Recent Insights: January 1999

1. Stress and Relationships.

A friend of mine just told me the following story:

Her boyfriend, who had gone away to study, returned for the holidays. Because of the pileup of work at the end of the semester, he came home very exhausted. At the same time, she had been concerned about not earning enough during the holiday season, and so took on as much extra work as she could before he came back, to make ends meet.

Even though their relationship is healthy, and they are very compatible, the stress on both of them had been very great, and because of their depletion they didn't get along well at all when he first came back In fact, she thought about breaking up. Once they both were rested, things improved gradually and steadily, and they enjoyed their relationship again.

(An additional factor is the feeling of abandonment shared by both of them. As psychologists have known for years, if either person goes away, both people - even the one voluntarily leaving - feel abandoned, and upon the return there is an inevitable adjustment period of working through these feelings of abandonment.)

The lesson: Since "under stress we all regress" and absence triggers abandonment feelings, a couple reuniting needs to be very conscious of the context and needs of both partners, and give space and time for acclimating and realigning to the relationship.

Remember that in a relationship there are three "entities": both people, and the "relationship being" itself. All too often, a couple will over-focus on the needs of either person, and starve the relationship itself. (The new being I'm calling the "relationship being" has its own needs that have to be fed for the relationship to survive and thrive.) When two people have been apart for a long time, each partner learns to be independent and the "relationship being" does become depleted. When they reunite, they need to be conscious to deliberately feed and revitalize their relationship, so it revives.

2. Impulses.

I've been learning the shadow side of catering to the inner child. While it is important, even vital, to be self nurturing and to have a life of balance with enough recreation and pleasure, it is even more important, for one's evolution, to stay conscious and not fall prey to every impulse that arises. The glorification of the inner child may indeed become confused with catering to every inner impulse and whim.

When an impulse arises, to grab a piece of dessert, to turn on the TV, to give someone a piece of your mind, to buy something, to turn away from another, etc., STOP, take a breath, wait until the momentum of the impulse subsides, and then make a conscious choice.

3. Bad vs. Good Experiences.

I've been reading the excellent book, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron (published by Shambhala). One of her insights is that the truly aware mind does not seek pleasure and avoid pain, but instead extends awareness into the experience of the moment.

I've been practicing doing this, and it's truly amazing what the difference in my awareness is when I'm attending to my reactions instead of just submerging into and identifying with my reactions. For one, whatever reaction I have is much more short lived if I'm not lost in it. For another, I have no inclination to blame (or praise) another for my reaction if I'm aware that it is my reaction and not their "fault."

4. Conscious breath.

When I am maintaining my awareness, I notice when I'm breathing poorly, when I have tightness in my body or emotional field, and when I'm becoming tired, foggy, or automatic. If I change my breathing at these times, by breathing more consciously, more deeply, and more slowly, my state changes very quickly to one with more energy, clarity, and awareness.

5. Fear

It is all too easy to avoid confronting people or moving forwards towards things I want out of fear. Often, my fears operate below the level of my conscious awareness, and are therefore that much more influential. As I've learned before (and will re-learn again), my fears lose much of their effect if I simply give them my full attention. I don't mean worrying about them or obsessing over issues, I mean tuning into my body and experiencing the contracted spaces and tensions that accompany and reenforce my fear, thereby opening these spaces so the energy behind the fear dissolves.

6. My Body's Wisdom

I unfortunately am skilled at ignoring many of my body's signals. As a result, in the past I've often moved too quickly and strained muscles, not paid enough attention to my posture and had a very tight neck, not removed layers of clothing when my body got too hot (and getting spacy as a result), etc. This pattern culminated with my having a severe back spasm a couple of years ago after ignoring my back's needs way too often.

This turned out to be an incredible blessing in disguise. As a result of literally being floored -- I had to conduct my sessions with clients lying down for several weeks -- I began to pay more attention and eventually began to work with an Alexander technique practitioner, who is helping me transform both my body and my relationship with it.

The body is wise, and we need to listen to its signals. I'm learning this more and more. More than one of my female friends have told me that their bodies knew -- before they did -- what men were wrong for them, and that from now on they're listening to their bodies more too.

7. Disidentifying.

One of the themes that I emphasize in my work with people (and with myself) is disidentifying from negative or limiting stances and feelings. We adopt a set of identities during childhood. We may believe: "I am lazy", or "I am stupid", or "I am bad", or "I am better than everyone else", or "I am smarter" or "I am deficient in this way", etc. Whether these beliefs come from modeling after another person, are taught to us, or just the conclusion of our unsophisticated child's mind, in any case they are crippling, narrowing, and alienating.

The situation is exacerbated by our everyday words. The English language has a serious weakness. Instead of saying "I have fear" (as the French do), we say "I am afraid" which is basically equivalent to saying "I am fear". This is obviously not true, but the language makes us unconsciously identify with and believe we are our emotions.

We are neither our feelings nor our personae (the images we've had of ourselves) but instead radiant spirits incarnate. The more we realize this, and maintain the awareness that we are a consciousness separate from feelings and self-images, the clearer and more conscious we become.

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