The New Year is upon us and with it comes the inevitable round of created and broken resolutions, the annual practice having become more parody than source of progress. Before the fires of change reach fever pitch and that new gym membership languishes in auto-pay purgatory, there’s some room to think for a moment about the movement from old to new, from habit to hope. As I recently finished Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” the story provides ample imaginative space to explore this query.
Shadow, the central character, gets caught up in the machinations of the god Odin who desires to wage a war of the old gods against the new. The old have lost a great deal of power. Brought over here to the United States in the minds of those coming from their native lands, time has distanced ancestors from their roots and the old gods no longer are being sacrificed to or often even believed in. Instead, new gods have arisen from the collective intent of a modern America; gods of television and prostitution, highways and cell-phones. These new deities are belligerent and puerile, flitting about in their desires, always attempting to stay one step ahead of the next fashion trend to grip the social consciousness.
Odin is tired of languishing in a pit of mediocre life and takes Shadow on a trip across the States to inspire other older gods to rise up. Along the way there is painted a picture of society in which the sanctified areas, places of worship, where once were monuments to human ingenuity, instead have been replaced by carnivals and rest-stop amusements. Stonehenge has been replaced by the worlds largest ball of twine, continuity has been replaced by frivolity, depth of feeling replaced by blips of commercial focus. While both sets of gods can be malicious, caring little about their hosts except as it gives their existence legitimacy, there is a quality to the old gods that often strikes a chord in Shadow, however much he despises the whole enterprise he’s caught up in.
This quality is best noted in sacrifice, which plays a large role in “American Gods.” While the new gods demand sacrifice, there is a passiveness to it which would be sad were it not so pathetic. People’s lives are given up in homage to a deity they know little about which offers them nothing more than momentary release from a world so much broader than the leftover dregs they curl up around. One is reminded of the sludge left behind from coffee having sat for too long in a pot, a dark slow-moving mass that makes you ponder how you could have ever put that inside you. The old gods demanded so much more, the entirety of a full life, dedicated to the service of transcendent ideals, filled with purpose. Shadow offers himself up to bear witness upon a tree to a god’s passing and in so doing changes the course of many events, finding in himself truths that had long been hidden. Juxtaposed with this is the story of a man swallowed by a god of debauchery who’s last breath is like a whimpering gasp. Simply put, there is no comparison.
So what is all this to do with New Years and resolutions? In determining a resolution it may best be kept in mind that true sacrifice has less to do with calories and more to do with inner meaning, less to do with hopping on a treadmill and more to do with the intent with which one connects with every person they come across. The New Year can be a time of determining which gods are being created by our intent, which deities we pay homage to and in so doing, direct or redirect the course of our lives.
What is it to be attached? At what point can a person look upon their lives and query as to their connection with things and/or people? Does attachment signify any and all relationships, including to objects, or is it better understood as only pertaining to people? Is attachment good or bad, life-giving or not? These and many other questions have been asked of me since starting writing, indeed many are questions I’ve asked of myself through the years of study, and as I’m sure attachment and how it relates to human relationships and society in general will continue to populate my writing, I decided to finally articulate just what is being meant in my continued usage of the term.
The notion of attachment has in psychology and philosophy various definitions and usages, though notably the idea is part of “attachment theory” connected with Bowlby and Siegel and previously as it is used in various forms of Buddhism. Attachment is, at core, concerned with the mental relation between the so-called “I” and other objects, be they people or things.
Buddhism offers as an understanding of mind that there is no “I” or central being. At no time does Buddhism promote that a person become un-attached, as we are instantiated within particular bodies and as such are connected to all things, both physical and perceptual. Instead, the term non-attachment is used to convey the idea that it should not be forgotten how no single thing or person exists in a vacuum of its own essence. All are related to everything else in the non-linear web of existence. Even so-called singular objects, like a tree, are not perceived in entirety but as a construction from the perception of trunk, branches, leaves, etc. People also exist this way in our minds, at face-value as holistic or of, to use my favorite phrasing, possessing of a singular narrative. Only a few moments of reflection will indicate that this singular narrative is a conglomeration of multiple experiences, personality facets and relationships. Attachment then, for Buddhism, is to wrongly focus on something or someone in a false sense, as a singularity rather than an interconnected instantiation of nature.
Utilizing Daniel Siegel’s notion of “mind,” a term to describe a process of energy and information flow that is created through the bio-social connection with others. Like in Buddhism, the “I” is not a thing in itself but a means by which the individual relates to their particular instantiation within a general narrative. Here attachment is primarily associated with human relationships, principally that between child and caregiver, though attachment theory has, with the understanding that all relationships are attempts at answering unmet needs, has branched to include analysis of all human relationships as they pertain to the evolution of the individual.
At a deeper level, the notion of attunement is used to indicate that:
“the inner reflection of mindfulness practice involves a form of internal attunement in which an observing self attunes to an experiencing self in an open and kind way. Likewise, secure parent-child attachment is characterized by interpersonal attunement, a form of communication that involves a parent attuning to a child in an open and kind way” (Siegel, Daniel J. (2012-04-02). Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) (p. 43). Norton. Kindle Edition.).
Attunement is the open and receptive means by which someone focuses on the flow of energy and information involved in relationships (Siegel). Proper and healthy attunement allows the object of attachment, the child or loved one, to be held in an open field of understanding the multiple variables of their existence and being receptive to their needs.
The tendency of a person’s attachment relationships will form mental structures that automatically react to future relational connections, with behavior being the means the person has learned to address the anxieties bound in those structures. Attachment in this sense is inevitable and necessary. Dependency here is a central aspect of human life, the defining feature in how we form our personalities and relate to the so-called external world of form.
Imagine a wheel with a central hub and spokes reaching out. The hub is associated with attachment in the psychological sense, the basic and underlying principle by which all personality and behavior stem out of. Within this is biology, genetics, social influences, etc. all in an interconnected web of natural causation. The spokes are our attempts at connecting with objects, both people and things and events. The outer wheel is the totality of existence, of which the spokes are only connecting to particular instantiations. Buddhism would note here that the better perspective is to dwell on the wheel itself and see the whole as opposed to becoming “attached” to the singularity of which our connection is only momentarily pointing to. Broadening the focus will incorporate more of existence into our awareness and work on what Siegel notes is the goal of attachment theory and healthy living: integration.
In relating to ourselves and others we should keep in mind both uses of the term attachment, in recognizing the role relationships play in the creation of our narratives and how we relate to others, and also recognizing the Buddhist understanding of the transitory nature of all things. When we become attached in the Buddhist sense, whether it be to a particular object as in possessions or in a particular facet of a person as in a supposed deficit or error, we lose sight of the reality that all singularities, whether people or objects, are part of a vast interconnected web reaching all the way down to quarks and muons and all the way up to galaxies and universes.
© David Teachout
In describing attachment, often in connection to dependence, I often start with a thought experiment. I ask the person or group to attempt for a moment to think about themselves without any relation at all to another thing or person or experience. Honest reflection will immediately indicate how impossible this is and establish at face value two things: one, the mind/brain loves making connections to everything and two, our notion of self is inextricably tied to the totality of our connections to everything/one.
In the book “Attached,” by Levine and Heller, the focus of attachment is on romantic connections, stating:
“Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood. We are no longer separate entities. The emphasis on differentiation that is held by most of today’s popular psychology approaches to adult relationships does not hold water from a biological perspective. Dependency is a fact; it is not a choice or a preference.”
The last sentence is often met with protests and declarations of “but I’m my own person!” Reality, however, has it’s own structure and while we often believe ourselves participants in it as if set down from on high, we are actually reflections of it. We punch a wall and exclaim that it hurts, with science telling us the deeper reality that the wall essentially hits us with as much force as expended upon it. We talk about the “face” or “front” of a tree or rock often forgetting there’s no such thing. Labeling like that is the projection of our own perspective needing to make sense from the biological centrality of our own existence. Further examples abound, but the point is while our perception of experience is indeed quite powerful, it can serve to be as much of a deception as an illuminater of our lives.
Dependence Allows for Life
From the moment of birth and our first cry of frustration from being removed from the security and safety of the womb, we reach and root around to establish connections and therefore help define our experience. What at first begins as base biological impulse evolves and grows into the central focus in human life, the variably intimate dyads that take up so much of our energy and time. This dependency, this inevitable and necessary foundational component to human existence is more than a need however, it is the very means of our interaction in the world.
When we are not consciously relating to objects and/or people, our minds are constantly re-casting the experiences in our lives (what we call memory) into ever more complex narratives. We do not think except in relational attachments, we do not make decisions except within the parameters set up and instantiated within them. Our perspectives/opinions are not shaped within some closeted space in our minds, ready to leap out and lay a grid down to objectively define our experiences. They are created within the dynamic reciprocal process of the flow of information and energy which provides the warp and weft of our life tapestry.
Dependence Allows for Choice
This is not a loss of freedom. It is the acknowledgment of a paradigm for real choice, bound in the imaginative conscious potential that is within us all. We are not free-floating entities cast adrift and unconnected, we are fully and always inter-relating with the entirety of our experiences, conscious and unconscious. “Our minds are filled with information – with symbolic meanings emerging from energy flow patterns that stand for many associated things” (Siegel, “Pocketbook of Interpersonal Neurobiology“). There is no room for feelings of superiority because there is no room for notions of unrelated specialness. Within infinite potential, what one knows another is fully capable of knowing, what one does another is fully capable of doing, what is focused on in life will reflect within our relationships.
The path of differentiation is one of continued suffering and anxiety. In the process of integration we make a functional and healthy whole. We are in this together, period.
© David Teachout
I’ve remarked recently to a friend of mine that the preposition “In my opinion” annoys me. People will often say it before, drum-roll please, stating their opinion about something. The preceding line is ridiculously redundant at best and needlessly humble at worst. Who else is talking at that moment other than you? If the opinion stated is another’s then note it accordingly, but I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to assume that when a mouth is opened and words spill out that the person is enunciating the cognitive state that is their view of the world. Whatever is the point then in this social affectation?
The phrase seems to be drawn from the, yes I’ll say it, liberal notion of relative morality or ideological multicultural flat-ism where all ideas are declared equal relative to all others in the same category. While I note that this is primarily a liberal notion, conservatives are not above using it for their own purposes. The “teach the controversy” position is a case in point, where a clearly non-scientific position of creationism or intelligent design is noted to be on equal ground with evolutionary theory (remember that a theory in science is something that has been shown accurate through repeated experiment and observation) despite the former having no experimental grounding in research, no predictive ability and utterly absent of any underlying principle that is within the realm of natural sciences. Despite the usual predilection of conservatives to dwell in hierarchical thinking (their economic ideology is built on haves and have-nots) when it comes to biological science all of a sudden success in the marketplace of ideas loses all meaning and those without a knowledge base to posit opinions are given equal footing with those who do. There is a power, however, in enforcing mediocrity, for change only ever comes from the margins not the center.
At a more personal level, the flattening inherent within relativism seems to engender an automatic declaration of humility (the “in my opinion” preposition) whenever a state of consciousness is noted, especially when said opinion may be controversial or possess the potential of being reacted to with hurt. Tact and a sense of humanity should pervade our opinions but this needless humility is just that when the opinion is politely noted and worthless when the opinion is nasty. Rather like saying “I’m not a racist, but..” Clearly whatever comes next is going to horrible, making a preposition to declare otherwise does nothing to change this, no more than stating that the next words that come out is simply your opinion is going to change the impact of them. Beyond this, the focus on all opinions being equal serves as a dampening to the acceptance of our own power. It appears easy to note that an athlete or music star or some such is quantifiably better at their particular skill than others, but these are the outliers and as such it’s safe to declare their superiority. The cult-like worship of famous people may perhaps be more about our social inability to properly and effusively laud the accomplishments and skill-sets of “ordinary” people than it is about anything the stars possess.
Flattening everything or over-emphasizing some (i.e. famous worship) ends up creating the same situation, a deadening to the realization of our own imaginative and creative capacities. Yes, human beings have a knack for the over-estimation of their personal skills, moral abilities and the like, but this should serve more as a caution to being careful in the acceptance and promotion of our strengths, not for inaccurately flattening them to the same level as everyone else. We do and should find joy in a person’s exposition of their talent, skill or well-reasoned and informed opinion. In addition, we all in some aspect of our lives have something unique to offer, if “only” in the sense that we are a particular instantiation of the imaginative power of the universe. The “mere” engagement in life is anything but that, since each act is a matter of volition and deliberate communion with the event and as such should be acknowledged as being distinct from passivity or active avoidance of life.
Noting one’s gift or particular talent or better reasoned opinion is not to necessarily make the statement that all others are unworthy of acknowledgement (anymore than having money necessarily means someone else must have less), but in the living and pursuit of understanding life there are ways and wisdom that are of a more life-giving quality than others. As Bruce Lee noted, “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.” There is room for all of us to be expressions of the infinite universe and at the same time recognize that there is a constant and persistent unfolding of our greatness.
In politics and in war, there is a term describing consequences of actions that even at the outset were known to be problematic but at the time were deemed necessary, this is called “blowback.” Often these consequences take a violent form and almost invariably they foment the very kind of difficulty that the original action was attempting to stop. Stopping the Soviets in Afghanistan by arming and training the very rebels that moved on to attack us on 9/11 is only the most recent glaring example of American hubris though the invasion of Iraq and the continued violence there also springs to mind. Most recently however is the bombing of Gaza by Israel, in which the idea is promoted that massive devastation of an already impoverished people will actually encourage them to thrown off the “shackles” of Hamas and halt random rocket attacks. The repercussions will continue long past the final missile launch, long past the death of yet another child or mother, long past the posting of screaming tear-streaked faces. The complexities of geopolitics do not get solved by missiles and bombs, but by the changing of minds and souls and only that through a thorough understanding of just what is happening at levels of psychology often ignored or completely unacknowledged.
I recently sat and watched “The American,” the story of an assassin and gun-smith who wrestles with the fact of his monumental skill at delivering death and his fervent desire to have something, anything, in his life that is a positive or life-giving. The character, played with achingly amazing skill by George Clooney, can be taken as a commentary on the American foreign policy. As a country we are simply bar-none incredible at destroying things. I’ve heard it said that “if you must, absolutely must, have something blown up by the morning, send in the Marines.” From movies and social media creating a cult of the soldier, to a politics that eschews compromise of nearly any sort, we are a nation at love with our talent at ending things. And yet, like Clooney’s character, we stretch out at nearly anything that will give us a taste of life, however it may look. We hold on to religious ideologies of which have long since been trampled by the progress of science, denying the realities of global warming, evolution and an Earth that is far older than the mind can easily grasp, running for the shelves of self-help books, mindlessly enraptured by Oprah and the latest of her never-ending stream of quick fixes and turning to the most egregious of mystic platitudes based on flimsy evidence and pulling at the strings of our automatic, pre-rational impulses.
Now, before I get met with concern over this being a hyped-up criticism piece caught in its own morose spiral of horror-induced over-criticality, my result of all this is one of hope, not despair. “To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime.” (Erich Fromm) While the groping for something meaningful takes many absurd turns, that we still yearn for it says much about the strength of our species. We lament the atrocities in the world, but in the same breath we seek to find something to encourage hope.
Whatever may be said of the blowback associated with geo-political violence, and there’s plenty that has been and should be pointed out, the human condition is never completely held within only one frame. With every bomb dropped there are those calling for peace, with every death unnecessarily caused by fear there are more and more people disgusted with what we are doing to each other and willing to call for something different. The American nation may be at times ridiculously blind to the intricacies of the world in which it blunders around in, but the consequences of this ocular degeneracy are being felt by greater numbers and in starker ways. Whenever the world seems dark and hope but a lost dream, there is light to be found in every voice raised for peace and negotiation, rational analysis and responsible action.
We are not a nation with only one story, any more than we are a species with only one talent. “Just as love is an orientation which refers to all objects and is incompatible with the restriction to one object, so is reason a human faculty which must embrace the whole of the world with which man is confronted.” (Erich Fromm) We are more than any individual referential frame, more than any single story and together we are more than any single movement. The bombs will stop when we learn to embody this truth.
© David Teachout
Once Halloween has come and gone, the princesses put up their tiaras, the super-heroes fold their capes and the monsters scrub off their paint and scabs and scars. Every year we, children and those of us who keep our inner-child alive through more than eating gummy candies, participate in this social experiment. We deliberately create a facade, an externalized creation of an inner fantasy. We subject ourselves to the potential questioning, both the ridiculous and the mocking, of our outfits and style. Oddly enough this rarely materializes because it’s socially acceptable, even mandated to be outrageous, silly and non-conformist to a degree. As a nation we spend millions upon millions in decorations, candy and costumes for the sole purpose of selling a deception in a clear and unabashed way. The irony here is that what occurs on this holiday is simply an overtly outrageous form of something we do all the time, albeit by usually spending a lot less money on candy and rarely with the addition of stopping at a local Costume Shop.
Who We Are To Others
The way we exist in the mind of others is as internalizations of our projected narratives, we tell/show a story through word and deed which then gets incorporated into the other person’s narrative. Through the mechanisms of unconscious processing of at least one self-narrative, an image of ourselves gets created in the other’s mind and that is the “person” they respond to in interactions. The differences between the two, our own story and the other’s internalized image, is the source for a great majority of the miscommunication, hurt and uncertainty we find in our relationships, from the platonically banal to the romantically exuberant. These differences are almost entirely about ignorance, either about the social variables providing input or about the internal world of the individual and how they take in that information. As Ken Wilber notes, we cannot create an internalized world without an initial objective external world to build off and there’d be no manipulation of that external world without an internal one placing intent and meaning upon it; it is in other words not nature vs nurture but nurture through nature.
Attempting to get at the “real” person is as hopeless as splitting the atom was to primitive tribes. Even the process of an attempt merely reinforces the nature of the difficulty, which is that we never get out of our own heads. To help with miscommunication and the hurt that such creates in relationships, we must endeavor to unpack the well-traveled roads of our automatic stories. It means peeling back the paint of our costume and seeing ourselves for what we are, a nest of interconnecting and overlapping narratives, often with thoughts of guilt and/or shame at the center of them, the hallmarks of primary attachments that were anything but secure.
Who We Are To Ourselves
Daniel Siegel notes that the great “I” of our lives is really a “We” of our relationships, such that in the creation of what we naively think of as an ‘I’ is actually an interconnected array of relationships and the energy and information flow that characterizes them. We cannot help but become or manifest aspects of the relationships that were fundamental to our development through childhood and those we find ourselves in now. The healthy person, Siegel notes, is she or he who endeavors to integrate this flow rather than keeping it differentiated. In other words, when we find ourselves in the sea of life surrounded by pieces of a ship and wish to travel it behooves us to build that ship from the pieces, else we be constantly bombarded by floating debris and other items that come from beneath the water.
Mark this, that debris will not simply harm yourself or those closest but anyone who comes into contact with those who suffer from the detritus of a life unexamined. The costumes we put on in our minds often serve a purpose, even one that at times may in the midst of emotional hurt or fear of becoming what we never wanted to be, seem helpful. These projections inevitably affect those we connect with however and ultimately because of those deceptions we end up exhibiting the very behaviors we were trying so hard not to exhibit anyway.
While the responsibility of everyone else’s actions does not lie solely with us, we should not forget that we still have a role in how others interact with reality, as self-deception does not simply shield us from seeing the world more fully, it also limits the needed information others need to see clearly too. Only in looking at what we are afraid of, what the facades attempt to deflect, can we begin to select what is life-giving in our connections and therefore beneficial to ourselves and others.
I was once challenged to view life as a constant upward trajectory like a curving graph that as time goes on the line continues to go higher and higher without fail. This thinking was recently once again thrown at me from a place of joy and compassion and I had the same initial response I did back then, “are you freaking kidding me?!” I looked out upon a sea of potential and errors, personally, socially and relationally and could not fathom how anyone could posit such a clearly ridiculous claim. Life as a series of continual progress? Come again? Have you not seen the news lately?
The failure of our rational capacities stares us in the face with every “news” show, whether it be right or left, pandering to the lowest of emotional pulls and where parents who let their children die because of some horribly absurd religious notion concerning the evils of modern medicine do not see prison time. Oh yes, clearly there is an upward trajectory, but I think someone is looking at from upside down.
Then it dawned on me. I had not considered something yet. Like a child straining and straining at that math problem that still makes no sense until like an exploding star the answer scatters itself across consciousness, I could not stop myself from seeing at least the beginning of an answer. I pictured myself drawing a curving upward line and then I imagined looking at it closer, then bringing out a microscope and looking even more closely. From far away the line appeared solid, clear in its unwavering incline towards the heavens, but as I got closer the line began to become more nuanced. The vibrations of my heartbeat which traveled down my arm and into my fingers and through the pencil had created dips and rises, valleys and hills. What from far away seemed of only one story, upon close examination an entire world of possibility opened up. Here the vibration of my heart, there the subtle contours of the paper, over there the subtle spinning of the earth’s axis for which I am never consciously aware, all of these created variations in the line I had drawn. Even closer still, gaps appeared as atoms split apart and regained their individuality, until only quarks remained winking in and out of existence going places I could not understand even were I to try.
The universe is a perspective machine unlike any other. A constant churning of millions of variables, of which we are aware of only a very small amount.
I recently wrote and spoke in a group about the egoistic hubris of humanity, where we tell stories concerning what we perceive to be a special event that occurred to us, forgetting in our telling that there were literally millions upon millions of variables that went into the creation of that event, connections that have a history of which we are unaware and that had absolutely nothing to do with us. This in no way takes away from the significance of the event, meaning being after all the subjective projection of our own minds. Rather, it should caution us that even in the midst of profound transcendence or the height of bliss there remains a great many other events, great and small, which exist and can be seen were we to merely shift our awareness a single degree and were we to look closer we’d see just how many so-called smaller events were more significant than at first we gave them credit for.
The perspective we bring to events shifts how we integrate, or whether we integrate at all, the events of which we find ourselves a part of and which we often humorously think are centered upon us.
I sat recently at a Starbucks and realized with a quickening of my pulse that it was the location of a great many coffees on the way, via the ferry to Seattle, to my first Master’s program. It was a time of greater change than even I acknowledged at the time. The individual events, small and at times seemingly insignificant added to a life-line that once I take a step back from the contemplation of the small, there comes to mind a greatness that is pure wonder.
Certainly there could have been other events, other relationships, that led me to an approximately similar place where I am at today and because of that I will not say any of them were necessary, but the fact remains that where I am today, in this particular spot, writing these words and feeling these thoughts and smiling even in the midst of lingering pain, would not be occurring without all that came before. To the mechanically-minded this is no great revelation, but I choose to ascribe a meaning to it and call it good. In so doing I do not dismiss the heartache nor more than I dismiss the joy, nor does it absolve of me of living ethically or making amends for when I am asleep to my potential, but a context reminds me that life continues in the creation of life. That certainly is something to celebrate, whatever may happen tomorrow or the next day or the next.
© David Teachout
I admit, writing about forgiveness has become so much harder than writing about apologies. There’s an inner pain that refuses to give up it’s hold. The litany of half-truths, self-deception, broken promises and commitments, exists like a repeating siren call of anger and shame. Anger at being treated that way by a friend who declared so long about love and shame from the inner belief that at some level perhaps it was all deserved, that one is not worthy of being treated better. Is that not what many of us wrestle with, that inner voice of shame/anger whispering to us of a reality, however false, that being treated awfully must somehow be our choice or reflective of our nature?
Combine all of that with a refusal to attempt amends, where the continued broken commitments create a path of wanting to work things out only on the basis of blindly accepting an apology that isn’t, thus tacitly accepting a quality of interaction that was horrible. This is where the cry of “how can I forgive?” is born and soars, where the focus resides in such a way that seeing a path out is like noting a light while one’s head is stuck in the mud.
As noted in “I’m sorry” where the focus is more about the person saying it, forgiveness starts with the same person. Make no mistake, this is not about ignoring consequence or moral abnegation or an absurd individualism that states others actions in no way affect us. Being hurt when one is abused, mistreated, lied to and broken their word about will result in pain and suffering. There is a quality in such actions that makes reality turn slightly sideways and expose a serrated edge. The resultant feelings may be and likely are inevitable. However, the continuation of them is not necessary.
I am reminded here of the non-attachment stance in Buddhism. It is not so much that the practitioner has no feelings, but that attachments are noted as ephemeral and constantly changing. Non-attachment is not no-attachment, but non-continual. Forgiveness within this framework resides not in the pain and suffering but in that next potential moment that can and should follow, that moment of pain-less-ness.
Anyone who has been hurt knows this moment, can think of it and remember the time when pain became less a constant companion and more a distant acquaintance who comes around every so often. When the reality of our lives reasserts itself in that first moment, however short, there is where forgiveness can be found. Forgiveness is not pain-filled but self-filled. Pain obscures from reality that our lives are not synonymous with hurt. Pain and heartache are a distortion, a detour on the path of a lived life.
Focusing only on the pain places awareness on the wrong object, the other person. Forgiveness is not about figuring out the other person who did the wrong, though at times that can certainly help. Forgiveness is instead a re-assertion of the reality of one’s existence, a wholeness of which we at a deeper understanding are always in possession of, where the pain/shame of hurt is no longer the only voice in our mind.
Forgiveness becomes a re-establishment within oneself, a re-cognition of a whole that was momentarily thought broken a-part. We do not have to reside within the false notion of ourselves that broken promises are promoting. This re-cognition is projected outward, not as a condemnation of the other, but as a declaration that one is no longer broken, that you see yourself for what you truly are, a whole person who while hurt at one time no longer believes the story of what the other person’s behavior said about you.
There are social standards that exist below usual awareness, automatic responses to statements that we declare with a flippancy that is consonant with the inquiry. We greet each other with “how are you?” but get surprised when the other person actually answers with anything more complicated than “good,” and often even that simple answer we rarely wait around to hear.
This is not a condemnation of social etiquette or a lament at the communication standards of social relationships. Rather, the issue is more a concern with those standards that affect us at a deeper level. We often learn to accept certain forms of social dialogue without looking at the dismissal of our own reactions that occurs in the process. The result is an emotional distance and a placid acceptance of the status-quo. This is what I reference as soft tyranny, where to buck the system and start asking for greater communication labels you a trouble-maker.
Power of Social Pressure
“I’m sorry” is one example, where the social pressure is upon the recipient to placidly accept, disregarding any and all context. I’m reminded of children who are told by their parents to say “I’m sorry” and the child in a fit of insolent insincerity mumbles a barely coherent apology. The words have taken on a power beyond context, the result being if someone noted the clear insincerity of the child then such someone would find themselves the object of rebuke rather than it being acknowledged the words are meaningless. This act of magical thinking and subsequent social obfuscation leaves the person declaring “I’m sorry” in a realm outside of real consequence and need for change. Sure, children may find it difficult, depending on the age, to be capable of empathically understanding the other person sufficiently enough to warrant the introspection leading to a genuine apology. However, that this practice continues into adulthood indicates a greater problem.
Let’s be honest, it simply takes work to feel a genuine apologetic stance. It’s difficult, it’s emotionally strenuous, it requires the person to be not only willing but capable of noting their false behavior and the notions that were used to rationalize it and then possess an energy to change. An apology is, in the end, far more about the person declaring it than about the person receiving it. We do not apologize to others so much as we no longer accept and practice the inner personal false stories or narratives that led us to the behavior of said causal-hurt.
Thus it is that we look upon apologies with an eye towards whether said apology indicates a change in the person or whether they are resting on the soft tyranny of socially mandated impotent acceptance. We can see the difference in the person who with a giggle or a laugh, says “I’m sorry,” but makes no attempt at amends, continues with the same delusions and changes none of their behavior. The apology takes on a disingenuous character reminiscent of that child being punished by their parent, the only difference is that instead of a face of frustrated suffering there’s a smile. Adding insult to injury, social pressure has the recipient of said empty apology taking on the look of frustrated acceptance. How often has it been experienced that when confronted over the emptiness, the person responds with “but I said I’m sorry! why don’t you get over it?”? This is the declaration of a person who has more interest in control than of change.
Where Being Sorry Begins
The weight of an apology rests not on the shoulders of the person receiving it, but on the person declaring it. The introspective energy required to do so genuinely indicates not a desire for perfection, we are gloriously human remember, but a willingness to amend a situation that went awry. We do not follow the greatest potential of our humanity by merely recognizing the delusions we believe, but by actively working to change them and therefore the behavior which results. That is the power found in a genuine apology and that is why we look for more than just words, but action to show they have real meaning.