Authentic Relating – Practices and Perspectives
Written in July 2017
The last years of my life has been a journey into what I have chosen to call “Authentic Relating” in lack of better words. It has been an interesting journey of moving away from intellectualism and discovering both body and what I guess you could call “awareness”. I have tried to summarize what I have practiced and what I have learned about myself and the world in the process in a humble attempt to communicate why this is important for me.
I have been lucky to get inspired and moved by a number of dedicated teachers and loving communities, who has been willing to share their enthusiasm for different practices. These days I am enthusiastic about playing with a lot of different things, but these are the ones that have followed me so far.
I started practicing taiji in 2006 and have done it on an (almost) daily basis since then. I dont remember what initially attracted me to taiji, but I remember feeling that this was something I wanted to dedicate myself to from the beginning. Over the years my taiji practice has helped me to reconnect to my body; these days it makes sense for me to talk about my body-being, where I before i started my practice related mostly to my body as the thing that was carrying my brain (“me”) around.
I probably cant overemphasize how important this has been to my life. Although it is hard for me to say exactly what has changed, I am convinced that having taiji as a central part of my life is what has opened me for a lot of the things I find amazing and facinating these days.
Taiji is about confronting the problem without confrontation. Many people tend to go for confrontation without confronting the problem. (Sam Tam)
I have had the opportunity to visit a bunch of really skilled taiji masters around the world and for me this practice embodies “awareness in action”. The art focuses on responding rather than reacting (reaction takes place after the fact) and yielding rather than fleeing or collapsing (moving with instead of retreating), all of which applies in many other aspects of life than the martial ones.
Larp is probably still best known as a practice of dressing up as knights, wizards, elfs and orcs and fighting with foam swords in forests, but it is a misconception that this is all there is to larping. Over the years I have organized and played many larps that have changed and challenged the participants in fundamental ways – allowing them to see themselves from a new vantage point. For me, finding my place in a tribal society, exploring my dreams through the role of a “dream-envoy” or immersing in the role of a worn down teacher at a boarding school have all been ways of learning about myself.
2014: Me at the larp Koi Koi
I guess some will find it strange that I can emphasize the authentic relating element of a practice which is about performing yourself as something else, but as I see it larp larping teaches us an important lesson about how we are always (or at least most of the time) performing ourselves in one role or the other – and that we have more choice in choosing what we want to be and which reality we want to be in, than we are brought up to think.
At the end of 2014 I started The Other Life Project with my friend Nina Essendrop. My motivation for making the project was a strong desire to use the toolbox I knew from the LARP scene to work with the relationship between identity and reality, exploring other possibilities of being me in the world. After we started exploring the project we noticed an experience of timelessness and “deepening” of presence in the space we created, pointing towards other modes of being together.
2016: The Other Life Project
A few years ago I became really enthusiastic about blues dancing, contact improvisation and dancing in general. There was something about the “relating through body” that I central to dancing that spoke to me – not least because I recognized that a lot of the elements I had learned for myself through practicing taiji were also present when relating to someone else. In other words, dancing allowed me to find a whole new physical vocabulary for relating to others.
2016: Dance Party in Copenhagen
After finding circling around a year ago I went deep into this practice of surrendering to whatever is going on in the moment. Circling has opened the field of relating for me in new ways and I feel that it has enabled me to connect with people in a much deeper way than I have been before – both because i reveal myself more and because i allow myself to sense into others more. I have written more about my first year of circling here.
2016: Authentic Relating Festival
The Burner Community
The community around Burning Man and the regional burns all around the world has been a strong inspiration for me over the last couple of years. I attended Burning Man in 2014 and again in 2015 after also participating in the Scandinavian burn event The Borderland. The burner has a strong feel of experimenting with new ways of relating at a group level and is one of the places where I see opportunity for inventing new ways of living together, that can challenge the default reality so many of us are often trapped in.
2015: Me at Burning Man
Authentic Relating Festival 2016
Recently I took part in organizing the first Authentic Relating Festival in Copenhagen. For me, the festival was an attempt to bring together many different people who from different angles (and with different practices) were dedicated to relating to others in a more honest and intimate way. We are now working on growing the Authentic Denmark community by spreading knowledge about and cross-pollinating between many different practices like Circling, Authentic Relating Games, Radical Honesty, Improvised Partner Dancing, Contact Improv, Gestalt Therapy, Social Presencing Theater, Social Meditation and many more.
2016: Authentic Relating Festival
These practices have recently come together for me, as I have become more curious to what is actually possible in life and have found a desire to explore that more intensively. There is something in they way I have been doing life, that does not seem to make sense for me anymore – it connects a lot to performing something particular and believing too much in that performance – or that reality.
Everything I write here are things that inspire me or gives me direction at the moment. In other words I am in the middle of it all and have no answers to give (and no desire to give answers), just my own reflections.
Identity and reality
For me it makes sense to say that identity and reality goes together. Sometimes this feels so trivial to say that it hurts and I feel like a fool mentioning it – at other times it feels really important to remember.
It seems to make sense for me that we are human because we are able to judge or name – to see that something is something and not something else. And in doing that we create useful patterns which makes it possible to navigate in the world. However these (mind) patters also have a tendency of taking precedence and it seems like most people have a tendency of becomming trapped in their own ideas about what the world is and what they themselves are in that world – at least I do, constantly. As D. H. Lawrence says it: “I was so sick of it, everything was tainted with myself.”
I guess this is an onthological core question, but going into a philosophical explanation rather than talking about my own experiences doesnt seem to contribute with much for me. It seems to me that I have the opportunity to “go deeper” into both myself and into reality, experiencing more and judging less (or trusting my ideas less and my awareness more). In my experience there seems to be a (more or less accessible) “real” reality behind the reality i have constructed in my mind. Although I cannot escape the particular point of view that I have as a human being (+ alot of context) it seems to me that it is possible to be less trapped by my mind and my ideas about myself and the world.
It does however require a combined proces of moving away from permanent truths about myself and truths about reality.
Beginners mind and unlearning
A central statement from the martial artist and zen teacher Peter Ralston that has meant a lot for me over the last years is: “Awareness precedes change”. I need to notice that it is possible to do, think, percieve and sense differently from what I usually do before i can do anything about it and see new opportunities. This also means realizing that there is no naturalness or rightness in what I am doing right now – unless I am aware of what I am doing and have “chosen” to do it.
In taiji (and many other practices) you will try to attain “beginners mind” while learning or practicing. This means not expecting/assuming to much about the situation, but rather sensing and feeling into what is going on in the moment – experiencing everything as if I was doing it for the first time, allowing for exploration, curiosity and surprise.It can however be really hard to approach the world in this way.
The complementary approach is for me to work with unlearning. Actively trying to become less certain about how things are, moving into valuating questions more than answers (or possibly value rather than truth).
Vulnerability is for me about sharing what is present for me…in particular my uncertainty. This manifests in many different places of my life. In my worklife it has led to the conclusion that my work is rarely useful for others if I finish it, as it becomes too hard to use for others if I don’t show what I don’t know in it (it seems to me that we often tend to hide the things we don’t know in our work).
It seems to me that in almost all social situation we are in some way hiding behind (or in) the roles we are playing. At work we are behaving “professionally” towards eachother, meaning that we do not show it when we dislike what someone else is doing or when we feel hurt. In our romantic relationships we let the story of what we are and how we are together direct the way we relate to eachother in stead of feeling into what is happening in the moment.
Vulnerability in this sense is about dropping the guards and allowing ourselves to be like 5 years old on the playground again, just noticing what is happening in and around you – and then revealing it. It feels vulnerable to write this now because I am sharing stuff that feels core and important to me, but at the same time as I feel that what I am sharing is coming out in a very fragmented and chaotic way and I am unsure of how it will be recieved.
Over the last 6 months I have gotten a strong sense that I have become much less consistent. That the emotional space I am in is shifting much faster than before. I think this is because I allow myself to feel more in the moment and have less preconcieved ideas about how I am supposed to feel.
In “The Little Prince” by Antoine de saint-exupéry the little prince meets a fox, which tells him some important truths about relating to others in the world. I have picked out a short quote here, but I can warmly recommend reading the whole section.
…And he went back to meet the fox.
“Goodbye,” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . .”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943)
For me this notion of taming is vital. That I allow the world to impact me – something that can only be done by going into relationships. The alternative to me (a place I have known very well) is numbing myself, performing a reality where everything is fine and nothing touches me much. For me, taming is choosing to go into attachment voluntarily – choosing what to give meaning in the world and what should give meaning to you.
Taming is about seeing the uniqueness in someone or something. I wrote before about the judging or naming that seems to be such a central part of us. That we are continiously defining a world that is never still in fixed categories that we make up in our minds. When I talk about taming it concerns the active choice to connect or attach myself to someone (or something) else – allowing the relationship to impact and touch me, but without falling into the trap of fixating the relationship – not allowing it to change.
What is this love we are talking about all the time? What are the rules? Love is one of the places where I have felt the most challenged to work with authentic relating. I have found that I have often limited myself from experience attraction and love out of fear. A fear that is connected to ideas about what it will mean to explore it – basically that my mind starts thinking about kissing, sex, relationships or even marriage and children as soon as I experience attraction to someone, removing me far from the present moment. I have been very afraid of physically touching people out of fear of being misunderstood.
Love as I see it, ultimately, is a practice. A practice of connecting and relating to someone else from your deepest truth. It might not mean romance, but it could. Love is not a place you can go, it is something you can do – in the present. In my life I have felt very challenged around love – particularly romantic love towards more people at the same time. I have questioned myself if I am really allowed to live this way? If I am really allowed to love this way?
For me the simple, but powerful thruth in this is that attraction and connection is something that can be experienced all around us and on many levels. There is so many wonderful experiences in store for us if we dont stop ourselves out of fear of what it could lead to and if that something is what we want (in the future) – rather than sticking to the moment and the feeling of attraction, allowing ourselves to explore it, realizing that we dont have to do anything but what we want right now.
Connecting and surrendering
For me it makes sense that we are always in connection with reality (that which is there as supposed to what we might think is there) and reality will impact us whether we like it or not. For me it feels like trying to resist what is there brings alot of pain into my life. I find that I often steel myself or try to protect myself instead of feeling into what is there and allowing it in my life – not accepting what is to impact me.
The central question is if we are allowing ourselves to feel into what is there and the connections and relationships that we meet – do we allow ourselves to recognize and go into the full experience of what is happening right now? It ssems to me that a more desirable way of being would be to just be in what is instead of thinking about what should be. On the other hand this often leads me to wanting to just be instead of just being…