Writer, producer and coach Kathrin Seitz and Marc Felix, a Camden psychotherapist and student of shamanism, are exploring this winter the phenomenon of relationships –- what they are and what they mean for the human experience. In March, they will hold a daylong workshop to invite relationship into lives and enhance the relationships one has. As part of this winter project, they also will venture forth with the broader Midcoast community with this periodic column, to investigate the idea of relationship, that heavily nuanced word in the English language that implies much but is so hard to define.

We are curious to learn how people view relationships. And by this, we mean a relationship of any sort – romantic, of course, but also familial. Or, our relationship to work, spirit, art, music, money, animals, the sea, the land and our own self. We are fascinated with the process of relationship, how humans interrelate, and have previously taught workshops on “Shapeshifting Relationship.” We want to continue that work here in this column space over the next few months to better understand what you want to know about relationships. We will also use this space to talk about whether communication is the problem everyone thinks it is; what commitment is, really; what friendship is all about; and what our favorite romantic movies tell us about ourselves.

We invite your questions and will discuss them here; e-mail them to shapeshiftingrelationship@gmail.com.

First, however, there is the basic question of why we, as humans or even animals, exist in relationships. This was posed to us by Jane, who lives in the Midcoast, is married, has teenagers and a job. She loves all of it, but asks us, what is the point of relationships? Why are they even necessary?

Kathrin’s answer

For me, it’s all about relationships. The sperm meets the egg – how do you do? — our first relationship. And we’re born into the arms of another human being. We gaze at them, they gaze back – boom, relationship. If Jane is talking about romantic relationships, I’m not sure we have a choice there either. We are in these bodies, spirits and minds that want to connect. Ask any scientist. Ask any poet. They’ll tell you that we’re in relationship with everything around us.

We seek relationship because it feels good. We get pleasure from connecting to people, animals, God, spirit, our work, our piano and our car. Some of us do better connecting to our buddies, or our blue Ford trucks, or our red cowboy boots than we do to romantic partners.

Relationships are about learning to love. And learning to let go of our agendas. Approximately 10 years ago, I was angry with my good friend Jay, and for a good reason, or so I thought. I called my mentor, Robert. “What shall I do about it,” I asked.  His response: “Call him and tell him you love him.”

I considered hanging up on Robert, but could feel in my gut he was right. So I did what he told me to do. I called Jay and told him I loved him. To this day, when I remember that story, I tear up. Jay died of a massive heart attack a year ago. Thank God I chose to tell him I loved him.

As I write this, I wonder, whom do I need to call today? Will I? Who do you need to call? Will you?

Marc’s answer

Outside of those rare few who are happy to be hermits, most of us seem to be built to be in relationship. The image of Noah’s Ark flashes through my mind, all those animals going into the ark two by two, affirming that primal need for relationship.

The other image that Jane’s question conjures up is from Plato, who described ancient humans as a combination of masculine and feminine with four arms, four legs, two heads, and their bodies so connected that they resembled big spheres that would roll around in great bliss.

Plato said the gods were so threatened by how powerful these human spheres were that they split each of them in half. Ever since then, we’ve been running around trying to find our other half. Perhaps our modern version of this ancient story is the fairytale of finding your true love on Match.com and living happily ever after.

In my counseling practice, I’ve seen over and over that people cannot distinguish the difference between lasting love and temporary infatuation. However, the passing of time often solves this puzzle. Experience suggests that six months will usually tell you, and a year is definitive.

To get back to Jane’s question, why do we need relationship? Plato’s image suggests that relationship can make us whole. Of course, contemporary pop psychology abhors this idea and tells us repeatedly that we need to find our wholeness in ourselves; heaven forbid that we should in any way be dependent on another.

I agree that independence is a far more mature place than dependency, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck being independent. Relationship promises something beyond independence: an interdependent intimacy born of open-hearted communion, the ecstatic swoon of melting boundaries, a surrender to love.

Then there’s the whole issue of loneliness. Is there a state more miserable? Some of us would rather sit in a dentist’s chair than be lonely. How many times do we compromise what we want in a relationship just to avoid the discomfort of loneliness? We’re supposed to use our loneliness as an opportunity to deepen our relationships to ourselves. We should let our loneliness saturate us and pay careful attention to the images that surface from our own shadows. Do we? Or are we more apt to watch movies, eat food or go shopping?

We need relationships to nurture us emotionally, intellectually, physically, socially and spiritually. We are born with the potential for relationship, but it takes work to actualize relationship in a full and healthy manner. As a beautiful proverb goes, we each live in the shelter of each other.

Kathrin Seitz has more than 30 years experience in the publishing, television and film businesses in both New York City and Los Angeles. She has been teaching Method Writing for more than six years in New York City, Newport, R.I., Maine and Florida. Visit kathrinseitz.com.

Marc Felix holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and has been a psychotherapist in private practice for more than 30 years. His work radically shifted after completing a two-decade shamanic apprenticeship with an Apache medicine chief. His current work is body, mind and spirit healing of individuals and couples.