The process of harmonization goes hand in hand with the development of sensitivity. If you start listening, for instance, to the nutritional needs and (pseudo)allergic reactions of your body you’ll inevitably become more sensitive to foods. The body is a powerful probe. Use it with ease. Or else… you’ll miss the mark. (As in: alignment gone awry. Srsly.)
How could you not struggle if you still take (some) things personally?
How could you think that you don’t take things personally when you say/think: ’I’ (!) don’t take things personally?
How could you not be a (reactive) bitch to others when you are still a little bitch to your own ego?
How could you think that you are not a little needy bitch to your ego if you (!) are still trying to please it by trying to ’transcend’ it?
Do you still feel (the feeling of feeling) terrified when your symptoms flare up? Do you still think there is a (right) way to (do things to) avoid the next episode that is already stalking you?
Are you still fixated on resolving your issues and escaping your symptoms once and for all? Are you still fixated on doing it the right way? Are you still working on the project of transcending the broken version of your self (that is at the mercy of the stressor-ridden contingency called its environment)?
Do you still buy into the idea that it’s not as safe over there as it is over here? Or, in other words, that the world is over there and you are over here?
Do you still refuse (to play the game of) life?
Knowing what I know about stress metabolism & starvation induced hormonal imbalance the childhood memories of regularly preying on (parts of) the sandwiches of my classmates at primary and secondary school and shouting sometimes at my parents at home in the summer before lunch or dinner (what occasionally my mother still fondly repeats to this day): Do you want me to starve to death?—all these things are seen in quite a different light now. In retrospect, I can see how (mostly subconscioulsy and perhaps genetically biased) I’ve often felt overwhelmed and threatened by hunger—which, I guess, explains why I tend to be so compulsively gluttonous (not unlike my father) where the given presence of certain foods drives me to eat in (anxiety-driven) excess of my digestive capacity instead of being drawn to certain foods according to the given demands of my appetite. Now I also understand, incidentally, why I was so fascinated by the fact that my cousin never felt inclined at all to eat up all the goodies they usually stored in their lavishly stocked pantry. When I was attending university my eating habits were extremely poor. For fear of burdening my parents’ humble budget I asked for minimal money to cover my costs and I didn’t take on any jobs either, which resulted in me barely eating anything besides the cheapest of rolls and sometimes the left-overs from my friends’ meals. Looking back, it’s clear that I was practically starving myself (with the worst type of starches and fats at that), all of which, furthermore, was complemented by the intense (emotional) stresses of clueless intellectual and romantic pursuits.
Long story short, for decades I was busy setting up a degenerative, catabolic metabolism—because we inherit and learn lots of distinguishing beliefs at home and lots of fancy data in school but are totally left in the dark regarding basic stuff like body awareness, (mindless) mindfulness, the nature of energetic systems and stress. Today, after a couple of years of seeking and tweaking the perfect diet, I feel resolved to relax into the truth of my appetite, no longer hiding from my symptoms. There is nothing to (re)solve here but everything to relish. Abundance abounds.
Engaging people used to take a lot out of me. When the chemistry was off it may have been less of an issue I guess but when it was on my mind has just flown off the handle. Vibing with someone has typically left me thoroughly depleted. And there is still definitely something neurotic about the way I engage others. If I happen to be graced by unadulterated attention (especially when it is given by someone I fancy) it tends to trigger an outright inflammation of my mind: I lose my poise and end up jittery with excitement, shaking—if it’s a colder season literally shaking—with cortisol and adrenaline coursing through my veins. I turn into a subdued kind of a maniac. Clearly, I seem to have a hard time handling the attention I get: in response to it all my repressed elation erupt and drive me quite beside myself. Like a junkie finally getting his fix I get so intoxicated by the energy (that gets liberated when I allow myself to finally let go) that it becomes almost toxic to me. To recover I have to pro-actively do grounding practices like walking, shaking my limbs out, massaging my feet, singing and humming to myself, breathing in a protracted and gaggy manner, ’’speaking the language of the stars’’, write passages (like this one), seek solitude and just let the madness ripple through. I got to relax and trace the ways my body moves and expresses itself on its own accord as minimally intercepted by the head as possible. As you can imagine, on school trips I was the kind of boy who would stay up all night if anyone else was willing to do that with me. I had no limits if it came to the ecstasy of shared time. My poor ex, she had no idea what she was in for 😉
Was I neglected too much as a child? Did my mother’s strategy to let me cry it out alone at night backfire a little bit? Who knows. And it doesn’t matter either. What matters it that I take notice now.
But let me redeem and package this personal stuff in some informative ’take-away’ way: What’s good for you becomes less of a good thing when you learn that you have to kind of deny it to yourself (in order to preempt it being denied to you). Actually, it’s not that hard to see the parallels to the twisted psychology of restrictive dieting and cravings. A recurring sense of uncertainty about availability (of food or attention) trains a nervous system to adopt a neurotic (and compulsive) scarcity mindset […which, I think, is something quite natural, though, each one of us experiences some form of deprivation from the get-go; the difference lies more in how it gets to unravel I guess…]
We are all obsessive compulsive maniacs. The more separated one feels the more one seeks ecstasy (or release from the bounds of one’s self) through surrogate means like arts, work, career, games, sports, competition, travel, food, books, alcohol, drugs, gadgets, hygiene, health, fitness, philosophy, sexuality, spiritualism, etc., while the less disconnected one feels the more one enjoys dabbling and participating in these very same activities.
Here goes another confessional type of post of an insight that has graced me recently during class. I can only hope that I impart at least as much knowledge as I receive during the sessions I share with my students but by being a teacher I have definitely become a student in spirit. The scenario I attempt to depict below may sound a bit over-peculiar but, what can I say, just bear with me…
This particular student of mine (about to turn 40) tends to get caught up in intellectual (mainly socio-political, historical and economic) musings that spiral into neverending tangents delivered (in half mother-tongue, half target language) with increasing speed and intensity—as if trying to convince me of something or simply, I guess, to indulge at last in the pleasure of being listened to. Sometimes I manage to curb his enthusiasm and focus on ’’learning’’ but it takes a lot out of me as well as him. His harried and excessive style is draining us both. Whenever I attempt to tweak the grammar and vocabulary he is misapplying, he reflexively (rather mindlessly) interrupts me to correct himself out of a compulsion to save face, I think, and to buffer the judgment he feels I make about him in that moment…
So, right before his arrival before our last session, just to let it ripple though, I started ’’airing’’ some of the frustrations he triggers in me—on paper as well as through a raised voice in the privacy of my office room: Why can’t he just stop and listen? Why does he feel compelled to convince me of his intellect (value)? Doesn’t he get it that he has to do this for himself, not me. When will he finally get it that this is an English lesson he pays for and not my friendship or approval of him as a person? Does he come here and pay for a sympathetic ear or to actually practice English? Etc. I felt annoyed. Curiously though, the second he stepped inside the office I was set and resolved, I was grounded and present with him like never before.
I was resolved to listen. And I listened. And I noticed that the only time he relapsed into the usual pattern of his rushed semi-lecturing fugue was when I slipped and there was a wobble in my poise, that is to say, whenever I shifted into humoring him rather than listening to him. Quite a recognition: Yes, he may well be attending for other reasons than he thinks and we agreed, that is he may want to be heard more than he wants to actually pass that language exam, but I saw my own baggage in a flash too. Similarly to the incident with the other student I wrote a month ago, what I recognized in this instant was that we were mirroring each other: in a (reverse) way I was doing the very thing I felt annoyed by. Let me explain.
During our conversation I felt the compulsion rise in me several times to interrupt and correct him and to suggest words he seemed fumbling for but, this time, I decided to stay put against the grain of the compulsion. As a result he wasn’t interrupting me and spiraling out of control so much. It hit me: in essence, I was as taut and harried as he was. But now, for a change, I managed to focus solely on his needs rather than mine. While, for instance, he was fumbling for words I silently weighed in my mind whether he really needed to be interrupted for a word or related a grammatical explanation and I realized that he actually didn’t, he would just nod and take notes and repeat the correct version but it would slip right through without repercussions, he would quickly rush back to the argument he was making.
What was truly poetic about the whole situation was that among other things we were talking about the issue of paranoia and how that may derive from anxiety (which Machiavellian politicians so masterfully escalate and exploit). Indeed, in the midst of our interaction I’ve recognized my own brand of paranoia that, in effect, triggered my student’s.
I’ve never really felt secure in my role as a teacher and I’ve been caught up in manifesting the symptoms of this insecurity rather than focusing on the needs of my students. /Quite probably this is a natural part of the process, though, for nobody starts out as an accomplished expert who can focus on the needs of their clients and not feel insecure at all about the value they have to offer/. In the case of this particular student when I feel compelled to humor him rather than simply listen he immediately senses my absence and feels a threat and snaps into fugue-mode, in other words: as I recoil, he grasps and as he grasps, I recoil.
Again, simply by stopping myself, I’ve learnt an invaluable lesson of the power of presence. Presence tells me what others actually need in contrast to what I think (I need to do to deliver what I think) they demand. In the classroom this translates into focusing on my students’ needs rather than on meeting my own needs for approval as a legit E-teach.
Looking back on my previous sessions with this particular student now I can see two men lost for the most part in their own anxieties interfacing only for brief moments on the surface of language learning. I don’t know how it will continue but I don’t think we’ll be enmeshed in trading wisdom any longer. I see my task primarily as finding ways to link his priorities to (learning) English, to help him integrate it into his daily routine, to smuggle it into his life under the cover of the issues and things he invests in and cares about more, to help him make it relevant for himself—or just the opposite: to help him let it go.
/Now that I reflect on this I feel that the mirroring might go much deeper than I actually think. The people who work with me stick around probably because they are partners in the games I play with myself through them. If I were more formal and distant and ’’professional’’ I wouldn’t trigger personal things in anybody. But I just cannot do that. Although I maintain a gap I am rather intimate in the way I engage others. I demand communication and true communication involves emotions which, as we all well know, tends to get quite messy. Definitely, the second language as a context is merely the tip of the iceberg. The real context is relating to the (self through the) other. And what I can also clearly see now in retrospect is how I actually scared away some of my students because of getting caught up in an anxiety-driven spiral of escalating expectations (we felt compelled to live up to). They wanted to impress me because I wanted to impress them or more accurately they felt compelled to impress me because I felt compelled to impress them. I lead, they followed. Some couldn’t keep up, some didn’t resonate. Nothing is ever personal./