Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where to Start... (It’s kind of a rant!)

I think, right now I just have to start somewhere! So many thoughts floating around, and it’s time to try to put some down!

Without a lot of crap, this is what I’m thinking about:

I’m thinking about how thinking gets in the way of seeing and therefore our actions because if we’re not seeing clearly, then we don’t (can’t) know what to do…

We count on people being certain ways for us. And when they’re not living up to those expectations there can be trouble in those relationships, or just blindness and missed opportunities. What is the source of this trouble?

Memory is a repository, a rich resource we can draw upon when in relationship with others. Our memories, both subtle and obvious, help us understand the world. Our memories help us interpret the language of the world.

When we mistake the meaning of memories for the content of the present moment, we are stuck in the past and not seeing correctly.

Let’s say I’m in relationship with my boyfriend, and he is always “the rock.” When my emotions are unstable I can go to him and his presence tends to calm the storm. On a particular day I go to him and he is aloof. I have nowhere to put my pain, because I had been depending on him for this. So I am miserable and tell myself that he is, “growing tired of me,” or, “doesn’t love me.”

Meanwhile, my (imaginary) boyfriend is worried about something at work. He just doesn’t have that to give to me right now. He tells himself that, “She is needy.”

In this scenario more distance is created between me and my boyfriend because I am expecting him to be how he always is, and he is suffering about his job and needs space for himself. Expectations based on memories are getting in the way of peaceful interactions during stressful times.

What I’m interested in though, is how our memories support rich perception. Our memories provide the structure for so much. We wouldn’t be able to go anywhere to experience anything if we forgot how to drive the car, ride the bike, walk, or whatever the basic things may be... So obviously memory is important for life in the world. And relying on memory incorrectly causes problems.

What if I grew up in a family that would make degrading comments based on race, gender, obesity, disabled, age, etc.? Don’t we generalize about things?

Our ability to conceptualize is challenged by living in society. Men and women require different healthcare. Culturally men as a group share challenges, just as women do. Then there are so many things that we share and that are the same. Ethnicity can also dictate concerns that a group of people share.

The richness of differences that exist among us is an asset. The problems that exist around perceived differences are a failure of imagination. Our ability to think is hamstrung by our old psychological baggage.

Another “lazy thinking” approach is when we assume that others are basically like us. This can be a way to tell ourselves that we are open minded and accepting of other people, but really we do violence to who they are in assuming this. Also, when we accept images others put onto us we do violence to who we are.

An example of this might be if I had relatives who would ask me if I was pro-life, (when they know that I believe in a woman’s right to choose) and not hear my reply, and instead use it as an opportunity to shit their opinion all over me. This is not a real conversation… It’s like a sales tactic to ask a question and then go forward with whatever you want. In this case they are not seeing me as someone with my own rich set of experiences and wisdom to bring to the moment.

How do the images that we hold of one another serve us? Images or impressions provide the language for us to interface with one another. And when we look to these past impressions for content about the present moment we are confusing the language to understand with the content of what is really happening.

So the challenge I put to myself is to see. It is easy when I meet someone new who looks like someone else I know to assume that this person is like the other one. This type of generalization destroys the possibility to see this person who I am with, now. It also limits my experience when I look through the goggles of the past in this way. But can I use everything I have learned up to any given moment to see more clearly, instead of killing the moment by perceiving it as a meaningless repetition of something I have already experienced? Can my memories contribute to my ability to perceive someone instead of robbing them of their uniqueness?


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post Brooks, on a lot of levels.

To start with, some of what this post accurately describes certain situations I've recently experienced, even if the details are different. Almost like you've written about my experiences instead of your own thoughts...

Weird, huh?

All that stuff about how thinking gets in the way of peaceful relations. I don’t think it matters if its a boyfriend/girlfriend, or just a friend in general. We all do this to varying degrees over time with all of the people in our lives.

It’s not surprising that this happens. I mean, we have a hard enough time keeping track of our thoughts about ourselves and trying not to add layers of meaning and negativity to ouselves.

And when two people interact, there’s so much at play – certainly, a lot of the negative ideas we form (as you described), are based on our own self-image. Then, our reactions engage with the other person’s and before you know it, a pattern of interacting has been established.

It takes a lot of conscious effort to change a pattern once it’s created. If the pattern is negative, and cannot be stopped, then that relationship is not sustainable. Which can be very sad, because these situations happen despite the people involved being aware (on some level) of what’s happening, they can’t stop it because to do so would involve a fundamental shift in how they are relating to the other person, but also to themselves, and as you said, ...our ability to think is hamstrung by our old psychological baggage...

Even if the pattern of interaction is positive, it’s still a construct based on our own self-image, and our own projections and interpretations of what another person says or does.

All of this is part of the human condition of suffering. It is our inability to see and perceive reality correctly. We’re so busy with our interpretations, as is every other person we interact with. And who knows where those interpretations begin and end? Do we ever really see a person as they are, or are we constantly wearing one filter over our senses that allow us to reach out and touch this world?

The kicker for me is that despite knowing these things, being aware of my own behaviour and that of others, it still doesn’t stop me from behaving in ways I’d rather I didn’t. It still doesn’t stop the end of friendships I’d rather didn’t end. All of these things cause me much sadness.

So like you, I try to challenge myself to stay open and see, and not just with my physical senses. I wrote a comment on another one of your posts recently, how we have to learn to accept where we’re at and work with what we’ve got. That includes all of the stuff we don’t particularly like about ourselves.

The dance of spiritual growth is to be real with what is, while remaining open to everything else. Sort of like how you find you can suddenly do a yoga pose you could never do before – when you couldn’t, that was the fact. But it was always possible that you could.

I admit my imperfections, they stream forth from me like... eww! Icky, oozey goo. Or something.

Thanks for the wonderful post.

RB said...

This post is fantastic. The thoughts on memories influencing the present are so true, and rarely articulated. Also, I've been thinking a lot lately about how assuming that other people are like us influences our behavior in a bad way.

One thing, re: the past that I thought of. Two days ago, my teacher had us basically fall into triangle gazing at our back hand, which happened to be in the direction of the setting sun. Although we were tipping forward, all of our focus was on what we were leaving behind. The pose was extremely profound for me. Sometimes we need to, just as you have done, focus hard on our past perceptions and memories, even as we move forward.


YogaforCynics said...

"Another “lazy thinking” approach is when we assume that others are basically like us. This can be a way to tell ourselves that we are open minded and accepting of other people, but really we do violence to who they are in assuming this."

This is a profound point--on the one hand, we want to find commonality with other people in order to make connections with them. But, then, we tend to want to sand over the inevitable differences, seeing them as flaws--which, in the end, can become even more destructive than simply keeping one's distance from those who seem different.

To actually see difference and learn to embrace it as much as we'd embrace commonality is the real challenge...

Kay Burnett said...

wow Brooks! My thoughts re:your post and the comments...are you angry about something? some past misunderstanding on the part of family, friend or lover? How to get past it, if it is there? Writing about it is a good avenue for me.

I also see some synchronicity -- the post by svasti, my own thoughts, are we truly a universal being? or connected on some level with the universal energy and thinking? I believe there is a current of that if we open to it.

Remember our conversation about characterizations of us by others - they were (maybe) real for those making the characterization but they may not be real for us. We may have internalized them as coming from someone important in our lives but we need to reassess them with all our learning. Like in class when you say, "put all your learnings together in this pose"! With that comment you are putting responsibility on the practitioner and also trusting that they have made the learnings. I like the respect of that approach.

thanks for your post and your yoga!