On Autumn day 48 I shared the idea of relational identity and four possible distinct relationships to consider. As winter arrives and it’s time for rest and renewal I pose the following question:
If your identity, happiness, prosperity, and personality were to shift as a result of the relationships you activate, what nine relationships might you want to focus on for the day or over the next while – what we could perhaps describe as your divine nine?
This post will probably form the nucleus of one of the later chapters in my book, which are more directed towards positive action in the pursuit of healthy identity, and positive relational practice.
Nine seems like a quite a large number but drawing on the different types of relationship that we have outlined elsewhere, we begin to have a manageable suite of areas to focus on.
First we’ll explore our relationship with self and others, and then two distinct types of relationships which I’ve separated into the non-physical world of thought such as ideas, concepts, words etc, and the physical world such as places and things.
Relationships with human artefacts may be thought of as non-material and material in form. That is to say that much of our interaction as humanity is through our own thinking itself, such as with ideas, concepts, theories, words etc.
The second form of human artefact is the material as we make physical the very things we thing about, whether intentional or not. As we express our thoughts we begin to bring them into the physical world, sometimes temporarily through sounds we utter or make, or more permanently through our buildings, living spaces, art, poetry, music, and books.
Then lastly we’ll briefly consider our relationship with activity.
I recognise that these relational categories here are completely arbitrary and you may find it useful to think of the world in different ways. Today my offering is to help us think together about what choices we could make as we shift our identities.
Relationship with self.
This primary relationship is often neglected. We spend our waking hours engaged in self-talk, often unconsciously, that may or may not contribute positively to our well-being and identity development. I’m not merely suggesting that when we talk to ourselves we should use a bunch of positive self-affirmations, although this may well be helpful to face difficult challenges that you need to rise to meet.
What I think is simple and helpful to remember is self-compassion. It’s fair to say that we, for the most part, know how to be compassionate with others. We can craft fairly good responses for friends going through hard times. Yet sometimes when it comes to ourselves we have trouble. Kristin Neff explains it well when she talks about treating yourself with the same level of compassion as you would treat others. Here’s a short youtube talk she gave in 2013.
We know how to be kind to others, let’s find a way to do this for ourselves. Hold a mirror up for yourself and be compassionate and kind. Give yourself a break once in a while.
Relationship with people.
People with whom you associate have a dramatic influence on who you are and how you are in the world. Every day people drift in and out of our lives each of them leaving their fingerprints on our worlds. Some influences are better than others. We too influence the people we encounter throughout our day. In cultivating an identical shift that helps us become better people it may be important to be aware of each interaction but also to consciously activate those relationships that you trust will contribute positively to your life.
Pick two people you’d like to have a more active relationship with and make a plan. Invite them to engage with you. These may be people who you’d like to learn from, whom you might want to emulate, whom you might have fun with and so on. It’s your choice. Know that whomever you spend time with will change you. It may be an important choice for you to consider.
This doesn’t mean that you abandon your other relationships but if you need to find time to activate your chosen relationships, you may first have to let go ever so slightly of something less healthy that occupies your time, which may even be another person. Perhaps less time on social media or watching too much news is an easier example to consider. Disconnecting from others is quite rightly a different topic, so for now focus on activating the relationships that draw you in your right direction.
Find some balance to bring these folks closer into your space, while letting less healthy things drift a little.
Relationship with ideas, concepts, and words.
When we think of relationships we almost always think about people. However, we are constantly in relationship to ideas, concepts, words and various other constructs that help us navigate the world. In fact, there is so much language, and there are so many words, images, and symbols surrounding us that the past our forebears created continually asserts itself in the present, sometimes making it difficult to reimagine the future. These constructs have a relational gravity that may create an inertia that keeps us going in the same direction we always have, rather than consciously adapting ourselves.
Thinking about these as part of our relational identity it behoves us to not just slip along in this world of the past unconsciously but also to create new meaning through exploration. We can form new connections based on our unique experience and set of relationships that may help us consciously evolve. Exploration of the symbolic world helps us to create new frames and diverse views of the future.
Pick two ideas that you’d like to explore. This is about learning and making new connections. Have you ever noticed that even saying a word makes you feel better? Say to yourself “fun”, or “love”, or “anger” and notice how your body feels and how your attitude toward life moves. Pick a couple of words that would move you in a way that feels good. How would concepts like “organised “and “collaborative” look if they were more active in your life? What would “loving” and “hopeful” feel like? How about “powerful” and “confident”? What about “healthy” and “active”? I suspect that you can easily create images of these ideas for yourself. The images alone have an allure to draw you toward them as you think about them more fully.
One way of developing this type of relationship is to engage with written material about the idea you have chosen to focus on: perhaps read an article or a book about a topic that you’ve wondered about. Journalling about your exploration might also be interesting. I invite you to pick a couple of words, symbols, or ideas and imagine what they look like as they move positively through your world.
Relationships with place and things.
Like ideas, words, concepts, and symbols there are other human artefacts that carry expression of past humanity, and even hold us from change: architecture, places and physical things. The material world, with which we interact daily, influences who we are and indeed who we can be. These material things have many forms, and there are myriad ways we could subcategorise. For the purposes of this discussion I’ve grouped the material together into subheadings, but for the moment let’s acknowledge that place and architecture are quite difference from objects that we surround ourselves with. An old key given to you by your grandfather, that you wear on a leather cord, may have much more meaning and influence for you as you put it on each day and recall him and your family history, than the church bill board you pass daily on your way to the gym.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”Cosmos, Part 11: The Persistence of Memory (1980)
The streets we travel, the places we inhabit, the things we wear and collect in our homes all have an influence on our health, well-being and the way we live and how we think of ourselves. They all contribute to our relational identity.
Pick two places or things that you’d like to experience a bit more. It may be going to a park, hanging out in your favourite cafe, learning about a distant place you’d like to see.
Notice how places and things change you. Perhaps interrupt your routines and do something different. Start your day with music instead of news. A book instead of a smart phone. Go a different way to work. Walk in the park for a break, instead of going for a coffee.
Have fun with this and remember to notice how are you different, either better or worse. Be conscious about how places and things affect you.
Relationships with activities.
Lastly we have our relationships with the things we do to fill our time, how we spend the hours in our lifetime. Each of the activities we choose will influence who we are and of course the quality of our lives. These relationships with activity are important to our health, happiness, emotional, spiritual, and economic and well-being.
Since we are focusing on shifting our identities in ways that help us become our best selves, choosing a couple of activities that interest you in ways that influence you positively is a tremendous opportunity.
As I’ve mentioned earlier when we fill our time with better things we also have the benefit of quieting activities that are destructive or less useful in your life. Choosing to read a book rather than watching Netflix, or baking a cake rather that buying one, walking to work rather than driving – each have a different outcomes. You know your life best, express what interests you. Choose activities with different and perhaps more healthy rewards.
Pick two activities that you’d like to do more of. Perhaps walking, or baking, or reading. Set aside time each day for these two activities, and each time you take part, make sure you reflect and take notice of your thoughts and feelings at that time. If you can, then write these down.
All of these relationships shift who you are, ever so slightly. I grouped the relationships above in a manner that suits me, but for each of us the balance between self, people, ideas, place and activity focussed relationship will be different. Some of us will be better served by choosing four people relationships and one of each of the others. The usefulness of the model here, then, is that you can identify your divine nine the way your want, the way that suits you at this time in your life, being aware that you’ll change, with awareness, for the better. Your divine nine will of course also change as you grow.