Making Room for Our Relational Intelligence

Making Room for Our Relational Intelligence

So this Halloween I decided to go as my psoas.  For the last few weeks, it’s been screaming at me, so loud I have no idea what it’s saying.  It just hurts.  For those of you who haven’t communed with your psoas much, it’s a muscle central to just about everything else It runs from the middle of our spine through the pelvis and down into the femur.  It’s the muscle that takes up our fear response, the “flight or fight” we gird ourselves against since about day one of this adventure we call life.

So here I am, in a dynamic conversation with my psoas, thus my idea to just be my psoas on a day when our culture condones this kind of thing.  Costume design details slated for a future blog entry.

Turns out when the psoas isn’t happy, every other muscle seems to be affected, so let’s just say it’s getting my attention.  I’ve never felt this kind of tension before, so I’m asking, urgently, what’s out of balance.

She (my psoas) is talking back, and I’m learning a lot.  It’s not a muscle that needs strengthening, rather she needs to simply let go and be free.  Big time.  Liz Koch, a psoas expert who travels the globe, teaches a class called Stalking the Wild Psoas.  This psoas of ours has been armored as protection from the barrage of unpleasantness we meet in our lives.  Consequently, she is caged and constrained.  And as I release all this tension, there’s a boatload of information coming in about my subliminal patterning that I’ve never seen before.

Mostly this information comes through my dreams.  Among the list of obscure dream metaphors for the emotions hiding in my psoas, I have met chickens living in cages the size of the chickens, tiny neglected puppies broken in two, and just today a pre-pubescent girl simmering with resentment as permanent house servant.  This one opened the map, revealing the story behind my caged psoas and, more importantly, the story behind the caged woman in all of us.

Who was this girl in my dream?  She was about 10 or 11, just on the verge of filling out, surging with hormones and becoming a sexual being.  She looked tired as she lay about waiting for instructions of what to do next from the parents she lived with and from whoever else entered her home from the outside world.   She wore a two-piece bathing suit, and when called into service, much like an aging prostitute, changed in front of everyone, into a dress more appropriate for serving but still with an eye towards satisfying the environment’s need to see her flesh and availability.

At first, I was repulsed by the little creature.  And then, as I recognized her in me, I wanted to reach out and hold her desperate, exhausted being protectively to mine.  The more deeply I looked into the dream, the more I realized that the dream was not just for me, but for women everywhere.

Painfully, it appears as a parable for women, transitioning from childhood and entering the world of unwritten and dominant cultural norms and expectations, having already internalized servitude and physical objectification so deeply we can’t remember living any other way.

In the work I do inside of government agencies, facilitating trust, cohesion and relational intelligence, I watch women struggling to break free I watch them exquisitely uncomfortable trying to adhere to the dominant culture’s ways of working and flexing positional power.  I watch women biting their tongue, repressing their instincts, distorting their personal power, and making themselves small, so as not to threaten the dominant culture’s need for objective, rational, head-centered dialogue and decision-making.

Some women have so become the dominant culture, that their wild, wise and relational selves are completely subsumed and undetectable from the outside.  Other women’s repressed feral natures are coming to the surface expressing themselves through anger and vitriol, sometimes directed at others, sometimes just at themselves.

Many of these women have opened up to me, from a deep and personal place, and reveal the extreme imbalance in their lives.  Here I meet the exhausted 10 or 11 year old of my dream, decades later, neglecting the nourishment of her own soul, and instead becoming permanently available to the malnourished souls surrounding her.

Here I meet that same fragile, pre-adolescent girl, some 40 years later, having never been asked if she wanted to live her life as a servant and as “objectified other,” but instead simply felt expected to do so.

Here I meet the child-woman everywhere living out a life of indentured servitude, seeking to participate in the world professionally, yet only on the condition that she play by the dominant culture’s rules, and promise never to bring her innate relational intelligence to the game.

It is here that I meet myself every day in every woman I meet.  And it is here that I meet buried rage covering seismic grief.

The good news is women everywhere are waking up.  Our fury and rage, mirrored in the cataclysmic weather changes of our she-planet, are revealing the parts of us we’ve forgotten and left behind.  The wild wisdom we innately hold and have always brought to family and community wants out, wants in and wants a voice.

Marginalizing it will just make it stronger and fiercer as it emerges.  Witness the women at the Bernie Sanders rally just a few months ago seeking to speak for the experience of people of color everywhere and black people in America, in particular.  So here are some recommendations.

It’s fully time for the dominant culture to finally acknowledge the life-threatening imbalance it’s created.  It’s fully time for the dominant culture to refine our relational intelligence, an intelligence held in the body as much as it’s held in the brain, as rigorously as it’s refined the highly rational, linear intelligence characterized primarily by the left brain.

And it’s fully time for the dominant culture to invite women into the room–the executive conference rooms and forums of power and decision-making everywhere–to teach and model what we know about this kind of relational intelligence to resolve the ever expanding scope of conflict, division and polarity that is consuming our institutions, our communities and our globe.

Perhaps we should give credit to the dominant culture and its bias towards left-brain thinking as it has led us to mastery in virtually every tangible domain.  The scale and brilliance of human civilization, measured through our technology and the unparalleled accumulation of wealth, is something to behold.  Yet we believe mistakenly that this trajectory can, somehow, continue ‘as is’ and we will successfully bring all ‘backwaters’ forward into this material nirvana.

What we fail to adequately acknowledge, or perhaps we simply deny, is the fallout of this left-brain bias.  Without more mediation from the right brain which sees patterns, metaphors and “the forest for the trees” — without a relational intelligence that values trust, interconnectivity and information coming from our bodies — we experience rising conflict, intractable poverty, environmental devastation, and a desperate search for meaning — some way, any way beyond the relentless productivity treadmill which seems to offer only more screen time, more gadgets and more human isolation.

Relational intelligence. What does it look like?  What are we doing when we apply it to our world, to our work?

  • We see people listening for understanding, listening infused with curiosity, and listening as power.
  • We see individuals unafraid to be wrong, refraining from the need to be right, and allowing their perspective to be broadened by others’ views and opinions.
  • We see individuals able to express authentic gratitude and appreciation to the people around them, not just for what they do, but for who they are.
  • We see people willing to play with each other again, to return to a kind of innocence that generates trust, innovation and new ideas much more efficiently than linear problem-solving.
  • We see people with a much greater ability to tolerate ambiguity, who do not need to fix, contain and control but who allow problems to unfurl in their own timing and trust our collective ability to act when it’s ripe.
  • We witness a heightened capacity for patience, first for ourselves and then for others.
  • We see people who regularly practice self-reflection and incorporate this learning of themselves into their thoughts and actions to intentionally develop as a person.
  • We observe individuals who notice the unspoken feelings or energies in a room, and who are unafraid to make these “intangibles” visible, so they don’t undermine trust and connection.
  • We see people able to acknowledge their human needs and vulnerabilities and speak to others from that place vs. blaming or demanding unconsciously that the world meet these needs for them.
  • We see people taking responsibility for the mythologies of their fragile egos and relating without the ego defenses that distort connection and authenticity.
  • And perhaps most importantly, we see individuals able to create a safe space that allows everyone to disarm and put down their proverbial weapons.  As Visaka Dharmadasa, a leader and peacemaker from Sri Lanka explained in an interview about peacemaking in her country, “we must make our enemy feel secure, for it’s only when they feel insecure that they lash out and cause harm.”

Relational intelligence.  As I write about it, my psoas feels better.  Perhaps that part of me who wants to speak about the value of relational intelligence and the role women can play, no longer as servants in the dominant culture but as teachers in the relational realm, is finding her voice.

Playing such a role will require that we heal the wounds we’ve sustained from childhood, perhaps from many lifetimes, and feel through our grief, anger and rage, and ground ourselves with new confidence and self compassion.  Only then can we, as women–and men–be truly effective as facilitators of relational intelligence.  This will take more time.  And a lot more patience.

For now at least, I am relieved to have found one of my deepest wounds, right here in the psoas, waiting patiently for me to wake up and listen.  And thankfully, it’s just in time.



Lisa Fitzhugh

As Founding Partner of Creative Ground, Lisa's work activates healthier, thriving people and teams. She is also the Founder and previous Executive Director of Arts Corps, an award-winning program combining arts learning and social change.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Provoked? Tell us how….

  2. After learning that the loin muscle is called a “psoas” and then unconsciously practicing my Kegel exercises while reading this amazing piece, my big ah ha is that relational intelligence is also GREAT TEACHING! The dozen practices listed here are exactly what we train teachers to do in classrooms to develop students’ innate curiosity and help them learn at higher levels. Thank you for opening my eyes…again!

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