The Alchemy of Relational Containers
The purpose of this article is to illuminate the powerful alchemical nature of relational containers. Using the content of the weekly Authentic Relating practices within the Fundamentals of Authentic Relating course, this essay will show how to take what we learn in each class and create a context (the container that holds it) to practice in.
I first experienced the power of practice containers when I tried Orgasmic Meditation (OM) for the first time. In this practice two practitioners get together for 15 minutes, with the intention to feel the sensations that arise without any other agenda. It's a sexuality practice and due to the intense nature of OM, practitioners experience a highly sensational and intimate experience together. What makes this experience consistently possible and most importantly, safe, was the container that OM was held in.
The term container may evoke an image of a tupperware container or something bigger that you might store old clothes or toys in. Symbolically, at least, it's similar. A container's purpose is to contain the contents so nothing gets in and nothing gets out. It’s structural in nature and provides the safety necessary to support and hold what is inside.
Integrity, safety, trustworthy, consistency and certainty are all values that a solid container will hold at its core.
The OM container is a fifteen minute practice with a formal language structure that is simple and explicit. The stroker always wears gloves, there are 9 pieces of equipment that make the nest and every practitioner uses the same meditation app ‘Insight Timer’. Everyone who learns the practice learns it the same way with the same ingredients in the same timeframe, using the same language without any added extras. It's simple and it needs to be. The whole point of the practice is to experience a direct and comprehensive transmission of ‘connection’ in its most purest and vibrant essence.
When I think about learning something new like authentic relating, which is complex, intimate and vulnerable in nature, I notice some fear and anxiety knowing that what I want, deeper intimacy and connection, is available when I take the risk and plunge into the deep end. Just as when I learnt OM, Having the container that held the practice in, took care of any confusing and irrelevant questions I had that stopped me from jumping in. The container allowed that part of my brain to quiet down and relax just enough to be able to at least have a go.
What makes Fundamentals of Authentic Relating as potent as it can be are the exercises we receive to practice. The purpose of each exercise is to give the practitioner a direct, clear and succinct transmission of the theme of each week. Week one is reflection, week two is curiosity and so on. The directions that are given are easy to follow and hopefully, only a tiny bit outside of one's comfort zone, just enough that you’ll remain inspired to keep learning and keep it interesting.
The structure of the exercises for each week is what I am calling the container. A practitioner will undertake the steps outlined, example below, and the outcome will be a direct experience of the theme proposed for the week. For example:
Week 2 in the course covers “Reflections” and the practice suggestion is to:
Form a triad
Each member is allocated a role
The three roles are: Sharer (shares), Reflector (reflects) and Witness (gives feedback at the end)
Each person swaps roles until everyone has had a go in each position
The sharer shares for five to ten minutes (or more) while the reflector reflects and the witness observes
After the agreed upon time container, the reflector then summarises and weaves what they just heard for a further two extra minutes.
Next the third position will give feedback for two minutes.
All together, if followed diligently, the entire practice should take no more than thirty minutes in total and up to an hour. The purpose is for the person who is in the reflector position to have time to practice reflecting, with nothing else to think about apart from putting all of their attention on the sharer and having a distilled experience of what it is like to be ‘reflecting’.
This is an example of a ‘reflecting’ container. Everyone has ‘buy in' and there is an explicit contract that all participants agree to and follow. Outside of the context of the course, once a student has had some practice they are able to take the learnings and integrate them into regular conversations to create more depth and intimacy with someone they might want that with (more on how to create your own containers in part II).
The structure or container as we now know it, is clear, simple, easy to follow and consistent so that it's repeatable and supports the student to achieve a desired outcome. This is why containers are important for a student who wants to integrate and make the content relevant beyond the class. Practicing a certain skill over and over again will lead to mastering that skill and broaden one's capacity to engage deeper and more skilfully in a chosen domain. Understanding and practicing containers inside of relational dynamics make for personal change on a fundamental level. They go from a cerebral experience into an embodied form that will support you to be a better more integrated human.