Everything is a relationship.
We think of relationships narrowly as the bonds, however shallow or deep, that we have with other human beings, but relationships truly extend beyond the scope of our interactions with other people to include how we react and respond to every instance that our sense of self comes into contact with some aspect of the world around us.
How could this be so?
Because of the fundamental nature of relationships in the most general sense.
A relationship is the relative position of two (or more) things to one another and the interactions that happen in the space in between them. More importantly, they are what we make the balance of this whole relational equation say about each of those things. This is where relationships become their most powerful and their most delicate in their capacity to produce both desired and undesired outcomes -- when we derive meaning from this positioning and the interplay that results.
To state this more simply (and definitively), relationships present opportunities to make declarative statements about who we are (our identity) and why we’re here (our purpose) relative to whatever it is we’re interacting with.
Every possible idea we can think of presents an opportunity like this.
There are the more obvious non-human relationships in our lives. The bonds we have with pets, for example, or with the natural world. We can also have relationships to inanimate objects. Our phones. The paint color on the walls of our bedroom. That sweater our grandmother knit us when we were a kid that we can’t bear to throw away despite the fact that it’s in tatters in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.
We have relationships with our rituals -- our morning routine, or our workout regimen.
But let’s zoom out even further, more abstractly. We have relationships with concepts, with ideas themselves. Poverty, terrorism, institutionalized religion. We have relationships with major life events. Think about certain holidays and the associations we have with them, or the traumatic moments we may have endured in the past.
We can discern the nature of the relationships we have with each of these things by the emotional responses we have to them.
How do they make us feel? Do they make us feel light, joyful, and inspired? Or do they make us feel heavy, confused, and discouraged? Do they make us feel happy or sad?
The answers to these questions are important because examining our relationships with the things we come in contact with on a day-to-day basis, material or otherwise, can reveal clues about why we feel the way we do about our lives. This process of introspection, reflection, and stock-taking allows us to adjust our position and engagement with these things and create a new experience for ourselves.
Strangely enough, we also have relationships with emotions themselves. We have relationships to fear, anger, disappointment, vulnerability, love, trust, etc. This is true both of our own feelings and the emotions of other people.
These sorts of relationships can become especially tricky if we have a tendency to judge emotions, categorizing them as either “good feelings” or “bad feelings.”
This interplay between the self-that-feels and the self-that-observes-the-self-that-feels largely composes the relationship we have with ourselves. This is important because the relationship we have with ourselves tends to reflect the kinds of relationships we have with all the rest -- it determines the way we approach and interact with the world around us.
Everything is a relationship.
Pick something, anything. We can (and do) have a relationship with it. Even if that relationship is unimportant to us, stagnant, or seemingly valueless.
The reluctance we have to stepping on our bathroom scale?
The sense of contentment and new possibilities we have as we sip our morning coffee during what may be our only quiet moments of the day?
The sense of duty we feel to give money to international aid groups who care for the sick and hungry of the world?
The tendency we have to avoid the things that frighten us?
The way we come down on ourselves hard for our mistakes?
As we consider how we relate to the different aspects of the world around us in this way, we’ll discover opportunities to take more responsibility for how we feel about our lives.
We’ll better understand the role we play in authoring the story we tell ourselves, and we’ll be able to more clearly account for how the associations we have with certain objects or ideas affect us. We’ll realize our relationship with the world at large is more dynamic than we may have assumed in the past, when our baseline emotional states felt immutable, their sources unknown. And we’ll be able to attend to these relationships with more intention and more care. Soon our ideas about ourselves and our standing in the world will change. And so too will the way we feel about our lives -- in whatever way we want to feel differently -- because we'll know that a new experience is always an empowered choice away.