19 April 2014
I walk into a room and there is an effect. It seems impossible to avoid … not that I’d want to if I could.
I affect others … and in turn they affect me.
It seems that this is what it may be to be human, i.e.: humans affecting other humans … the human condition. Maybe we are built to affect one another, maybe “rubbing up against one another” is the essence of what life is about … life rubbing up against life.
To me, this seems at the heart of the human condition.
This is where I constantly find myself drawn. I spent years learning about and studying individuality, i.e.: “the way of the individual.” Even though much of what I was learning about in my reading and study gave lip service to the group – despite the name given to it, e.g.: family, organization, community, society – the focus and emphasis was on the individual.
The sources I went to were divergent … texts and teachers in the domains of psychology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy – Eastern, Western, Meso-American, Middle Eastern … and where that led me I followed … theology, spirituality, mythology, therapy, cybernetics, linguistics, neuroscience, cognitive science, economics, organizational theory, leadership … on and on I went. Despite my reach I continued to find myself stumped with few exceptions.
Let me reframe my comments for a moment before going on …
I was trying to figure out what it meant to be human, i.e.: how to do “human” really well.
I was trying to figure this out first for myself … and then how to engage with others who seemed to be asking the same fundamental question in so many different ways and personal languages of their own, “How do I do “human” really well?”
These folks were colleagues and clients. Sometimes they were in consulting situations I worked in with business outcomes and intentions. Other times they were direct therapeutic type interactions where a client was stumped about how to move on in their life … or what to move on to … what to be doing next with themselves.
In most cases I noticed that many of the folks I encountered seemed lost and hurting, even suffering by some accounts. Yet, in the work I offered, this was rarely on the surface. Rarely did my clients come to me with the expressed intention of relieving suffering per se. Instead my clients wanted “strategic” help … “Joseph, how do I achieve the next goal?” Whether that goal was making more money (often), becoming more successful (even more often), finding a relationship, fixing a relationship, finding peace and comfort in their life … it always was about the next thing and what to be doing about it … what to be doing to achieve and attain the elusive “IT” they were searching for in their lives.
Fortunately for me I met and trained with someone who actually had something to offer. I sat at the knee of the master for many years, decades actually … studying and learning, absorbing his wisdom and tricks. He redirected me and my attention with these clients to help them re-focus themselves to attend to where they were in the moment, and only then moving onto what was next for them.
I called this (following the style of my mentor) an ontological approach, i.e.: attending to the experience of being in the moment … a critical distinction.
My mentor, and I following his lead, distinguished the idea of an ontological approach from one that was epistemological. The distinction was the focus on the nature of being versus knowing, or maybe more simply experiencing versus thinking.
I followed this lead further beginning to develop my approach with further distinctions, e.g.: the distinction of experiencing versus thinking about experiencing. I found that many of my clients, despite the particulars, were confounded by thinking about experiencing instead of experiencing their experience.
Then I found two more things that fascinated me and led me further down the rabbit hole …
That most people aren’t having their experience, they are having other people’s experience that had been imposed upon them. Most people start out living their parents’ dreams and not their own. Neither they nor their parents recognize the imposition or insult – until they begin to rebel (it’s typically called “adolescence”). Yet, despite the grand protestations they continue living the life imposed upon them, even if they leave behind the impositions of the parent.
An interesting side note here …
I’ve noticed that many folks I’ve worked with who believe they are leaving behind the impositions of the parent/parents spend the rest of their life in rebellion, not free of imposition, just transforming the imposition into it’s opposite.
Instead of accepting and becoming the vision of the parent they spend their lives becoming what they believe will free them of that imposition by becoming it’s opposite … never once even considering becoming themselves.
Back to our story …
Then life imposes further … schooling telling the child what to do and who they are to become, followed by society … and then the work environment and colleagues … and often life partners, spouses, children … an unending stream of impositions about who you are meant and destined to be … an overwhelming avalanche of impositions burying and suffocating who you are yourself. This is what I found again and again in my work with clients. Then, when I encountered them about the idea of simply being … NOT DOING (a very Zen, Taoist, Yin kind of idea BTW) … they fell in love with it.
The ones I worked with who got ‘IT’ began to rearrange their lives around being, often leaving significant aspects of doing behind. Sometimes leaving behind the contexts they had built their doing in as well … organizations, businesses, families … even whole communities … left behind.
Others sought new contexts to support their new found “freedom” … the groups I ran, organized religion, causes … something to hold onto that would confirm and reaffirm their sense of self.
What I began to notice was the need to be given permission to simply be … to relieve themselves of the obligations of the impositions they had carried for so long, who they had become. For some this meant exploring the other side of things … their suffering instead of their freedom. What some call “shadow work” … the repressed self.
Yet for my mentor, and for me as well, this was a path without reward. Of course there was and is great emotional experience there, a charge to be gotten from experiencing the suffering, the sense of coming to terms with what had been and may still be repressed in one’s self. But we agreed there was no way out of the hole by digging deeper.
So we sought a different way, first his decades of work and then, standing on his metaphorical shoulders, I began climbing myself.
The first thing I noticed (my second insight … the one that began to lead me up out of the rabbit hole I’d fallen into, the first being the lack of people having their own experience and substituting doing for being to compensate for it …) was that the shift from doing to being was primarily organized somatically. To become yourself you must first learn how to inhabit yourself.
That must sound strange to someone the first time they hear it I imagine, i.e.: “… you must first learn to inhabit yourself.” But it is the key in the work I have been doing for the last two decades with my clients, i.e.: repositioning them in their body in relation to themselves.
This work is about moving from intellectualizing experience to instantiating and inhabiting experience … to feel it … to see, hear, smell and taste it fully. To let the sensations of life wash over and in turn wash away the stench of abstraction for the sweetness of being present to life.
Again, I find myself coming to the idea of “life rubbing up against life.”
But still … for decades, I found something was missing in the puzzle that had and continues to consume me.
The somatic piece was and is indeed critical, powerful beyond the imaginings I could have held before I encountered it fully. Recognizing that we respond, as incarnate beings, to our lives and the experiences we engage in was immense. Recognizing further the dynamics of interaction, how we respond to one another responding was even more powerful … mesmerizing me into a kind of stupor.
I had climbed out of the rabbit hole for a moment only to be drawn back down. This time via another tunnel, the tunnel of somatics. So I went all the way … submerging myself into the study of the interaction between the mind and body, until I dissolved the separation of the two for myself … a body-mind emerged.
A singularity that has been my domain of expertise for the past twenty years, i.e.: the body-mind and how it manifests ontologically, forming the essence of who we are and know ourselves to be … the return of epistemology and the integration of it with the ontological consideration.
Yes … the body-mind … I worshipped at its magnificence.
When I worked with clients, exposing them to themselves via an new found integration of the somatic form they had repressed into a barely acknowledged part of their experience of themselves, they often blossomed into new beings … a kind of metamorphosis. Like the seed becoming the tree, emerging from themselves in a new form that had been barely contained in the kernel of themselves they had known and expressed previously.
As my clients learned about noticing the body-mind themselves via the somatic path I was sharing with them, they began to notice others differently as well. The noticing became subtler and subtler until they could and were adumbrating entire groups of people they encountered day in and day out, and for many they flourished in this way.
But I noticed a different kind of shadow too. The more they fell into the rabbit hole themselves, the more they became observers of life, playing less with others and more with themselves.
In the best cases they removed themselves to tiny enclaves of others who shared their new sense of awareness, a kind of “insiders” club about the wonders of the body-mind experience.
These insiders noticed the interplay between the somatic forms and the semantic forms that people expressed, and they would delight in their noticing and the sharing of it with others of like mind. But they were also somewhat removed from the messiness of life, somehow trying to remain out of the reach of the stench that arises when bodies truly rub together. Yet it was exactly in the space that ceased to exist between bodies with life that life was most evident … where life is both conceived and consecrated from what I could tell.
So my insights had led me out of the hole and then right back in … only with different illusions, not illusion free as I had hoped.
However, I was helping people. My clients were actually achieving and attaining more of what they were capable of and desired … more success, better and fuller relationships with others, a greater sense of coming to peace in their lives.
So for many years I continued refining the models I had been designing and developing. These were the models I used when I engaged with clients to provoke the critical transformations they desired, and in many cased we were successful together … and that’s where the new opening appeared for me … in the “together” I’ve only come to most recently.
All the years of learning, reading and studying had helped, but left me in some ways as lost as I had been when I first began. The abyss was individuality, the illusion of the individual.
I realized I had moved spasmodically away from anything resembling what I though of, and continue to think of, as false community … the lip service given to inclusiveness, plurality, diversity and all the socially, politically correct ways of thinking about communities of people. It all seems to be so much bullshit! When it comes down to it in those communities the folks who are so outspoken about their caring for others simply take care of themselves. Frankly, it disgusts me.
So I ran in the other direction. I renounced anything to do with the prophets of community and their false doctrines. The entire “New Age” movement and everything associated with it, including the meta-magical thinking and “love talk” that spouts from the mouths of every prophet espousing their wares nauseated me to my core.
The endless stories of the gurus with their perversions, the socially minded entrepreneurs with their addictions, and all the rest of it wasn’t what I was searching after … it was something more, something undefined, some call to something else .
I cannot conclude my tale here with the revelation of having found “IT” yet. I may be as delusional as the false prophets I so detest. But …
There is something that has been emerging from the manure piles the prophets have left in their wake, something more wicked than they ever imagined coming I think. Maybe the end of society as we know it even … but I both digress and expose myself too much without evidence for my philosophical meanderings.
What I’ve begun to notice is the emergence of a new kind of thinking that transcends self-interest. Not the self-serving speeches of the socially-minded about being of service to others, of social and economic equality for all. It is not even the talk about the rights of the repressed that I am pointing towards …
My meandering is about an organism I’ve only newly begun noticing for the first time, despite seeing it forever (forever being the entirety of my lifetime). The organism of society itself … we are collectively the organism. The ontological form we are is social, connected … in the same way our organs, muscles and bones comprise who we are, we comprise the organism of society … a living, breathing thing unto itself beyond anyone of us.
Let me close for now with another reframing exercise …
I have long disagreed with the idea that some physicians hold of treating disease apart from the whole-form of the body in which the disease resides. Despite the successes that this approach has generated in some cases, I believe the cost to be higher than the gain. Only when we expand our perspectives to see the entire being can we properly treat the symptomology that confronts us.
For instance treating a persistent rash with cream to suppress it will not relieve the issue of what causes it if the cause is metabolic or environmental, even if the symptoms are relieved.
The individual may indeed have temporary relief from the rash, only to find that they given room to the cancer to form and grow within them. However, when the cause is contextual, say living in New York with all of the stressors there, environmental and otherwise, and to “cure” oneself means giving up all that you’ve come to associate with being in New York true healing may be impossible.
The individual goes on living with the suppression of symptoms, maybe addressing one symptom after another … first the cream for the rash, then anti-acids for the stomach upset, satins for high cholesterol, blood pressure medications … until the system collapses in utter and total disrepair … FUBAR!
You see it’s not within the individual that the issue resides … it’s in the system-at-large. The individual is an illusion as something apart from the system that contains them, in the same way that a heart or spleen actually exist but are meaningless outside of the system that contains them.
What is the heart outside of the body where it pumps blood that is not it’s own, and breaths oxygen it does not absorb???
This is the question I began to see about the “individual” … and I had had inklings of this before, inklings I suppressed and ignored because I didn’t have the insight or tools to deal with them.
Often, we as change agents try to fix the individual, or to fix the system via the individuals within it. We think that change happens locally, even when we think systemically the systems we think about are most often local … not total.
Now I’ve begun to think that maybe the only thing we can do is to relate the individual to the whole-form, to relieve them of their illusion that they are in any way separate and/or apart from the system, that they are the system in the same way the heart is the system in the body … i.e.: it is nothing without the blood it pumps or the oxygen it breathes, both of which are beyond it’s ken … the domain of the marrow and lungs.
I don’t really know where to go with this from here … but somehow it feels like I am once again standing in the sun, out of the warren that had trapped me into thinking I was home.
The “ontology” I am looking for is everywhere … now if only I had eyes to see …
P.S. – FWIW I’ve incorporated all of the *new* learning and insights I’ve had into my current work, what I’ve begun calling “Foolish Wisdom” … maybe you’ll join me in becoming a “Wise Fool” yourself someday soon …