There is an ancient and well-kept secret to support well-being, which some few seem to know and many do not. The practice itself is quite easy to name and, for most of us, is extremely difficult to practice. In order to truly be a master of this art, the first requirement is that one must be able to see that every statement, action, and reaction of another human being is the sum result of their total life experience to date. That is, the majority of people in our world say and do what they say and do from their own set of wants, perceived needs, longings, hopes, as well as fears, worries, and defenses and attempts to survive. Much of these, even when aimed directly at us, may have little to do with us, other than that we might have provided an occasion for the other’s reactivity.
To illustrate, consider the following dialogue between a couple:
A: Oh F*! You dropped and cracked another plate! What’s wrong with you?
B: It’s just a plate! Don’t scream at me. I didn’t mean to drop the plate. There are just too many dishes piled up on the counter. You again didn’t do the dishes last night.
A: Ha, defensiveness is another problem you have! You are just making yourself look worse and worse in my eyes.
(The battle can escalate, and it’s not just the plates that are being dropped but objects and fists could be flying in the air.)
In situations as above, personal history is played out repetitiously, most likely without awareness and without control. Personal history goes far and deep, right to the most formative years when we are very young. As you may recall, I have talked about this in previous Field Notes.
Let’s face it: we live in a world where psychodynamic factors, that make up one’s personal history, are what make the world go around and around and around, all the way from the individual levels to the level of Nations. An individual who wishes to live peaceably, amicably, sanely, and successfully surviving and even flourishing in the world would need to be equipped to deal with the whole melodrama of reactivity that often brings the world to the brink of some small (as in the above illustration) or big (just watch the news!) explosive disasters at any moment.
Even—or, shall we say, especially—with our closest loved ones, our beloved partners, our children and our friends, we are all swimming in the sea of projections and filters of each other’s life experiences, and often we are just the stand-ins, the chess pieces of life to which our loved ones have their own built-in fixed ideas and ‘programmed’ reactions. Recognizing and remembering this is not to impersonalize life and people to take away the intimacy from our relationships. Rather, actually remembering this every time we get offended by another person would change everything; our perception of the other person, our perspective on how to deal with them and the situation, and choices we can make in how to respond. A true embodiment of this idea actually allows for more intimacy and less suffering in all of our relationships.
When we truly know that we are just the one who happens to be standing in the right, or maybe better said, in the ‘wrong’ place at the right psychodynamic time for someone to say or do whatever they say and/or do—we don’t have to take the other person’s words and behavior literally and personally. If it weren’t us, it would likely be someone else to whom this angry person, that frustrated person—all suffering persons around us—are trying to get rid of that they are unable to hold and bear, like a burning hot object or a crushing weight.
Understanding all this can free you to be a little calmer within the context of the reactions of people around you. And this could be the beginnings of your being able to exercise compassion, sympathy, kindness, and to even initiate the lost felt sense of connection with the flailing other. Think about how often you react to a statement of another by being offended rather than seeing that the other might actually be hurting, or in some significant sense, ‘out of their mind?’ In fact, every time you get offended, it is actually an opportunity to extend kindness to another person who is suffering, even if they themselves do not appear that way on the surface. I should add that extending kindness refers to an inner feeling and does not suggest that you do anything but respond in the best possible way to connect with this person and with themselves.
I think it is fair to say that most all anger, all acting out, and all harshness and criticism, are in reality indicative of suffering. When we are able to provide no Velcro for it to stick, something changes in the world. We do not even have to say a thing. In fact, it is usually better not to say a thing! People who are suffering on the inside, but not showing it on the outside, are usually not keen on someone pointing out to them that they are suffering. You do not have to be your loved one’s therapist. We need only understand the situation and move on. In the least, we ourselves experience less suffering, and at best, we may have a chance to make the world a better place.
And do remember, if you able, that imploring your ‘other’ to be different is equivalent most all of the time to asking them to break through the stone wall that they are currently behind. Better work on working with the stone wall you find yourself behind and helping it/you to be more of who you really are.
And finally, remember Leonard Cohen’s great words, “
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Many thanks to Heesoon for her great support with this month’s Note.