Triggers are a fascinating part of our humanity. Mentally, a trigger is a perception inspiring an emotional and cognitive assessment. Externally, triggers are any act or situation that provokes a perception. Importantly, what we perceive never holds the entirety of a situation. We only see what fits within our worldview. From this, a trigger is as common as the air we breath and the blood coursing through our veins. Unfortunately, because our minds evolved to be more wary of potential suffering rather than pursuing potential enjoyment, triggers get associated with what leads to heartache and uncertainty. A great deal of difficulty results because we do not separate our perception from the event itself, believing that what we see is all there is.
Down the Rabbit-Hole
Our stories or personal narratives provide the structure for our perception. They guide which parts of a situation are selected to support a particular trigger’s continued empowerment. Combine this with the human need to feel each and every opinion is right and the result is an enormous barrier to individual change. Ruminating, spiraling or obsession are only excessive forms of actions we all do. An event happens, we’re triggered, the story we have about it reinforces our response and that behavior inevitably supports the whole process. We simply don’t act unless doing so supports our narrative about the situation we’re in.
A result of focusing so strongly on negative assessments from triggers is moving away from self-reflection. The external object, whether event or person, bears the burden of responsibility. Lost is the other side of the relationship, that of the person doing the assessment.
Pushing Away Suffering
Pain is inevitable, suffering is the product of recurring focus. To get rid of pain is a fool’s errand, but suffering can be mitigated when we see our own role in its perpetuation. When triggers are viewed as inherently negative and we cease questioning our role in the perceiving end of the relationship of suffering, the result is an abdication of any responsibility. The other person holds all the cards, they possess all the power. Everything they do carries with it an inevitable connection to our hurt and limitation of self.
In an attempt at turning the table, the other person ceases being a person in their own right. Gone is any attempt at understanding the nuances of decision-making. Absent is any consideration of enlarging one’s own view of the situation. Instead, responses are automated and centered on demanding dismissal of the perceived offensive act. Further, anything contributing to the negative trigger must be removed. This, regardless of any functionality or worth the action of the other may have.
This isn’t an excuse for horrible behavior. This recognizes the varied relationship between an act and our reaction to it. When the perception of the hurt person is all that matters, simply by virtue of their suffering, there is no room for personal growth. It’s easy to look at verbal abuse and say the reactions of the person its directed at should matter. What about when it’s not abuse? What happens when it’s another person’s success or achievement?
Removing the Positive
A person who strives to better themselves is not concerned with the perceived grievances of others. Nor should they be. Engaging in exercise and losing weight to contribute to a greater self-image is not a knock against those struggling with eating disorders. Working hard to achieve business success is not a mockery of those who are poor and disenfranchised. Simply having been born in a family with greater access to societal resources is not an inherent slight against those who weren’t.
An exclusive focus on being negatively triggered by looking at success and achievement diminishes the legitimacy of any work that went into those results. Further, it closes us off to a more nuanced look at the systems in place which facilitated personal progress.
Moving from Value
We can maintain or regain a sense of empowerment without dismissing or belittling what another person has done. This involves turning back to the other player in this drama, your own self. Nobody gets upset about something they lack concern about. Flipped on its head, we only get triggered over the perception of things we care about. Here is where strength can be found:
- Identify the core Value being violated (or supported).
- Reflect on why this Value is important to you.
- Assess whether what the other person has done takes away what you Value.
The easy answer to that last question is: it doesn’t. What the other person did is far less important than you being a person who Values what is important to you. Further, by reminding yourself of what’s important, the space is open to search out what may be learned from the other person’s successes. You may not want your life to look completely like theirs, but there are many ways to express an appreciation for what you Value.
If you’re finding yourself faced with difficult emotional reactions and want to live a freer, more expressive life, I can work with you to achieve that goal. Check out Counseling or Coaching.
For further exploration, check out the podcast episode covering triggers: Our Humanity Is Being Triggered
In BBC’s “Doctor Who,” the doctor is capable of regenerating to create a new body when physically injured or emotionally spent beyond regular repair. This process is tied to his nature as a time-lord, occurring through an increasing display of light bursting forth from within his person, as if multiple suns had burst and couldn’t wait to shine forth. The event is laden with strong emotion and frequently associated with immense change beyond the next overt fact of a new actor in the role. It is a profound singular point of compressed meaning in the story-arc of a character possessing the capacity to exhibit new qualities of personality through resurrection.
Stories of loss are a constant companion to living, at times threatening to overwhelm even the most stalwart of forward-thinking individuals. The senselessness of violence, the immensity of a personal absence, the sheer enormity of events beyond our immediate understanding reminds us of the impermanence of all that we hold close. With technology the sense of loss can be both mitigated and enlarged, shared by millions even as local events take on national significance. Each event gets placed in a larger narrative, the personal becoming social, the social becoming cultural. The echoes of the fallen do not stop at the borders of a town or city, but are heard by every person plugged into the matrix of interconnected media. Being thus connected we each share in the grief and loss, our minds empathically resonating with the loss of our own lives. Regardless of the level of personal contact, the immediate emotional response occurs with the inviolable impact of a runaway train . Even after twenty years I can remember the moment I found out my grandmother had died. The experience lingers and associated memories fuel the loss often attempted to move past, though continuing to live in.
Technology only expands the potential for what already lies within us. Loss and grief are shared experiences, relational points of contact between the individual narratives guiding our lives and the people we are enmeshed with. The strength of those emotional experiences emerges from the quality of the associated relationship. Human imagination is such that not knowing someone very well or even at all does not then equate to a particular depth of feeling. We have but to connect the personal narrative of our lives to the grief felt by others to expand the empathy that can exult and lament. This is why to speak of moving on from a loss is both utterly unhelpful when told from another person and requiring the individual to be in a particular place to do so. In loss, as with other powerful emotional experiences, we find we are not so much steering our lives as being caught in the flow of energy and information generated by the interactions we have with countless others.
This is to live fully, the constant expansion of our awareness through the power of our imagination fueled by our empathic connections with others. We do this by continually engaging in social activities, opening ourselves up to the inevitable change that others inspire in our lives. We do this by active, intentional, conscious deliberation, even as this is only the tip of the iceberg of our mental lives. Every interaction we have with others is an inter-subjective experience, changing every person involved through the calibration of our mental worlds, conscious and unconscious. Countless variables embodied within each of us are rising and falling in the sea of our potential being.
The life of a time-lord, like all of us, is measured by the degree of change manifesting in our shared reality. While regeneration can be seen as required due to injury we can look at it also as being the result of being filled. I’ve heard tears described this way, the physical manifestation of an emotional overflow, regardless of whether caused by suffering or joy. Like a balloon filled beyond capacity, the stuff of life explodes in every direction remaking us and all it touches.
Our lives and the final act of our passing, like that of a time-lord, are explosions of regenerative energy. We cannot choose whether to affect others, though the nature of that affect is ours to influence. We should be so lucky to inspire the passion and love of so many.
© David Teachout
Featured Image by “elreviae“
The seeming necessity for bonding within like-minded groups is not simply an affectation of modern society, it is foundational to being human. This selection provides a sense of safety in numbers and relatedly a continuity of experience. While the lone dissenter has attained a certain mythologizing in modern story-telling, human history is far more often about groups of like-minded people working together towards a common purpose, regardless of whether such ends up being helpful from the hindsight of the future. Thus it is in studies concerning social relationships, people often state that they like surrounding themselves with different opinions, but the reality is quite different. To be found wrong is not just a subtle shifting of one’s opinion, though to paraphrase Kathryn Schulz in her book “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error,” there is no real feeling of being wrong because that feeling is a lot like the feeling of being right.
This aversion to being wrong and the desire to be right provides the emotional impetus for and the cementing of many communities. With the advent of the Internet, communities no longer need to be geographically constrained. We can find like-minded individuals scattered throughout the world, fill chat-rooms, create private groups on various social media outlets and given how search algorithms take into consideration our own personal history, even seeming objective searches for information are inevitably curbed by our biases and predilections.
In Relational Dynamics In Identity Theory (RDIIT), a fundamental principle concerns Ego Is A Point of Reference, Not A State of Being. What this essentially boils down to is ego functioning as a funneling of perspective or conscious visioning, a cone as it were, with the original point placed within a general framework of holding the world of experience, or in other words, a worldview. Commonly, ego is understood as conflated with self, leading to the ego being defined as a state or presence in some sense apart from the so-called external world. The immediate difficulty with such an idea is that ego or self then becomes fundamentally different than everything else in the universe. Rather than an interconnected parcel of existence, the self is somehow found to be in a restricted place of its own making. Spending even a few moments considering how many opinions one has that have not actually been thought through or originated from within and the futility of this isolation becomes quite clear.
Viewing ego as a point from which perspective branches out allows for a fuller appreciation for what social connections are and what the negative experience of persecution is all about. This “cone of perspective” holds within it all possible behavior, both in deed and in thought, for which the person in question is capable of doing. Thoughts or actions outside of that space are not simply impossible, but contrary to, being as they are outside of the currently knowable world that the person is able to see and believes exists. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty notes:
“The things of the world are not simply neutral objects which stand before us for our contemplation. Each one of them symbolises or recalls a particular way of behaving, provoking in us reactions which are either favourable or unfavourable. This is why people’s tastes, character, and the attitude they adopt to the world and to particular things can be deciphered from the objects with which they choose to surround themselves, their preferences for certain colours or the places where they like to go for walks.”
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (2004-07-31). The World of Perception (p. 63). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Imagine for a moment that experience of having found something one holds dear to be wrong, or if having impossibly not gone through that most human of situations, imagine someone else who has been viewed as having done so. In many cases the person expresses or otherwise displays a feeling towards the counterfactual of their belief having “hit them from behind” or “come out of nowhere.” Both are metaphorical allusions to something that is unseen. When considering the cone of possibility, this now makes a lot of sense, as anything contrary to a belief would indeed lie outside of that which is actually observable by eye or mind. This feeling of contrariness is directly related to the more pernicious feeling of being persecuted. Both are based on the perception of contrariness being directed towards one’s ego or perspective. The former is usually associated with everyday aspects of experience that don’t conform to a vision of what the world should be, from the frustration at the internet connection not working as fast as wanted to the lights on the way to work not turning green when we want. The latter is more systematic and requires an identification with a broader contrary agenda.
Here is where things get interesting in connection to group bonding. Persecution on one hand can be a debilitating experience when felt in conjunction with not having any support. However, persecution, or at least the feeling of it, can be rather beneficial when one feels supported by a community. This is exacerbated more so by the human tendency to hold even more tightly to one’s beliefs when feeling attacked. Remember, we hate being wrong and even more so like being able to say “I told you so.” For the person feeling persecuted, both are in evidence, from not wanting to be wrong about something held dear to desperately wanting to be able to later turn around and tell the disbelieving crowd “Hey, I was right!”
Thus it is that the ability to build support, i.e. community, is important both in the safety it affords for holding to a belief and in being able to withstand anything contrary. In this way, persecution becomes all the more easily identified, regardless of whether or not the term is appropriate. The Internet and social media allow for the creation of groups on even the most tiny of similarities, but they also allow contrary groups no matter how small, to wield an influence wholly outside what their numbers would normally allow. Headlines are easy to come by to support this, from controversies surrounding pizza delivery to individual students protesting about their persecution because a speaker they disagree with was invited to their university. The mere perception of having a supportive group leads to a greater degree of righteous indignation, supported and buttressed by the actions of any other group being contrary. The greater the outcry against a particular action the more deeply held to conviction it becomes possible to be.
None of this is to say that real persecution doesn’t in fact occur and is truly horrible. What technology provides is the ability to expand our ego or perception far outside what it otherwise was capable without delving into psychosis. The notion that “the world is against me” used to be more easily associated with the persecution complex connected with narcissism. Now the same phrase can be uttered and, regardless of any real global correspondence, the feeling no longer is as easy to dismiss. Technology has given us all the ability to be narcissists and do so without fear of doubt.
What all this does to real examples of persecution is make them notoriously difficult for a broader public to take seriously. Further, the constant expansion of persecution leads to a reduction in generative debate and dialogue. When any contrariness is associated with the feeling of persecution, then any different opinion leads to a circular reinforcement of that very feeling. Given the world is indeed full of contrary experiences and opinions, technology combines with tendencies of human psychology to allow a person to rest comfortably in an echo-chamber of their own making, held in by the walls of perceived social antagonism. To even begin to address this problem one must first acknowledge that the ego is not a perspective creator so much as a collaborator with the rest of reality. Further, that singularity of perspective sees only the potential it is capable of, a very narrow visionary cone indeed. Starting there we will not find our way to declaring all opinions equal, but it will certainly lead us down a path of more open engagement and a realization that being wrong isn’t so bad after all.
© David Teachout
Featured art by: elreviae
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”
The death of Leonard Nimoy did not go unnoticed, as any even passing perusal of social media would have noted Friday and through the weekend. The above quote, his last tweet, could not be surpassed in encapsulating his life, were thousands more words added on. Like any memory, what Nimoy achieved says as much about those he touched as the man who lived.
Star Trek, both in television and in film, has in its many forms, sparked the imagination and wonder of countless people. That flame lit so many fires of the human spirit with the pursuit of an unabashed narrative of scientific discovery and the hopeful future of a humanity dedicated to peaceful exploration. Any violence, certainly at times heavy-handed, seemed always to remind us that the search for truth and the awe of discovery is always tempered by the acknowledged destruction of preconceived notions, not least of which concern ourselves as individuals and a species.
Nimoy, playing the beloved character of ‘Spock,’ half-human and half-vulcan, portrayed the humanity we all struggle with. The difficulty of his vulcan, logical side, attempting to get past his human, emotional side. was increased by the sheer magnitude of the difference. The purity of his logical training made the emotional like unto a willful child screaming in the midst of a presentation on quantum mechanics. Ironically, nowhere was this struggle more evident than in those who called him friend and shipmate. The perpetual and at times silly desire of Spock’s human compatriots to get him to express his feelings juxtaposed brilliantly with their ever-present need to seek him for analysis and information to make better decisions and understand perplexing situations.
In this, the quality of Nimoy as a person blazed beautifully. His aloofness in analysis displayed the brilliance we can all pursue, even as the ferocity of his emotional states reminded us of the passions that are always within. Nimoy, through Spock, and in his own life, attempted always to display the best of our shared humanity.
Growing up in the Hebrew faith, Nimoy has told the story that as a child he was at synagogue with his parents and there came a time when the priests or Kohanim, were to bless the congregation. The blessing is commonly heard as “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord cause his countenance to fall upon you..”, but the congregation is not to look when this is being done. The precocious Leonard at one time decided to peek and witnessed the symbol the priesthood made with their hands, two hands touching at outer finger tips, with fingers split apart at the middle. The iconic Vulcan greeting, created by Nimoy himself, is half this symbol.
The Kohanim symbol is similar to the Hebrew letter ‘shin,’ which is the first letter in the name Shaddai, the name given for the Almighty or God. This is why the congregation was to look away, for the name of God is sacred and not to be despoiled by man. By making such a symbol a public greeting, I cannot help but ponder the significance. Here is a sacred, to be kept hidden, symbol being used as an acknowledgment of the connection shared in public communion. When returned, the two split-fingered sign creates the whole of the original symbol, in essence each greeting being a public awareness of the shared god between them.
That unity, our shared humanity and struggle with our nature, finds solace and purpose in the community of interconnected beings greeting one another, regardless of the length of time such a connection may exist. Whatever the term “god” may mean for some, the communal reality of a shared existence, pregnant with struggle and meaning, gives birth to the only form of transcendence we may ever know.
Leonard Nimoy has passed, but his memory lives on. The garden of his life continues to grow with every struggle of logic and emotion leading to a greater embrace of our humanity and in every greeting where we acknowledge the shared divinity of our lives. To live long and prosper need not end at death, it certainly hasn’t for Spock.
© David Teachout
In the movie “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks portrays a character who, upon being stranded on an island for several years, forms a deep relationship with a volleyball. The depth of this connection is hugely disproportional to the objective nature of the object in question. A volleyball is quite incapable of interactive communication, however strong a desire exists during a game to be able to do so. Despite this fact of reality, Hanks’s character draws a face on the ball and proceeds to converse with it, forming a bond that, when the ball is lost at sea, results in profound emotional pain. Whatever can be said about this Hollywood depiction of human psychology, the need to have relationship bonds is something we all share due to our inalienable humanity. Further, that need can and will, when unfulfilled, push us to project a connection that exists only in our imagination, even to our detriment.
Research out of Dartmouth College, published in Psychological Science, notes that a belief in loneliness or isolation lowers the threshold at which people declare the presence of animation or humanity in slowly morphing facial images. Confronted with the same progressively morphing images, those who believed they possessed secure attachments required far more human features in the morphing images before declaring they were alive. The alarming part of this was that typically people are far more cautious when declaring the existence of a face being animate or alive. The strength of this finding is that regardless of the people’s real-life relational world, the mere projected belief that such was absent caused this caution to diminish. This says a great deal about how powerful the stories we tell shape our perceptions.
What is not explored are the ramifications for negatively impacting the ability to discern the existence of empathy in others. Empathy is the felt feel of another’s experience. It is the grounding, combined with imagination, of the ability to be conscientious of another’s suffering and react accordingly. Generally speaking, the existence of empathy is negatively associated with behavior that is harmful or negatively impacts another. Further, empathy and its accompanying imaginative component combine to create a resonance or atunement within a relational context. Not being able to sense the depth of someone’s empathy can lead to catastrophic results including abuse, neglect and falsely associating a positive feel to a relationship form that is anything but.
The Relational Principles of RDIIT (Relational Dynamics In Identity) I’ve developed, help in broadening the understanding of human relational reality. In this case, the two Principles concern the subjective nature of perspective and how relationship is the foundation of our existence. Put together, these lead to a recognition that our relationships form out of the contextual nature of the stories we embody. From this, the practical result in everyday living is that our relationships are only as honest, open and beneficial as the breadth of our stories allows. At face value this may not seem all that big of a deal, but when relationship is considered as the foundation of our existence the ripple effects are indeed enormous. There is never a moment in our lives that we are not in relationship to something or someone. While it is socially acceptable, even mandated at times, to speak of relationship as only pertaining to the romantic and/or sexual, the fact remains that as a general term for a connection between two objects, we are always in relationship. All that changes is the form such takes.
Back to the Research
Regardless of objective reality, the mere projected story of loneliness or lack of emotional attachment leads people to see human-ness in faces where few real characteristics are actually present. When it comes to judging empathy, when it comes to determining the safety or care that another person is giving, the accuracy of such judgment becomes less and less as we do so from a place of loss or lack. The question of “how did I not see it?” in relation to abuse, neglect, or the myriad iniquities that occur in our relational lives is here answered. We don’t see it because of the story we are living from within.
Caveats are plenty of course, notably that our personal stories are not the only variable involved when it comes to falling for unhealthy relationship forms. That there are many aspects of any context is simply a part of living, but with each variable being better understood we become better at constructing the lives that lead to growth and expansion of our selves. The rush of a new relationship bond is certainly not helpful in allowing the cool quality of rationality to intrude, but by reminding ourselves of the reality of our relational existence and the power of our stories, we can begin being more careful in our decision-making when dwelling in narratives that lead us astray.
Faces Are More Likely to Seem Alive When We Want to Feel Connected
Ayn Rand defined “sacrifice” as the substitution of a greater value for a lesser one. On Memorial Day, honoring the troops that have fallen in sacrifice should then be more carefullly considered. What they have fallen for is attempted to be explained, to varying degrees of self-serving purpose, as justifying this loss. The result, however unintentional, exalts death beyond the finality it truly is to a level of transcendent purpose. This strategic tragedy, death as exultation of life, obscures the reality of what societies ask of their soldiers. Remembering the final loss inherent in death is important, but should not cast into shadow other losses of at least equal concern. The ready ability to take another human life, contrary to Hollywood depiction and the cult of the fictionalized soldier, is not without consequence.
“War does violence to the warrior, for in addition to the extremes of terror and fatigue confronting soliders, they must also find some way to come to terms with the enormous guilt that arises with the taking of human life. In the popular imagination, soldiers unflinchingly perform their duties and are emotionally unscathed by their experiences. But this image is tragically flawed.” (David Livingstone Smith, “The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War”) As Smith notes, the ready ability to take a life is not something innate, but must be instilled by training. Our shared humanity is repulsed by the deliberate taking of life. Commitment to the act requires training, or some variation on losing sight of that shared being-ness, whether it be through psychosis or an overwhelming emotional state, drug use, or psycho-ideological means of shifting someone to become an “other.”
In any case, the result is the same, the person committed to violence must shut off, however momentarily, that innately felt sharing of humanity. We blithely as a society shrug off this request being made of our fellow citizens, inured as we are by the space afforded us by media and statistics. This loss, momentary but persistent, is a request of service being made of each and every soldier. In its deliberateness there exists a sacrifice greater even than a final death. Greater because it is a constant aspect of their reality, something that must continue to exist as a pervasive aspect of their every-day living. We have requested not simply that they accept their eventual or probable death, for that is no different than anybody else, but that they hold in persistent readiness the ability to divorce themselves from a shared humanity.
Picture this as a weight being held, lactic acid building up, burning sensation growing and growing to a point of such pain that the only way to remove the suffering is to let the weight go. The soldier, however, is not allowed to give up their responsiiblity, to leave the burden behind. They must always be ready and in this readiness, in this ability to break the bonds the rest of us take for granted in our relational reality, through which meaning and purpose are derived, we ask them to take in a little death each and every moment. It is little wonder the bonds of camaraderie that exist in combat are so strong, they are the only ones in the midst of war that remind them of what is still sacrosanct.
On Memorial Day, the loss found in death should never be forgotten. However, nor should we think this was the only one, it was simply the last. When considering what are the proper or correct reasons for combat, remembering there are sacrifices of at least equal burden to final death, weights that cannot be let go, should be brought front and center. In doing so we will perhaps recognize the enormous responsiblity we have as a society to those who are asked to cut themselves off from it.
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