Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

That’s the question, and the answer depends a lot on how you fit into the larger context of the world. Whether you believe that the world works better with collaboration or independent action—or a combination of both.

 Self-Sufficiency/Independence

These are often words used when we’re in a view that each of us is separate, not only from all others but from all things, and even from ourselves. It’s also often the jargon of the “money-world,” where the only thing of value is money. In this world view, we exist as solitary beings who can rely on no one but ourselves.  Everything we accomplish is separate from what everyone else accomplishes. We tend to hoard our resources because we believe that it’s up to us to help ourselves. We imagine that we are on our own, that it’s all up to us alone and that everything we achieve is created by us alone. On the other hand, we appreciate being able to accomplish and earn and make things happen in the world. This view is useful for some aspects of life.

 Collaboration/Unity

In another world view, we all are energies fluidly flowing in and around in all directions. There’s a sense that we, as a whole, have everything, nothing is lacking. All is provided. Sometimes, it’s provided by “my” effort, sometimes by “yours.”  Sometimes by synchronistic happenstance. For example, when I was a lot younger, driving 40 miles to work and 40 back every day for little pay, my car kept breaking down. It was finally on its last legs. I felt scared and alone. Suddenly, out of the blue, I got a call from my parents. They figured I’d probably need a car and they wanted to buy one for me! I hadn’t told them anything about my situation.

Or how often does it happen that you suddenly think about somebody that hasn’t crossed your mind for ages and they call that day? Or you’ve got plans with somebody and you’re so stressed with everything you have to do that you’d just like a few hours to relax and that person calls and cancels? This could make us think that we’re all connected somehow, that we’re part of a larger unity. This view is also very useful in life, and is another kind of self-sufficiency—the self sufficiency of being part of the larger whole.

 A Different Kind of Self-Sufficiency

This kind of self-sufficiency requires awareness and integrity.  It requires that, rather than thinking of myself only as an individual person, I also identify as the larger whole. This is a feeling that inner and outer is one. The “I” that I’m identifying with also includes everyone else. If one part of the larger “Me” is hurting, all of us know it and help it.  If one part is doing too much, all of us know it and make it easy for that part to rest.  This combines independence and collaboration.

For example, when you’re aware of the larger “Me,” you notice what you need and don’t need. If someone who is overly generous wants to give you something, you think of them as part of a larger “You,” wanting to give something to another part of the larger You and you help them out by letting them keep it.

In this world view, we are a huge network of umbilical cords, where everyone is connected to everyone and everything else.  You can’t cut them, because then the whole system dies.  And why would you want to?  That’s so lonely.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t “lead our own lives.”  It does mean that we are aware of what we are and what we can give and what others give and we intertwine with the giving and the receiving.  Some people are good at money and some are good at atmosphere or love or light or joy or relationship or discernment.  In the money-world, only money is “something” and everything else is just taken for granted.  In the collaborative world, everything is “something”—miraculous, precious and treasured.

For more on Relationships, more on Group Dynamics, and also my posts on Self-Acceptance (scroll down to get to the past posts after this current one).

On Surviving–Inner Work Exercise

Here’s a fun thing to do that’s also very instructive—a kind of inner work. You notice what’s bothering you and you let yourself first focus on it, on what about it is really bothering you. Then, keeping that in the background, you let yourself get kind of fuzzy and diffuse and notice what happens. Just stay with it without trying to be rational or “think” about it. Just notice what happens and let the images come. Here are a couple of examples:

 My Partner Can’t Make up his Mind

One day I was miffed that my partner was so indecisive. “Why is this bothering me so much?” I wondered.  Sensing that the source of my irritation was actually something in me trying to come to awareness, I decided to find inside me the one that wobbled so much (instead of putting it on my partner). I closed my eyes, left everyday consciousness behind, and traveled way into my center, letting the visions come.

 I moved from side to side within a picture frame and suddenly found myself dodging bullets!  They whizzed beside my ear like target-bees and sang the air near shoulder, arm, and thigh.  They missiled toward my toes and periled near my nose.  To avoid them, I found I was spending my entire life alert and jerking to and fro.  “I have to focus my whole and only attention on survival!” Suddenly, I felt free. For me, this was a powerful realization. “I’m allowed to look out solely for my own survival!”  Rather than all the time worrying about “how will this affect him; what will she think of that; will they be happy if I say this or that?”  It blew me away. 

I Am Alone

Another time I went into the pain of separation and aloneness.  Of being left, not being wanted.  When I let my imagination go where it went, I was all of a sudden the son of a ghetto mother, left by her boyfriend to work for nothing and over the years to suckle and diaper and teach to walk and walk to school and cook a meager meal and give lessons in manners to a baby-young-child-teen.

Of course, she couldn’t do this all alone, and so she didn’t.  She left me, her son, alone—sometimes for days—when she despaired and wandered the streets in search of a way out for herself.  At first, I was afraid, constantly afraid and crying.  No one heard my hunger, my fear at night. No one saw my dirty face, the shredded clothes I wore.

After a while like that I understood:  this is what is. I became tough, hard, cold.  I knew what I needed; I knew what I wanted.  I knew what to do to get it, and I did what I had to do.  I roamed the streets.  I learned everything about those streets and the people that roamed them, too.  I learned about the shopkeepers and how to get them to give me food.  If they wouldn’t, I knew what time they left for the night and how to steal in to their stores and to steal out with the food.  I knew where to find clothes and warmth and even luxuries.  And I did.  “I do what I need to do; I am a survivor!  You can’t stop me, because I know all about you.  I’m smarter than you.  I’ve watched you, and you have never watched me!”

 

Giving Your Power Away–And Getting It Back!

couples-counselingWe’ve all heard the idea of “giving your power away.” Most people assume that this also means that someone else has your power and using it against you. But that’s not quite right. Usually what happens is that people don’t speak up, don’t stand for what they need, or fall back in the face of someone else’s requests or actions

Relationship Counseling for Emotional Freedom

In my practice, I often do relationship counseling, both with individuals and couples counseling with two people together. Take, for example, Jordan, who feels he’s at the mercy of his girlfriend, Anne (names and biographical details have been changed to protect anonymity). Often, when on Monday he asks her out for the weekend, she tells him she doesn’t know what she’s doing over the weekend. When, midweek, he asks if she’s made up her mind, she gets angry at him and tells him he’s always hounding her. Then, 4:00pm Saturday she calls him up and says “come get me at 8:00—there’s a party at a friend’s house.” He’s angry because, after waiting for her to decide all week, he’s in the middle of catching up on work. With resentment in his voice he says, “All right” and heads off to her place. At the party, she barely spends any time with him and he wishes he had just stayed home. When he tries to tell her he’d like to leave now, she’s angry and yells that he’s no fun at all. This pattern of behavior shows how we can get stuck in relationship unhappiness and feel at the mercy of others when just a small but powerful change in behavior would create a sense of emotional freedom.

We Often “Teach” Others to be Inconsiderate

It would be easy to think Anne takes advantage of her boyfriend, and that she is selfish and inconsiderate. However, another way to look at it is that her Jordanhas “taught” her to be this way because he never requires anything of her overtly while inwardly resenting that she isn’t doing what he wanted to require. It looks like Anne has all the power and is using it against him. And this is true, to some extent. If she were a paragon of virtue, she would realize how considerate and generous and accommodating her boyfriend is and she would reciprocate.

In reality, hardly anybody does that; almost everyone takes what they get and, quite soon, becomes unaware that they’re even getting anything. It soon seems quite natural that this other person is giving and they just use what they are given.

What Can Jordan Do to Get His Power Back?

It’s like Jordanhas metaphorical feelers going outward, focusing on Anne. Imagine him pulling his feelers inward and noticing what he needs and wants and what he wants to offer and doesn’t want to offer, and acting from that. In other words, assertiveness. For instance, if he wants to go out with her on Saturday, he could ask her to do something specific with him. When she says that she doesn’t know yet, he could say, “OK. I’d love to go to the movies with you. If you can let me know by Wednesday afternoon, I’ll be available. After that, I’m going to make other plans.” And then, of course, he would need to stick by that and not give in to her at the last minute—or anytime after Wednesday.

Co-Dependence is Never Saying What You Want

The hard part about this is that, often, people are afraid that the other person will leave if they make a requirement. They become “co-dependent.”Jordanmay be afraid that he likes Anne more than she likes him and that if he doesn’t go along with whatever she does, she’ll go find another boyfriend. So he keeps on “giving his power away” and being miserable just to hold onto Anne.

Paradoxically, many people value people who make limits and stand by them more than people who don’t. In essence, people value those who value themselves more than those who don’t. It’s a risk, but it may be better than losing oneself and being unhappy.

For more on relationship counseling, see my Relationship Counseling page.

Wishing you a free and joyous life,

Zoe