Perhaps the oddest year (after many odd years), 2017 is ending in sunlight and long, creative summer evenings. The beaches are glorious, the roads are not yet clogged with hurry and bustle and there’s time for cheerful banter in coffee spots and among fellow dog-walkers.
At times, it’s felt as if even buying yet another plastic cocooned toy or bit of some distant country’s produce will be apocalyptic – a turtle with its shell given an hour-glass figure by the plastic rings that hold a six-pack of garbage drink together popped up on my screen as I started this column.
But here, at least, we have time and opportunity to start planning the rebuild in a thousand daily decisions.
In a world that is more materialistic than ever, too many of us are so stressed out that there isn’t much quality time and energy left over to put into their nearest and dearest.
We compete with one another so routinely that it is very difficult to shift into co-operation and sharing with our loved ones. Intimate relationships provide a forum for us to re-discover the importance of love as the real power that makes life worth living. Fairy tales – and Hollywood – imply this is easy but in reality, the opposite is the truth.
Loving relationships are the ultimate test of our ability to see ourselves in relation to another – and choosing to stop the default long enough to actively create the harmonious outcome that everyone would want – if they thought about it clearly.
Intimate partners push our sensitivity buttons like no-one else can. The slightest disapproval can trigger great feelings of hurt and rejection. We wonder how our partner could be so thoughtless and recoil in sadness and frustration.
However, over many years, we understand the futility of taking things personally.
Over last weekend, a friend, seeing a familiar and dreaded family rivalry beginning to erupt over the Christmas celebrations, intervened to point out that the row would yield, at grim best, a phyrric victory. The same old story.
The startling truth, so obvious to a relative outsider to the group, stopped the spate of upset in its tracks.
As Ekhart Tolle has said, when we learn to “hold the space” when someone is upset, rather than retaliate in hurt or anger, something different and much more intelligent and loving becomes possible.
Intimate relationships provide an ideal platform for us to practise honest, open and caring communication. We can learn lots of valuable skills. Including the ability to communicate what we like and don’t like, and we reveal what makes us feel loved. We learn to listen to what our lover says and respond kindly to the non-verbal language of our partner.
If we want something, rather than expect it, we learn to ask for it.
We realise it’s best to behave ourselves in public and criticise only in private. And we learn to use loving words that build a partner’s self-esteem because we realise that when someone we love feels loved and appreciated, it comes back to us.
Conflicts are part and parcel of every close relationship. Most people appreciate direct, honest self-expression but no-one wants to be put down.
Saying, “I’m really upset that you forgot our anniversary!” in a hurt or angry voice is far more acceptable than “You’re always inconsiderate” or “you’re so selfish you never care about me!” It’s better if we can resolve conflicts when they arise rather than storing up our resentment and letting it out later on over something quite trivial.
Fighting the good fight with plenty of emotion driven by love rather than scorn and contempt for a significant other strengthens us and deepens our love and respect for both ourselves and others.
The major issues of 2017 have included an epidemic of this loneliness, across demographics and races. Burdened by endless struggles, many of us are stuck in a self-oriented pre-occupation with survival, and wider society’s feeling of disconnection with others will make the world seem a lonely place.
Loving is a yardstick of living fully, as Helen Keller said, with life either a daring adventure or nothing.
Another great soul, Mahatma Gandhi was equally clear. If you want to change the world, changing yourself is the key, he said. “No external achievements, however noble, can replace that.
“If you change yourself you will change your world. If you change how you think then you will change how you feel and what actions you take. And so the world around you will change. Not only because you are now viewing your environment through new lenses of thoughts and emotions but also because the change within can allow you to take action in ways you wouldn’t have – or maybe even have thought about – while stuck in your old thought patterns.”
He acknowledged that while changing ourselves is harder than changing the world; choosing how we react is always a choice – and sometimes, only a sense of humour will get us through. • Liz Waters