What we see in each other is so often the creation of our own minds. Can we get past this?
September 22, 2006
Jesse was almost yelling, telling me how bitterly he resented my negative judgment of him. Suddenly I found popping out of my mouth a self-confident sort of mild anger, telling him I was tired and irritated at his behavior, but the part about judging him for it was entirely his own addition. “Stop taking it so personally!” I snapped.
He was taken aback. I’d never responded like this before. “Why didn’t you say that to begin with?” he asked, a bit less agressively.
Why indeed? How many years has it taken me to be able to distinguish his projection from my own feelings, to refuse to believe what he says of me when it’s not accurate? This time I can perceive the difference. And it’s as though I turned some switch in my brain: I have recovered an occluded innate ability, and it feels so right, it’s stronger than the ancient victim habit of introjecting blame.
How have I finally managed to do this? I see no clear progression leading to this; I’ve just been working toward it forever. I took no workshop, read no book, did no specific meditation to turn the switch. Other than my eternal vipassana: watching my mind, witnessing, stepping back from emotion, just naming it, owning it. With compassion for myself, no judging.
one failure (?)
Jesse reported talking to Petra, as she was about to be married, about the struggles of being married. We’ve always struggled with marriage, he said, and “I use the struggle as fire to burn up my stuff.”
I was surprised; I’d never heard him express that before, never known he took such a positive attitude toward internal work (a skillful attitude, as the Buddhists would say). I decided I’d had some influence on him, from witnessing my struggles as that kind of opportunity. (The term I used was “dharma gate.”) I remember once when I was pissed at him but trying not to dump it on him, trying just to be aware of it. I don’t remember what the issue was, but I remember sitting in my favorite chair, my meditation chair, my rocking chair that helps my back. He came into the room and made some inquiry; I answered that I was struggling to understand what “right speech” might be in this situation. What the most skillful way would be to talk about how I was feeling. He laughed: a friendly, compassionate laugh that said to me he appreciated my struggle. This transaction between us felt like a new thing, quite refreshing.
So when he talked about the fire, I observed I hadn’t heard that language from him before. He said “I’ve been talking about that forever.” This puzzled me. My first reaction is that I’m right and he’s mistaken. I’m sure I’m right. His memory is terrible, we have plenty of proof of that. My second reaction is that it’s not logically likely that my memory would be better than his in this case. Perhaps he has talked about this to other people, just not to me? Or he has really changed, but it has been such a fundamental change it feels to him like this has been the way it is “forever”?
the only safe tactic
I project on him, as he does on me. My understanding of who he is may well include parts of him he refuses to look at, but it’s also skewed by my own prejudice. I can’t tell the difference. Part of me is still completely, yes completely convinced that I’m right about the “struggle as fire” idea. But I have to conclude that my perception of him is not dependable. My idea of who he is … is my idea. I need to own it, to see it as a creation of my mind. Who he really is, is something entirely different: a living, changing being of his own, not transparent to me, not even very communicative in ways I receive easily.
The only unchanging concept of him that’s safe to entertain is something about the source of that fire: there is an essential wisdom and compassion in him (as in all of us). Holding onto that perception has only good results. Well, maybe that’s too narrow: I think another aspect of that flame is a playful, loving child. Huh! musing on these perceptions makes me feel quite sweet on him: not physically aroused, but emotionally turned on.