A line from a timeless Crosby Stills and Nash song came to me the other day, as if from nowhere. The line was “your father’s hell/ did slowly go by,” from the Graham Nash song, “Teach Your Children.” I started singing what I could remember, and remembering a few lines made me curious about the rest.
The lyric resonates right now for many reasons. One is that I’ve been reading Hauntings: Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives, by James Hollis. The book is a brief (and still somewhat wordy) exploration of the way our genetic and cultural heritage—the mistaken notions and broken dreams of our ancestors, parents, families, teachers and culture—are foundational and pivotal to the assumptions and belief systems that underlie and drive our individual attitudes and decisions.
When a gasoline engine is running out of gas there is a point when it races for a moment, as the fuel/ air mixture “leans out” just before it quits. Many of us go through these times and survive, but when the lean-out is combined with age, overworked internal organs, and general weariness, it sharpens the argument that one of these periods will be the last. I’ve been there with my parents and other friends. It’s different for each of us, but I know it’s big, no matter what. I’m aware this will be me and my kids, in another blink.
The second half of “Teach Your Children” shifts perspective to the children. “You of tender years/ can’t know the fears/ that your elders grew by.” Here’s the other side, the invitation to consider that youth needs humility as well. Maybe your elders have done as well as they can, under trying circumstances.
The turnabout comes as we look at one another across the ages with understanding and open-minded humility. I am you and I’m not you; there is no conflict here unless we lock down on one side of that continuum. Our individual dreams can feed both ways. Just as elders have to recognize that children have to go through their own hell in order to pick a dream they’ll know life by, children do well to respect that their elders had to do the same thing—and it probably didn’t come out as they hoped, or planned.
The same invitation closes the children’s part of the song as did the elders’: “Look at them and sigh. Know they love you.” Sometimes words won’t do what love will.
The Work: Applying for Integration
I've recently become aware that in some ways I hold on to chronic pain and difficult, repeating emotions as if I’m harboring foreign refugees. I can be patient, accepting, kind, understanding—but at some level I’m still hoping they will go away.
Recent work with various awareness practices has been helping me realize these guys are citizens. They are me, here—in fact central parts of me, simply waiting to be fully integrated. Most of the distress I feel is in the denial, the fences, imaginary borders.
These are my sensations, my people.
They keep coming around, applying for integration.
I can be more curious.
I can ask them to dance.
It's always true that this moment is the still point that all the other aspects of life flow around. It’s only in “now” that we are actually alive; the rest is all memory and projection.
When we feel that urge to “fix” something in our lives it’s generally a wish that we could lock-in and hold onto a fleeting state. “When it was good” or “what we imagine would make it good” fills our focus and we wish we could nail that down.
But life keeps flowing around the still moment. We can forget to rest into the majesty of all that’s around us, as this moment sails steady-on through the vagaries of experience. The practice of opening fully to what is, now, is central to this work of recognizing all that we are.
When we apply the tools of mutuality to our individual spiritual journeys, material surfaces from the depths of our life experience. With subtle handling we can open to free association with these essential aspects of who we are. The challenge can be in our relations with the natural protective shroud of emotion that tends to contain this material. Integration begins here.
When we apply a context of trust in Being we find a place to stand. As we lean into trusting what arises before us we can use that perch to take the time to be curious about our responses and reactions no matter how dark the circumstances might feel.
From such a place of trust and safety, and mutuality with ourselves, we have the opportunity to shift focus from noticing a feeling we dislike to the curious circumstance of disliking a feeling. In the light of inquiry we often find that the naked emotion itself is no longer difficult—that it was the attached judgment that turned us away.
In a welcoming environment more of who we are will be encouraged to come out to play, to be seen, to integrate. It’s up to us then to nurture that atmosphere.
Collaboration in Creation
To make the container of relationship or group dynamic work we respect one another regardless of our differences of opinion or belief. When someone is talking we really listen—and we generally listen more than we talk. We make statements as clearly as we can, and try for additional clarification when it’s clear we’re not getting ourselves across. We say “Yes” to taking the leap of being vulnerable, and to being truly present to the best of our ability. A steady attention to our own humility and patience comes in handy throughout.
A Living Collaboration
Such an openhearted dynamic is a living collaboration in which what’s said and felt by each participant tends to bring up powerful resonance for all. We find commonality in the mutual expression of being. We expand our awareness as we find where others are reflected in us, and find where we are reflected in them.
This space we collaborate to create is exponentially bigger than any of us alone could experience. It’s not likely to be quite what any of us imagines it will be; it’s always far more.
Mutuality is often presented as a tandem exercise: I’ll hold you in mutuality if you hold me in mutuality. There’s a tacit understanding that it takes two to tango—that two people have to be engaging the practice for it to be mutuality. It’s a useful way to learn.
As we take increasing responsibility for our experiences, mutuality flowers into a deeper and more powerful way of holding and viewing others and the world in general.
Encountering any other being becomes a chance to recognize all Being as an integral part of who we are. We begin to do our best to hold everyone (and everything) in that spirit.
Mutuality then becomes our attitude toward life without restraint as we meet and open to ourselves everywhere.
There can be a great opportunity in any dynamic in which we feel deeply let down. If we can hold ourselves and one another with a measure of Trust in Being—if we can be circumspect and open to what’s happening, like it or not—we have the opportunity to stand witness to our fears, our division from others, our sense of separation from all that is—even our sense of separation from ourselves.
The splits available to be perceived in such a time can highlight the difference between the ego’s version of trust in being, and recognition of higher level, or divine Trust in Being.
We aren't only our bodies.
The body/mind/ego wants to live-on in this incarnation, so when disappointed it tends to hunker down and project possible disasters in a landscape it perceives as changing or being out of control.
A recognition and focus on the realities of human embodiment brings us into contact with what can be appropriate bodily concerns for survival, safety, and comfort for ourselves, our families, even the world.
When we perceive a possible future that is uncertain, egoic trust in being takes a hit. We aren’t so sure. Luckily, we also aren’t only our bodies. We have deeper resources, whether we know it or not.
When our embodiment as human is supported by a strong focus on consciousness and mutuality, we begin to draw sustenance from those parts of our greater being that know we can trust what is happening, no matter what, because it is happening. It may not be what we hoped for or became attached to, but here we are.
We can own it, and wonder. We can use our imagination to envision multiple outcomes, some of them hopeful. We can know that it would be a waste of our energy to suffer what’s happening, when we could instead trust and apply our grounded energy. We can be at peace, by choice, even without understanding. Such a stance has powerful leverage.
This morning I was moved by an article written by Cielle Backstrom. Cielle’s article is about compassionate listening, and makes clear that the powerful dynamic of sharing and feeling heard does not even require that we speak the same language.
This says to me that we don’t have to intellectually grasp the logical content of what is being expressed. So much of the power of the dynamic is simply that other beings are there with us, doing their utmost to hold a context of open-hearted love and acceptance for whatever we have to say.
We attempt to put into a few honest words what we are feeling in the moment. We try to say it clearly but know even as we do that the words don’t quite say it. We’re talking about something beyond words—about what it is to BE, and be human. That’s what we all experience—each in our unique way—in this field of wonder and positive regard. In this way we add ourselves to one another, a little at a time, each recognizing and accepting a bit more of all that we are.
It’s easy to use the practice of mutuality with others to mask a lack of the same deep honor and respect for ourselves. Mutuality with others is an outward behavior, it’s obvious, a public expression—others can see, experience, and respond. In community consciously practicing mutuality, we place a great deal of emphasis on learning to engage in this outward mutuality. We feel success as we become practiced at displaying heartfelt mutuality with one another. It’s visible and beautiful; we deserve to feel good about it.
How we relate to ourselves, on the other hand, takes place in the private inner rooms of our awareness, where no one else can know what’s happening. It’s up to the individual to explore, to become aware, to feel into it. We don’t have to show it, and generally we become pretty skilled at not fully revealing what goes on in there, even to ourselves.
With attention to a self-focused mutuality practice we can learn to apply a true, humble, and ever-deepening love and care for ourselves—just as we are. As we reveal that light, the benefits touch not only our own lives, but all life.
Art and Practice
Don Freas is an artist, writer, and poet in Olympia, Washington.