I’ve been practicing suspension of thought in conflictual conversation for a long time- out of unpleasant necessity. The couple’s counselor who introduced this concept described putting my thoughts in a car in a parking lot. That just didn’t click. The trust that I’d be heard, the my feelings were valid and important just wasn’t there. Waiting for my conversation partner to finish what felt like a tirade felt more like making myself open to a barrage. Tons of meditation, practice with making self validation all I need, and separating the words spoken from an attack on my identity got me to the place I am now. Having written that, this process is very much like telling a child that the mean names and teasing that other kids call out really means nothing, especially if you know who you really are. It’s so hard to grasp how that can be true when words hurt or seem to have malicious intention.
Erik and I spent a bit of time working out a scenario that I presented from the prior week, which was a better example of frustration that remained in Field 2, than my ability to suspend thinking. In my first example I was able to suspend judgement and thinking for a long while, but eventually I can’t. It’s like I’m holding up a dam that just cracks and floods. What makes this process even more frustrating is that its not a small issue, and it’s been ongoing with no progress. So each time we encounter the topic again, the threshold for patience is thinner. I told Erik that it’ been painful to see my classmates integrating these concepts readily in the workplace and with their children, while I’m in an apparent stale-mate with my partner. Especially frustrating that I know I have these skills from my experience in couple’s counseling, but my approaches have been ineffective. I’ve been wanting this conflict to shift into the 3rd Field for weeks.
Then I realized that the prompt wasn’t, “Laura, have you gotten that conversation into Field 3 YET???” And recalled that I had a great example of being a very strong listening container. I shared with Erik about the evening when Josh and I were painting our living room, and he silently grudged and built resentment, even though I invited him to tell me what was going on. He didn’t want to- until finally he exploded about his difficult week at work, how I was doing everything wrong, how he wants to be in his art studio… I had a few things going on, too, but absolutely trusted that I could soothe myself. I fully listened to Josh spew his unchecked frustration. Later he came to me to ask if I needed to say anything. Honestly, I didn’t. And if I’d said anything, it would’ve taken the air-space that his words desperately needed. His words needed much longer than a pause, I explained to Josh. His thoughts were (still are) important to me, and needed to have the space of the full evening. Josh is typically pre-emptive and perennially armored for backlash. So my response significantly deviated from his expectation. Later, he told me that it took a lot of courage to say what he said. Without any alterior motive I acknowledged that, yes, it IS scary to bear out thoughts, not knowing how they will be received. I decided to “take my turn” even later.
Erik reflected how sometimes the presenting issue actually isn’t the issue that needs to be addressed. The problem isn’t “who let the pizza burn” it’s something deeper and systemic. Figuring out which to address and how is a challenging skill! In the scenario I shared, the obvious issue that needed tending was helping Josh feel heard and safe to speak (in this case shout) and build a container slowly, layer by layer. The long standing issue will be there later. When it comes to laying aside the real issue to put out immediate fires, I tend to feel like the child in the playground with no buffer against the man names other kids are calling out. I do take it to heart that a relationship gets stuck in superficial tension, rather than seeing the elephant in the room. This is where my Buddhism practice helps me let go, even it’s my nuclear family in strife.
I admit now that I entered the conversation with Erik feeling very protective and private about the conflict -not wanting to get far into relationship squabbles and diminish Josh’s dignity- even if Josh doesn’t know he’s being talked about. Erik gave me the go ahead, so I trusted him.
At first I didn’t get Erik’s suggestions…maybe they weren’t clearly articulated for me, or I didn’t see myself doing what he put out. Then he described helping them see the beauty of what they were doing. My own words for this is to highlight the fact that we are two sweet people just trying to figure out something very important, and maybe frustrating or painful. And this is okay. And we can have compassion for this.
Something specific that I implemented from one of the readings in a conflict with Josh was to say “I- I” statements. I know better than to use “You”…and even “When you ___ I feel ____” doesn’t help. So when Josh and I returned to talking things out, I only said, “I notice right now that I am ____.” The argument didn’t escalate, and it gave ME a container -one that I needed to cultivate badly, since the lack of progress has been wearing me down. Erik reflected a scenario with his girlfriend, where he thought to himself, “I am only a healer.”
I instantly took to this suggestion because it shifts any victim mentality to the empowered role of serving. I envision literally stepping out of the upset and hurting me, and into the healing me. Healing Laura has a wider vantage than victim Laura. When I’ve provided a safe container in the past, I imagined the other person as a glass jar, just simply showing me it’s contents- totally neutral and accepting. As I’ve said, I felt too workout to continue this and Victim Laura needed to go take a nap.
I tell Erik that I notice how I feel so much more at ease in my body than when I told him about the scenario. I felt more optimistic. We compare our thoughts on anchors- mine is the yoga dristhi - a non moving focal point to concentrate on during a pose. A less spiritual way to describe this is to keep your eyes on the prize. We keep riffing on the idea of anchors, and then- I notice that we are in the generative field!! Whoo-hoo!!
It IS possible to high-five on Google Hangouts!
Since then, Erik has written me an email about how he was able to diffuse tension using the things we talked about. In my own scenario, Josh came to me with new insights, so my ability to create a container for myself and for us made the key difference. Being out of town for two days surely helped, too. Sometimes that space to speak needs to be very big.