When people tell me that they don’t understand the things I write/talk about I know that the only reason they don’t get me is that they don’t understand themselves in the first place. When dealing with me some feel confused about me, some feel frustrated by me, some dislike me, some quite like me—but if they cared enough most of them, I think, would be somewhat fascinated by (their idea of) me. Paradoxically, the less separate I feel from them (us) the more separate they seem to feel from me. The less there is of me and the more I loosen & relax into (us as) life they tend to project more and more of their issues onto me. In other words, people relate to people like me exactly the way they relate to life. It’s not personal at all. It’s just weird.
When you look at something quite bright for a while and averting your eye you notice its outline carried over and projected onto the darker surface where you have relocated your attention you can see the after-image of that thing floating there briefly and just as you notice it and attempt to focus and look into it the image slides (upwards or sideways), fleeing as it were the movement of your eyes, and the more you chase it the quicker it fades, but if you relax and replacing your attention you go back to staring again at the surface the silhouette slowly reappears and now—knowing that it’s going to stay visible only so long as you are not trying to focus on it and knowing too that as soon as you try to visually grasp it it’ll slip away—you manage to hold the after-image in place and in effect see it by half-focusing only and resting your gaze (sort of trans-fixed) slightly off-center to it—surrendering control while holding unswerving poise. This is, in my view, a beautiful metaphor for the fundamental principle that underlies such powerful experiential dynamics as mindfulness or non-judgmental awareness and compassion, creativity and the experience of flow, the interpersonal phenomenon of vibing and sexual escalation.
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./
How could we ever become true to each other until we take things so personally and get hurt and aggressive (mostly passively but sometimes physically abusive) whenever the Truth slips out of sync with our personal judgment and preference and, by the same token, places our (adopted and ingrained) sense of comfort and safety under threat?
No matter how much we resist and sulk and argue and suffer the Truth will out.
And yet we keep on discouraging each other from being true and transparent because we are stubborn as a mule and won’t give up taking things personally. What a farce. Instead of encouraging each other to be real we seek to do the opposite.
The prognosis is clear: So long as we fail to align with the Truth and proceed instead to take things personally we will feel (and be) disempowered which in turn will compel us to find ways to disempower others too
This is a quick heads up about an interview over at Daniel Vitalis’ site in which Gábor Máté talks about compulsive tendencies, addictions, ADD and other dysfunctional patterns of behavior we deploy to cope with the overwhelming feelings of separation that modern society nurtures (and instills in us from a very early age). Trauma, in his view, is the act of dissociation from reality to buffer the pain that its experience inflicts. The way out of dysfunction is awareness and a cultivation of presence (=an authentic and transparent way of engaging ourselves, others and the world) and so it’s imperative that we take inventory of all our actions and take ownership of the intent behind them and the actual impact they have on us (and others) when we practice them. Even when we indulge in potentially self-harming practices to escape reality and avoid the primal pain that starts bubbling up to the surface in the present moment the mere willingness to stay with the compulsion to recoil is enough, as he says: all darkness dissipates when you bring the light of awareness shine on it
Years ago my first girlfriend broke up with me after 8 years of mutual subdued suffering
It was a typical trauma-bonding type of relationship. I remember when I first saw her in the door of a bus on the way to our university town, I was struck as if by lighting. After a few iterations of the same jolt of an experience around the university I couldn’t hold back any longer and I approached her cold one day. I was as lame as it gets and she didn’t receive me well at all—cornering her on the corridor: May I come over here?—but I approached her anyway the next time when I saw her sitting in front of a computer in the library—tapping her on her shoulder: Hello, it’s me again—and I proceeded to accompany her to the main building of the university and ask her about the wooden cross she wore tightly around her neck, I also asked about a lunch sometime. We met for lunch a couple of days later, she ate poppy-seed pasta I ate rice with fish (it was very dry) and then it went on and off for months during which time we exchanged scarves, messages on notice boards as well as numerous e-mail messages and it was driving me crazy. She had a boyfriend at the time and was conflicted about what to do. I was love-sick to my bones, unable to sleep or eat or socialize with friends. The suffering eased up a little but never really ended even after we became a couple after half a year of nerve-racking courtship. Somehow I never felt secure within the fold of our affection. There was an undercurrent of anxiety cooking us both all along.
8 years in: one gloomy winter night in the kitchen of our first flat we rented together we had a spat and at one point I suggested her moving out for a change to which she retorted by agreeing in honest.
In that instant I felt a fission, I felt as if our bubble has doubled up and suddenly a sense of unity collapsed into a distance, a gap, I felt separated, severed. In my opinion, I (re)experienced the trauma of separation and simultaneously a rebirth as well in that moment. Although I felt crushed and devastated, I also felt elated and liberated in that moment, it was a weird amalgam of an emotion. I could barely believe that this has happened to me, of course, my ego (sense of identity) cracked open and I was in immense pain in the ensuing months. It was a rebirth.
/Which explains, incidentally, why I wasn’t able to sleep—waking up with mysterious heart palpitations in the middle of the night—for weeks before that moment, the energy flow was already ’’broken’’—which just goes on to prove too how much we are energetically impacted unawares by the emotional attachments we form and hold on to/
Our relationship was a form of suffering the same way as a chronic disease is that intermittently surfaces in the form of physical symptoms but for the most part lies dormant, latent beneath the ups and downs of the comings and goings of the day. As a couple we never managed to transcend and evolve beyond this disease.
It took years for me to let her go, to not take what happened personally any more but see it for what it actually was: trauma-bound chemistry that—running its runaway course—has totally fizzled out (long before the actual end). Together we couldn’t make it through, it had to come to an end. I didn’t connect to her much in our relationship because I wasn’t there myself much either. And that’s just the way it is: the level of a relationship we (are able to) enact with someone else is directly proportional to the level of clarity and transparency we have scaled about ourselves
Clearly, I had been in love with an idea, an idealized image of her, not her. She appealed to me in her physical form primarily—stricken at first sight (till the last one in fact)—and no matter how much aspects I grew to like about her, at its core the relationship was based on a dynamics fueled by anxiety.
What more can I say? I dodged a bullet. Bless her heart.
The dynamics between me and her was dysfunctional because it was based on anxiety. I was trying to prove myself to her, to convince her that I was worthy of being loved. I was seeking approval from the get-go which (through the law of attraction) planted the seeds of inevitable rejection down the line. The context of all this was a general confusion about my direction in life. I felt ungrounded and unclear about my self, my place in the world. I was idling without a purpose at a university and her appearance filled in the gap neatly. With a subdued but all the more fierce intensity I latched onto her as the source of meaning in/of my life. I think, I also wanted her to replace my mother who provided direction (=grounding) in my childhood. She, of course, was suffocated and smothered by my abusive, idealizing adoration. Sex wasn’t that hot, either. Without direction/groundedness there is no passion in a man and without passion there is no good sex.
So long as we linger in the limbo of confusion, victimhood and reluctance we attract a reality that is crumbling around us all the time.
And I know all this because she left my sorry ass, bless her heart.
The more you see things into others
The less you see things about them
The less you see things into others
The more you see things about them