Relational Flow

Peter Munthe-Kaas
17 min readMay 26, 2021

Some years ago a got excited about developing a practice that was oriented towards integrating the core elements of the workshop practices that I like the most into something that can best be described as “a new way of hanging out”.

When I facilitate Relational Flow we move from a number of facilitated exercises inspired by contact improvisation, embodied play, circling and body therapy and end up in a more free-flowing, party like atmosphere. In this article I attempt to introduce some of the central concepts of the practice.

Everything is relationship. At a fundamental spiritual level it seems to me that as soon as we leave the level of non-duality (which is unattainable for me as anything but intellectual speculation these days) we exist in a world where everything is happening in and as relationship.

From the simple truths of taiji and bodywork to the complexity of Actor Network Theory, most of the stuff I find interesting these days deals with the importance of relationships — focusing on what is going on between elements, rather than on the elements themselves.

Skillful living thus seems to be all about relating harmoniously. To my body-being. To others. To society. And to nature.

Relating to myself — the personal

In the Manuvision school of body therapy we are taught that everything in the body is in relation to everything else. If you want to help someone heal their neck and back problems it makes sense to also look at the tension in their hips, legs and feet. We try to help people to be in their bodies rather than avoiding/resisting the signals from their body to create harmonious relationships between the parts.

For me relating to myself implies courage. It is about daring to feel how my body is actually doing rather than moving away from the tension and pain, and on a mental level allowing myself to be in what is there. I have found that a core difficulty for me is my tendency to hold on to emotions because they seem important, rather than allowing myself to be “inconsistent” and be with with the present moment. Relating to self is breathing out what I am today, so that new life can enter me.

Relating to others — the interpersonal

When relating to others it seems to me that a central element is trusting in experience. I recently heard someone say that “everything registers in the field” which for me pointed to the idea that humans at an embodied level know what is going on in every situation — but that it can be hard to trust the immediate experience and allow that which is present to emerge fully. Often it takes some courageous soul to name what is there before it can be fully allowed an integrated in the relationship.

I find that a crucial element of relating harmoniously with others is to allow my not-knowing and my limitation rather than trying to be perfect and whole. Simply sharing my experience (which is not the same as what I know — or rather think I know), including my fears and doubts seems to be the best tool for creating connection. The Danish author Bent Falk calls this “the process of love”:
– To see and hear the other.
– To tell the other what you see and hear.
– To tell the other what the seen and heard does to one self on and emotional as well as a will level.

This process of bringing consciousness to whatever is present in the moment seems vital for harmonious connection between people. Bringing honesty and authenticity rather than staying within the confines of politeness and social rules. This also includes clearly expressing what you want (and don’t want) in the relationship.

For me it can be particularly hard to set boundaries, because I am afraid of causing pain or of people not liking me. A practice that inspires me right now is to bring my boundaries with an AND rather than a BUT; “I feel care for you and I see that you are longing for connection and I need time on my own right now.”

Another central element is daring to be with the experience at difficult emotions of the other, rather than trying to change their experience by comforting them. I find that when we feel the need to change someone’s experience or emotions, the impulse comes from not wanting to be with that experience in ourselves.

It requires courage to stay in connection. This short animated video puts it quite nicely.

A concept I find very useful when it comes to relating to others is the “invitation”. An invitation is an opening that allows the other to step into something together with you — rather than an attempt to force or push someone to change. When doing body therapy I try to invite the client to be in/with their own body and their own emotions by applying different kinds of pressure, when dancing I invite my partner to move by moving my own body, when circling I invite the other to be with me by showing up vulnerably with my reality.

Relating to society — the political

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti

When I teach design students and urban planners I urge them to contest what can be deemed “the official future”, the future that seems like it has already been decided by someone else — the politicians, the economists, the engineers and the planners, and to challenge the “politics of necessity” that are driving contemporary western societies.

Harmonious relating to society for me is a question of simultaneously having a deep sensitivity and understanding of what constitutes the reality we live in, while never accepting the status quo as “normal”, “true” or “real”. We live in a world of pathological over consumption, a condition that is threatening our existence on the planet — and action is needed!

In the “world scientists warning to humanity — a second notice” from 2017, a publication signed by 15.364 scientists from 184 countries, the authors present the challenge quite clearly.

To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.
https://www.scientistswarning.org

I find that if we are to relate harmoniously to society, it requires acceptance and understanding of what is considered real and possible right now, and why it is so as well as a conscious process of staging experiments that suggest alternate ways of doing things. I find that the concept of the “invitation” is also vital in these matters.

Similarly as to when I am working with a body, the invitation for me is a useful way of conceptualizing non-forceful way of opening other realities at a societal level — by allowing people to try out ways of being and doing that are not seen as possible in the mainstream reality. Inviting people to co-create new ways of being is for me also the best way of mobilizing them (and myself) behind more harmonious developmental paths.

Relating to nature — the spiritual

Relating to nature is for me about accepting that we are not separate, but rather part of the ongoing creation of everything. That we are really in relation to the wind, the water, the trees and everything else and couldn’t exist without it all. Being is interbeing. I find that this is easy to say, but not easy to be with in practice, where I often find myself feeling other than the world I inhabit.

But I really trust that, as Alan Watts would put it, we are not just accidents in a unwelcoming and cold mechanical world, but rather some of the fruits that this living universe is growing.

Relating to nature for me means being in love with the world and wanting to honor it by bringing the gifts we have as humans — figuring out our part in the greater manifestation of being. A more sentimental way of putting it is that everything we do with love can be considered a prayer to the universe.

Some core concepts connected to Relating

In my exploration of various relational practices I have come to appreciate a number of concepts that I find useful for thinking and talking about relating to myself and others.

Authenticity

The concepts of Authenticity and Authentic Relating have been hard for me to come to terms with. There is something inherently uncomfortable for me in naming one way of being more authentic than another, especially when talking about the behavior of someone else.

I have however come to a place where I find that the question “is this my authentic expression” is useful for me. For me this question points to the possibility every moment holds for me to bring forth what is really present in me. Authenticity understood in this way means “stripping away” layers of learned behavior, ideas about how to behave properly

Sensitivity

It seems to me that it is impossible to act skillfully in the world and build harmonious relationships, without being sensitive to what is already present. Without sensitivity any attempt to create change will be forceful and in opposition to what is.

In my experience sensitivity often has two core components. There is the “what” of the experience, my sense or feeling of something in the present moment — something being not right, something not being allowed or something present that is not being seen. And then there is the “why” of the experience, my story about what that means. I have come to trust that my sense is almost always right and that my story is almost always wrong.

This is also true when I do taiji, dancing or bodywork. When I follow and move with my embodied sensitivity I seem to be able to act much more effortlessly and skillfully than when I start attaching stories and concepts to what I am doing. The not-knowing sensitivity is what enables me to move with precision when it is needed.

The story for me often becomes quite destructive and leads to me taking something personally or making something important (which is largely the same thing in my world). It seems to me that this often occurs when I refuse (out of fear, resentment, stubbornness or similar) to bring my truth (the impact of the situation on me) in the moment and the feeling somehow gets stuck in my body. It is also quite rare that my story matches that of others and if i stick to it, it often becomes difficult to meet. It becomes about me rather than about the relationship.

However, when I dare to stay with my sense and go into an exploration of the unknown together with other people, it seems like there is often an opening or a deepening of the relationship. This most clearly comes out when I allow myself to share the impact another person has on me. It often comes out as something like “I noticed that …”, “You seem to …”, “I feel really touched about you sharing …” or “I am still with you saying … what does that mean to you?”.

Paradoxically, sensitivity also seems to be about getting in touch with an embodied knowing. It is becoming increasingly clear for me that I can know a lot about another person by just being with them, seeing them and listening to them. Who we are is expressed in and through our bodies and how we hold them.

In my own experience it is incredibly scary and confronting, but also incredibly liberating when someone dares to trust their sensitivity and share what how they are experiencing me. In those quite rare moments I really feel seen.

A very curious thing is that our sensitivities seem to be largely based on our personal experiences. The lives we have lived makes us open for some parts of experience and closed to others. Another way of saying this is that our “trauma” or bad past experiences can be transformed to relational superpowers when we understand that they enable us to see parts of reality that would otherwise be invisible for us. We all have our personalized “puzzle pieces” that can (and in my mind should) be brought into connection with others and thus allow us to collectively grow.

Bringing sensitivity is vulnerable and implies courage. Working on my sensitivity means trusting my sensuous experience, not making my stories important and really bringing my curiosity for other people’s experiences. It means seeing sensitivity as something that can be brought in connection rather than something forcing me to suffer because I am feeling to much.

Lightness

Lightness is a strong theme for me these days. Based in my taiji practice, where it has become very obvious for me that the lighter I become (and feel), the more heavy and connected I feel for my practice partners. But the sense of lightness is also becoming very important for me in the way I relate to the world generally.

I increasingly have the experience that there are 2 very different approaches I can take when relating to the world. The first one connects to an image of accumulating tension. It is as if I, when I meet resistance or pain in the world, grab it and stuff it into my body — enduring the world and hiding away my discomfort and pain so no one can see it. The other is one of letting go. It feels like taking what is stuck inside me and releasing it into the world, making me feel lighter — because there is less of me.

This feeling of lightness and spaciousness is increasingly important to me. And the world feels incredibly different when I move between these states.

When I feel wrong or that something or someone “out there” is wrong my embodied sense is that I am very much inside myself — often to a degree where I become insensitive of my surroundings in a very concrete way. I simply don’t take other people in and it seems that I become quite unable to empathize.

I have quite vivid memories of the times where I have managed to reveal my stuckness or tension and how liberating it feels at an embodies level — very much like a weight being taken from me. As if the tension is brought outside of my body rather than being stuck there.

It seems true to me that unrevealed emotions can get stuck as physical tensions in our bodies and that the physical tensions that we feel often connects to the emotional experiences I have (or have had) that I am not willing to be with or feel.

The world is not there to be endured.

Generosity

Generosity is about being as transparent as possible about my experience, sharing both the surface and the depths of what my world is like with others — in every moment. This does not imply constantly talking, sharing everything that goes through me, but rather discerning between what is really alive and important for me and what is not. Generosity is expressing my vulnerability without putting demands on others.

These days I often think of the way I relate as a fear or love dichotomy. I increasingly notice how i navigate through fear. I pull back from doing the things I want to do and being with people in the way I want to be out of fear — of being rejected, of being too much, of being needy etc. I notice how Iin so many situations hold back (or rather pull away and into myself) as a fear reaction.

I find that love presents another option than going with fear. Love, in this perspective, means “staying open” and being with what is. One aspect of this is being intimate with and feeling myself, another is generosity towards others and “commitment to connection”.

“The difficulty is that the defensive defensiveness of the ego recoils from the very thing that would allay it — from association with others based on physical gestures of affection, from rites, dances, or forms of play which clearly symbolize mutual love between the members of the group.

…there are countless associations between people who, claiming to be firm friends, still lack the nerve to represent their affection for each other by physical and erotic contact which might raise friendship to the level of love.

Our trouble is that we have ignored and thus feel insecure in the enormous spectrum of love which lies between rather formal friendship and genital sexuality, and thus are always afraid that once we overstep the bounds of formal friendship we must slide inevitably to the extreme of sexual promiscuity…

…In other words, the greater part of love is a relationship that we hardly allow.”

Alan W. Watts, The Joyous Cosmology

Some of my core experiences related to love and relationships (and my fear of being with love) has come out of circling. I clearly remember how, on the last weekend of my 6 month training with Circling Europe in 2014, the question “am I really allowed to live like this/am I really allowed to love like this?” came to me. This question has stuck with me ever since and constantly reminds me of the ways in which I am limiting myself from living fully and being in love with the world.

In the last few years of my life I have experienced falling in love more times than in the rest of my life accumulated. It has come in many forms, but all with an aspect of “I want you in my life” and “I want to be close with you” at the core.

When I first heard Charles Eisenstein say that “Love is the expansion of self to include the other” a few years ago, it resonated a lot with me. It matched a recurring image of mine; a dark globe filling up with more and more lights as I opened my heart to more people. Something that very much felt (and feels) like an expansion of me. It feels like these are the people (and trees and places) that co-construct my reality with me as I use them to navigate life.

I have heard clever people say that you should not collect lovers, but rather realize that you are never going to run out of love. I feel split in this. On one hand I can feel how I attach to the people I love and don’t want to let go. But on the other I also feel the expansion of feeling love for (and falling in love with) more and more people that I meet.

I do however trust that the more of myself I dare to share with others, the lighter I feel and the more love there is in my world. Generosity towards others in other words is the greatest gift I can give to myself.

Courage

Courage is the ability to follow your heart, even though you are afraid.

This relatively simple exercise seems to be one of the hardest things for me to do.

For me that means accepting both my inner longing and my fear, without distancing myself from either of them. It means risking looking foolish or being rejected because I am showing up with everything I am — or at least a bit more of what I am.

It is becoming increasingly clear for me how rarely I dare to bring myself fully. I am afraid of bringing my love fully because there is a risk of rejection and I am afraid of bringing my joy fully because there is a risk of ridicule. I am afraid of bringing my boundaries, because I might be left if I do.

These fears make me hold back my (authentic) expression and wait until it feels like I am allowed to bring myself in. The “permission” comes from my perception of the surroundings and if they feel safe enough that my expression is welcome. Quite often I ask others about their needs or wants to enable myself to step into an already known space. It is however becoming clear for me that this approach feels far less real and alive than the times where I move with courage, risking rejection and facing my fear of “doing something wrong”.

The fear of “doing something wrong” is becoming increasingly visible for me as a pattern I have carried with me from childhood. This patterning is now mostly showing up as a pride based identification with never doing anything wrong — being “impeccable” provides me with a bulletproof shell that I can move around the world without having to really experience the fear in my heart of not really being good enough.

I have recently had some clear experiences on how this pattern impacts people around me. How my pride, which is really hiding a younger and more vulnerable side of me, makes me show up in a distanced, aloof manner, which makes people around me feel like they are not good enough — In this way my deep rooted fear is transferred to my surroundings.

At a personal level it is also becoming clear for me that this patterning, which makes me avoid stepping into territory where I feel out of control, also means that I very rarely allow myself to really do want I want to and particularly that it is impossible to really take pleasure in what I do if I have to be on guard for “doing something wrong” all the time. Courage means not letting my pride get in the way of what I deeply want to do.

Being more like a cat
Around a year ago, while I was assisting on a circling SAS training with Circling Europe, I got a strong desire to be more like a cat. Being like a cat is for me a very concretely embodied sense, but here I have also tried to attach some words to what being a cat means for me.

Aliveness
Owning my own fear and really realizing that it is MY fear has the potential to transform my relationship to the fear from something that holds me away from the world, to using the fear as a guide that can point me to something that is important to me. Using the fear to move with what is alive in the moment.

Immediacy
Another aspect of this is moving away from making plans for how to become a better person, making myself into a project to be finished. A more “catty” way seems to be to see the potential for transformation that is there in every moment and having the courage to go with it when it is there.

Boundaries
I increasingly see how scared I am of intimacy. And how that fear is connected to a claustrophobic sense of “not being able to get away” or being held and contained. I see how this fear often is stopping me from moving with the aliveness I feel because I am afraid that it might lead me to an unknown space where I am not able to say stop or get away. Being more like a cat implies allowing myself to step in and out of intimacy based on my own desires and needs.

Surrender
Surrender connects to letting go of the pressure to know what my experience means. It concerns being willing to be part of something and bringing myself fully, without controlling the whole by needing a particular answer or result of my actions.

My process these days is a lot about getting past naming my fears (which I have become quite good at), but rather embodying and moving with whatever it is that I am afraid of. The courageous move seems to be about stepping out from a position where I see my safety as the most important — a state of fear where I hide my truth and my sensitivity from the world — into a world where I can move towards that which scares me and explore it.

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Peter Munthe-Kaas

I am a Copenhagen based researcher of urban development, workshop facilitator and body therapist. In all my work I focus on sensitivity and relating.