I don’t need you to sort out my life for me.
Relationships… sometimes we just don’t get it.
Evolution has shaped a human mind with a highly advanced ability to imagine what’s going on in symbolic shapes, forms and patterns. Our ability to do this has co-evolved with thumbs, two legs, fire and one of the longest infant and juvenile stages of development dependent on parental support in the animal kingdom making us plastic beings, with plastic brains, shaping a plastic culture in a plastic world. Our environment shapes us and we, in turn, shape the world and ourselves by the way we see things individually and collectively. We become what we think about ourselves in relationship to others.
We have survived as a social animal. We have depended on the group and the group has depended on the collective contribution of individuals that make it up. Our sense of social standing as an adult, at least in a more traditional society, is dependent on our ability to contribute to the group. As an infant we are received into the group and all our needs, social and material, are provided by the group. As an elder we orchestrate group cohesion and become keepers of the wisdom of the tribe and manage the tribe’s relationship with the land, which provides all. Social capital and cooperation has been the currency of our survival as we evolved but things have changed.
We are increasingly self-sufficient. We provide for ourselves and, who we believe we are becomes fossilised in our ability to acquire and control resources that ensure our wellbeing on an individual basis. We live in a world of objects. We live in a dissociated reality separate from the things we can control or can’t. People become objects. We live in an increasingly uncertain world.
Our ability to get stuff done becomes our individual tradable value. Our ability to get stuff done with more efficiently becomes the driver of this form of value. Problem solving become the most prized resource we can develop but we cannot hack the fact that we are still social and emotional animals.
As a social emotional animal, the most important resource we have is the security of our place in the social group. We experience emotional discomfort – outside of the event of fear or anger produced by escaping from an attack by a sabre-toothed tiger or a war party from an enemy tribe – or disgust at a rotting corpse – when we feel that those around us may reject us. If our sense of social identity within the group is not honoured by relationships, rites, rituals and culture, we worry about what others think about us.
Today we turn to problem solving our emotions because we have lost the social processes, which guide us through different stages of our lives. But applying problem solving to uncomfortable emotions is doomed to backfire. This is because the emotional mind of the social ape responds to the imaginary object of the problem as an object of threat.
We wish to escape the cause of our emotional discomfort and by doing so create the imaginary threat as an object that needs to be avoided or excluded from our experience. But this is part of us. The habit of looking for discomfort is fed by the habit of solving it. The habit of solving it becomes a habit of separation. We seek to control. We never feel safe. We become stressed, anxious, depressed or worse. We cannot escape.
What diffuses this emotional discomfort? The answer is simply doing nothing about it. This is almost a kind of disinterested presence – at least disinterested in the problem but present with feelings of discomfort. When a person is telling a story about an uncomfortable experience to another, what’s important is to feel that what’s happened isn’t remarkable at all. Nothing needs to be done about it. There is no problem that needs to be solved. Why? Because this tells them that what they are experiencing doesn’t threaten the safety of others in their social network and reassures them that they are ok as they are. They are accepted. They are not going to be isolated or rejected.
(If this happens in a relationship with others that is a natural social process. We can also do this in relationship with our own story and feelings in meditation.)
And if there is something that can really be done to solve the problem this will normally become transparent one way or another, but the best strategy for doing something about it will only come when the mind that models conditions does so in a state of low emotional threat. Then the complex processes of the embodied nervous system may dream up a novel solution in a state of ease and what was previously experienced as a threat becomes the eureka moment appearing in the wandering mind and enaction becomes play.