Reflection 22: Relationships

November 12, 2008

(Copyright © 2008)

On a hike I made on August 16, 1996, I got into relationships. That is, relationships got into me. I met eight groups of hikers along the loop I made on Western Mountain in Acadia National Park. All but one were carrying on lively conversations. The silent exception was a man carrying a toddler papoose-style on his back. The rest were all talking, talking, their tongues working as hard as their legs. I heard them coming along the trail, I heard them going.


What is the difference between hiking in a group and hiking solo? I asked that question then, and—after writing Reflection 21 about each of our consciousnesses going it alone—I ask it more generally today. What is the difference between being alone and being in relationship with another who is also going it alone? How can two atoms in the universe link up and share a higher order of consciousness which transcends their isolation? This is how I eased into that topic in 1996:


Unique events and singularities are almost beyond comprehension. There is nothing we can compare them to. We think in terms of classes of things, categories, repeatable events. A class of one is no class at all. It is something waiting to be grouped with something else—to be made plural, coupled, included as part of a whole. Nothing exists by itself. Relationship is all. All is relationship. Plato labored over the problem of the one and the many, the difference between one thing and more than one. Here is a thing all by itself; it is what it is. Put it with another thing, it becomes party to a relationship, which is something else again. No longer an independent whole by itself, its nature now depends on its connectedness to something beyond itself. Man and wife. Mother and child. Teacher and student. Labor and management.


When singular items become joined, there is a tradeoff from a state of differentiation to one of integration. From being alone to being together. Specific detail is sacrificed for a more general state of unity. When two individuals become linked in their minds as a couple, they exist in a wholly different space than they occupied previously. They may look much the same, talk the same, walk the same, but they do so in companionship with another looker, talker, walker. And this change is not just a matter of appearances. Both parties are changed on the inside so that they actually look upon their respective worlds in new ways. Their consciousness becomes energized, their hormones surge, their identities expand to include another being as an essential part of themselves. In writing up my hike twelve years ago, I said:


In school we learn that 1 + 1 = 2, but that simple formula speaks a mystery the greatest minds do not understand. There is a distance and a tension between individual things that must be included in the notion of plurality. A couple exists in relationship. The relationship is what makes it a couple. Yet the relationship is not part of either one by itself. It is something else. The mystical plus sign is everything. That is where the magic is hidden.

Language, love, and beauty live in the plus sign, the space between partners in relationship, and between pluralities. The plus sign makes room for science, religion, government, and art, which are not disciplines in themselves so much as systems of relationship within society. The plus sign gives ideas a place to grow.


Not only ideas but babies, families, communities, tribes, and nations grow in that plus sign. Clearly, we have evolved as a species to join together in common purpose with others we invite to share our personal space. As hydrogen ions are born to share their being with other ions to form atoms and molecules, we are born with not just a potential but a proclivity for interacting with others who are born with a complementary drive.


In partnering, we fulfill—not the other—but ourselves. Both the urge and the satisfaction to which it leads are parts of our personal makeup. That way we preserve our integrity. Our plus sign fulfills itself. If we give from the heart, in the very same act we are expanded in kind. Which sounds like New Age gibberish, but is how the social dimension of consciousness works. We may feel good about having found our partner, but, too, we approve of ourselves in the relationship we have established. We are fully ourselves the whole time. That way, we do not give ourselves away, and so do not feel diminished. As I wrote in my trail book:


The wonder of hiking with a companion is that both people can enrich their relationship by being together in similar landscapes at the same time. Letting the landscape be the plus sign that unites them, couples can grow in new ways in new places, sharing new experiences, letting their relationship grow beyond what it was before they set out. One of the secrets of sustaining a relationship is to let it grow in new ways. This takes trust that the new ways will not threaten what has been attained, but will add new dimensions to it. . . .

          For people hiking in groups, being there is the secret. Being together in relationship as who they are, where they are. Not as who they were somewhere else; who they are, together, here, right now. One of the plus signs, the elements of relationship, is the location where the relationship comes into being. Relationships don’t exist in a vacuum; they are situated where the participants are as they relate to one another. The setting is part of the relationship. Not in an incidental way, but fundamentally and substantially. Location shapes what happens, becoming part of events as each participant and witness experiences them.


Events express the landscapes where they enter into consciousness. People become aware of their surroundings and what I now call their situations, so becoming partners with trees, plants, birds, water, sky, and other natural elements. The “where” is more than just a place on a map, it is a place to be and to live—a habitat. An address in the universe where people can reach out and be touched. The very situations that shape our personal consciousness at particular moments—those same circumstances suggest ways of being together with others in similar situations.


Though our particular edition of consciousness is ours alone (see Reflection 21), we need not feel locked in solitary confinement. The way out is also included in that same consciousness. We discover such openings once we take responsibility for being who we are as individuals and become comfortable with that individuality as our greatest asset. Then the way to offer ourselves in partnership with others opens before us, as the road to the Emerald City opened before Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. We gather courage, heart, and intelligence together—and off we go.



2 Responses to “Reflection 22: Relationships”

  1. sherrieh said

    Steve, you have done a superior job as usual. It jogs a visual I use with people in couples counselling. I’ll try to get that posted sometime this week.

    The mountain range there is gorgeous. I have never hiked it, but friends of mine from the Chewonki Foundation described the beauty to me and shared pictures. I have driven through from Maine to Florida several times decades ago. Warm hugs across our vast continent!

  2. Steve Perrin said

    Sherrieh, that hilly landscape is just down the street where I live. It refreshes me every day. I look forward now to watching it turn white.

    Thanks for the support. I will look for your visual on your site.

    I left a comment about your use of the covered bridge image in your work. You are good with images, and the inner worlds they reflect.

    –Steve from Planet Earth

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