People are weird. It doesn’t take much of an understanding of reality to know that. Sometimes, without warning, unexpected troubles or unexpected enemies appear, to turn our life into turmoil; and in the midst of hard times, unknown allies arise to help restore some sense of calm and self, of meaning and purpose. The weird part, and the one we’ll usually fail to notice, is how often the ‘enemies’ and the ‘allies’ turn out to be the same people… and that the only real ‘enemy’ we have is ourself…
A key part of what’s generally called ‘personal growth’ is learning to come to terms with that fact – coming to terms with our true selves and our true relationships with others. But it’s often hard to see – and even harder to accept. And there’s a hint of weirdness that can make it even harder: at times it can seem that the whole world is against us, thwarting us at every turn; while at others everything can seem impossibly smooth and easy – for a while at least… Just when we’re certain we really know someone, they change – or perhaps we change – and we’re faced with new challenges and new choices in relationship with them. The same issues, the same problems, the same fears, the same joys, all keep weaving through our relationships with others, always wearing similar yet strangely different faces. And as we work on our path of personal growth – expanding our awareness of ourselves and our hidden choices – everyone we meet, it seems, acts as a weird kind of mirror, showing us not only themselves, but the results of our own choices too.
There’s always a choice in any interaction with others; but there’s also always a twist, an uncertainty, a subtle chaos that underlies even the most ordered of relationships. That uncertainty is what keeps relationships interesting, but it does also add to the difficulties! In our less happy moments, relationships might seem like nothing but a series of tests and trials: yet if we’ve had more than a passing involvement with personal growth, we’ll know that most of life is like that anyway – and relationships are no different… The only difference is that the issues are interpersonal rather than personal – and even in that there’s a weird sense in which they’re the same anyway.
So it’s to this weirdness in the process of interpersonal growth – accepting the weirdness in our relationships, and working with them rather than trying to fight against them – that this book is addressed. It extends into the interpersonal realm the exploration of personal work and personal awareness described in Positively Wyrd, the previous book in this series. Like its predecessor, this book is also addressed to the realities of the process and its often uncomfortable twists and turns: as such, it develops a rather different sequence of approach to issues. In particular, there’s an emphasis on some issues which are often missed out in other books in this field – such as a detailed exploration of personal power and personal responsibility, and of the subtle and self-destructive traps of the ‘blame-game’. And there also some guidelines on how to work with the bad times – and how not to get lost in some illusory ‘good’ ones.
As with the previous book, all the text after this introductory chapter is framed as if spoken by an imaginary narrator, named Chris Kelley. Throughout this book, from the next chapter onwards, ‘I’ is Chris Kelley, not me. ‘Chris’ is in fact a composite, whose life is drawn from the real-life experiences of many different people – both men and women. One reader commented, about an incident of Chris’s in Positively Wyrd, “your narrator, I really identified with her there – it’s something which only happens to women”: but in fact the real-life story behind the incident was actually a man’s… So I’d argue that despite the strong emphasis on gender in so many current books on interpersonal issues, we do all have the same human needs and, for the most part, the same human problems: which is why you’ll find that although Chris should be readily identifiable as a person, Chris’s sex (and for that matter sexual preference) is intentionally uncertain – and likewise that of many of the people with whom Chris interacts. Make your own choices on this, if you wish – but remember there’s always a twist…!
So although this introduction is somewhat formal, the rest of the book is not. The stories that Chris tells are highly personal, and illustrate clearly the intensity of feeling of many of these states – so if you find yourself in the same kind of emotional spaces or practical predicaments that this imaginary ‘I’ describes, you’ll know you’re not alone in that experience. We’ve all been there too: sometimes that fact alone can be a great deal of help in some of the darker times…
The aim of personal growth is to create constructive changes within ourselves and the ways in which we relate with others and to the world at large. But since nothing changes without our choosing to be involved in the change, there’s also a strong emphasis in this book on the practical: examples to put the concepts into practice will be found on almost every page. As with Positively Wyrd, these typically consist of a personal experience from Chris that illustrates the point being made, followed by some suggestions about how to put this into practice, and questions about the resultant experience – questions to which only you have the answers – to help you explore the issues in your own personal context. All of these examples have been tested in practice, by myself, friends and colleagues as well as many others, and often over long periods of time: they work. Whether they work for you in the same way is up to you to decide, based on your own experience: but unless you do try them for yourself, you’ll never know!
This book develops a sequence of observations and changes, starting with relationship to self, moving onward to close and intimate relationships, and outward to relationships with the world in general. Be warned, though, that the sequence may not always be what you expect: some themes are threaded throughout the book, twisting and looping back in ever-changing forms, so the apparent repetition that occurs in many places is intentional, and is not simply due to poor editing! One of these themes is the problem of blame, which weaves through most relationships in its own weird way: an example ‘sets the stage’ in the first chapter, which opens the way toward the subtle freedom that can be found from a better understanding of the original meaning of ‘weird’ – another central theme of the book, explored in depth in the chapter which follows.
The next section, consisting of roughly a third of the book, looks at the kind of pressures and issues which apply in all kinds of relationships. We learn to watch how our own fears and confusions, and the habits we’ve been taught from childhood onwards, can dominate our relationships with others, and even with ourselves – and how we can begin to reclaim real choices in this. We explore the weird boundary between ‘I’ and ‘not-I’; and we begin to discover that whilst there is such a thing as ‘fate’, we do have choices even in this – although there’s always a twist in what happens next…
The third section is concerned mainly with practical tools: it consists of five chapters, each of which focusses on a specific problem-issue in all kinds of relationship. We observe the strange confusions that arise from some common ways of relating which view others as ‘object’ or ‘subject’; we explore ways to break free from the destructive pervasiveness of blame; we look more closely at what exactly we mean by ‘I’, and its weird relationship with others. And we learn to become aware of the subtle boundary between use and abuse of both self and others; and also the subtle distinction between sympathy and empathy, without which no true relationship is possible.
In the final section we start to put into practice this new experience of ourselves and the true ‘weirdness’ of relationships. We find a new understanding of sex – in all its senses – and strange meetings with ‘soul-mates’; we explore a new world of trust and joy, in commitment to ourselves, to others and to the wider world. We learn to recognise the allies that we already have in this; and discover that we can create, in any relationship, the allies we truly need. There’s always a twist, perhaps, but in every relationship we always have choice, and the power to choose. And that choice, and the responsibility for that choice, are always ours: it’s up to us to build the relationships we need.
Using this book
In keeping with the nature of ‘weirdness’, this book can be read in a number of different ways, depending on what you need from it. At one level, this is, of course, a perfectly ordinary book, developing a sequence of ideas with a beginning, a middle and an end. So if you want, you can read it in the usual way, from cover to cover: but you don’t have to do this in order to make use of it.
For example, if all you’re interested in is ideas, you might choose to skip over all the ‘boxes’ of practical material. In theory it might seem to make little difference, because the ideas and concepts are mostly explored in the main text. But the boxes provide the context in which those ideas make practical sense: and since that’s the main point of the book, I wouldn’t recommend ignoring them.
At the other extreme, you could skip over all the main text, and read only the ‘boxes’: that’ll work too, but you’re likely to miss out on understanding why the practical material works in the way that it does. Without that understanding, you may well be able to create some useful changes in your relationships, for a while: but in time you’ll find yourself reverting back to the same old loops and patterns in which you were caught before. So I wouldn’t recommend doing that either.
What I’d recommend instead, from many people’s experience with the previous book in this series, is to use a combination of all these methods. Read the first two chapters carefully, to give you a general idea of what the book is about; then skim through the whole of the remainder once, fairly quickly, stopping only to read in detail a few passages that particularly catch your eye. That’ll give you enough background information such that the practical material will then make practical sense, whatever you do next. Once you’ve done this, go back to the beginning again, and as you read each section of the main text, try out the practical examples described in the respective boxes. You don’t even have to do this in sequence: for example, as the whim takes you, dip in at random anywhere in the book, to find an idea or a practical piece – you’ll usually find it has some apposite comment on your current situation. Use this book to work with the weirdness of change, the weirdness of relationships: that’s how it works best.
A word of warning, though: once you start to put the material into practice, take it slowly – don’t rush. Experience suggests that, beyond that first couple of introductory chapters, it’s best not to try to work with more than a single section – two or three pages – a day. Change, while valuable, can also be uncomfortable and even frightening, to yourself and to others: and the practical material in this book, if it’s used properly, does trigger real changes in the way we view and work with ourselves and each other. If you try to rush it, or force the pace of change, you’ll either miss some key points and find yourself back in the same old loops, or else you’ll give yourself – and others – an unnecessarily rough time. So don’t do it. Just take it slow: “beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle on yourself” – and on others too!
Whichever way you choose to use this book, welcome to a different world: at times a weird way of relating with others, perhaps, though one that turns out to be far more practical – and more empowering for everyone. It’s a world in which we do have choices in our relationships – and yet, somehow, there’s always a weird twist of fate in everything that happens…