Is there such a thing as the answer to ALL relationship issues? Could relating with other people be straightforward and uncomplicated? And, with our partners, can love truly be easy? The answer to all these questions is yes.
Before I tell you the secret formula, let me tell you a bit about the man who created it, Rollo May. He deserves a few minutes of our attention. Truly, 7 minutes to read this article and 8 minutes to reflect on it afterwards, and you can simplify all your relationships.
Rollo May was born in 1909, and lived fully for 85 years, during which time he made some of the greatest contributions to the field of psychology, and he is often referred to as the “father of existential psychotherapy.” This kind of therapy is optimistic about our ability to fulfill our human potential, while realistic about the limitations of being human. It addresses four broad themes of existence: mortality, isolation, personal responsibility, and the meaning—or meaninglessness—of our lives.
Experience a deeper level of comfort
The idea behind an existential approach to therapy is that when we address the deepest issues of our existence, we can experience a much deeper level of comfort in our lives. Many therapists, even existential therapists, believe there are no ultimate answers to these issues, and that instead of finding answers, the therapist’s job is to accompany their clients on the journey. (Keep reading and you’ll see that I don’t agree—I think there are answers.)
May suggested that psychotherapists must “participate in the world of the client,” without doing violence to the client, and such violence can occur when clients are required to buy into preconceived ideas or when therapists rely on using “techniques as a defense against fully engaging with the clients in psychotherapy.” Instead, existential psychotherapy, according to May, seeks to, “analyze the structure of human existence—an enterprise which, if successful, should yield an understanding of the reality underlying all situations of human beings in crises.”
Live Conscious is the ultimate form of existential psychotherapy because not only do we show people how to analyze the structure of human existence, but with our unique use of language—Perception Language—we help people understand that there is no singular reality; there is simply their interpretation of reality. I’m confident that Rollo May would have loved this additional step taken by his colleague, and our mentor, John Weir.
Furthermore, the Live Conscious approach to therapy, and life, is more optimistic than most existential approaches. For we believe that there are satisfactory answers to the questions of mortality, isolation, personal responsibility, and the meaning we make of our lives. Really, this is what Live Conscious is about—providing a means to answer these deep questions for ourselves. And when we do so, many of our more superficial problems either disappear or become easier to resolve.
Free to be present and fully alive
Said simply, when we answer for ourselves the deepest questions of our existence, we free ourselves to be present and fully alive. For one thing we are no longer trying to deny our mortality. For another, we no longer resist our isolation; we use it to access higher states of consciousness. And personal responsibility is not experienced as a burden, but as the source of our power. And determining the meaning of our lives is a question we can finally answer when we stop looking outside of ourselves.
Taken in total, this existential journey allows us to make sense of our own existence in a way that is deeply reverent and rewarding.
With that background about Rollo May, existential psychotherapy, and where Live Conscious fits into this story, I will now share with you the secret formula that answers ALL relationship issues, makes relating uncomplicated, and makes love easy.
Here is the secret formula:
Does not the uncertainty of our time teach us the most important lesson of all—that the ultimate criteria are the honesty, integrity, courage and love of a given moment of relatedness? If we do not have that, we are not building for the future anyway; if we do have it, we can trust the future to itself. –Rollo May
So simple, really. Yet, so many people—even those who nod their heads in agreement when they read this—don’t abide by this wisdom. I hear many excuses why people don’t, and the most popular seem to be some version of protecting the person with whom they are not being honest: “I’m doing it for their good.” “I have decided (for them) that now is not the right time to be honest.”
I was recently working with a fifty-five year old woman, divorced for ten years, living with her daughter. The daughter was dating a man, but after six months she broke it off. The mother then started talking to me about her interest in dating the same man, the one her daughter had been dating. He was halfway between the age of the daughter and the mother—it wasn’t really a crazy thing to do, but she didn’t tell her daughter she was thinking about this. That was the crazy part.
What it sounds like in real life
“Why not tell her?”—I asked. She said, “Well, I’m just thinking about it.”
I said, “I know. That’s why this is the perfect time. If she upsets herself with this information then you can take her feelings into consideration before you make your decision. That way, hopefully, she’ll feel respected that you included her.”
“No, I can’t bear to hurt her.”
I pointed out the obvious. “You don’t think she’ll feel hurt if she finds out after the fact?”
“Well, it is sort of after the fact already.”
I asked, “Meaning what, you’re already dating him?”
“Yes, I am. A little.”
I inquired, “How do you date ‘a little’? What does that mean, you’re not having sex? And that’s not really the point; the point is you’re not being honest with me, either. How do we build our relationship if you aren’t honest with me?”
It was at this point I shared with my client the Rollo May quote. She said, “Yes, I agree with that.”
I said, “You agree with it intellectually, but you didn’t have the courage to be honest with me, and I imagine you’re concerned that your behavior lacks integrity, which is why you’re hiding it. Is that true?”
“Yes, I don’t feel good about any of this.”
“And what about love. Can you be loving when you lack honesty, integrity, and courage?”
“I didn’t want to ruin our relationship. I didn’t want you to think poorly of me.”
I explained, “That’s precisely what the quote is talking about. When you lack honesty, integrity, courage and love, our relationship has no future, or at best it’s very unpredictable. But if you relate to me with honesty, integrity, courage and love, then you and I will naturally take the next step in our relating, without drama or confusion. You being honest with me offers me a chance to see you, to understand you. You withholding honesty prevents me from having that chance and prevents us from building our future.”
I went on. “The same is true in relating with your daughter. Only when you tell her who you are, how you feel, what your values are—only then can you two know how to proceed, and as Rollo May said, ‘ . . . then you can trust your future to itself.’”
I finished our session that day by telling my client that I appreciated her for being honest with me at the end of our conversation, but that I also felt slightly less trusting of her because of the ways she self-justified having been dishonest with me earlier. I said it would take a little time for me to regain that trust in her, and that I cared about her enough that I wanted to try. I hoped that my modeling of honesty, integrity, courage and love would allow her to feel what it’s like to be on the receiving end.
Two final comments
Some people tell me that they are too confused to be honest. If I am confused, I believe it is my responsibility to do what I need to do to become clear and only then am I able to relate to another person as Rollo May suggests. I do not think using “confusion” is an acceptable reason not to be honest with another person.
And, finally, although I understand why Rollo May includes “courage” in his criteria, personally, I substitute kindness for courage. If you have been reading my articles about consciousness, you probably understand why I’ve made this substitution. Courage is a quality that’s required when I live at a certain level of consciousness, because I’m concerned about keeping myself safe. When I don’t feel safe then I think I need to be courageous. But, when I live this way I hinder my growth.
As I learn to live at a higher level of consciousness, the question of safety goes away and I become more interested in personal and spiritual growth. I encourage you to play with the criteria, see if courage or kindness works better for you. I’m convinced that kindness will help all of us shift to a higher level of consciousness.