Blog: Relating to Relationship Part 1: Interdependence

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

In a recent podcast, Robert Thurman, noted Buddhist scholar, asked, “What would you do if you realized that you would never be able to get off the subway car you were on this morning – that you were going to be with those people for infinity?”

For one thing, it would probably change the way we viewed those people. If we are all in a subway car together cruising through eternity, it would probably be a good idea to start figuring out how to get along.

I have spent many years trying to help people figure out how to get along through my Depth Hypnosis practice and teaching. Mostly I try to help people figure out how to get along with themselves – because you really can’t get along with anyone else until you have yourself figured out.

Unfortunately, it is usually easier to figure out others than it is to figure out yourself. I, for instance, seem to be very helpful in helping others figure out their relationship conundrums, but I seem to be a very slow learner in understanding my own.

Fortunately, our relationship conundrums with others are excellent vehicles for learning about ourselves. So we don’t have to wait until we have figured ourselves out before we enter into relationship with others. It all seems to be a pretty synchronistic figure eight. In relationship, you show me something about myself and I show you something about yourself. It should all work pretty smoothly, but somehow it does not.

Even though relationships are probably one of the best, most efficient vehicles for the development of awareness and consciousness, most of us do not recognize them for what they are. This is usually because we are trying to get away from our own experience. So we cannot see it for what it has to provide us.

There are many good reasons for wanting to look away from our experience, mostly to do with pain or the fear of pain. But if we cannot tolerate being present with ourselves or with others – and even with our pain – there is a lot to learn. There is even a lot to learn from our resistance to being present with our experience.

I encountered a very disturbing bit of data in Sherry Turkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age: Average teenagers today would rather experience electroshock every six minutes than sit with themselves alone for six minutes. This data point is the tip of the iceberg of a very extreme state of being that has become commonplace. It is difficult to stay present long enough with ourselves and with each other to recognize what we are being shown by relating with one another.

Not holding attention or not paying attention is one great way to avoid being present with our experience. I have often said that people who have been diagnosed with attention problems such as ADHD or ADD just need to stop and figure out either what they cannot look at or what they cannot take their attention away from in order to begin to find a way out of the attention problem. But I think we can offer the same advice to pretty much everyone.

It seems like most of us are not paying attention to what our relationships are showing us for a good reason: because we don’t want to know. Or because there is something else we have our eye on – probably patterns established in a previous relationship – that is keeping us from focusing on the current relationship. Let’s look at the first reason for not paying attention – because we don’t want to know.

If we are having a problem, it is probably a good idea to know about it. But that bit of wisdom seems to escape many of us. We think we can just look away from a problem and it will go away. Or we won’t feel the effect of it, if it does not go away, if we just don’t pay attention to it. This is a dangerous attitude, actually.

For one thing, this attitude is one of the most common entryways into addiction. I can’t tell you how many alcoholics I have talked to who tell me that their main strategy in drinking is to drink until they can’t feel the thing they are trying to get away from. Somehow, they manage to convince themselves that if they can’t feel the problem anymore it does not exist.

For another thing, the cumulative effect of looking away from multiple issues confounds our ability to know what our experience is at any given time. This, of course, makes it difficult to understand what other people’s experience is. We totally lose clarity in understanding why we form relationships. And the dynamics we experience in relationship become part of prism of unacknowledged experience that distorts our perception of reality.

This makes it difficult to make decisions, set goals, feel a sense of purpose, or know what it is to be in connection with anything around us. Again, it is a dire state of being that has become commonplace.

What do we do about the state of confusion we find ourselves in? As you may guess, given what we have been focusing on, one step on the path back is to try and get present to the level of confusion and distraction that we are creating with our effort to not be present. As Ken McLeod points out, in Wake Up to Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention, we are not paying attention enough to recognize that we are not paying attention. We have to start by paying attention to the effect our not paying attention is creating in our lives.

Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring the different strategies we employ in order to pretend we are not on the same subway car with the rest of the world – or even with ourselves—and what to do about it. Stay tuned!

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