Field Notes

That Which Is Other

May 31, 2020 - 7 Comments

That Which Is Other

 

Otherness abounds in life; otherness being that which is different from us or what we expect at any given moment.

 

 

 

Learning from nature, the ancient Taoists perceived two complementary impulses in the psyche, called yin and yang. The polar tension and interplay between these two impulses drives the cyclic process of creating, destroying and re-creating.[1]

I have added this small paragraph after the initial posting as the events in the US took place after I had already uploaded the July Field Note (I won’t be adding this to the audio file as it would require me to re-do the whole file):

I want to say something about the extreme experience of othering, namely, racism, that is very understandably provoking immense unrest in the US, and elsewhere. The death of George Floyd, a black man, by suffocation that was inflicted by a police person in Minneapolis is certainly an immense event of othering. I won’t go on to say too much other than I feel that this most disturbing event and what has followed is a very large representation of what goes on in more symbolic and mostly much less physically violent form in all of us and in our relationships, and certainly speaks to the unmet needs for empathy and connection that would mitigate against such events as we are now witnessing.

 

Otherness abounds in life; otherness being that which is different from us or what we expect at any given moment. Most often, otherness poses significant challenges, and at times even dire distress. For sure, the most challenging part of facing otherness is automatic reactivity that is ignited with no reflective awareness, let alone, control. By definition, otherness is ‘not-me-ness’: upon encountering this, your being basically screams out, “That is not me!” The implied emotional meanings of this scream include: ‘I don’t like that,’ ‘that is ugly,’ ‘that’s disgusting,’ ‘I hate that,’ ‘I’m frightened,’ ’you suck’ and so on. Accompanying physiological sensations are likely to include: tensing of muscles, nausea, sweating, intolerable body heat, dizziness, light-headedness, distortions of thought, thinking, perception, and more. These are all the effects of cortisol levels peeking rapidly and brain chemistry that sounds the alarm of an emergency. It is certainly fair to say that all this reactivity has an immense effect on dampening consciousness and our life force energy.he biochemical and physiological responses accompanying your danger perception prepare you to run, hide, pass out, fight, kill… These are appropriate, potentially life-saving, responses when you have to run or fight for your dear life in facing extreme physical threats. But what if your life is not in danger? Ability to distinguish between symbolic and actual threats and emergencies in these high-pressure moments is an advanced ability and skill, and an important one to develop. As Daniel Goleman points out in a recent podcast interview I heard (https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/daniel-goleman-the-mind-and-meditation/id1037206422?i=1000469807626), it is substantially important to “distinguish between actual threats, which pertain to life in the body, and symbolic threats.“ The problem is that you and I are very frequently subject to patterns of experience that developed in our own early lives, and frequently that are the outcome of previous generations of family trauma experience.

This experience of otherness is perhaps the most shocking for most of us when it appears in our most intimate relationships. And surprisingly–perhaps, I should say, not surprisingly–this is the most likely place for such otherness to show up! The more intimately we get to know another person, the more closely we get to see the details of how different the other person is from you and your initial impression of this person: this reveals the increasing and deepening degree of otherness. “What? You did what?” “You think like that!” “You would vote for that person?” “Are you crazy?” Minor and major horror expressions steal across your face and ignite your physiology, which your partner picks up and most likely finds very threatening . At moments like this, you may experience a sudden crash of your love ideal and bursting of a once sweet and warm couple bubble. You look at your partner with a sense of panic: “Why am I with this monster (or whatever favourite evil names you may come up with in the moment)? What have I done?” At such moments, most of us are very likely to become a fireball of reactivity.

I propose that the pressing questions, upon encountering otherness in our intimates, are not so much, “What have I done? What am I doing in being with this person?” as “Why do I think I shouldn’t have to deal with otherness in my intimate relationship? What’s that about?” The culture within which we live tends to support the idea that there is a perfect partner for us: someone with whom we have great chemistry, have a great deal in common; someone who really gets us and meets our deep need to be known; someone with whom we have an ongoing and reciprocal connection of this nature. Our culture supports the idea of seeking a true soulmate!

Although extremely unlikely, it is always possible you are the one in a billion who has found or will find your perfect soulmate. For the rest of us, though, chances are that our relationship experience is not like that. At least, I haven’t run into anyone, including myself, who is a soulmate to someone anywhere near such a perfect level, at least not at the behavioral and interactional level. My reader would say that by necessity I wouldn’t run into any couples like that in my profession, which is true, but I am convinced that such soulmates are beyond rare. In fact, I’m doubtful of its reality in any deep and substantial way. Truth be told, I do not know anyone inside or outside my professional practice who has a ‘perfectly’ or nearly harmonious relationship. I’m willing to bet that, at some point, sooner or later, you and your partner will discover differences/otherness that is hard for you to accept or deal with. This potentially is when the real relational and individual growth experience kicks into high gear.

As Alain du Boton points to in “Why you will marry the wrong person,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EvvPZFdjyk), chances are that we won’t find that one perfect person, even though, at first, under the powerful persuasion of attraction, we may think that we have found just such a soulmate. The word, ‘attraction,’ is often conflated with the word ‘love.’ I would suggest to you that love is about learning to appreciate this other person as they are, in the fullness of otherness. I am with Alain de Boton when he indicates that the hard work of love starts where the initial attraction ends, and you are confronted with the possibility of engaging in the difficult task of coming to love another person through likes and dislikes, attractions and repulsions, encouragements and discouragements, wishes for change and fear of loss when someone really matters to you. It seems that such love involves sweating and at times bleeding on each other. It is through the process of this inner and relational work that a highly evolved relationship will eventually allow, indeed invite, that each of the two of you be involved in the simultaneous growth of yourself, the other, and the relationship. To get to this point involves developing an ability to endure the vagaries of relational weather conditions, valuing of you, your partner, the dream, sharing the dream, while working with your ‘other’ to grow for yourself, your partner, the relationship, and all those that will be affected by your relationship.

In my observation and experience the most authentic relationship work is based on working at a level that will open the door to the soul of yourself and your intimate other. What I mean by soul is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of generating energy and aliveness. Much can happen within this process. In fact, much does happen to disturb the energy flow, dampen the aliveness, and conjure, hopefully, only a temporary knotting of your souls. When one suffering soul meets another suffering soul, the suffering can and often does grow exponentially. What’s needed is the work that each must undertake internally to resolve the knots. And if one can support the other to do the unknotting work, so much better. Through this inner work, one can become kind, loving, empathetic, and so on. This may seem to contradict the oft-cited comment that “it takes two.” It’s true that it does take two. However, what is almost invariably missed is that each of the two has personal inner work to do on personal material that pre-dates the relationship. Each of you has a personal history along with the effects of intergenerational wounds, most of which live within you and your partner in the depths of your unconscious. Your challenge will be to go into the Darkness and unearth that which controls you, despite the fact that it does not fit the circumstances in the present moments.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of each person, alone and together, doing their inner work of unknotting as part of the relationship work. To put it another way, inner work is a necessity for opening the doors to connection between intimate partners. This means opening to your vulnerability, being open to the vulnerability of your partner, and both of you working with a relationship that is increasingly open and alive. Two people who can see their relationship as a vehicle for learning to love and live deeply open to themselves and their intimate fire up the  great possibility of having a very alive and adventurous relationship. If you are in a relationship like this, you won’t be pointing at the other and expecting he or she to change so you can feel better. You will learn to be curious about the other and about yourself, particularly when something bothers you and your habitual pattern rears up and ‘tells’ you to complain to and about the other, overtly or covertly. Instead you will take the opportunity to work on yourself, and you will eventually become increasingly engaged and excited with this process. Such is my hope! And a very advanced relationship might emerge that supports and encourages a mutual engagement, support, and involvement with each other’s work.

Who knows! There might even come a point when it becomes clear to you that the ‘other’ is certainly in you, and in the moment is you, and eventually you can form a growing and growth-oriented bond with this inner otherness, and potentially with at least some of the outer otherness that your partner and the world represent.

As always many thanks to Heesoon for support with this Field Note; one that we have certainly lived and continue to live…

 

Shalom,

Avraham

 

 

[1] Spring Chen, The Resonance Code: Empowering Leaders to Evolve Towards Wholeness. P. 90, 2019, Seattle WA: Resonance Path Institure

 

COMMENTS

  • Jessica June 1, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Hi avi, thank you for your field note. I understand that you are saying that curiosity to others is important, in the service of life-affirming and generative relationships. Does it matter which ‘others’ we choose then to invite into our lives?

    Reply
    • Avraham Cohen June 5, 2020 at 7:55 pm

      Hi Jessica, You certainly have a gift for touching on a lot of fascinating points in a few words.
      Yes, I am saying that curiosity about others is important, and in the service of life-affirming and generative relationships. However, what is certainly the case is that those who are the most challenging for us also are not the ones that we are so likely to automatically have such curiosity for. I think that inner movement towards this curiosity becoming a default response is likely to be a big piece of inner work as well. Recognizing that this other does not, hopefully, represent a threat to our body or our survival is as I alluded to in the Field Note is strongly built into us, including conflating actual threat to body and existence and symbolic threat is a major piece of work.
      Regarding choices as to who to invite in, I believe that it depends what you mean by ‘invite in.’ I would suggest that in terms of our innner and relational work we are talking about an invitation into our consciousness in the service of our inner work. This does not at all mean that we will now be hanging out with this person and befriending them. Of course, the problem becomes much more complex when you have mixed feelings such as in lover relationships, and also work relationships. These relationships present great opportunities for our growth, and it is important to do some kind of inner cost/benefit analysis, which is almost invariably challenging.
      Thank you for your comment Jessica,
      avi

      Reply
  • Hamid Moreau June 3, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    Hi Avraham
    I sometimes view myself as other to get another perspective on who I am to myself and others. Definitely helpful even though I see a darker side than I would wish. Thanks for your insights I find your field notes always though provoking.

    Reply
    • Avraham Cohen June 5, 2020 at 7:43 pm

      Hi Hamid, thank you for your affirming and supportive feelings about my Field Notes. What you have described in terms of how you make use of seeing yourself as other is certainly what I see as a central possibility of this practice. I also see this as I imagine you do, as well, as a way of initiating an inner growth possibility through a deeper knowing of what is in you, and what is in you that is perhaps ‘stopped’ at a particular developmental point, and that opens up the possibility of re-initiating the process of growth and development within, and without, that may have stopped a long time ago without your knowledge. A potential breath of fresh air!
      warm regards, Avi

      Reply
  • Susan Mavor June 13, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Hello Avi. I appreciate this topic for several reasons, not the least of which is that fear and loathing of otherness in the general culture seems to be at a new high. I wonder how these thoughts can apply beyond marriage and work to the way we demonize or even just disregard the lived experience of groups we don’t know or interact with personally. Aside from that, I’m going to share the recording with my intimate partner as they help to explain where I am getting to, now, in evaluating our “otherness”. Timely, all around. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Susan Mavor June 13, 2020 at 12:49 pm

      Oh, hahaha! Sorry, now I just READ your field notes—as opposed to just listening to the audio file—and see you have addressed my thoughts. 🙂

      Reply
    • Avraham Cohen June 13, 2020 at 3:40 pm

      Hi Susan, I appreciate your question and your second message noting my addressing of your question. I will still say a bit more. I believe that there is an underlying ‘problem’ with all ‘othering,’ namely the discounting of the other individual, group, and/or practices. I also believe that the polarizing that is very ‘popular’ now, while very understandable, is not really the best solution, and is perhaps best thought of as a step in a process; a step that has the potential to get the attention of the other into an awake state, which might allow for a dialogue that will facilitate the process of growth and development. I believe that if all of us were to notice our tendency in the moment to take any moment of discounting of that which seems other and note our feelings, or more likely lack of real feeling, there is then a possibility of taking an interest in our own reaction, and in the ways of the other(s). What I believe runs through all these instances of otherness is the loss of knowing that the other is a human being, even in those cases where the other is a real danger and has lost track of their own humanity and ours. This, I believe allows us to respond in the best way possible to protect and potentially nurture everyone. This is, of course, a most high dream and may take years of practice, and we may still have a long way to go after many years of our best efforts.
      The othering is riddled with cruelty and isolation in most all of these situations. We can take on the challenge of waking ourselves and the other…
      thank you so much for your thoughtful inquiry,
      Avi

      Reply