Living Side by Side
Once the realization is accepted that even between
the closest human beings infinite distances continue,
a wonderful living side by side can grow,
if they succeed in loving the distance between them
which makes it possible for each to see the other
whole against the sky.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
This beautiful quote from Rilke speaks to the way we can never wholly know another person. No matter how well we know each other, there is always some distance, always some mystery, always something Other and unknowable. This "infinite distance" may make some people insecure or may drive others to try to possess or control another; it may feel threatening that there is always an unknowable aspect of any other Being, no matter how close we may be, no matter how well we "know" them. There is always something wild and as such unpredictable about another, in their Otherness.
Can we learn to "love the distance" between us, to embrace and welcome the space between, so full of mystery and the unknown? Can we not fear what we don't know and can't possess?
Can we appreciate the whole landscape of who they are, even if not all the details are clear? Can the distance give us perspective and allow us, paradoxically to see them more fully, framed magnificently "whole against the sky," be it a sunset, sunrise, or a sky full of lightning and rain?
Can we live side by side with another, both deeply known and still full of mystery and "infinite distance?" Can we love the mystery and distance as much as the known and loved qualities?
The Internal Troublemaker
· From a certain point of view
our real enemy, the true troublemaker, is inside.
~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Humans often see Otherness or difference as dangerous and threatening. This happens in a macro and micro way- countries see other countries with different economic or social structures as a threat, political parties see others as the enemy and religions often have no tolerance for other religious beliefs or philosophies.
It also happens in our day to day life: if someone disagrees with us they become wrong, bad, the enemy. Political differences often bring up strong feelings of Otherness and therefore danger. In our personal relationships, a Beloved may be transformed into the Enemy in the blink of an eye.
The true enemy or troublemaker lives within each of us. We project onto others the parts of ourselves we find intolerable: bigotry, anger, lack of tolerance, judgement, hate, hurtfulness, criticism, betrayal, an inherent sense of worthlessness or lack of value, the list could go on and on.
The "safest" way, from the perspective of an unexamined defense system in the psyche to get rid of these uncomfortable feelings in ourselves, is to see these qualities in others and reject or criticize them, or even try to kill them off. The more vicious our rejection or judgment of others is, the more likely it is an inherent and disowned part of ourselves.
The path to Wholeness, and to more peace internally and externally, is to examine and own these disavowed "shadow" aspects of ourselves, to be curious about them and take responsibility for them. As we begin to get to know our inner Troublemaker, it will begin to make way less trouble!
Don’t cry because it’s over.
Smile because it happened!
- Dr Seuss
So often we want to hold on to ... ( fill in the blank). Whether it's a relationship, a good time, a class, a trip, a great concert, a fun party, shared time with a loved one, an intimate connection- physical, spiritual or emotional, we often don't want to let go. We want to hold on, we want it to go on just a little bit longer, to make it last forever.
Or maybe someone has hurt us, maybe really badly- a betrayal, an incomprehensible meanness or lack of consideration that changes or ends a relationship we valued.
Although of course there is sadness about endings, Dr. Seuss's point I think, is to also remember how wonderful ( fill in the blank) was, how it made us feel, how fulfilled we were, how much joy or connection or love we felt. No one or nothing can take that feeling, that experience away from us. Can we remember in addition to being sad or missing ( fill in the blank) to smile at the memory at the joy or fulfillment or happiness or connection, or bliss that we felt? Can we smile at having had that experience, that connection, trusting that other such experiences will also come our way again?
I've learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou (RIP-5/28/14)
Actions and words are more easily forgotten than feelings, or the feelings that are elicited by those words and actions. Feelings live in the body at a cellular level and have their own kind of memory. We may over time forget the content of conversations or activities with others (or of their actions), but we retain a deep and almost instinctual memory of how they made us feel.
When we think of someone, we may literally feel warm, open or relaxed or closed, cold and tense. We may literally "light up" when recalling someone who has loved us or been special to us, and conversely a dark cloud may come over us as we recall someone who has hurt us. These visceral feelings are our bodies' way of keeping our experiences alive, of orienting us toward or away from others.
Long after many memories have faded, the feeling we had with that person remains alive and accessible. And of course, this is also true of how we are remembered. What really counts, what endures over decades, is how we made someone feel. That is what really matters!
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley