My big ole galaxy metaphor for life’s relationships — Orbit Theory.
A few years ago, my interest in the universe skyrocketed! Observing people and relationships (including my own) became more than just a snoopy interest to me; it was more of a magnetic pull. What my raw observations ripened into is now my own Orbit Theory of relationships.
In the last few months I’ve heard myself recounting Orbit Theory to others when discussing the importance of perceptions and interactions, especially in times of conflict. Orbit Theory resonated with these people but, while I had already accepted it as my norm, I took for granted that maybe others don’t geek out on thinking about universe stuff like this. So I’m going to share it!
I love this universe and science. I’m grateful for people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, who dumb down astrophysics enough for a layperson like me to believe I have some understanding of Copernicus, Einstein, Newton, Fibonacci, Galileo, and Ptolemy (and others). I appreciate my smallness while understanding I have the power to make my smallness great for the inconsequential time that I’m here. And thanks to 16th century mathematician, Johannes Kepler, and all the other scientific pioneers, now I can make sense of my life according to math and science.
Overwhelmed with inspiration and motivation when reading the likes of Amy Cuddy, Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle, and Angela Duckworth, I want to gather my tribe and unshackle the potential in our world! They help bring so many things together and make real applications of ideals achievable. While I aim to be fully present, brave the universe, and warrior my way through the hardships of life with the grit of John Wayne, sometimes this human-woman-caregiver lacks the capacity and willpower to save the world with even very small acts. Sometimes I just don’t have it in me because there’s a little itch in the back of my consciousness that asks about any given situation:
- Is this battle worth my energy here and now?
- Do I have energy to give?
- How much will how I handle this situation here and now affect me and those around me in the near and distant future?
Ahhhh…. me and those around me.
Relationship Orbit Theory
Relationships obviously come in many forms. Orbit Theory applies to all of them — romantic, professional, platonic, adversarial, political.
Why did I name it Orbit Theory? Because, of course, I am the Sun and everything revolves around me. This statement is not one of selfishness; it is one of self-centeredness, or centering myself. I am making the conscious decision to center myself because I have one chance to live this iteration of my life. I cannot control anything other than my own sense of self with the awareness that my perceptions, words, and actions have a ripple effect on everyone and everything in my orbits. I cannot control other people’s perceptions, but I can adjust my words and actions if I care enough about how I want others to perceive me and what my goals are. That level and kind of ‘care’ changes in relation to the distance of someone’s orbit from me.
People in my life are either stars or planets, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Unexpected people enter and exit the orbits that surround me. Black holes may emerge and suck people into their unknowns if there is no detection mechanism to help avoid them. The event horizons for these outside sources of sneaky energy alterations include things like addiction, abuse, ignorance. If people close their proximity to these unknowns, a different dimension of misery, masks, and sensory loss may await them. Yet other black holes might lead to enlightenment, where eternal bliss lives. Other relationships bust into the system sometimes too, like uninvited asteroids that rattle the other established relationships — bad or good is left to interpretation. Gravity holds people in my orbit, and when I lose my gravity (self-awareness, self-regulation, self-transcendence), those people who gravitate toward me may be thrown off their paths.
Much like our very own galaxy’s planets, my relationship orbits are more elliptical than spherical, which means that although these relationships usually remain in orbit, they may naturally pass closer or farther away at different times in their travels during my existence. When relationships are jolted out of orbit by some astronomical event, the entire system is disrupted. Adjustments by all players are made to achieve equilibrium or some semblance of a new norm. Depending on the health of the overall system, fleeting relationships may or may not remain in my orbit.
Orbit Theory can be applied with some working assumptions:
- One has the desire for self-awareness and his/her effect on this universe
- One has the self-regulatory ability to pause and make thoughtful, conscious decisions about his/her response to any given situation
- One has appreciation for working toward self-transcendence beyond the ego
- One has regard for consequences and the ripple effect
Extremely close — My husband, children, and parents.
Middle orbits (vast expanse and variation of distances) — Other family members, co-workers, and people with whom I interact on a regular basis.
Outer orbits — Folks I either don’t know well at all or see only fleetingly and engage with superficially.
Why It All Matters
My controllable perceptions, words, and actions (I) have more gravity on the lives of those in my closest orbits. When I choose to share a part of myself in any way, the manner in which I share is different with my husband than with a random person on the bus. My approach about respectful speech will be different with my own children than with teenagers speaking crudely to each other on the playground. Simply put, my relationships are different with close orbiters than they are with outer orbiters. I care much more about relationships in my closest orbits than I do about relationships with people in the outer orbits so my interactions are adjusted as such. This is not to say I don’t care; I simply choose to exert less energy into my outer orbits. I simply cannot give all my energy to everyone all the time, so I ration it and give more to the ones with whom I have a larger, mutual mass effect.
I am always accountable for every word that escapes my big yap. My interactions can be ruthless or empathetic; reckless or thoughtful; cruel or tactfully honest; crude or respectful; aggressive or resounding. Credibility can be built on developing skills that give me the power to control my own responses to my own emotions in consideration of the potential consequences. Depending on orbit, my responses to people may differ in word choice, audience, inflection, and non-verbal communication. How I choose to interact with others impacts everything and everyone around me. I have a lot of power!
I know a man (we’ll call him Mick) who (I believe) loves his wife and adult children. Presumably, these people are in his closest orbit. It appears as though he does not apply Orbit Theory to his interactions with these family members. Mick is known for being brash, hurtful, reckless of others’ feelings, cold, and hard — the same way he treats outer orbit people when having, say, heated political discussions. He calls the interactions with his family “tough love.” For years, his family has enabled this behavior because they’re either too scared to say anything or they fall in to the “it’s just who he is” trap, leaving themselves powerless to his poor communication. To this day, his relationship with his adult children is nebulous, distant, un-accepting, and superficial. I can only imagine that this family can tell us all what cortisol tastes like.
I often wonder if Mick will ever care enough to apply Orbit Theory, and if so, how much his relationships and family’s stress levels would improve.
How to Apply Orbit Theory In Your Own Life
Questions to ask yourself in any situation:
- What orbit is this person in?
- Do I care how this person perceives me right here in this moment?
- How will my conscious response to this situation affect me in the short- and long-term?
- Will that effect be detrimental or add value to my life?
- What other circumstances should be considered? (Generational differences, possible misunderstandings, all possible bilateral perceptions and perhaps misperceptions, intentions, etc.)
If your answer to the “Do I care…” question is sincerely ‘no,’ then carry on, and know that any undesirable result could have been different if you had cared enough to be mindful of changing your words or actions in that moment. It is then your responsibility to remain accountable for your part in a less-than-desirable outcome.
Whoever told me I wasn’t the center of the universe was right. But what they didn’t know is that I am indeed the center of my own galaxy.
How synchronistic that our lives follow the patterns of the universe!