With nothing but time on his hands and an empty room, Steven Lake looks at his wife, and creates magic.
No, it was not a stuck elevator, or the holding cell at the police station, or a psychology experiment run by the local college. It was a large, if rather barren room, but it had all the basic comforts. It was warm, dry, and with access to washrooms – no view though. But a view was not what we wanted. We were there voluntarily; neither one of us had been coerced.
We had entered this room to participate in a two-person workshop run by moi. Sounds kind of strange and the workshop came about by accident. Fifteen years ago I had a similar circumstance. A workshop that I had organized had to be cancelled at the last minute and I was left with an empty, but fully paid for, rental space. What to do? I was not going to let it go to waste, so I created a workshop for myself. That’s right. I sat down and outlined the workshop and did it. It was great. The reviews were phenomenal. And now, here I was faced with a similar situation.
My first thought was to do another workshop for myself like before – seeing as how well it was received. But then I had an even better idea. Why not do one with my wife? Here was an opportunity to take the time, with no outside interruptions, and focus on our relationship.
And that is how we ended up spending six hours alone in a room together. As some of you know we have been going through some interesting growth experiences in the past year and taking the time to explore each other seemed like a good idea. And it was. I highly recommend it.
You may not be an experienced workshop creator and facilitator but that does not have to get in the way of experiencing something similar.
You could take a couples workshop, or, if you are daring, create your own. The advantage of creating your own is that you can customize it to suit you and your partner’s needs. Here is what we did.
First, you will have to pick a date and time. It does not need to be a multi-day event, though it could be. We planned for an eight hour day but then shortened it – because we wanted to spend the last part of the workshop walking on the beach as it was a beautiful sunny day (which can be rare in Vancouver).
Second, you need a space. Ideally, enough space to move about freely and one in which you will not be disturbed by other people. In a pinch, you could do it where you live.
Third, create an outline of the workshop. Make this easy by both of you working together to co-create and co-facilitate the workshop. The workshop has begun the moment the two of you decide to do it. From picking out the space, setting the time and determining the exercises, you will be engaging each other and discovering how to make it fun, and if not, figuring out what is getting in the way.
If you are new to workshops, or self-development, but want to create it on your own, you could go to the library, do some research, and talk to a facilitator for ideas. If you are stuck, contact me.
Before determining what exercises to do, decide what is the purpose of the workshop. For me, it was to get more connected to my wife, have a fun time, and to share novel experiences – essentially – to see and appreciate my partner in a new light.
The Big Day
The day has arrived and you open the doors to your sacred space. Hmmn, it may not feel very sacred when you enter and this is when “clearing” the space and re-setting the tone or energy happens. In many cultures, the burning of incense, dance or using a noise-maker (e.g., rattle, drums, flute) is often used to set the stage for the work to come.
My wife, Paulette, set to this task both dancing and using a rattle to prepare the space. Now, you may not believe in “energies” and “clearing”, but I can assure you, at the very least, it does set up your mental state and prepares your mind and body for the tasks ahead. In psychological terms, this is known as priming, as in, priming the pump.
Next, we sat down and wrote out our intentions – what it was we wanted to achieve both personally and as a couple. We shared what we had written with the goal of supporting each other to achieve our intention.
After that, we did a physical warm-up. This was hysterical on a number of fronts. I was leading, which was almost embarrassing for me as my wife was a professional dancer for thirty years. I think I had a gob-smacked grin on my face the whole time. It was a reversal of roles and I got to experience myself in a new way in relationship to my wife and her expertise in this area. She just smiled and seemed to enjoy herself (I think she was highly amused).
It was also a revealing exercise for me in showing how stiff I had become. Why is this such a big deal? Well, until a few years ago I was one of those people who could put his foot behind his head (or even in my mouth). Now, as I was standing opposite my wife, I saw how supple she is, and how I, in contrast, felt like a stiff old man. It reminded me how physical discipline has its benefits as demonstrated by my wife who has done her stretching exercises faithfully for decades.
We started the exercises standing opposite each other. At some point we began making sounds and moving towards each other and then backing away. This evolved to the point where we were snarling and growling at each other in a safe and stylized form. This felt great to express and blow off some anger.
With our bodies warmed-up we then meditated (a great opportunity to catch my breath). This was followed by another set of physical exercises that are designed to release stress and tension that are held in the body (see David Berceli).
Now it was time for lunch. There are some wonderful exercises you can do during lunch. Both involve feeding the other person. If lunch is held on the premises, you can blindfold each other as well. It’s a bit messy but lots of fun and allows you to get in touch with and heighten other senses.
After lunch we read poetry to each other. We read from one of our favorite poets, Rumi, as we laid down on our blanket covered foamies, relaxed from lunch, and enjoyed the wisdom and beauty of his work.
There are many exercises for increasing intimacy with your partner. One of my favorite sources is Dr. Gottman’s Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work. There are lots of lists and exercises in that book. Should keep you busy for some time and many of these exercise could be incorporated into your workshop.
But enough of the workshop, let’s look at some of the results.
I don’t know why, but every time Paulette and I travel, or do something outside our usual routine, I see her in a new light and appreciate her all the more. She is talented, wise, spiritual, has a big heart. In novel situations I inevitably discover new aspects of her personality which makes me smile. She is a great cook and with minimal ingredients can whip up a gourmet dish; even when camping. She is a hard-worker and physically strong, able to help me with queen-size bed or a heavy cooler. A newly discovered skill is her ability to figure out how to us computer software programs. The longer we are together, the more I discover.
Lately, and this was evident during the workshop, Paulette is more willing to go with the unexpected and unpredictable. During the workshop, it was one surprise experience after another and she was able to riff and improvise with the best of them. As she becomes more playful, I respond in kind, and we are like kids, just having fun.
Through the exercises and I got to see how my partner responds on an emotional and intellectual level. Seeing how she dances, what motivates her, and what is important to her, expands my awareness of who she is.
One of the biggest wins was just taking the time to be together without distractions. Watching TV, going for walks, and having dinner are great, but this was more intimate. The purpose of our workshop was to be completely together, in time, space, and intention. There existed simultaneously, a focus on self and other. We shared, moment by moment, an ongoing series of experiences designed to bring greater intimacy in our relationship. This, I believe, is a rare experience and one I want to have more often.
Taking the time to be together and share intimate processes allowed for healing in the relationship. This seemed to be a simultaneous process that worked at both the individual and dyadic level. As we came to certain understandings or healing for ourselves as individuals, we were able to experience healing in the relationship as well.
Both my wife and I felt the day was an unqualified success. We feel more connected, happier, and encouraged to continue the never-ending process of mutual discovery. There are many processes that you and your partner can do to feel more positive about your relationship. This is one way. The most important element is to do something, to make a decision to try, to take action. Once the decision is made, the rest will follow. And who knows, you may end up spending time, alone, in a room with your partner.
Photo: Flickr/James Wheeler/Sunset Walkway