2

Perspective Guides Life’s Possibility

“There is really, then, no limitation outside our own ignorance, and since we all can conceive a greater good than we have so far experienced, we all have within our own minds the ability to transcend previous experiences and rise triumphant over them…” (Ernest Holmes, from “Can We Talk To God?”)

More is more, so says the hobgoblin of the American spirit, that creature of capitalist delights sitting on a shoulder, whispering the sweet nothings of one’s lack. A barrage of messages making everything someone else has something one does not. The grass is always greener on the other side in the land of lack. “I have not found myself” is the cliche of he or she who journeys in the valley of loss. Every shopping venture that ends with having bought too much, every sigh at seeing the happiness of a relationship you are not in, sprouts new weeds of self-doubt and misery. We all see it in the endless grappling to reach “the top,” we all feel that niggling question that if only I had “x” then the world would be a place of sunshine and rainbows, of free-flowing streams of love and the constant budding growth of health and energy.

This fundamental perception is self-perpetuating. When one begins with lack, then lack is all one sees. Each new possession, relationship goal met or job found is shaped and molded by the beat and drum of a mind set upon filling an inexhaustible gullet of more is more. There is nothing “good enough” because “enough” is never satisfied, never filled. Lack of love brings forth the notion that all relationships are at some level wrong or deluded. Lack of money promotes the idea that the social pie has already been eaten or taken away by someone else. Lack of wholeness continues to seed a world “lost in sin,” where shame is indelibly linked to existence. This space is not without a degree of comfort. The tyranny of low expectations smothers the flames of possibility effectively and without much fuss, leaving behind a merely vague feeling of emptiness, of a nebulous something that could have been.IMG_0035

“We must find new meanings to life if we hope to create new images which, in their turn, will supply new reflections” (Holmes). What if, for a moment, the thought of lack is replaced with that of plenty? I am not asserting that reality be ignored.
There are very real issues of hunger, financial ruin and social isolation which are truly experienced with all their accompanying difficulties. Circumstance is not here what I speak of, rather the perspective that narrows or expands the potential vision of our experiences and acquired meaning.

A mentality of lack sees only limitation and therefore further builds lack everywhere through the paucity of experience. A mentality of plenty sees potential within the experiences that are already being had, with an eye towards responses we had previously been incapable of seeing. Clouds in the sky that used to contain a storm here become canvases of imagination. Finding $5 in the wallet becomes having more than what was known before. Having no plans for an evening turns into opportunities for self-exploration and seeking out social gatherings. Looking at the happiness of other relationships becomes enjoyment in the ability to empathize and feel a version of that joy.

In every notion of lack lies the kernel of plenty’s birth. There is nothing “only” about what one finds in the mirror, in the day planner, and in the account. Instead there is what is and “enough” takes care of itself. New opportunities do not present themselves to the blind, for imagination needs fuel to build new structures on the foundation of reality. We come into this universe screaming and hollering, not out of a sense of loss, but from a bone-deep realization that there is so much waiting to be experienced. Dwelling in the realization that life is a constant unfolding of potential made actual, the fruit of our activity’s labor, can bring contentment regardless of the form our lives currently take. There are always more forms for us to explore, always more potential waiting to be made real.

 

© David Teachout

References:

Ernest Holmes, “What Religious Science Teaches: A New Thought Primer”

2

Communication as Communal-Creation

Often in life there comes a time when simple interest wades into the realm of the romantic and encounters uncertainty as to what is meant by a comment or what intent was behind an action. There is no way to communicate in such a way as to remove all doubt or potential for error. We exist in others’ minds as internalized projections of our own narratives, reshaped and molded through the lens of the worldview and assumptions of the other person. We simply do not exist for others the way we do for ourselves.

Communication is at core about, as even the root word notes, communion or the interchange of thoughts/emotions. Another way to look at communion is the union of community, where community means any group beyond an individual. In other words, when you engage in communication with another you manifest a world together, a product of the individual interaction with information, the history of individual experiences, how all of that is recalled for each person within the present and the internalized perception of the other person’s actions.

Issues of miscommunication, where what is said is not what is heard, can be addressed in part by a principle I’ve taken to calling “gap-filling.” (Mentioned in entries “Absence of Knowledge Is Not Presence of Truth” and “Filling in the Gaps: Communication Failure in Relationships”) Working to change ignorance to knowing, methods of rationality and dialogue are seen as inadequate, leading to the person simply filling in the ignorance with their own narrative. In practice, something has been said that doesn’t match an assumption and one’s internal vision of what is true provides a quicker feeling of security than introspection, reflection and speculative inquiry. 

The practice of “gap-filling” often occurs in relationships when one’s insecurity triggers have been flipped. Seeking safety and attempting to avoid suffering, people gravitate towards what is previously known, what most easily fits with their core vision of relational reality. Examples are numerous and most easily noticed when on the outside looking in, noting how often someone comes to an understanding that you, being on the outside of the relationship, had seen already, whether it be that someone has been cheating or had fallen in love. Since all of us at one time or another are on the inside of those connections we see of others, rueful humility should direct us to acknowledge that we too have done the same.

Communication or communal-creation is a beautiful and powerful facet of human existence. There is no greater feeling than that engendered by manifesting new worlds when bonding with another. That feeling can blind us to the true complexity of what is happening each and every time we seek to continue building that bond, from chats over coffee to group gatherings to family dinners, romantic dates and sex. The effortlessness with which these actions contribute to the building of the worlds will come skidding to a stop when the accumulation of filled-in gaps becomes overwhelming.

Communication is not two separate and context-free individual entities lobbing words at each other, it is an interplay of energy and information within a context-full reality. Have you ever looked at a couple and marveled at the way they finish their sentences or simply seem to “get” one another and yet others don’t grasp the exchange? This is why. Recognizing the inevitable creation involved in communication will help in all connections, in whatever form they take.

 

© David Teachout


 

More information on Relational Mentoring

0

Weaving Together Our Attachments

Attachment, for the buddhist, is the root of all suffering. Attachment, for everyone, is an inevitable manifestation of relational dynamics. Thankfully these two statements are not mutually exclusive, however much they may appear to be so at face-value. Consider attachment as both a structure for guiding behavior and as a narrow means of viewing human potential, with the latter being what the buddhist is warning about. We cannot stop structuring our lives through the lens of attachment or relationship, but no single connection or form it manifests as can or should hold the entirety of our selves. A web of relational interconnection provides avenues for growth, expression and the near-infinite variety of emotional experiences. A singular focus on any one of them leads to obsession, shallowness of expression and suffering.

Unfortunately in the self-help literature concerning attachment, it is often used only in the context of a romantic connection. Two things about this are problematic. One, romantic connections are only one form of relational attachment and are not demonstrative of the whole of a person’s life. Indeed, attachment research is based largely on the original child/parent connection, making the focus on a romantic form peculiar to say the least. Second, there is no time in our lives when we are not in a relationship of some kind, whether we actively pursue the extent of it or not. Think of all the people not yet having been met, combined with the near infinite potential contexts that such meetings could begin and develop through. Think of that friendship or partnership that, through changing circumstances, allowed insight into facets of the other person that otherwise had never been seen.

When broadly considered, attachment takes on the quality of a kaleidoscopic lens, shifting into new visions with each turn of the perspective. With this sense of attachment in mind, we can frame all human relationships to be either passive or active. The former, passive, is the vast majority of casual and incidental connections of everyday social living, from those we meet walking the street and riding public transport to many work connections and even telemarketers. A lack of intentional awareness is typical of these connections, where mere moments later we have often forgotten they even occurred. The latter, or active, is what is often meant by “relationship,” where there exists a conscious intentional stance to pursue the extent to which that form is capable of being fulfilled.

Regardless of passive or active, all relationships are part of the human interactional reality, providing the space to manifest behavior and the energy/information flow for empathic activity. “Empathy as a cognitive process never stops, it simply ebbs and flows based on the extent of the forms available via imagination to connect with another person.” That inability to stop, to avoid connection, is why a narrow focus on the active relationships of our lives provides so much space for surprise and room for shame/doubt. Our reactions to events and other people can sometimes seem to jump up and bite us, like lashing out at a loved one or co-worker, being unaware of what normally would be seen as warning signs. This is because the structure of our lives is not determined merely by the connections we’re currently aware of, but all of them that exist.IMG_0378

Picture a brick wall, covered in ivy, with the roots of vines so intertwined within the bricks that any semblance of it being a merely human-made structure has long been lost. The bricks are the connections we’re aware of, the vines all the one’s we typically are not focused upon. Sure they provide some interesting patterns and can be beautiful to look at, but our minds are easily convinced that it is the bricks that are holding up the entire edifice. Now imagine ripping out the vines, with pockmarks showing in the bricks, others becoming loose and even a few falling out altogether. This is the story of our lives. No person stands alone, no action occurs in the absence of the warp and weft of our interwoven existence.

When considering potential avenues for action, whether it be projecting forward for ourselves or looking at another, the passive connections are just as important as the active. We may easily succumb to the lure of being hyper-vigilant upon a partner or friend, but just as they exist in a reciprocal relationship of change with us, so then do they exist in other such connections with hundreds more, each shifting, to varying degrees, the potential of behavior. The kind word from grandmother, the snide comment from a co-worker, the disruption of dinner from a telemarketer, a surprise kindness from a stranger, the viewing of a funny video on social media from someone never met; these and a thousand more are all variables in the construction of our personal stories.

A sense of attachment is the empathic union with our connections. “We are not engineers, we are co-conspirators in the creation of our personal mythologies, what otherwise is referred to as our personal narratives or sense of self.” The degree of reflective consideration we give to this ordered-chaos will determine to no small degree both the quality of our emotional lives and the extent to which we fulfill the potential for our relationships. Seeing more is to be more.

 

 

© David Teachout

4

Empathy: How We Form Our Relationships

Reflect on almost any day and there will inevitably be recalled an event where one’s reaction was either stronger than retrospectively desired or perhaps even came out of seeming nowhere. Unfortunately for our own continued self-doubt and the hurt affected in others, our emotional and subsequent behavioral responses are not often carefully constructed, but arise as if flame from a struck match. Being caught up in a moment of emotional reaction is a foundational part of being human, where we find our emotional mind and the behavior that results is generally much quicker to respond and more drama-inducing than our rational mind subsequently desires.

We know our emotions generate behavioral actions and inspire further reactions precisely because of that cognitive tool called empathy. Empathy is the ability to reflectively identify an internal feeling as being similar in kind to another’s internal feeling and is the ground upon which every relationship, personal and public, grows. Consider empathy as being like a swiss-army knife of emotional union. The number of tools available for empathy is limited by the imaginative capacity of each individual. That capacity is the means to actively construct the tools or forms for empathy to connect with in the other person. One way of looking at this is considering imagination as a connect-the-dots image-maker expanding the reality we’re aware of. The available dots and their connections stem from the disparate parts of our past and present experiences. Fantasizing and daydreaming are but a couple of specific references to this general process. We never simply make things up out of nowhere, we’re always drawing from our experiences.

These image-constructs are as multi-varied as the narratives we have of ourselves. Similarly then to our own stories, the image possibilities are contingent upon the health and extent of our attachment dynamics within human inter-relational experience. As Schipper et al. (2013) note:

“Frith and Frith (2003) argue that the processes of assessing others’ and one’s own mental states are closely related. This relation of assessment processes suggests that empathy deficits might lead to difficulties in assessing one’s own mental states (Moriguchi et al., 2006), possibly holding for cognitive as well as emotional states (Samson, Huber, & Gross, 2012). Therefore, deficits in empathy might relate to difficulties not only in reading and labeling emotions of other people but also in reading and labeling one’s own emotions. If this is the case, empathy deficits are likely to trigger emotion dysregulation.”

We can unpack this by going back to the notion of imagination as a connect-the-dots image-maker, empathy then filling in that form with the feeling of interconnection. One example of this kind of thinking is the images people create out of stars, connecting the dots of celestial entities into known images. Picture a section of sky, where each pinprick of light is a reference point for experiences in life. Then attempt connecting those dots, noting how doing so fills in the stories we have of our lives. Now picture a section of sky for another person. Ignore for a moment that they have their own lines of connection and see how certain points of light seem to overlap with your own, similarities in experience matching up enough so that when the story gets told there’s material there to identify with, or as is more commonly said, empathize with. These near-overlapping points may be as subtle as the clothes a person wears to their manner of speaking, and as complicated as ideological identification and unique cultural behavior. Making this a bit more complex, the extent of our ability to note overlapping points is in no small way contingent upon our intent. We can shrink or expand the actualized points of potential overlap depending on our intent or desire.attachment

Empathy as a cognitive process never stops, it simply ebbs and flows based on the extent of the forms available via imagination to connect with another person. Low empathy can be considered here as having a reduced number of forms available for connection. This may be due to personal history, even as it may be due to the context of the relational situation. Whatever the limitations, they are not a fault of the person so much as an indication of the extent to which a relationship will form.  Let’s be very clear here: no action committed by an individual exists outside of a relational construct. What one is capable of manifesting with one person may be quite different with another and this is entirely based on the potential that resides within the combined space of inter-relationality. All a higher empathic ability indicates is a person’s larger repertoire of imaginative constructs allowing them to feel connections within more situations with a more disparate number of people.

Going back to our celestial analogy, the dots overlap but whether they are seen by each person as doing so is contingent upon the potential forms available to each person. The greater number of images able to be imposed the greater the empathic possibility. Note that the images of each person do not have to agree. One person may see a fish, the other a cougar.

Here is where difficulty arises.

“Considering the presented information, we assume that a healthy amount of empathy builds the foundation of an effective emotion regulation. This would not only imply that empathy deficits in terms of low empathic abilities might trigger emotion dysregulation, but also assume that a too high amount of empathy is a potential trigger of emotion dysregulation” (Schipper et al., 2013).

We feel before the constructs of our relational forms develop. This makes sense, as in order to build a form for something we have to have an idea of what we’re working with. The ebb and flow of empathy starts with basic forms found in our original attachment relationships, usually with our care-givers as babies and children, and then expands as new forms develop based on new experiences. Each connection we engage with shifts our capacity to imagine new relationship forms, expanding the means through which we experience life.

Our ability to regulate our emotions is found within the extent to which the forms we have at our imaginative disposal are able to deal in a healthy manner with these new experiences. A low-empathy ability will be constrained by fewer forms available and therefore a person will feel a level of dysregulation when faced with situations/experiences that don’t fit. The flip-side of dealing with this will be for the other person a sense of perceived control and a struggle to step out of the limited forms of relationship the low-empathy allows. A high-empathy ability may at first appear as if it wouldn’t be a problem, but dysregulation can occur when the forms available are so numerous that there is difficulty in determining how best to relate. The flip-side of this will be a sense of not knowing which aspect of the person is going to show up for the next encounter.  

Notice that in neither of the two empathy levels is the constraint found only within one person. Empathy and the forms it manifests through do not exist outside a relational reality/context. The extent of a potential relationship is a combination of all that is brought to the union between two or more people. While the experience of feeling constrained by a limited relationship form can be stifling and the experience of dealing with someone who doesn’t know how to fit can be frustrating, this is not a summation of the whole person. Placed in a different context and/or with a different person and the difficulties will melt away, though perhaps also simply manifest as different difficulties.

Relationship as a foundational quality to reality manifests within humanity through this imagination/empathy mechanism. Empathy never stops. Whether we consciously acknowledge its continued presence or not, the flow of our relational lives will change what behavior we manifest. If we keep our imaginations stunted through the rigidity of our thinking, the result is the same as if we were to attempt the chaos of having no form at all: the dysregulation of our lives. The path between rigidity and chaos, where active engagement with living means evolving our ideas of relationship, is the path of greatest exploration, personal expansion and emotional expression.

 

 

© David Teachout

 

Bibliography:

Schipper, M., Petermann, F., http, al, et, Georgi, E., Gyurak, A., & Rueda, P. (2013). Relating empathy and emotion regulation: Do deficits in empathy trigger emotion dysregulation? Social Neuroscience. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2012.761650

1

Expanding Personal Potential Through Friendship

 

The need to belong is as indelible a part of being human as it is for our hearts to continue beating and our lungs to continue circulating oxygen. I use biological analogies here precisely due to how belonging makes physiological changes in our lives. That ache associated with missing a loved one is not simply in our minds, it’s a chemical reaction that permeates our bodies. That sense of safety and wholeness when in a group of like-minded people is not a poetic license, it’s a reduction in stress hormones. From the roaming bands of our evolutionary ancestors on the savannas of Africa to team-building exercises at our places of employment, the biological need to belong has been about expanding the repertoire of our behavior to changing circumstances.

In a recent article in Psychology Today, the author collects from various psychological studies five reasons to choose friends wisely:

1. Strong-willed friends can increase your self-control.

2. Having fewer friends increases the likelihood that you’ll take financial risks.

3. Having too many social media connections increases your stress level.

4. Close friends may be the secret to longevity.

5. Friends greatly influence your choices.

The studies associated with each point are well worth looking through. The results put yet another nail in the coffin of the simplistic notion that we are our own masters, the principle determiners of our behavior. To quote a recent United States president, “I’m the decider.” We like the ease of such statements and beliefs because they reflect the felt feeling, or phenomenology, of what it is to live our own lives. The internalized and oft-repeated mantra of “I am my own boss” allows for the only sense of responsibility that makes any intuitive sense in a world dedicated to increasingly separating us from our shared humanity.

What these studies show is not merely the influence of our friendships, but how our sense of belonging is legitimately conflated with our decision-making abilities. We do not decide the course of our actions from a celestial existence, picking and choosing what variables in our lives will effect us. We are not engineers, we are co-conspirators in the creation of our personal mythologies, what otherwise is referred to as our personal narratives or sense of self.

Since decisions are predicated on that very sense of self and memories provide the substance and boundaries for the construction of current narratives, it is safe to say that the potential of our lives does not lie so much in how exalted our sense of self-empowerment is, but the extent to which the relationships, both interpersonal and inter-environmental, allow for the manifestation of various behavior.

This latter point indicates where the Psychology Today article and much of the cited research misses discussing the why of the influence friendships have on our behavior and the ramifications this has on our simple notions of choice and self-narrative. Directing attention to this lack is less a criticism than an observation of how that very need to believe in our personal empowerment pervades even the academic circles that are supposed to question such assumptions. No less powerful is the fact that psychology, like most other scientific disciplines, has fallen victim to the absurd notion that science is only concerned with what is, not with any concern for ought or issues of morality.

Yet, the futility of this demarcation is indicated merely by looking one step beyond the statements being made. If the quality of one’s friendships is a determinative variable in our ability to make fewer financial mistakes, live longer, increase self-control and shifts other behavior we manifest, then such findings are already making statements about how we should live. Better finances, better choices, fewer mistakes, reduced stress, these are all easily inferred prescriptive notions associated with increasing the quality of our personal lives. A similar situation would result if studies concluded that the cessation of smoking leads to a better quality of life both for the smoker and for those around them. The fact that this is exactly what has happened, resulting in social proscriptions against smoking in enclosed public spaces, indicates that science does discuss issues of morality. Certainly there still exist questions as to which values are of greater concern, personal freedom or public safety, but nobody is going to deny that an increase in quality of life, however objectively determined, is going to be generally found to be a moral imperative.

That issue of personal freedom should, in light of the studies discussed here, give us pause. This is why when determining the parameters for relational and experiential development, RDIIT (Relational Dynamics In Identity Theory) posits the first question of: How do my relationships shape and contribute to my experience(s)? Notice that the first question is not concerned so much with issues of feeling and story. When focused on how to expand relational development, such questions have already come up in the stated identification of a problem in one’s life. Further, one’s feelings and personal story will inevitably be explored through the rubric of that first question anyway. No problem in life exists without connection to personal and experiential relationships. No solution will develop without taking those very relationships into account.

When considering statements and discussions about self-help, it is important to immediately reflect upon how that notion of self is intimately connected with what and with whom life is being shared. The people we have in our lives are not simply pieces on the chessboard of our lives, they are extensions of the board itself, providing an expansion or constriction of how and in what ways we are able to move. Recognizing such can provide a near-infinite source of exploration for just how we and those we look upon are expressing life and, perhaps more importantly, give pause to the ease with which judgment of self and others is made.

 

© David Teachout

0

Our Need To Connect Can Lead To False Positives

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, 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.

Let’s bring this 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.

 

© David Teachout

 

Article:

Faces Are More Likely to Seem Alive When We Want to Feel Connected

0

Like Everyone Else, You’re Unique

In the first halting breath of a new romantic connection, when the eyes meet, the heart flutters, and a cascade of stories spiral out like a new galactic frontier, it is safe to say that nothing feels more unique, more singularly special. Every one of us dwells in that moment and generally throughout each day, within the notion of being an individual having a particular blend of feelings, thoughts and images. What other way of living could there be? Contrary to the poster-child of subjectivism, an individual uniquely set-apart from the rest of creation by possessing a soul or self, there is an alternative. That alternative provides the space to step away from a life of separation and into one of belonging.

Living relationally is not simply about being mindful of the interconnections pervading every moment of our lives, from the mundane of molecular combinations giving us air to breath and water to drink, to the complex social patterns of whole societies and the familial webs of each person. Interconnection is our very breath and blood of life. More than this, however, is a required recognition that the location of our perspective determines what we are capable of seeing. The result of either perspective is either a focus on being unique and in no small part separated from the rest of nature or bound within a near-infinite inter-web of a singular substance.

Imagine four bounded circles, each one encapsulating the others like a set of mixing bowls. From inner to outer they can be labeled as 1) personal narrative, 2) behavioral patterns, 3) social and cultural triggers, and 4) universal potential. If looked at from the inside-out, one’s uniqueness is never in doubt, in fact it becomes the means of determining whether to give consideration for any idea, advice or information. Beginning here is where such notions as “my truth is my truth and doesn’t have to agree with anyone else” and “nobody understands what he/she and I have together.” Such thinking results in separation and interpersonal turmoil, though it certainly helps maintain a belief in the supremacy of the ego.

If instead one begins from the outer circle, that of universal potential, everything shifts. Rather than the self being penultimate, “I” exists as simply one among an infinite potential of variable outcomes. Even the “one” here is a small over-statement as there is no dot to pinpoint a singular location, but a scatter-gun of interconnected dots out of which emerges a felt sense of individuality. There is uniqueness, but no longer in the sense of an “I and them,” rather an immersion. As Buber, in his book “I And Thou” states: “Immersion wants to preserve only what is ‘pure,’ essential, and enduring, while stripping away everything else; the concentration of which I speak does not consider our instincts as too impure, the sensuous as too peripheral, or our emotions as too fleeting — everything must be included and integrated. What is wanted is not the abstracted self but the whole, undiminished man.”

From this perspective of immersion, we can see where being caught up in the uniqueness of our selves and our particular relationships is both understandable but also myopic and limiting. If we consider any situation only from within the inner-most circle, this both shutters our eyes to the possibilities that exist in universal potential and is a willful blindness to the reality that we are embedded in a relational reality. Behavioral patterns and social triggers do not cease simply because of a projection of individuality. Nor does the potential cease to exist of other people or ideas illuminating our experience. Immersion allows for healthy skepticism and provides the space for introspection and collective analysis.

When considering next how different personal struggles are from any others or how one’s relational dynamic is so distinct from any other, it is important to remember that one’s narrative is self-serving and therefore prone to blindness. Our difficulties and ways of behaving certainly feel like they are unique, but they are such only in so far as any other emergent quality in interconnected reality. In this way we are none of us alone, none of us separate and all of us together in living.

© David Teachout

3

Relational Expansion In Communication

A sense of belonging is both a constant desire and a powerful impetus to act. “The creation of ourself in the image of awakening is not a subjective but an intersubjective process. We cannot choose whether to engage with the world, only how to.” (Batchelor, p. 106, Buddhism Without Beliefs)

Ponder for a moment the static-living inspired by ostracism, the insular feelings feeding on one another in a spiral of self-destruction. Think on the outcast who mutters to himself, the social pariah who drowns in a sea of her own grief. On the opposite side, consider the sense of connection when news breaks of a disaster and the images of people suffering become an extension of our family. Feel the pull of the sight of starving children or the internal anxiety when a baby is heard crying. This community sense pervades our emotional lives, fed as it is each and every time we engage in communication of any sort.

From advertisers to preachers, actors to used car salespeople, the extraordinary variability in what emerges through communication is the root cause of sales techniques to selective phrasing in giving speeches. Were communication an issue of a linear, one-way, relationship, where a receiver decodes exactly what is presented, there’d be no concern over mis-speaking or failing to make a point in such a way that it is actually heard. What communication is, is communal-creation. Communication is not just an act, but a principle of living.

Communication is not two separate and context-free individual entities lobbing words at each other, it is an interplay of energy and information within the vastness of a context-full reality. That person you didn’t know anything about, standing in a corner, relates to you only in the sense of a shared presence and common humanity. Dialogue strengthens those bonds but it also allows for the emergence of something else: community. What was before not bonded with becomes indelibly linked, what didn’t exist in one form of relationship begins carrying a greater weight with the emergence of another form.

In each and every new emergent relationship, is the incredible nature and power of communication, where the interchange of information is combined with the flow of energy between two or more people in an existential union. When engaged in communication you are joined in an evolving world, the making of which is a product of both the means of interacting with the information at hand and the energy patterns associated with the history of experiences and their recall for everyone involved. Daniel Siegel describes the individual in the tri-part way of an interaction between mind/body/relationship, that interaction manifesting as the energy flowing through it all. Expanding on Siegel, those relationships are both internal, in the sense of all the selves we embody, and the so-called external social connections.

Notice how when meeting someone new, the nature of the social interaction makes some topics easy and others not. For that matter, the whole feeling of whether one is “clicking” with someone or not is a testament to the ebb and flow of relational energy being processed. Psychologically we look at this through the lens of priming and mental heuristics where a person’s dress, smell, cosmetic look, phrasing, etc. are all distilled through how we were raised and culturally taught, to look at people and judge well before a single word is spoken.Two-paths

Whatever the form of communication, the process provides a place for an emergent relationship, one that is not a thing in itself, but an amalgamation of all that is being brought in. Seeking to understand it is the journey of a life-time. Ever wondered how some people, whether they’ve been around each other a long time or not, can finish the other person’s sentences? Ever question how you or someone else simply knows what another person is feeling before they open their mouth? Those feelings of uncertainty when you walk into a room letting you know you’re not wanted, or the opposite feeling of being utterly held, both are properties of the communal creation of communication, the interactive existential bond of our shared humanity.

The importance of this principle can be realized in every misspoken word, every misunderstanding, every response to being “seen” or rejected. We are not billiard balls bouncing off one another in straight trajectories of hoped-for intention. We reside in a soup of constantly evolving, emerging relationships, with every uttered word and shift of body projectively making the potentialities residing between us all more and more possible until something happens in perception.

Our world is a maelstrom of interacting variables, of which we are but one. Our greatest hubris is to believe that because we feel ourselves creating our stories, the essence of being conscious, that we are somehow the progenitor of our lives, the key ingredient without which nothing would happen. The reality is so very much grander than that, though it does nothing to assuage our egos. “Courage consists in being reliant on oneself and others to the extent that, irrespective of differences in physical and social circumstance, all manifest in their behavior and their relationships that very same spark which makes us recognize them, which makes us crave their assent or their criticism, the spark which means we share a common fate.” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, World of Perception, p. 88)

© David Teachout

References: “Buddhism Without Beliefs