This essay is in response to some conversations about trying to “fix” very difficult family relationships when the other parties may not really be interested in having the relationship fixed and may be resentful of someone trying very hard to patch things up. They may feel that it’s intrusive. And the person trying to fix things notices that the more they do, the more pain seems to be produced.
One of the things that strikes me in our conversations is the great value of separating the internal dynamics behind all of our relationships from the external person that triggers those dynamics. This is not an easy thing to do. I think it often feels impossible. But I know from experience that it’s critical. That doesn’t mean withdrawing from relationships. On the contrary. I can’t really relate cleanly with anyone unless I’m transparent to all the stuff that that person brings up for me in myself.
It’s difficult to distinguish internal dynamics from external ones but it seems pretty clear that we all spend huge amounts of energy – and generally cause increased pain – trying to fix stuff externally when it is predominantly internal stuff.
If I understand my internal stuff with someone, dealing with the external person usually becomes quite simple and doesn’t create more pain. It may not give me the result I wanted to but it’s clear what is appropriate and it doesn’t violate the other person.
The beauty of retreat is that it is time set aside to work with things on an internal level. As far as I can tell, it’s the most powerful way of doing so. Internal work isn’t necessarily a matter of analysis or changing attitudes or figuring out what to do. Internal work is much simpler. It’s a matter of being in touch, transparent and sensitive to what’s going on inside.
Someone could say that they’re already too dang in touch with a bunch of internal stuff and it’s driving them crazy. But this is exactly why it takes maybe 7 days in an environment that supports sensitivity and with other people who are doing the same. And it takes many such retreats for our deeper patterns to start to heal. The amazing thing is that given this kind of retreat time, the healing does take place and the ability to distinguish internal stuff from external increases. And the internal stuff becomes less and less troublesome. And so the external relationships become simpler and less pain-producing.
Paradoxically, in retreat it’s almost as though we forget all of the issues. Maybe they drift to the back of the mind. What’s in awareness is simple presence, some quiet, a relatively relaxed body, a feeling of in-touchness. As this grows, the healing energy of the body grows. From time to time, bits and pieces of our deep reactive patterns may reveal themselves in a simple way. I can’t explain how this results in healing of those patterns but it’s my sense and experience that it does. It’s very amazing that it’s not about wrestling with issues and figuring them out or coming up with a new attitude. Radical change seems to come from just abandoning oneself to each moment. Nothing could be simpler or more renewing. And yet somehow this quite clearly changes our reactive patterns outside of retreat, not by trying to remain calm but because the patterns have somehow come to light in a new way.
I hope that makes a little sense.