The author and diarist, Anais Nin is famously quoted as saying “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Never has this been more true than in our relationships.
If you have ever wondered about the secret to fulfilling and lasting connections, the path to finding the answer lies within this quote. To uncover the formula, we must first return to the start.
Bring to mind any significant relationship you have in your life right now — intimate partnership, close friend, business colleague. When and how did you meet that person? Can you recall how you felt in those first few moments of connecting?
When two people initially encounter each other, they are entering the world of the unknown. Perhaps you have been given the low-down on this person as a form of introduction or maybe you are meeting a total stranger. Either way, you have no direct experience of them so your mind (and your heart) are wide open to possibilities.
As you may already know, the judging process begins within a seconds of that encounter — it’s why we are taught that first impressions count. Our minds dislike the uncertainty of not knowing and instantly begin creating a character portrait based on how this person looks and the first words that they speak. In fact, what they are saying is actually only a tiny proportion of our judgment (5-10%). The rest comes down to body language and tone of voice, and after just a few minutes of interaction, we have ‘decided’ whether we like or dislike this person, whether we trust or distrust them, whether we think they are attractive, intelligent or will make our Christmas card list!
Our minds are made up — or better said our minds have created the certainty they crave and the window of possibility has begun to close.
Most of what happens after those first few minutes can be summed up as the justification process. Our ‘made up’ mind now seeks the evidence to support our premature conclusions and guess what — it will always find what it needs because it just loves to know that it is right.
Meanwhile, back home in our hearts, the wiser and loving part of us knows that connection manifests in multiple forms. Whilst the head is busy making snap judgments, our hearts are staying open to possibilities, seeking commonalities and looking for the best in people.
The outcome of our relationship-building is therefore determined by who is in charge. Are we going to be led by the heart or the head?
Anyone who has ever met someone and initially felt dislike or distrust only to later find a connection — maybe even a love match — has experienced the heart winning out!
So how is this important in our longer term relationships? For someone to have successfully made it into your close circle means they must have passed the head and heart test. Maybe it was an instant bonding or perhaps you were just able to suspend judgments long enough for the connection to reveal itself.
But remember the mind likes certainty and to feel in control so even in our close relationships, it will be much more attached to reinforcing our preconceptions rather than discovering possibilities.
In other words, once we believe we have ‘met’ the other person, we will see them as they are in our mind’s character portrait rather than how they really are. The problem occurs when one of us changes. Human beings do have a tendency to evolve and if we aren’t updating our character portraits, sooner or later there will be a conflict. Ever found yourself returning to a family or school reunion and immediately regressing? The perceptions of the mind are so powerful that stepping out and being who you are (when someone else is sure of who they think you are) can be extremely challenging and takes a great deal of self-awareness.
So what is the secret formula to long-lasting and fulfilling relationships? To be led by the heart and see the other person as they really are. Perhaps you recall the movie Avatar —as Jake and Neytiri’s unlikely relationship develops they say to each other “I see you“. What cuts across the boundaries and limitations of species is their absolute willingness to see beyond form and into the nature of the soul.
So returning to Nin’s quote, we see others not as they are but as we are. To really connect on the deepest level, we must learn to suspend our judgments and re-open to possibilities. The essence of connection in relationships is our willingness to get present and to ‘meet’ the other person each and every time as they are, not as we think them to be.