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.