Dave Davis
Dave Davis

How often have you found yourself putting effort and energy into a relationship, only to have it fall short of what you had hoped it would be? For some, the answer might be ‘more often than not.’

In many cases, it could be attributed to miscommunication, whereby one (or both) persons hadn’t expressed in precise terms at the onset what the intended outcome should be. For others, the problem arises long before the connection has taken place.

Both these scenarios fall under the category of something we might refer to as “personal patterns.”

Acclaimed author and keynote speaker Stephen Covey is quoted as saying, “Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.”

Though biology lays the groundwork for certain “givens” in our physical makeup, each of us is wired differently, from a psychological and social perspective. We possess distinct qualities unique to our Being, while accumulating a lifetime of personal encounters that are carried with us wherever we go.

Is it realistic to think that our relationships (however one chooses to define the term), will always yield a “meaningful” outcome?

If we were to peel away some layers of the proverbial onion, we might see that much of the interplay that takes place is, more or less, routine in nature. We find comfort in what’s known to us by simply rehashing prior interactions and events, therefore clouding our ability to enter any new relationship without pre-filtered suppositions.

Taken to the extreme, we might even self-sabotage a potential connection prior to an initial meeting in order to avoid the inevitable “let-down” altogether.

These types of patterns are far from obvious when we’re “knee deep” into a relationship of one sort or another, often lacking substantive feedback and constructive communication between the parties involved. The usual suspect in these circumstances is the oft-mentioned ego, which, when not finding fault with our own shortcomings, is doing its best to minimize any and all culpability by shifting the blame to others. With a well-stocked arsenal of fear-based reactions, retreat is often the most likely result, preventing us from suffering any further damage.

When looking back at some of the relationships which I “perceived” I was contributing towards equally, in hindsight, my math was a bit off.

In essence, what I uncovered, with the assistance of some professional and spiritual guidance, was a personal narrative that I had clung to rather tightly (typically one of victimization).

Instead of making the effort to create a more stable foundation from which to build upon, I’d chosen to recycle past “hurts” so as to validate my current actions. I’d eventually come to recognize that both love and fear couldn’t exist simultaneously, and broke the cycle of self-destruction in order to move forward, pursuing healthier, more meaningful relationships.

Therapist and spiritual practitioner Dr. Charlotte Kasl articulates this point in a passage from her bestselling work, “If the Buddha Dated,” where she states, “the causes of troubled relationships, fears about dating, or giving oneself to love are born in the stories we tell ourselves. We experienced a troublesome event, had an emotional response, and then we created a story to explain it or alleviate our pain. Over time, we repeated the story until it took on a life of its own and started to become a script we followed.”

Part of the irony embedded in this realization is that as we progress along our life-path, on some level aren’t we all basically amalgams of other people who’ve had varying degrees of influence upon us? 

Subconsciously, we’re processing all of that input, while patching together a collective “quilt” that suits our needs for a particular purpose and time. Each relationship in which we choose to engage tends to shape us into a subjective “self” that we hold on to, until we’re ready to exchange it for another.

In his work “Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be,” spiritualist Lama Surya Das concludes: “The issue is the extent to which holding on limits our freedom to vary from habitual patterns and conditioning. Questioning and examining our individual patterns are part of the Buddha’s recipe for awakening from the sleep of illusion and delusion.”

He goes on to state, “Think about how much energy and attention we have invested in maintaining and holding together our own self-image and persona.”

For me, the response to that inquiry is quite simple; more than I ever could have imagined.

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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