There are only so many variables that any single person can keep track of. Research continually indicates that multi-tasking is not nearly as efficient as we like to fool ourselves into believing, though there are better and worse ways of doing it. I marvel at chess-masters who can hold dozens of future moves in their heads but while I in no way wish to lessen this achievement, the moves are prescribed and cover only one type of game. Were they to hold that many moves for multiple types of games, well, that’d be closer to real life. And that’s precisely what we’re all faced with every day, keeping in awareness vast systems of information to be utilized every waking moment of our lives.
To make it even more complicated, there are systems and systems and then further systems within those. There was a time when “Renaissance Man” meant someone who truly understand several disciplines, now it’s more along the lines of someone who has a thimble-sized grasp of even a couple and certainly not a comprehensive understanding. The world is just so freaking big, to be a specialist is to understand an increasingly smaller facet of a discipline even as it continues to expand. The Library of Congress contains 34.5 million books and written materials held in bookshelves spanning 838 miles, adding 10,000 pieces of material every day and these are not even every book to have been written. The world is an expanding sphere of ever-increasing awareness in our understanding, no matter the subject that is embarked upon and the scope of our awareness is made infinitesimal by the breadth that is held in the unconscious or pre-conscious. This is no more made apparent than in relationships.
A recent blog article on how relationships are often thought of as an escalator, with a standard path of an upward trend moving towards ever-increasing levels of intimacy on a single track with a particular end in mind. It’s an incredibly powerful memeplex with a strong metaphorical structure that undergirds so many of our societal behaviors within relationships. Ever been asked or asked yourself how your relationship “got off track?” or “went off the rails?” Ever wondered why there aren’t coupons and vacation packages for single people or endured the scorn of being single into old-age (designated as anything over 25 depending on place in country)? If you’re in an alternative relationship, why is it even called “alternative” as if there are legitimate and illegitimate types of connections? If you’re in a relationship have you ever become obsessed over where it’s going, looked at vacations or presents or meeting the family as indications of a new level of intimacy rather than just a part of the life being built? Ever looked at your partner and wondered if they’re on the same journey with you, without wondering at why parallel wouldn’t work just as well? I could go on and on and perhaps have already gone too far, but the end result here is an indication of just how much mental context runs our lives. Social variables and the genetic predispositions and temperaments that make us individuals are all wheels within wheels, cosmic machinations at a certain level playing out often without our full understanding or even our awareness.
I’ve spoken before about the egoistic hubris with which we tell our stories, ignoring the hundreds if not thousands of variables that occurred without any connection to us and which also touched hundreds if not thousands of other people to create that particular circumstance of which we are so enamored because it “happened to me!” “The point is that my thoughts themselves arise in a cultural background that gives texture and meaning and context to my individual thoughts, and indeed, I would not even be able to “talk to myself” if I did not exist in a community of individuals who also talk to me” (Wilber, Ken (2011-08-18). The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad (Kindle Locations 533-535). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition). The desire to tell these stories and find acknowledgment in them becomes so intense that we’ll become incensed and emotionally distraught if people aren’t paying enough attention, especially if that someone is our partner. I don’t wish to deny here the need to pay attention to people’s stories, I for one absolutely love hearing not only what stories people decide to share but the how of the telling. What I wish to focus on here is for us to step back a moment and get a picture of just how grand the context of our lives truly is, then for a moment place that understanding on the people in our lives.
Relationships do not exist in a vacuum, there are as noted here already, bound within wheels within wheels, countless variables and contexts both aware of and not aware of that effect the flow of our lives and create both the space for and the impetus behind our actions. Whether we subscribe to the escalator metaphor or not, simply because of the society in which we live we will be effected by it. Having already quoted from Wilber, he goes on to say “my individual thoughts only exist against a vast background of cultural practices and languages and meanings and contexts, without which I could form virtually no individual thoughts at all” and later “culture itself is not simply disembodied, hanging in idealistic midair. It has material components, much as my own individual thoughts have material brain components. All cultural events have social correlates.”
The person in front of you, whether it be a romantic partner, a friend, an acquaintance, a co-worker or just some random person on a bus or train, exists within interlocking nests (I’ve used the term “baskets” before but since I’m quoting Wilber I’ll use his term) of being and simply because you’re relating to them means you too are bound up, however differently due to your own context(s), in their systems as well. When we interact we are doing so within this giant swirling chaos to varying degrees of understanding. The person and/or you yourself may not grasp just why some of the behavior occurs or even if you get it, the other person may not and vice versa. While anger and frustration, hurt feelings and distress may be inevitable the time period of which they disrupt can be mitigated.
“Take nothing personally” is one of the 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and while it can be used as a means of abdicating responsibility for one’s actions effecting another (trust me I’ve run into plenty of people who do this) I want to note that it is far more about identification. Connected with my thoughts on forgiveness, identification here is what happens when a single notion, supplied by society or another person, becomes the primary controlling narrative of our lives. It’s what happens when we get upset and hurt by another, we take on what exists only in their context and because we are joined with them we take it on as our own. This is inevitable but not necessary to do, especially not long-term. By taking stock of and becoming ever-more aware of the ideas, metaphors, memes, mores, that make up the context(s) of our lives, we can step back quicker from the hurt feelings we have and in addition hold a space for the people in front of us of a greater understanding and compassion.
© David Teachout