Conflict, Art by JudiLynn
Albert and Leigh have been together for three adventurous years. They met online and discovered they both had a love of abstract painting. Albert is a professional painter, shows his work in numerous galleries across the state and has even been commissioned by celebrities. Leigh has always had a talent for painting, but never showed her work publicly until she met Albert. The two collaborate and create work together.
It would seem a happy picture, but the colors run dark for this couple. Leigh is not as interested in painting as Albert is; she prefers to hobby paint and likes to get together with others for wine and painting parties. Albert is highly offended by Leigh’s attitude. He sees painting as a spiritual bonding exercise, not unlike lovemaking, and wants Leigh to commit her heart and life to creating art with him. He points out he has invested many hours to train her and a lot of money to set up her side of the art studio. He feels betrayed that Leigh not only shares art with other people, but has turned to real estate as the focus of her career aspirations.
Although Leigh still enjoys creating the occasional painting with Albert, Leigh is proud that she will earn her real estate license in the next few months, and feels pairing people with just the right home is her true calling. Her artistic eye helps her sort the “fixer uppers from the lost causes,” and helps her highlight the gems in affordable homes for her clients. She’s sorry Albert is hurting, but reminds Albert she never asked for him to spend so much money in art supplies for her. She wishes Albert could see how happy she is to sell homes and paint as a hobby. Both of them--Albert in particular--feel betrayed and angry, and their relationship is on the brink of break up.
In the past, Albert and Leigh would fight over their situation, and Leigh would stop seeing Albert for a few weeks to a few months. But they would miss each other. They would make love and find themselves in the studio again, creating a beautiful painting.
But, now, the paint isn’t drying as quickly. Leigh turned down a commission to spend time organizing an open house. Albert created the painting on his own and kept the entire payment.
Albert feels the best way to handle this recurring conflict is for him to express his true feelings so Leigh can see reason. He pours out his anger in emails and texts just the way he would on canvas. He does not shy away from insults and vulgar language because, he says, he’s calling a spade a spade, and is being completely honest. He brings up her past failures to underline why it’s important to focus solely on painting, where she could be a great success, instead of trying to get into a market already flooded with agents. He reminds her the open house earned her a fraction of what she would have made had they split the commission.
Leigh responds to the email in different ways. Sometimes she fights back, and their correspondence turns into an endless cat fight. Sometimes, she blocks Albert for several days. Other times, she is stoic and patient, recognizing Albert really does love her, and agrees it feels wonderful when they are painting together. She agrees the real estate market is competitive, and recognizes she doesn’t always come out ahead financially, but knows her calling will eventually prove lucrative. She wishes Albert would listen to her and believe in her.
When these two consulted me I knew their situation would call for a powerful set of Tantric conflict resolution practices, close guidance, and time. Their situation ended differently than either of them could have imagined, but before I get to that, let me tell you about how they applied the tools. Obviously, things are paraphrased to keep this a blog post instead of a book; nonetheless, you’ll be able to see how they turned theory to practice, and see how these tools can work for you.
Here are the five tools I recommended:
Sacredness and Boundaries
Emotional release techniques
Bodhichitta is the practice of being your best self so you can be of service to others. It means being responsible for your own happiness and cleaning up your own pain, as much as you can. It also means exercising, eating well, getting enough sleep, and meditating.
Albert struggled with taking responsibility for his own happiness, believing it was his lover’s job to be present at the canvas with him. But after several months, he came to understand it wasn’t Leigh’s job to take responsibility for his well-meaning--but ultimately manipulative--investment in her painting career.
Leigh benefitted from releasing guilt about what made her happy, and felt proud of her ability to help others find homes they loved. She found a form of exercise she liked and found she enjoyed wine better if she drank to appreciate the wine rather than to keep up with her girlfriends.
The Talking Stick is a communication practice involving pure yin (receiving) and pure yang (giving) energy. The partner with the stick--it can be any object, from a paint brush to a mortgage contract--moves into yang energy and speaks his or her full and complete truth, with the goal of not making the other wrong. The yin partner listens and nods, with the goal of understanding. When the yang partner finishes, the yin partner may speak, but only to mirror what was heard. A good phrase is, “So what I hear you saying is…” Yang then passes the stick and becomes yin for the other, and the process begins again. Repeat as necessary. The Talking Stick was awkward for Albert at first, who kept having to be reminded of the rules, but after several reminders he settled into the exercise.
Albert recognized he could hold his own truth without making Leigh wrong about her choices. He heard that he was actually injuring Leigh by bringing up her past failures and apologized.
Leigh heard how deeply Albert desired to have a co-creator in the studio, someone who would feel the Tantra of painting as deeply as he did.
The Bonding Practice is something I reference a lot, and comes from Australian Tantrika Kerry Riley (see his book Tantric Secrets for Men), who recognized during conflicts, men tend to need sex while woman tend to withhold it. The Bonding Practice is designed to meet both needs. While Shiva (man) lies on his back, Shakti (woman) curls up on his right side with her knee over his lingam and her head on his chest. Shiva snuggles Shakti, and the two breathe deeply in unison, while—and this is vital—they consciously choose to love rather than brood. Advanced practitioners can run an erotic energy exchange meditation. The conflict is NEVER discussed during bonding, nor directly after it, as people are very vulnerable while participating. Instead, Shiva and Shakti finish bonding by spending at least an hour apart, and then having a discussion when emotions are calmer. Easier said than done, in fact, it’s quite difficult. But Albert and Leigh did it.
Albert learned he had been more interested in being right than being loving, and that loving was more valuable than convincing Leigh to see things from his perspective.
Leigh discovered she had been relying on sex to resolve conflict rather than tap into her connection with Albert.
Sacredness and Boundaries are practices recommended by Tantrika Chantelle Raven who says we must communicate conflicts respectfully and lovingly within the walls of a Tantric temple. Temple, of course, is a conscious space created by two people to practice Tantra. And if the idea of lighting candles and saying prayers seems too woo woo for you, no worries. You can practice Sacredness and Boundaries merely by following these general guidelines: No name calling. No yelling. No blaming. Choose to understand rather than convince. Listen fully. Come from love. Take a break when you feel too angry to behave yourself. Use “I” statements. Neither hound Beloved to talk nor be distant. Give and receive only love. Sacredness and Boundaries are practices you two arrange early on in your relationship, ideally before conflict ever begins, and by sticking to them faithfully you build trust. Better late than never for Albert and Leigh.
Albert learned he was using honesty as an excuse for foul language and insults. He realized he did not want to feel that level of anger for any human being, let alone the woman he loved, and that he needed to approach Leigh like a goddess rather than an enemy.
Leigh realized she was already using many of these practices, but had underestimated their value and would slip into cat fighting. She decided she would be firmer in good communication habits and speak her truth.
While all these techniques are important, probably none has greater potential for preventing damage than Emotional Release. Emotional release techniques are vast, but they all safely vent hot emotions without burning anyone. Tantra offers a Shiva Dance, which is putting on loud music, stripping off most or all your clothing, dancing like no one is watching, and yelling anger, frustration, disappointment right out of your body. It’s also great exercise. A Sacred Circle, or group of people who listen to one another unconditionally and offer complete confidentiality, is a great place to lay it all out. One of my goddess sisters buys a set of thrift store plates, goes out into the woods, and smashes every one of them on a rock face. A punching bag or a journal are great places to take out your anger. No matter what your preferred emotional release technique, it will always be outside of your relationship. The goal is to acknowledge your feelings, calm the fuck down, and then come to your Beloved from a place of level-headedness.
Albert realized he was using email and text as an emotional release, and was hurting Leigh in the process. He decided to turn up the studio speakers, disrobe, and throw paint all over some old works he didn’t really like, while shouting. He realized he needed more than one emotional release session to find relief, and that his pattern of deeply-seated anger came from childhood. He decided to seek therapy.
Leigh opened up to her sacred circle sisters about what was really going on behind the scenes with Albert. Over the course of a few months, they helped her express her rage at being verbally abused and manipulated, and she saw a pattern of forgiving him only to be abused again until Albert finally realized what he was doing. Leigh saw she could take better care of herself, and she is working on forgiving Albert, recognizing his behavior comes from a place of woundedness.
So what's happening with Leigh and Albert now? Success. They have much more understanding and balance with one another. They decided they were not good life partners for each other, and they parted amicably, each now with solid skills for speaking and hearing truth. Albert has embraced his desire for a painting partner who views art like lovemaking, as he does, and makes that clear on his dating profile. Leigh has decided not to date or paint for a while, focusing on her real estate career. Both have discovered the Tantra of conflict resolution as well as the every day Tantra of their jobs. Beautiful.
And now, what about you? How do you and your Beloved handle conflicts? Did you read anything here that spoke to you? Yoga for Lovers on January 13 is all about New Year’s Conflict Resolutions. Please come! Click the link to make your reservations right now.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with you,
Leah Kenyon is the Grand Valley’s premier Tantra educator, dedicated to helping couples discover deep intimacy and sexual satisfaction, and helping individuals manifest relationships of their dreams in classes and affordable private sessions. To book, call 242-5094 or email Leah@LivinginTantra.com