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...