The notion of hope is often unassailable for criticism, who but a crazy person would mock or chastise the existence of hope in anyone? Is it not that most wonderful of emotional responses to finding joy in life and something to strive for? As certain former governors of Alaska can attest, mocking hope is quite reasonable, particularly when it is noted to exist in those ideologically opposed. While I was certainly one among many at the time to feel incensed at such mocking verbiage, upon current reflection there is a kernel of truth, undoubtedly indicating the Biblical principle that even from the mouth of an ass can wisdom be found.
The sacrosanct behavior so often associated with hope is the beginning of what will lead to its shadow: to hope is to place one’s awareness on a projected future within which is manifested the dreams or aspirations of an individual or group. This is most notably the case in the injunction to “keep your eye on the prize,” placing the sense of sight not on the immediate surroundings but on a future as yet un-manifested reality. The strength of this mental trick cannot be understated. Sight is equated with knowledge as in the response of “I see” when noting the comprehension of something, a metaphorical conceptualization of a cognitive fact tied as it is to the power of human sight and how important the influence of it is on our lives and early development. Knowledge Is Seeing is not a mere happenstance connection being made; it is the foundation of much of human interaction and the locus of how we often make ethical judgments, notably in the power of an eye-witness in the public’s understanding of legal proceedings.
Key here is the focus on specifics, often regardless of the words coming from the person peddling it. For instance, the political message of Obama was and continued to be that of hope, a powerful and ultimately nebulous claim in which ridiculous numbers of people poured their dreams and aspirations. This, regardless of statements or any concern for the reality of a political system resembling more the rock giants in the latest adaptation of “The Hobbit,” clobbering monstrosities incapable of caring for those they’re squashing beneath them, than a rational process of governance. Whatever one’s opinion of Obama the point here is that he utilized a prime drive of the human person, likely getting caught up in his own rhetoric.
When hope is ruined, lost or broken the result is often despair, the shadow. I use the term shadow here because of its constant presence with the object in question indicated by illumination from any angle (notice here a further allusion to sight as knowledge). Hope holds the potential for despair by its very nature. This is because hope, like despair, derives from our forward-seeking minds and the associations built in concerning seeing with knowing. To hope is often, as already noted, to project a particular reality into the future and identify in its specifics the source of one’s future happiness or joy. To despair is to do the opposite but only in the sense of the opposite as it relates to what is being projected. The act itself is the same in either case. Hope places joy and happiness upon particular future events, despair places sadness and destruction upon particular future events. In both projections it is a future-oriented placement of value that is at work.
Stephen Batchelor in Buddhism Without Beliefs, states a great many things having to do with the ego, projections and control. One in particular is this:
“The more we become conscious of the mysterious unfolding of life, the clearer it becomes that its purpose is not to fulfill the expectations of our ego. We can put into words only the question it poses. And then let go, listen, and wait.”
There is nothing wrong with hope per se but as soon as we embark on a path of orienting our values and dreams as being placed into the future we are the mercy of events over which even the most arrogant of us cannot hope to control. This is the problem of equating value with a particular form rather than living a life of principle and watching the form be derived from the present experience in which we are in constant and unceasing exploration of. This is not to say planning is pointless or should not be considered, only that in doing so we continue to live our lives in the present hope of our very real and present manifestation of our values and worth and principle. If you want to write a book, by all means do so and plan accordingly, but know for your truth now that you are a writer, not to become one once a project is finished. If you want to get into an exercise routine and get healthier, great and doing so requires planning, but know the truth of your life now that you are an incredible human being of which there is only one experiencing life the way you are now, not that life will be inherently more or better in the future of reaching the pinnacle of Greek deification.
At the heart of this way of dwelling in real hope, in real value and worth, is that of being friends with perplexity. Yes, perplexity or to use another word, uncertainty. Again by Batchelor:
“Perplexity keeps awareness on its toes. It reveals experience as transparent, radiant, and unimpeded. Questioning is the track on which the centered person moves.”
Life does not stop and halt on the whims of our egoistic projections, it continues regardless of the eloquence of our pontifications or the wails of our self-castigation. To project a future is to attempt controlling life, to banish uncertainty. By doing so we miss out on the variables that spin hope down into its shadow. The person centered in truth, in value and principle, lives a life of agnostic inquiry knowing that the form of experience need not affect our minds more than the transitory nature that is any situation.
© David Teachout
There comes a point in life, indeed many points if one is dedicated to constant reflection, where what was once thought no longer seems quite as neat and tidy. Front and center for me now is the oft-repeated notion people use for making decisions, dedicated as they are to the continued existence of a particular connection and thus guide their life “for the sake of the relationship.” A healthy skepticism easily emerges from seeing far too many examples of people making decisions to continue with a relationship that has long since become destructive, and yet the practice continues. What I want to note here is that this continuation has less to do with people not being cognizant of what they’re doing and more on the inevitability of any decisions occurring within a relational matrix. The problem with this statement is not that people make decisions for relationships, it’s rather that they believe it’s an act of one ball, in this case the “I” making a decision to effect another ball, the “relationship,” but the reality is there was a relational existence already there.
The negative quality of making decisions “for the sake of the relationship” is a decision-making model that places all other considerations below that of a particular relationship, usually romantic. This model is often cited, usually unconsciously, whenever someone notes to a friend or themselves that they “did it to save the relationship” or “I’ve put so much work into it to give up now.” Just what “it” is, is as varied as there are forms of relationships. Giving up personal goals, decisions, hobbies, or anything that at one time felt like an important piece of identity, is often what “it” ends up being, placing on hold desires and goals for the sake of pursuing the current emotional connection.
Who among us hasn’t either said or heard someone declare “yes, well, I wanted to do it but I decided not to in order to focus on us.” Notice though that what is occurring is a behavior predicated upon the notion there exists an “I” which somehow rests in a space absent of mitigating variables who then decides to selectively choose to participate in a relationship such that personal desires are replaced with those of the relationship.
Truly this is a potentially negative situation to create and is the root cause of a great many people’s willingness to continue in connections that are no longer healthy. However, focusing on this decision model is not helpful in the attempt to change that influence because it isn’t real. There is no “I” deciding to engage in a relationship, there was always a relationship.
Try for a moment to think of yourself lacking in connection to anything or anyone. When this inevitably fails, try to imagine an aspect of your self that isn’t immediately connected to a situation, experience or person. Note that even if you decide to consider yourself in empty space, you’re still defining your existence in light of that space. Gautama, the first Buddha, noted that the self, while not exactly non-existent, was not the monolithic thing western philosophers were so enamored of. It was, in fact, merely one stream in a multitude of narratives, at times being ridden more often than others, but still only one among many. The truth of this insight can be found in any of those moments where upon reflection it is noted “that wasn’t me doing that” or “I can’t believe I would do that” or “where did that behavior come from?” We’ve all had those times and usually brush them off as aberrations from the central story we have ourselves, rationalizing such behavior away in light of extreme circumstances, lack of sleep, or in some cases even demonic possession.
Unless we wish to delve into bodily possession, which even at face value seems more self-serving than a real explanation, the hard truth is that in those situations there is nobody but us participating in the behavior. From this understanding can only come the conclusion that there exists any number of potential behaviors that, while not common, are still capable of being fulfilled with these bodies we, with childlike innocence, think we control more than we do.
Relationships, of any form though the romantic type gets most of the press, are the means by which these varying narratives, both the ones that are the “true me” and the aberrations, are instantiated. Daniel Siegel, in his work on interpersonal neurobiology, posits a triune understanding of the human person: the brain, the mind, and relationships. Neither of the three are subservient to the others and the triangular connection formed neither indicates a tempestuous union like Freud’s theory of the self nor does it point to a situation where one can be studied without referring to the others. The mind here is not a disembodied thing, but a descriptive term referring to the energy and information flow that is at the heart of all connections. Relationships then are the relational process of energy and information flow whereby two or more physically instantiated beings connect in a reciprocal matrix. Change is inevitable as is a relational dynamic at the heart of who we are as individuals. The centralizing concept of “I” is here no longer an existent thing in its own right but merely a pointer, a lexical device noting the presence of a particular narrative taking center stage.
We act and wonder at times where our behavior comes from, the arm-chair inner psychologist ruefully reminding us of how Mom or Dad did the exact same thing. We see one who we love in front of us as we engage in an activity otherwise never considered and reconcile the anxiety by dwelling within the connection or in other words “for the sake of the relationship.” Relationships, whether the initial attachments formed during childhood, or the adult attachments later based on them, provide avenues for energy and information flow and therefore the expression of ourselves. Some of those trails are similar to what has come before, some are grand diversions from where we thought we were going. However, none of them are happening as different streams we jump into but as the very means we live our life.
“We are like the company we keep,” is more than just philosophical observance or parental admonishment, it is the central fact of our lives. While there is certainly still much to be said about ignoring once cherished ethical concerns or ideological positions when in the service of maintaining a relationship, we would do well to remember that who we are requires relationships to be known. There is much we are capable of doing of which we are unaware simply because a relational dynamic has yet to emerge which would allow the space for that particular behavior to manifest.
When making decisions for the sake of a relationship, it is important to recognize that you were never not in a relationship, thus any decisions made are contextually shaped not only in their result but in the very reasoning that goes into deciding what to do.
© David Teachout
For those who drive, have you ever taken a wrong turn and found yourself in a dead-end, shaking your head in confusion and utterly flabbergasted that there is no road going through? For those who debate, have you ever found yourself in a rhetorical flourish only to realize that you’ve boxed yourself in through emotional appeal to a situation that at the beginning you never would have agreed with? That feeling of being trapped washes over you like a cold shower, your skin shivers, your thoughts stop and there’s a sense of being adrift in a land where causation has abandoned you at the drop-off point of a long line of linear connections. Looking back once one is in a more sober moment of reflection you can begin to glimpse the drift of the journey and how the result ended up being this full-tilt collision with fatalism, but the feelings remain and so the struggle begins to extricate oneself.
Just as above, so it is below in relationships. The emotional high has worn off, the excitement of that shiny new toy has become tarnished, the courtship has been replaced by the reality of a person who is far more nuanced than the princess/prince they began as, dashing and regal and sparkling in their unmitigated attempt at controlling a response from their intended target. I don’t mean to make this sound as abysmal as it may be coming across. Relational manipulation is not all about nefarious impulses, we all are subject to the desire to put our best foot forward, to display our charms to their greatest advantage, all for the purpose of creating a feeling of attraction in the other person and engendering reciprocal behavior. This is a game and culturally there exists all manner of ways in which it is played. We wear our best clothes to church to present a particular face to god, companies let it be known inspections are coming and so stores and employees look better that day than any other day, and we halt the words that in other social context would come spilling out but in front of the family isn’t as politically savvy to declare.
There is nothing inherently wrong with going about life this way, the problematic situation arises when we are blinded to seeing any of the outlying variables associated with the person, including ourselves. That job we so desperately wanted suddenly becomes a sinking ship as we realize the company’s numbers really weren’t as realistic as they noted; the clothing we tried on that looked so good in the dressing room suddenly becomes sheer in a different light exposing parts of ourselves we’d have rather kept hidden; and that relationship we were so enamored of suddenly doesn’t feel as safe or secure or beneficial as it once did.
I use “suddenly” here but honest appraisal leads us to acknowledge that the variables of that person’s darker side were there all along, our awareness simply didn’t stretch to see them. It’s existence is sudden only in the way that an object coming from our periphery appears as if from magic in front of us. Had we turned our head or broadened our conscious deliberation we’d have seen that object barreling at us, actual or metaphorical. We do ourselves no good by becoming incensed at our lack of sight, literal or mental. There are any number of variables in existence we blithely go about our lives in conscious ignorance of and which by and large have no deleterious effects. Unfortunately our lives are not as our stone-age evolutionary ancestors, we do not merely have to concern ourselves with the rustling bushes or the scattering of rocks from above, there are all manner of existent variables in life which can catch us unaware and, whether the incitation of our fight/flight/freeze response is ultimately helpful by pointing us towards a legitimate threat, still may create a problematic situation. The reason for this is the interconnected web of existence in which we live, where we are not the causal agents we so egoistically often assume, but another variable among many in the cosmic interplay of forces.
Certainly we are an important variable, but the old notion of viewing the so-called “external” world as somehow impinging upon us and by virtue of our magical free will selecting from an array of infinite possibilities the action we shall take is in line with that of a flat earth. The cosmic-relational perspective provides a means of viewing ourselves as within the world, not apart from it, where external and internal are simply biological delineations, not declarations of metaphysical import. What we have as opposed to rocks and trees is the ability to broaden our conscious awareness and thus via the power of intention focus on those other variables to effect ripples in the web of existence.
This has profound importance when it comes to relationship creation and the selection of people in our lives. When we cease looking at ourselves as autonomous context-free agents, we come to realize that the situations we are in, the history of our experiences and the memories that closely approximate them, and the people we are connected to are all variables just like us providing paths of potential outcomes. Our personal conceptualizations are relational from the ground of our familial attachment to the ever-increasing array of environmental connections we form in our lives. This includes both the internalization of projected narratives from others and our own projections out of that symphony of possible stories.
When we enter into a new connection, whether it be romantic or professional, it behooves us to halt for a moment a take a look at the context of our situation. If the person in front of us is dismissive of our inquiries or mocking in their appraisal of our desire to know more then we can rest assured that at minimum this is not someone we want influencing our journey. This studied inquiry, this meditative reflection can be done at any time though clearly there are moments when it is more difficult than others and it is there where the excitement of pleasure and the enticement of mystery should be mitigated by the joy of reflective increasing understanding. To find out that where one is located relationally is not beneficial for personal growth or safety is not to declare one’s innate foolishness or stupidity, but an opportunity to acknowledge the interconnected web of which humanity is a part and gain an impetus for change.
© David Teachout
What began as a contemplation on the shadow qualities of love ended up being an entire composition concerning the shadows of of human existence. So I return to love, though it is only the first in a series as I attempt to show how our emotional lives and the actions arising from them are not nearly as singular an experience as is often thought.
Love is not solely an emotional response, there are any number of behaviors and mental intentions involved that indicate a person is not simply infatuated or lustful but loving. What love grows out of though is a sea of emotional responses to innumerable experiences. Behaviors become more possible as we, to a greater or lesser extent, attempt to live our principles, which themselves grew out of the familial/cultural/societal/relational dynamics of our entire lives. In all of those experiences and the connections being formed there is as much a potential for suffocation as there is for gentle holding, as much potential for obsession as there is for exuberant appreciation. This is because love is not a thing in itself, but a quality purely created out of a contextualized relational individual.
More specifically, love is often associated as a pure thing, an emotional/behavioral response to someone, notably in a romantic sense, that is completely self-sacrificing and deserves recognition as a nearly spiritual enterprise. There doesn’t need more than a few minutes perusing the romance section of a bookstore to get this flavor of fantastical idealism. This is also indicated by societal restrictions on the usage of love and the disgust often felt for those connections which don’t fall within restrictive socially-constructed mandates. Without getting too far into problematic territory, we can simply stick with those relationships which have become destructive or are no longer beneficial to all involved.
Naive simplicity would allow us to call such a connection no longer loving, but I challenge this. While it is no longer life-giving, to say it is not loving forgets the power that love possesses within the human relational personality. If we keep the principle of love as an emotional/cognitive connection with another that includes both a psychic joining such that the needs/desires of those involved become tangled together and two, a powerful projection of looking to the best way the other can manifest their highest good, with the second part arises out of the first, there is no intrinsic behavior associated.
There may be some concern over the first part of my definition, the issue of entanglement, so let me set the framework. If it is first considered that all our behavior is created out of a relational matrix and how we behaviorally manifest our personalities is due to those potential actions that become more possible as all the variables of life, both internal and external, act with us, then the relational connection of love is mental space from which the particular behavioral possibilities associated with it arise from. To see this in our lives takes only a moment of considering how we make decisions when we are doing so in connection to those in our lives, the greater the strength of the connection the more influence it has on our process. This happens in our hobbies and so on as well, as anyone who has suddenly found themselves enjoying something they hitherto had not because their partner does, can recognize that love pulls out of us potentials that were not available previously.
Love carries a great deal of weight because it can hold so much of our attention and that means utilizing a great deal of our mental resources creating abundant connections. A brief emotional response may touch upon a few connections in our mental web and have staying power only if the power of those connections are built upon great tragedy or other strong memory. Such a basic emotional response of frustration and anger at nearly tripping over the dog on the way to the car can create the space for zooming out of the driveway without looking and hitting another car. Imagine for a moment what the relational weight of a thing like love can do with all the memories and familial attachments and experiences created vast webs of interconnections. Imagine further all the behaviors it makes more likely to happen. Love is not in itself a holy virtue, but it possesses the possibility of enticing the best in us precisely because of the sheer strength or weight of its power in our relational minds.
The shadow of love, an often concealed behavioral potential that isn’t life-giving, is a form of madness built upon thoughts of shame and self-doubt, compelling us to seek completion and healing through use of another, rather than dwelling in the open and awareness-increasing relational space of a new set of possibilities. This shadow is the underbelly of tangled desires and the consequent desire to see what is assumed to be the best in another. When such a desire is predicated upon control and built upon a need to possess rather than freedom of authenticity, the strength of love is pulling from all the variables in an experience that are connected to insecurity and lack. There is here the notion of “you complete me” or “I need to find my missing half,” and so the associations are made with brokenness and behavior is created out of that space. Not everyone will go to outright abuse, but looking at love this way can help us see why someone can still use the term and yet act destructively and the subject of such still feel intense connectivity.
Just as our physical shadows are illuminated by light shining at a particular angle, so these shadows within our capacity for love can be seen through the light of introspection, reason and helpful analysis/meditation. When creating those connections of which love may one day be a defining characteristic, we can take moments to reflect on how it is we are holding the other in our internal lives. The difficulty is not in becoming entangled with another, such is the reality of our existence as relational creatures. Where our behavior remains in the capacity of love as a profound source of life-giving action is in the exhibition of dedication to free expression and deep respect for any and all involved.
Rather than being in need of completion where the shadow would have us think we can’t walk at all without the other, we can instead look at our lives as journeys of which the path we are on is widened by those we connect with and therefore capable of touching upon that much more of potential experience. Love in it’s life-giving capacity broadens our awareness of what we are capable of and so it is that we find greater expressions of our freedom.
© David Teachout
Cellphones, GPS units, the ubiquity of cameras, phone applications that can track where people at to near pinpoint accuracy. These are merely the personal technologies that the general populace has to expand an already over-burdened anxious mind with more information than it can take. When considerations are made concerning this type of technology at the national stage and how we are inundated with analysis of its meaning for our rights and privileges, with spy satellites, street cameras, and drones, there has come to exist a mentality that everyone is and should be watched, monitored and minutely considered in their every action. This social spy-state of affairs insinuates itself into our consciousness and finds itself manifesting in individual relationships, both friendly and romantic, such that trust is no longer an issue of identity but a contingent commodity that begins at a loss and rarely rises to a positive.
Trust is an elusive and amazing feature of relationships, often mistaken for being given only in the retrospect when it has been broken. By that I mean it is rare for someone to declare “I give you my trust” at the beginning of a relationship, but quite more often is heard “I trusted you and you betrayed me” or some facsimile. We’ve all been there, including myself, and I have written before on apologies (The Soft Tyranny of I’m Sorry) and forgiveness (The Inner Projection Of Forgiveness). Rather than delving into those topics at this time, I want to get further into the mindset of wariness that so permeates our human interactions. Trust seems an issue of identity, we implicitly trust or endorse the honesty of the individual in front of us unless painfully obvious clues lead us to think otherwise, accepting at the very least on trust that the words issuing from their lips mean a particular thing or reference similar thoughts that we ourselves carry.
Trust at this basic level is so pervasive that we rarely give it a conscious thought, leading as I noted a few sentences previously that it is often only in retrospect we realize we’ve gone and trusted. This basic trust is the backbone of all interactions, without it we’d get nothing done or at minimum our communication would devolve into such pedantic utterances we’d never make any progress in conversation. This backbone however is not without some spots of concern.
Those points of concern are precisely what is brought out, danced about and peddled, often for monetary gain, by fear-mongering individuals, organizations and news networks. Shark attacks rarely happen and yet “Shark Week” in the United States is one of the most watched orgies of vicarious thrills on television. Despite abuse and kidnapping occurring far more often by relatives than by strangers (and frankly even these numbers are abysmally low given the sheer number of children out there), playgrounds and grass yards in front of houses are no longer places of enjoyment but anxiety-ridden geographic locations of predatory menace. Fueled by ignorance as to just what sex offenses often are or the context of their occurrence (not at all minimizing the very real horror of the crimes committed under this category), potential dates are looked up on national sex-crime databases open to the public or if you’re really wanting to give yourself a scare you can simply see if one is located near your house, never mind how long they’ve been living there without any difficulty at all. I won’t even go into Google, that social standard of search programs that seems like the holy grail for assuaging or stoking parental fears previous to a child’s date, regardless of how long that child has been an adult.
All of this fear, anxiety and concern is like social molasses, making it difficult to move around let alone swim or god forbid frolic with abandon. Let me be clear here that I am not promoting the abject abnegation of rationality for the rainbows and bunnies of a fantasy world where everyone is completely altruistic and one need never concern themselves with safety. That’s as clearly ridiculous as the opposite existence of constant fear. What I am here noting is being aware of how relating to the world skews our perceptions and this is far more about ourselves than the person we’re engaged with. I’ll back up and explain since this thought is a bit of a leap from where I was at.
Trust, like forgiveness, is an inner projection of a self-narrative. Just as when trust is broken and we feel saddened and morose, often acting out in emotionally self-abusive ways as to how we fell for what now appears as clear fraud, it is this notion of lack and insufficiency that is at the core of the hurt, not the precipitating event. What hurts in betrayal has more to do with an identification one creates with an image of the betrayed, a person stupid and lacking in judgment. Rather than seeing the situation as a source of introspection and reflection on what could be done differently, an all-encompassing identity is made with the lie that is the betrayed. So with trust when acting from a place of wariness and focus on ferreting out potential betrayal we create an environment of lack and emotional insufficiency. This then allows the other person’s actions to be given a greater power over the creation of our self-narrative than our own principles.
In a basic scenario of broken trust the betrayed has two options: one, they can accept the behavior as indicative of the person doing it and reflect upon the exchange to determine what may have been missed or not seen clearly and use this information for future encounters with others; two, fall into despair at the feelings of brokenness and consider themselves foolish for having fallen for the manipulation or deception. The first option is far healthier and less personally destructive and seems more likely to occur when we begin from a position of wholeness and honest self-appraisal. The latter option seems far more likely to happen when we begin from an environment of wariness and constant anxiety, slipping into a story of personal lack and shame because we were already there to begin with!
We are left here then with patterns of behavior to engage with when dealing with any prospective new social connection, from the simple acquaintance to the earth-moving romantic. There is nothing wrong with being aware of other people in our lives, that’s rather the point of having relationships, but there is no necessity and is likely even toxic to engage with these connections from a position of focusing on betrayal. That other person’s behavior says far more about them than it does about you and it is a means of interacting with reality that we can, with intentional awareness, either take on as our own identity or learn from and move on with openness to life and experiences based in a secure self-acknowledgment.
The pain has subsided; the angry letters written, destroyed, rewritten again, ripped up and burned; the drunken one-nighters have passed and many gallons of tears and rage have flowed on down rivers of chocolate. If you’re lucky perhaps you went through only one of these. Depending on one’s predilection towards emotional hari-kari perhaps all of the above and more were wallowed in. This is not to disparage the reaction to a break-up, but to put it in perspective and like any painful event there is a need for some humor even in the midst of sorrow, because the joke ultimately is, with shaking of head and rueful chuckle, that this too shall pass and all the time spent on ruminating over past hurts and present feelings of rejection or betrayal will be small and slight in comparison to the vast amount of time that came before and will come after.
The loss is often so large, so ridiculously painful, not because the other person wasn’t worth it (though let’s face it, there really isn’t anybody worthy of invoking the feeling of soul-spasming pain felt by romantic loss) but because in a very real sense the world created by the connection was torn away. This isn’t poetic license, this touches upon attachment and how our minds work, giving us a bit of insight into why even after all the tears and sorrow there’s a part of us that leaps for joy at the possibility the ex may return.
David Chalmers has spoken of the “extended mind,” a conceptualization of human mental activity that broadens the understanding of mind to include those objects or people with which we have a relationship or connection thereby extending the practice of the mind from a singularity to a multiplicity. Often this extension concerns having something else take over and do more efficiently (at least hopefully so) what the mind used to do, as is the case for smart phones and computers with us no longer having to use up mental space for phone numbers, directions, etc. This extension also encompasses other people and provides a means of constructing just why with certain relationships taking place over time there come moments of finishing thoughts, intuitively grasping what the other is feeling as they enter a room and even taking on certain manners of speech and behavior. “You are like the company you keep” is more than just a saying, it is a mental equivalency, as our minds take on and incorporate into the so-called individual world all those variables referred to usually as people and shape a new narrative and structure of the self.
I’ve spoken before of this transcendent need within us to expand by necessity our connections, either by religious or personal connections. This natural and inevitable creation of attachment is seen in the yearning a child has for their care-giver, in the charging maelstrom of neurons exploding for human touch, in the bond of parent to child and in our protest behavior as anxiety breaks open due to feelings of loss. This dependency is not, however, a loss of freedom but the means by which we interact with an increasingly complicated world of evolving societal and cultural forms. To return to Chalmers, we have a need to organize our emotions/thoughts, which cannot be done within a context-free universe as emotions/thoughts are the emergent entity out of that very context and so our minds reach out to extend the self and find avenues for their development.
There are any number of points of advice peddled about, in magazines and books and most certainly from our friends and family, as to whether when or if the ex returns we should reengage and start over. I’m not here to offer pithy sayings though at times I’ll do so for the sake of fun. What I am here for is to provide a potential context or structure to help each person in the decision-making process. Doing so begins with acknowledging the reality of the nests or baskets of our existence and with humility understand that we never make a decision all on our own as if plucking from the sky a free-floating behavioral possibility. That former romantic connection or friendship, however much they may have hurt us, provided the means for pain or did not live up to their potential integrity, still provided for that time together a means of constructing the experience of life; the stronger the emotional bond the strong the connection must have felt and still likely has a hold on us. This is not because we are weak, as some unfortunate people have mentioned of those involved in abusive relationships, but because our minds don’t operate outside of context, even when that context is not of an objective life-giving form. Standing in the waters of a river you’re going to get wet and no amount of believing otherwise, no amount of looking only for the good things, is going to remove the increasingly strong undertow. In fact, even the removal of oneself from it is not simply a matter of stepping out of it, as there must be a ground to get to, a branch offered to grasp. Being able to look at one’s emotional life and consequent mental creations from a broader and more awakened perspective allows us to see all those connections which provide the means or space to allow us to step out and away.
Once having accepted the inevitability of creating attachments and feeling their pull even when thought to have gone away, the next nest encompasses value and is the legitimately powerful side of the positive-focusing that I irksomely noted above. Like a mashed and crumpled dried-out sponge, the emotional waters of previous relationships can quickly return us to a form waiting to be reborn. By projecting forward the highest form of our needs, not just attachment but honest and open connections, not just anyone but someone who is walking alongside on their own path and by doing so opens up vistas of growth we had hitherto not known, we can take note of when such occurs and becomes manifest in our lives.
When that former lover/friend returns we can stand in the waters of that familiar stream of emotions and step out of it by grasping the branch of the highest values we want in our lives, strengthened and given form by the communities in which we are involved. Then we can look at what is being offered and reject from a place of strength that old companion of lack and pain and move on into connections of plenty and joy.
© David Teachout
Communication is a communal creation or emergence. The emergent entity is of a “relationship” between two or more parties that is greater than but not wholly other than the sum of the people involved. To have a healthy relationship, to express oneself authentically with others is to first and foremost center oneself in the principle of open and honest communication. This openness is not a passive receptivity but an active intentional stance of personal expression, of pushing the metaphorical hands into the deepest mud of the soul and bringing forth the most current and fully understood aspects of oneself and how one relates to the other(s) involved. Openness and honesty are means of relating to that communal creation through a recognition that what has been seen initially through shared interest becomes more by individual intent. This shared reality, full of the strengths and anxieties of those involved, must be kept at the forefront of dialogue and discourse.
When to Stay, When to Leave
This business of interest and intention is the basis for both the establishment of a relationship and a means of determining when it is no longer serving the needs of the parties involved. There is, no doubt, a great deal of emotional pain and heartache, anxiety and concern over the loss of a relationship, particularly of the romantic kind, and were I able to give an easy checklist to determine the how and when of a relationship ending I’d be certain to appear on Oprah and peddle my wares with exceeding gusto. Alas, I have no such model. Instead what I offer is a rumination on healthy relationships based on that principle of communication I began with. By focusing on what is healthy, what is good and right, we become less concerned with the negative and anxiety-inducing possibilities. Judge the strength of a connection not on its potential for failure, but on its ability to provide a self-transformative space for growth and honest expression.
Erich Fromm in The Art of Being, notes: “The basis for any approach to self-transformation is an ever-increasing awareness of reality and the shedding of illusions.” The action of increasing one’s awareness of reality is promoted through greater understanding of one’s being-ness, requiring open and honest communication to lead to the dismissal of illusions. These illusions are often at the heart of what makes us anxious concerning the loss of relationships and the fear/concern over someone straying. The term “straying” evokes such strong images of a path being left, of a road being departed from, the result as is found in any number of stories one of destruction and pain. This departure, however, in those very same tales, is often an experience of personal development.
Straying, perhaps, can be focused instead on departing from one’s illusions. The central one of most concern here is any single person being able to complete another, of providing the necessary pieces to fit into every lack that the other person has, for the two to become one in anything more than a poetic sense. This illusion is particularly problematic as it is based on the notion of someone having a lack, of beginning a search due to the recognition of an already existent loss. Like focusing on what is potentially wrong with a relationship, the eye only sees what is negative and provide ample examples of concern for suffering. If we begin with one’s wholeness, with a person’s current secure place as who they are, perfect and complete as a manifestation of humanity, then what another provides is not missing pieces but an expanded awareness.
The illusion of being completed in another provides the foundation for all manner of anxiety and the impetus to focus on loss rather than fulfillment. If one is completed by another then a lack of integrity on their part in keeping to their word becomes more than just a lapse in judgment or an indication of their character. Instead, it reflects on you as well in a reciprocal process of emotional pain.
“In contrast to symbiotic union, mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man; a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity.” (Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving)
Clearly Fromm here means more than the male gender and is concerned with love, not simply in its romantic form, as a source of human expansion. Love, here, is concerned with the removal of one’s focus on lack or separation, realigning within a place of personal integrity.
Focus to Move Forward
A partner may cheat, they may stray, but focus on the relationship as an expansive quality of honest and open shared living. Doing so has their actions reflect only on themselves, not on who you are as a complete person. Interests change, what was once the powerful experience of the power of lust and initial feeling of newness, shifts and changes based on circumstance and the flow of life. This is an inevitable process in the art of forming relationships and provides a space for the expansion of intention. We can keep to the principles of a life given to expressing integrity and joyful identity. We can explore the myriad of potential connections waiting to provide the space for widening the road of each of our journeys.
For help in navigating the uncertainty of relationships, feel free to contact me for counseling or coaching.
I would be remiss in my writing if, on the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day I did not write something, though more than the social pressure of doing so is a bone-deep appreciation for the trials and tribulations such a man went through without recourse to violence. For all my talk of serenity and humility, my work on the reduction of anger and judgment, all it often takes is a few minutes behind the wheel of my car and that journey takes a sharp turn in a distinctly un-serene direction. Here is a man who was hit, spit on and suffered enormous indignities that most of us today would consider fictional were they not so well documented, such is our abject disgust for the actions. I could not and do not hope to achieve the eloquence and sheer magnetic quality of King’s speech but one message that stands out to me today is this: “…we have to face the fact that modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit…”
Technological innovation has been the cornerstone for much of what is considered modern advancement. Until recently however the technical and scientific enterprise, without denying the profound help that it has brought to the physical welfare of very nearly the entire human race, did more than help us expand our ways of knowing and parse out nature into ever-more manipulatable finer points; it dissociated us from each other and denied the underlying spiritual truths that religions often merely brush by. Freedom has long been characterized as the ability to do something, leading a character in the movie “Jurassic Park” to remark that we only focused on the fact that we could do something, not on whether we should. We soar with wings of metal and forget the glory of the birds, we land on the moon and forget that our place in the universe is but one far-flung speck in the universe, and we cure disease and map the genome and yet forget that we are all truly and incredibly interconnected in an integral reality.
Thankfully together we hold the potential for bridging the gap of that dissociative divide and focus on the integrated nature of our shared humanity. As Wiliam Ury notes in The Third Side, “Humanity is returning to a dependence on a basic resource that is, as in hunter-gatherer times, an expandable pie. We are returning to the horizontal relationships that existed among human beings for most of human evolution. The network is once again becoming the defining social organization for the human community.”
Information is now our expandable resource, breaking barriers and old ways of thinking, hence why the few despotic regimes that still exist attempt so hard to control it. But like roving bands following the movements of their food/clothing source, so the human race can and does find ways to access the sum-total of human knowledge, whether through smart phone or wind-up-powered computer.
We can travel faster and farther than ever before and hence possess the freedom to do something, but it is small in the face of being free from oppression and ideological despotism, where one’s sense of importance and grandeur is forever dampened by the darkening influence of a philosophy of separation and brokenness. Whether this takes the form of conservative religious ideologies or political/social form like fascism, the result is a limiting of space to hold real freedom. We may have the freedom, some of us, to play video games for hours on end or watch endless television shows, having the technological know-how to do so, it is for naught if we are doing so to escape the terrifying reality that we do not possess the freedom from moral and existential castration, of being cut-off from our human potential.
Freedom from is precisely what Obama in his inaugural address today spoke to when he said: “The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.” Such programs and the underlying social cohesiveness that underlies them address both the reality of a social experiment in which none of us progress without the usage of resources that we all provide and had a hand in creating and a recognition that the greatness of the human condition is made possible by the freedom from worrying about basic needs and thus to use our ever-widening conscious power to explore our potential.
What a focus on the freedom to do does is limit our imagination. We expend our awareness only on the myopic vision of a single action, forgetting that everything we do not yet know is an infinite expanse awaiting its realization and instantiation. This is why dialogue or communal action is the foundation of a truly free society, taking from the infinite resource of information and expanding into the frontiers of the until-now unknown. As William Ury states, again from The Third Side, “…dialogues aim not to convert others or to reach agreement on the issues, but rather to promote mutual understanding and build relationships that can prevent escalation into violence.” The freedom to do something, while often fully valid, is not the greater freedom, it merely points to the view we hold of the world, whether it be one of limit and dissociation or one of expansiveness and integration. We can, as King noted, learn to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters.
© David Teachout
Argumentation, relationship dialogue, international relations, these and other group behaviors have been and are often described in metaphors of war or fighting. To “stand your ground” and “not give up the high ground” is easily associated with maintaining a stance in the face of “fierce opposition” or against someone who comes in with “guns blazing.” Unloading with “both barrels” is a common euphemism from the midwest in which I grew up and the very foundation of “lining up your facts” has corollaries in trench warfare. War and fighting have long been a fascination of mine, succumbing to the social stereotypes of males being unequivocally associated with violence and the expenditure of force.
More than images was the emotional connections and subsequent framing of life as conflict which had a more lasting effect and guided much of my philosophical development. To say that I enjoyed a good argument growing up in my teens and early twenties would be quite the understatement, I lived and breathed for it. The notion of stomping upon my enemies (for what else were they when viewed from a militant frame?) and obliterating their arguments like so much flimsy fortifications was a profound emotional high. Fundamentalist conservative Christianity, with its incessant and ridiculous identification as martyrs facing the overwhelming hordes of secular society, gave fuel to this tendency. This tendency translated quite easily upon deconverting and finding myself in the land of ideological disenfranchisement (I was quite frustrated at not being able to find the raging secular hordes no matter how much I looked).
To rend and tear, destroy and smash, is to be a child ranting against the existential futility of life. I imagine rather well just how much the urgency with which life often seems to be pushing upon us can be transferred and metamorphosed into energy patterns of anger and frustration, when movement is felt to be thwarted by the claims or views of the person “standing in your way” as if “blocking the road of life.” As you can see, the metaphors continue and with them a funneling of the energy of life into a dark and almost entirely pointless flailing of angst-ridden pathos. We each become under these circumstances our own Atlas carrying the weight of the world, straining under the pressure of constantly seeking a new “beachhead” or “conquering another piece of ground.”
Time and maturity, or at least what passes for a close facsimile, has tempered the passions, guiding the energy down narrower paths and learning to pick battles which are truly meaningful rather than just there to be fought. Notice of course that the framing is still going on, warfare is still a part of my worldview. It is not such a bad thing though at times the emotional connections conjoined with this view make life more difficult than it should be, a fact I often smile at ruefully and then continue anyway. Enlightenment, it seems, is less a cognitive acknowledgment than a behavioral shifting or soul-filled identification with. What is known is not always what is acted upon.
On the American Atheists website, an organization that supports the social-political needs of atheists and secular americans, in describing their legal philosophy, it was noted that:
“It should be considered an act of legal negligence for one to take a case to a higher court where it is completely predestined that the court will rule against a meritorious cause, and thereby make bad law not only in that case, in that region of the country, but, depending on which appellate court is chosen, make bad law for a much wider area, where the bad ruling will be the law until the case in question is ultimately, if ever, overruled.”
This quote occurs amidst an excellent analysis of jurisprudence and as an answer to the tendency among some to want to fight every single battle, no matter how small or spurious the facts in question, via the courts. This struck me as a rather amazing philosophy to bring to life.
Holding Out For Principle
Holding a space for principle and values is different than positional living, just as it is in negotiating as William Ury and Roger Fisher note in Getting to Yes. The first is capable of nuance and movement, the latter is a black and white way of living where one’s idea is isolated. For instance, the difference can be noted between the phrasings “I want to work on how we communicate together” and “It’s my way or the highway.” They both point to a value of communication but the latter is positional and incapable of meeting new contexts. The other party may dismiss it, go around it or try to smash through it, but there is no sense in which the community aspect of communication is at all acknowledged and thus what could be a wonderful principle for living is reduced to a rock to be bludgeoned upon.
There are many moments in life where one must stand in a place of principle and proudly declare their ideas, the civil rights movement and gender rights come to mind. In everything from broad social difficulties to individual relationship frustrations, the question before us is not how we are going to fight but whether to do so at all. From this space of possibility, prior to blows being exchanged, are opportunities to relate to life and others in different, often more progressive ways, that a battlefield never would have afforded us the chance to explore.
© David Teachout