This past week, some very specific events brought up a lot of pain and grief for me. The first event was when I read an article about a 17-month old boy who was beaten to death. The perpetrator stated “I didn’t hit him that hard.” Later in the week, I saw the Time magazine cover of the 18 year old Afghan girl who had her ears and nose cut off by her husband and his brother. The third event was that my cat got sick and was uncomfortable despite numerous visits to the vet. Finally, I attended a therapy session with my partner with his therapist, which I do on occasion, and we both ended up triggered, feeling trapped and confronted by old wounds. Those images, stories, and situations have been rumbling through my psyche and were juxtaposed with 2 others. In yoga class, the instructor said, “Can you be your highest self?” And later that day my mind flashed upon the Dalai Lama’s statement that he feels compassion towards the Chinese who have killed and tortured the Tibetans. As I reflect on all of this (and more) I feel both grief and am also thoughtful and curious. How do we hold onto a healthy perspective and not get lost in negativity and pain? How do we stay positive and uplifted? How do we attend to the pain of others? How do we bring our best selves into our relationships?
The child who was beaten to death and the 18 year old who was disfigured and left for dead leave me questioning humanity. My cat’s illness triggers for me, the grief of how painful life can be for all of us, despite our best efforts. The issue with my boyfriend showed me how easy it can be to slip into old perceptions and wounds. Then I hear the two positive voices that stand with these painful events, “Can you be your best self?” “I have compassion for those who kill and torture others”. I ponder a compassion so large that it can see into the darkness of those psyches and care for their limitations, for the state of being that they reside in. And yet, I have my own constrictions. I am not always my best self.
In that therapy session, I was talking about a fear I had and my boyfriend moved into his own fear of being trapped by someone else’s negativity. Because he expressed it through anger, I didn’t actually see his fear. And he didn’t see mine. That didn’t get figured out till later. He moved into frustration and panic that he would be trapped with someone who he could never please. The ghost of his horrific father came up and got him. And my sensation of feeling trapped was almost suffocating. My own internal voice of “there isn’t enough room for me to be me,” got triggered, which goes back to a childhood of living with a rage-aholic (among other things). My fear of not being considered was also very much about the past, and not really about the present.
Do these things all tie together? For me they do. They speak of finding a centered place in relation to the pain that continually confronts us, to the possibility of transcendence, of being part of the solution, despite where we may find ourselves. And they speak to the ability to respond to another being, not an “it”, not a receptacle of our fears or ideas. A relationship is an ongoing dialogue. What kind of dialogues are we capable of, do we strive for? If we defend, overpower, destroy, punish etc., we cannot respond to the other, instead we are reacting AT the other. Respond-Ability means that we have the capacity to be responsive to and have a dialogue with another and ourselves. The other is seen and treated as someone with integrity in his or her own right, not simply there to fulfill our needs (and vice versa).
My partner and I were able to recover fairly quickly and figure out what was hard for both of us. We were able to help each other identify the wounds we triggered for each other and talk about them. We were able to stay connected in the process. When humans cannot do that, do not even know it is a possibility; we live in a constricted world of right and wrong, of punishment and blame, of me versus you. There is no “we”. When I imagine that reality, it feels hard and angular, not soft, loving and responsive. It is not a state of being that anybody would chose if they had an experience of what is possible.
I use my own process continually to understand others and myself. Everything I live is grist for the mill. As I juxtapose those 2 higher voices against those more painful incidents, I ask myself, can I step out of my small limited self in the moment of a “trigger” and have compassion for his fear? This doesn’t mean that I don’t set boundaries or that I accept bad treatment, it means that I look for a place to stand, and a way to understand, so that I have compassion for the other, for the unending pain that we all experience. It means that I don’t reside in the limited perspective of my own wounds.
When I work with individuals and couples, I help them find their wounds. These wounds must be articulated in order that we can transcend them. I have to be able to say, “I grew up not being allowed any space and that was so painful that it is hard to re-experience it,” before I can step out of it and beyond it. I have to say to myself, I don’t want to get trapped in those feelings. I don’t want to live from that old reality. I don’t want to be on the continuum of those who see the other as an “it,” making it okay to react against them and thereby diminish them, and diminish myself. Instead, I want to be able to stand in a place of compassion for myself, for the other. That we will experience pain is guaranteed, but we can also learn to dialogue with ourselves, and with the other, finding compassion, healing and love to help soothe the pain.
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