research suggests, is a good place to begin practicing answering The Big Brain Question “Yes” for ourselves first. When we begin to feel even the possibility of companioning death, much of the fear that drives unconscious, unskillful behaviors often begins to dissolve and fall away. Even the Grim Reaper needs love.
Artistically Living into the Question
As a positive preparation for our last day alive, we can then begin to work diligently to positively answer The Big Brain Question for others in all kinds of artistic ways. It’s such a relief to no longer have constant self-concern as the driving force in our lives. Nobel octogenarian and brain scientist, Eric Kandel practices answering the Big Brain Question in this way: talking to non-scientists about brain science and getting people like me really excited about the potential it holds for alleviating suffering here, there and everywhere in the world.
And there are many more creative ways to answer that Big Question “yes.” Perhaps, as attachment specialist Gabor Mate suggests, a village can work wonders in this regard. Which is often what many of us try to have happen at work, in school and in church or temple: answering the question “yes” for others as a community by holding rummage sales, staffing soup kitchens, planting community gardens and opening and operating thrift stores.
Because we are all on a transcendent, growing, learning, integrating trajectory, “healing is always wanting to happen.” What will go a long way towards integration and wholeness, and I suspect in finding and sustaining committed lifelong companionships, is doing the work of both getting and giving material and emotional support to one another in a balanced and healthy way. Contemplative psychologist Karen Kissel Wegela, the author of How to Be a Help Instead of a Nuisance and What Really Helps calls this way of being in the world, Brilliant Sanity. It is rooted in openness, clarity and compassion, and available to rise up in us in the midst of any disturbed moment.
Transforming No into Yes
Because answering the Big Brain Question “No” is the Number One Complaint that couples show up voicing in therapy, we would be well-served to find creative solutions to remedy this deficit – partners not being able to consistently be there for one another, especially in times of crisis. A great gift we can provide one another is a presence that allows each of us to calm down when we’re emotionally highjacked. Beginning before birth, assurances in word and deed that “every little thing’s gonna be all right,” go a long way to providing the answer to the Big Brain Question that all of our hearts and brains yearn for. And it seldom stops simply because we get older.
So, what keeps us from being able to consistently provide that comfort for each other over the whole of our lives? Many things, in my experience. Primary among them: unconscious emotional reactivity. It’s the reactivity that undermines peace, often subtly substituting fear in its place. Steve Jobs, the recently departed Apple co-founder, once offered an interesting perspective on how to dispel fear and reactivity in relationships. Here’s what he said: “One way to drive fear out of a relationship is to (remember) that your partner’s values are the same as yours, that what you care about is exactly what they care about. In my opinion, that (remembering) drives fear out and makes for a great partnership, whether it’s a corporate partnership or a marriage.”
It’s also a brilliantly sane way to show up in the world as a single woman looking for partnership.