The 3 levels of relational interaction

The 3 levels of relational interaction

About a month ago, I wrote an email essay called “Can I be met”, exploring the core longing to enter a space of communion with those you love — and how that urge gets co-opted when we give in to habits and “normal” patterns of how humans interact. Since these patterns are used by pretty much all humans in relating, we end up going around feeling constantly unmet at the deepest level when it comes to sharing human love.

The email was meant not only as an invitation to readers to get more authentic about your true choice around how to show up in relating; I also wrote it as a call to myself to step up courageously in my authentic truth instead of continuing to give in to habitual ways I’ve been meeting those in my life on the surface.

To that end, I forwarded the email to the people in my life that I’ve been connecting with the most, and while they pretty much all loved it (or at least came back with a passionate response), just simply telling them about it didn’t instantly create a sudden depth of relating that feels like where my being is inviting. However, it did lead to a relief that I’m no longer lying about how I am willing to show up in order to please other people.

It’s also gotten really quiet around here, as some of the result has been to pause or even bring to a peaceful close places of quasi-relating that don’t seem to have the potential of going anywhere that feels meaningful and resonant to me.

But that quiet feels more alive than the obligatory texts and phone calls were feeling.

And in that slow down, I’ve been exploring this question: What is true human communion, and how can we experience it?

One recipient of that email asserted essentially that “deeper intimacy and conversations about life must be based on a shared perception of truth”. At face value, I dismissed her assertion, but when I allowed myself the space to consider her perspective, I realized that my instant dismissal was based on assumption and past experiences, as well as feeling overall triggered by her message.

So I decided to take that assertion as a question directly to my inner voice.

Now it’s really common to assume that we need to have similar beliefs, philosophies, and values to be able to hold a dialogue that feels like we’re getting somewhere without too much friction. Where we’re getting, usually, is to a building up of mutual understanding.

Expanding understanding is a totally valid and needed experience. With greater understanding comes an ability to choose beyond old ways and step into something new.

But developing a greater mental understanding does not equal deep communion sharing of love. And often these conversations can devolve to trying to convince each other of something or make sure the other person doesn’t have some belief you’ve grown beyond.

In my experience, convincing conversations have not been life-nourishing ones.

While the inner voice validated my instinct that it isn’t true that “deeper intimacy” must be based on a “shared perception of truth”, the answer was a lot more nuanced than that. So I’m coming here to share what I learned.

There are essentially 3 levels where relational interaction may occur:

  1. A mental peripheral surface level, where there is a rote reciting of facts with the intention of building up a shared mutual understanding.
  2. A sharing in emotions and feelings where the raw humanness is present and there is a reflecting back.
  3. A space of presence where there is a shared recognition of beingness and a simultaneous awareness of distinctness.

On the first level, my correspondent was pretty much correct. When you’re engaging in mental dialogue with someone from a completely different paradigm, it’s really challenging to discuss meaningful topics. Even with a lot of skill that most people don’t have, your perspective and means of engagement in the world is so different that your best case scenario is to listen and appreciate other perspectives. Worst case is an outright fight.

So little meaningful communication can occur when minds go into debate to try to get to the same understanding while both parties are really convinced of their own worldviews. And that is so obvious for anyone who has spent more than a minute on social media or attempted to talk politics at a family gathering, so there’s not much need to say more there.

At level 2, to get to a deeper sharing of the human experience takes a lot of skill that most people don’t have. But it can feel so beautiful and meeting when you do feel witnessed and seen in sharing of your authentic human emotions.

It takes skill and potentially facilitation to engage in true empathy. Here you’re already going beyond the need to have shared belief systems. Instead, you’ll need to have a shared willingness to step in with someone to their place of pain or joy and witness them in it, without judgement.

And it’s here that can feel like true friendship to a lot of people — like this is the person that will be there for you when your boyfriend dumps you or you’re lost in the woods, or when you’re celebrating a big moment in your life.

Level 3 is where most people don’t go, or don’t even know, except in “magical” glimpses that occur here and there when we step beyond the illusion of being 2 separate ones and into the oneness of knowing that we just are. The invitation I’m hearing is to open this realm not just in seemingly random miraculous moments, but frequently and by choice.

And to go there doesn’t require sharing mental worlds.

It takes a willingness and aptitude to open to presence.

I feel like exploring what this is and what’s needed to go beyond old patterns of relating into truly aligned resonant ways is a long-term journey for me that I’m still somewhere near the start of.

But for now, it feels aligning to get more clear about what the various types of relating are and become more intentional about choosing how I play.


There are 3 levels of relational interaction: 1) Mental peripheral surface, where there is sharing of facts and building up shared mutual understanding. It takes enough shared belief systems to explore here. 2) Emotional sharing and witnessing. It takes skill and willingness, not shared beliefs. 3) Presence with awareness of beingness and distinctness. It takes willingness and aptitude to open this space.


There are no comments yet. Be the first one to leave a comment!