I had an experience several years ago that highlighted every major principle I talk about in my work. My husband Gay and I were about to go on tour for our new relationship book, The Conscious Heart. In it we explore the primary commitment to learn from every relationship interaction, no matter how seemingly trivial or huge. We wrote at some length about choosing to see who people really are, their essence, rather than making ourselves right, avoiding learning and repeating old patterns. We’d noticed that living this commitment created magic and turned potential power struggles into exciting possibilities. I was about to put my commitment to the test.
We were scheduled to take a seven o’clock am flight to San Diego to speak at a conference, followed by a series of flights to Canada to teach at a retreat center. We left our house in Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara, with plenty of time to stop by the office for a folder we needed. As we approached the freeway entrance after getting the file, Gay suddenly said, “Do you have your passport?” “Sure,” I replied. “Don’t you?” Long pause. “No. Do you need a passport to get into Canada?” I didn’t know. I uttered a silent thank you for modern technology and dialed our airline on the cellular phone.
“Excuse me, but do you know if I need a passport to get into Canada?” I asked.
“No,” the agent replied.
I sighed with relief.
“No, ” he repeated, “a birth certificate will do.”
Groan. “You mean a driver’s license isn’t enough?”
Since Gay wasn’t in the habit of carrying his birth certificate around in his wallet, we faced a choice. This is the kind of moment that couples we’d counseled had dwelt on for decades. We could have debated who’s reponsibility it was to pack the passport, why I didn’t remind Gay to bring his passport when I packed mine, who should have left more time to get to the airport, why we didn’t have the file at home so we could have saved the time it took to stop by the office, etc. Instead, we spontaneously took a couple of deep breaths, remembered our commitment to learn about essence from every relationship encounter, and turned back home for the passport.
We say that people can be sorted into two basic types: sharp pencils and happy idiots. One reason people find each other is to balance and soften (or sharpen) their perspective. I entered our relationship as a very sharp pencil, so, of course, I knew exactly where the passport was and made the round trip out of the car and back in under thirty seconds. However, it was now approximately twenty minutes until seven, and the airport was about twenty minutes away. So Gay decided to do something he rarely does, speed. How fast was he going? We were about to find out.
The motorcyle patrolman who pulled us over when we were still ten minutes from the airport was a dazzling example of crispness. His uniform virtually stood at attention independently his motorcyle gleamed spotlessly, and his sunglasses reflected our license plate numbers without distortion. As he sauntered toward the passenger window in the patented stroll they learn, we had another breathing opportunity and the chance to reaffirm our commitment to learning. The officer leaned down slowly to the open window and uttered THE QUESTION: “Do you know how fast you were going?”
Now, I’ve noticed that any big commitment signals the universe that a bigger playing field is being designed. Then the universe administers a pop quiz to make sure that this new commitment is what I really want. For example, I’ve noticed that right after I’ve made a commitment to eat healthy, vibrant foods, someone will offer me a piece of death-by-chocolate cake. I was beginning to get the sense that the primary commitment to learn from every relationship interaction must have generated a huge feedback signal, giving Gay and me many opportunities to align our actions with that intention.
So, we breathed again. Gay quickly responded, ” I don’t know how fast I was going.” (We practice a commitment to communicating unarguably.) “But whatever speed you say I was going, I probably was.”
There was a long pause. The officer probably hadn’t heard that kind of response a lot. Meanwhile, I had pulled out our cell phone again was was calling the airline to see when the next flight down to San Diego might be in the possible case that we missed the 7am flight. It was now about eight minutes before seven.
The officer said, “That’s the smallest phone I’ve ever seen!” I explained that the StarTac was a Christmas present to Gay and how much we enjoyed it. I was also beginning to notice that I was having a great time and that my palms were perfectly dry, not sweaty with anxiety.
“I’m calling our airlines to see if we can book the next flight,” I explained further.
“Gosh, when’s your flight?”
“Well, gosh,” he said as he checked the time on his watch. “Here’s what we’ll do. I have to write you a ticket, but I can do that at the airport. Let’s go on ahead and you can check in while I write the ticket.”
So within three minutes the situation had completely reversed from us speeding to us being escorted quite efficiently to the airport. We pulled up to the curb at about three minutes until seven, and I dashed in with the tickets, Gay parked the car, and Officer Ray Schultz (we had exchanged names by this time) wrote up the ticket.
Gay said at one point, “Can’t I just sign it, and you fill in the rest. I trust you.””No, no, this will just take a minute,” he said. He was right. To our great surprise Officer Schultz said, “Look, I’ve got to ticket you because you were speeding. You were actually going 87 miles per hour, but I’m going to write you up for 76 m.p.h. That’s the lowest I can do, but it’ll save you some points on your license.”
“Gosh, thanks, that’s kind of you.”
“No problem, my pleasure to meet you.”
We and our luggage made our flight. The last thing Ray said as we trotted toward the gate was,
“Did you lock your car?”
We nodded laughing and waved good-bye.
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