Sunday, September 18, 2011

Poor Backslider*

I've been deeply ashamed of my fear of what others think of me.  Being afraid has caused me to do things I didn't particularly want to do, in order to not risk displeasing someone else.  When Shannon asked me once when I'd lost connection with myself I assumed it was because I'd given up something I wanted in favor of what someone else wanted in order to avoid them thinking less of me.  Something about the prospect made me feel so horrible inside I just couldn't face that feeling and it was easier to  give in.

Then culture changed on me, and all at once we were supposed to be able to say no. Enter the shame of not being able to say no or set limits (remember the assertiveness training fad?  "When I Say No I Feel Guilty"?).  All at once, in order to please others, I had to show some spine, and not just go along.

Now there was a bind.

I see now, as I've written before, that there was a very real fear that if I displeased someone, if I disrupted their own fragile sense of self (ego), they would blame me and break connection.  In order to maintain connection with them, I'd see myself the way they saw me (selfish, small, mean, etc), but at the price of staying connected to my own perspective.

My history of Christian fundamentalism predisposes me to think of life in a "Pilgrim's Progress" sort of way.  One is going forward, or one is backsliding.  Last week, on the roof, my discomfort with the woman parking herself within my family circle was compounded by my thoughts that the whole episode  represented backsliding in the progress I've made.  I felt that familiar feeling of bind.  Was my inability to resolve the situation without removing myself from it undermining this new Self I've been working so hard to build?

So I took it in to Shannon as grist for the mill.  I told her that whenever I'd imagine any means of getting what I wanted that involved personally asking the lady to go, well, it just felt impossible.  I couldn't imagine doing it without it being hurtful and humiliating, no matter how gently I asked.  I'd feel a wall of horror at the prospect.  My dilemma was that in this situation I was able to stay in complete connection with myself and my desire to separate (at least that's progress--in the past I would have blamed myself and put away those feelings and forced myself to engage), and I couldn't do that and be one with her.  How do I "be one" with someone I desperately want to go?

Shannon wanted to know if there was anything inside of me that reminded me of this woman.  Yes, I suppose it would be the me who's felt humiliated when I'd thought I was a wanted presence and instead the opposite was true.  Or I'd thought something was true and found out later that everyone but me knew different.  That's when I realized--those feelings I'd have whenever I imagined telling the woman the truth--that was me, this part in me, connecting to that part in her.  But, I was resisting the connection.  That's what felt like the dilemma.  I was afraid I was reverting to my old history of fear of displeasing someone.  I think it may be different now.  I think the real discomfort came from my empathy with her--or, with the part of me that she reminded me of.  Maybe when I feel resistance like that in company with other people, it's a signal to me that I'm vibrating to something in them that is true of something in me, but I'm complicating it by resisting.  Shannon said, "You'll have to play with this.  But I wonder if you'd find that if you stayed one with that part of you in her, if the resonance from vibration at that shared frequency might resolve the whole dilemma."

Now there's a challenge.  I'm not very adept at staying self-aware in 'field conditions'.  It's going to take a shift to experience resistance as resonance instead of as dislike or self-recrimination.

But I like the idea that maybe there is no backsliding.  Shannon said, "You can't go back."

*from the song "Poor Backslider" by Greg Brown

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The One-ness Experiment--day 14

Recap of nearly 5 years of therapy:  I learned to disconnect from myself in order to be in connection with others.  To disconnect from myself I had to not-see much of what I saw.  I had to not-feel much of what I felt.  To not-see and not-feel I had to put my very perceptions in doubt.  I got really good at it.  The result was I was snarled in a knot I couldn't begin to evaluate and unravel.  My very foundation of thinking was disrupted whenever I'd try to figure this out, by the conviction that I couldn't trust myself.

I spent several years with Shannon's support, realizing that I had assumed a burden of responsibility that wasn't mine to assume.  I harbored the doubt that with every conflict I was somehow at fault, due to some ineptness, selfishness, or flaw within.  I took the perspective of the Other, because I wanted to be fair.   I discovered that taking on the perspective of the Other meant abandoning my own perspective.   As I became aware of the pattern I began to realize that I didn't have to do that.  I mulled it over.  I wasn't comfortable with the idea of closing out the perspectives of others--God knows I knew enough people who did that.  They were often bullies, self-righteous; I didn't want to be that.  So I came to understand that the question was, "How can I see the perspective of Others without losing my own?"  Shannon answered, "By being One with them."

I asked, in an earlier post, what this looks like in real life.  I've been experimenting ever since.  What does Oneness look like; what does it have to do with:

The apartment building I live in has 25 floors.  The 25th is the roof, which has picnic tables, a barbecue, lounge chairs.  The management hosted a party yesterday; they probably do it every year.  Up on the roof, from 10 to 2 yesterday.  Hot dogs, ice cream, lemonade would be served.  Residents would display their art, their talents.

It's my turn to live here, since Friday evening. Gary brought the boys over Saturday around 12:30 so we could go to the party.  My car was already in the space that we rent.  Gary said he'd 'jacked' someone else's spot.  I asked what happened if that person came back.  He said they'd just left.  I said, "What if they were just going to the store, and coming back shortly?"  He said they could just take one of the open spots.  I asked about the people who were paying for those "open" spots.  He said it was no big deal, it would all get sorted out.  I told him to take the boys up on the roof; I would take the car he'd parked in the lot and find a place on the street.

I joined them a little later.  A middle-aged woman was displaying her belly-dancing talent to Connor's embarrassment. I joined him, Scott, and Gary on some lounge chairs.  We hadn't been there long when a woman came over asking how long we'd lived here.  To my surprise she pulled up a chair and sat down.  I remember the odd feeling of encroachment inside; very different from an experience of welcome.  We talked for a bit; how long we had lived at the apt--and I realized that at any moment a decision might be required:  how much to tell her about our 'living arrangement'.  How much did we want to reveal to a stranger?  I steered the conversation to what kinds of interesting restaurants and shops were around the building, when I noticed she was holding a "bingo" card.  Kind of a creative mixer device, she was to mark off a square for various "finds"--challenges.  Looking over, I could see several.  She was to find someone who'd lived in the building for over 10 years (hence her question, but that didn't explain why she pulled up a chair).  She was to find someone who'd been to Europe.  Someone who liked sushi.  Not a bad idea, the bingo card.  Maybe I'll borrow it someday if I have a party with a lot of people who don't know each other.  Yesterday I saw it as an opportunity.  I'd realized I wasn't taking pleasure in her being with us, and I wanted her to go away.  I'd noticed that I'd come close to abandoning my connection with myself in order to pretend she was a wanted guest.  I didn't want to model that for the boys, but the dilemma was that I could not think of a middle ground between asking her to leave, and putting up with her until she decided to go.  It seemed she was settling in.  In calling attention to the bingo game I hoped to remind her that she'd come for a purpose, she'd fulfilled it, and she could move on to other people.  I asked her if we'd helped her in filling in her card.  She said we had; asked us if we liked sushi.  We do.  She was curious about how my boys had come to like it.  Connor said off-handedly that when he was once a 'picky eater' he wouldn't have even tried it.  She said she had some kind of background as a nutritionist; was always interested in what turned someone from being finicky to not.  He said he didn't know, he just became hungry for things he hadn't been before.  This was kind of an interesting topic for me, since I'd endured years of his pickiness.  I never forced him to eat, though I did try the suggestion of insisting he take "one bite" of anything new he was resisting.  It didn't last long, that experiment, and I didn't force the issue.  It clearly didn't work for our family to force even "one bite" on him.  I lived for years with people remarking on his refusal to eat, to try things and held to my inner lifeline that he would not starve himself, and that he would someday grow beyond a palate of Fruit Loops, cheese crackers, macaroni and cheese.  So it's sweet to see that he has indeed become an omnivorous eater, and didn't require any pushing of the river on my part.  I mentioned that I too had been a picky eater, who came from an era where parents forced their children to eat.  I said that I have a very broad range of food interests now, and having been forced to eat did not have anything to do with it; it was merely a matter of maturity and development.  She asked Connor if I'd made him take tastes of things.  She wanted to know if I'd kept a variety of different foods in the refrigerator, had a variety of dishes available.  Connor didn't seem comfortable, I wasn't comfortable, and I sat with the dilemma.  What did Oneness mean in a situation like this?  I couldn't imagine it meant having to be at the mercy of this woman, but neither could I imagine myself asking her to go.  Had I already "abandoned myself" because I hadn't?  When she was exchanging a few words with Gary I excused myself, got up, took away our plates to put in the trash, looked at some of the displayed artwork.  I hoped she'd be gone when I got back.  She wasn't.  It was a strange quandary.  I didn't want to be unassertive, but neither did I want to be a doormat.  I was clear inside that her presence felt like an intrusion, but I just couldn't come up with any way of sending her away that didn't feel too harsh to me.  The only way I could see to get her to leave was to leave ourselves, and the second there was an opening in the conversation I talked to the boys about moving on to our next agenda item.  As courteously as possible we pulled away and said goodbye.

So what would Oneness look like in a situation like this?  I suppose the younger me would have resisted the feelings of aversion I was having toward her and redoubled my efforts to connect with her in conversation.  I would have felt there was something wrong in me, some prejudice, or in-graciousness that made me want to run the other way, so I would have pushed the feeling away and not let myself know I didn't want to talk to her.  I don't know that I would have been resisting her, but I would have been resisting my inclination to move away.  So I stayed at One with myself, even if it meant feeling the discomfort of being with her and not knowing how to separate.  I wonder, if I'd managed to be at One with her at the same time if I may have found another way to separate which wouldn't have meant that my family and I would have to leave the roof?  I thought of being in connection with her, but I don't think I managed to do it.

It's a paradox.  I think I found a way to be At One with myself, while not denying unpleasant feelings I was having.  I don't know if I've figured out a way to be At One with someone I'm feeling uncomfortable with, let alone do both simultaneously.  I think that my inability to pull that off probably reinforced a feeling of duality--me against her.

All of this is trivial in comparison with the horror and violence of That Day 10 years ago when the jets crashed, hundreds died at the Pentagon and on the planes, thousands in the twin towers.  But isn't duality the common element?  In the early days and weeks after the attacks, it seemed I was seeing a reflective, thoughtful America.  I remember hearing on the radio that people who hadn't spoken in years were inspired to reach out to each other.  I remember hearing that the impulse toward unity prevailed, early on.  It seems it was drowned out.  Duality begets and feeds on itself, with a vengeance.  But maybe there's hope in knowing that at least at first, the impulse was toward kindness, and oneness.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I did some experimenting this week with the concept of becoming One with people around me.  I watched a jet take off from the apartment window and imagined myself One with the passengers on that plane.

"What was that like?" asked Sharon.  "I...I don't...know..."  Because something felt different inside, but in the vaguest of ways, like the hazy edges of a dream that are impossible to describe.

I experimented closer to where I live.  In the absence of any obvious separation activity, such as arguments, I thought of some people I've disliked.  Or I've thought of behavior I didn't like from people I do.  I tried to apply becoming One with them.

Now this had a much more tangible effect.  I realized  that by connecting in this way with someone, the whole picture shifted.  Of one person who has a need to one-up and has seemed grasping and self-righteous, I had a very different experience.  I was able to locate the Me in Her and understand the ways that I want to be "right", and feel anxious about being "wrong".  Feeling this, I could also see that the experience of being "right" is a mistaken attempt at connection.  Or what passes for it.  Somewhere in this life, a belief that being better-than came to feel like the Connection humans seek.  If not in connection with others, than at least within oneself.    Connection understood this way is oppositional--striving-against enhances that feeling of unity.  I realized that true Connection is always there, always available, hiding in plain sight, and that one doesn't need to strive for it, or enhance it by attempting to take it from someone else.  I realized this as a direct consequence of imagining myself at One with the Other.  I think I even felt...compassion.  And not in the compassion-through-will-power sense.  It rose in response to Seeing what I saw.  And recognizing that this experience of need and scarcity exists inside of me, too.  And in that sense, it's true that if we see a quality in another person, it's because we have it within us.

That's such a change from how I understood it before.  I'd heard and acknowledged it was probably true that what I didn't like in someone was a quality of mine too, but that idea was undermining, not empowering.  If I dislike something, and the disliking means that I'm guilty of the things I don't like, then how do I have any leverage in negotiation when our wants collide?  Also, in addition to disliking this person, or what they do, I have to dislike myself, too.  Then I was simply confused and lost touch with my Self, because I couldn't think through it.   My very ground of understanding was quaking.  Before I could deal with this person I had to try to sort out if I really was like them.  And I was too knotted up to be able to do that effectively.  I was a deer in headlights.

I tried to "cultivate" compassion, but my feelings always got in the way.

This new version of that old lesson doesn't look much different on the surface, but how it changes things.  Disliking something in someone is indeed an opportunity to meet and accept and help mature that element in me.  Separating that quality from myself and polarizing in opposition does provide a kind of inner solidity, because it concentrates a sense of myself (without those hated elements), but it's at the expense of wholeness.  This shift sort of changes the "is it me or is it them" question.  Because the answer is "Yes".

When my children were very young and were just beginning to grapple with the feelings of ownership and desire, I can see that behaviors that our culture once branded as "selfish" were really just the crude beginnings of mastering identity, separation, and negotiation.  In this way, raising children has been very spiritual for me, because as they've developed I've recognized (and remembered) their behavioral and emotional states from an adult perspective.  I can see that desirable behavior isn't a result of shaming immaturity.  In a large part, it's a function of development  (with some adult shaping needed to organize and give meaning to their learning).  As children get older and develop, they begin to understand that while they are separate beings, they don't need that object as a part of their self- identification and begin to value their friends more than things.  There was nothing I could have done to "teach" them that.  They simply matured.

Sometimes we don't.

If I become One with Another, I see the me in them, and the them in me (just as I saw the me in my children, and my children in me).  I thought of my MIL, and realized that a lot of her behavior is motivated by a desire for connection. Unfortunately it's coupled with a belief in scarcity, and thus anxiety about losing it and misguided ways of seeking it.  I recognize the part of myself that longs to be close to someone, and can't bear the thought of my own behavior pushing someone further away.  I see the part of me that is so anxious about loss that I try to grasp, I need to be loved "best of all"--nothing else will do.  And so I redouble the efforts that only undercut the quality of my relationships.

In this way healing and understanding can come disguised as someone I don't like.  I get it now.

"Very good", said Sharon.  Now, do you feel like it might be possible to be in a room..."  "--I don't know if I'd go that far..."  laughter

I haven't actually tried this yet in field conditions.  As I said, there have been no arguments or conflicts this week (knocking on wood).  But it seems that having that sense of equanimity while in conflict or in tricky situations might be a tall order.  Can I really apply what I think I know in theory to fully-dimensional real-life?

And, I notice I feel afraid, a little.  Does feeling compassion for someone make me vulnerable to them?  Will I merely find myself giving way to their whims and desires?

And, I realize that I also gain some sense of inner cohesion and inner connection when I'm in opposition to someone.  I can extend the sense of connection by finding someone to share the opposition to the Other with, and there is a sense of satisfaction in that.  And while I'm sitting here, and I can see that this is an altered and inferior sense of oneness, it seems there may be a vacuum if I don't have that anymore.  In a way I'm afraid to give it up.

And I still don't feel quite ready to be in a room with these people...

Stay tuned.