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Mindful : April 2017
I’m impressed by how open this collection of strangers is on Day One. Yet, listening to them I wonder if my husband, Hugh, and I have stumbled into the wrong group. Many of the other couples seem to be on a quest to manage conflict, while Hugh and I live quite peaceably. In fact, friends often tell us they think we make the perfect couple, and in many ways I agree. We’re easy together, supportive and kind. We hold hands and make each other laugh. Our arg uments, fleeting as summer showers, are almost always laced with humor. And we (mostly) tolerate each other’s annoying habits and ridiculous idiosyncrasies with generosity and goodwill. And yet. “So why are you here?” Twelve couples—many of us married, some living together or dating—are jammed into the living room of a house high up on a hill in northern California. It’s the first gathering of “A Path for Couples”—a workshop led by psychotherapist George Taylor that will meet monthly over the course of the next year. My heart pings anxiously in my chest as I listen to others answer the question posed by George, who goes by Geo. “I need to learn to tolerate my partner’s neg- ative emotions without freaking out,” offers a woman I judge to be in her mid-30s. “I want to live in a state of connectedness, but we get stuck in endless power struggles,” says a man whose wife, sitting next to him, nods her head in agreement. “There’s way too much conflict in our house- hold,” a man in his 50s pipes up, “and it’s hell on the kids.” Content as we are, I’ve sometimes felt a current of longing ripple beneath our sturdy twosome like an under- ground stream—longing for some- thing I couldn’t quite name. Hugh must have been feeling the same way too, because when I suggested that we sign up for a daylong class called Radiant Intimacy at Spirit Rock Meditation Center taught by Geo and his wife, Debra Chamberlin-Taylor, a psychotherapist and meditation teacher, he was game. We felt so ener- gized and connected by the end of the day, we decided to go for the yearlong workshop. When it’s Hugh’s turn to reveal why he’s here, he says, “I want more intimacy.” I say, “I want more intimacy, too. A deeper sense of presence with each other.” With twinkling blue eyes and a ready grin, Geo lets us know right away that he’s one of us. “ Relationship is a spiritual path that never ends,” he says, noting that he and Debra still deal with their old, conditioned pat- terns of reactivity. “ We can all become more loving and present. But you have to be willing to look at your fears, your jealousy, your anger, your feelings of incompetence and helplessness,” he explains. “ You have to be vulnerable and say, ‘This is mine. I can’t pawn this off on my parents or my partner.’ Conscious relationship takes commit- ment, courage, and awareness.” I know something about so-called conscious relationships; I’ve even written about them. The concept had always struck me as slightly dreary, more work than play, the cod liver oil of love. Would Hugh and I have to start parsing every glance, every sentence, in search of hidden mean- ing? If we put our marriage under close surveillance, would we discover things we didn’t want to see, like when you turn over a pretty rock only to unearth a nest of scorpions? I’m relieved when Geo jokes, “Sometimes Barbara Graham is an essayist, journalist, and playwright. She is author/editor of Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother. She is a regular contributor for Mindful, her most recent piece, about insomnia, appeared in the December 2015 issue. 58 mindful April 2017 relationships