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And please, be kind to one another.
"On a cold winter’s day, a group of porcupines huddled together to stay warm and keep from freezing. But soon they felt one another’s quills and moved apart. When the need for warmth brought them closer together again, their quills again forced them apart. They were driven back and forth at the mercy of their discomforts until they found the distance from one another that provided both a maximum of warmth and a minimum of pain. In human beings, the emptiness and monotony of the isolated self produces a need for society. This brings people together, but their many offensive qualities and intolerable faults drive them apart again. The optimum distance that they finally find that permits them to coexist is embodied in politeness and good manners. Because of this distance between us, we can only partially satisfy our need for warmth, but at the same time, we are spared the stab of one another’s quills.”
(See also: Elizabeth Gilbert on Schopenhauer’s dilemma and “having that critical little space, in which to be a little bit self-contained—to create your own warmth, your own sense of your own humanity—so that you could be close without being stabbed. The path to that is as close a secret to happiness as anything I’ve ever learned.”)
The busyness now is in pursuing some accomplishment, commodity, or recognition we think we want. We race to the end of our lives. Then at the finish line, we realize we’ve barely skimmed the surface.
I am going to step right in it.
It’s unavoidable. It’s inevitable. It’s mandatory. It’s practically the only way the process truly works.
Over and over people come to therapy hoping that this will be the one relationship where I won’t ever do the one, awful, terrible, hurtful, intolerable thing that everyone else has always done to them.
And then I do it. Or something kind of like it, or something only a very little like the terrible thing, but similar enough to bring it all back in a flash and make you feel the darkest déjà vu: “It’s happening AGAIN.”
I will be late, or forget your partner’s name, or double-book, or lose an e-mail, or push too hard, or seem preoccupied, or be masking a dip in my own personal energy, or be over-protective, or have a “tone” in my voice, or misunderstand, or misconstrue, or f-up.
And you will be absolutely sure that it’s proof that I don’t care, don’t value you, that I am crazy, or just like your ex-wife, or your father, or that I am too fragile, depressed, not keeping up, or that I left you – or am about to leave you – alone.
Sometimes it will happen right away, sometimes not for a few weeks, or even years.
But – inevitably – I will do it.
If I don’t, we probably aren’t connecting. We aren’t approaching the realm of intimacy. The terrible, messy, liberating sacred zone where your unconscious Self pulls on mine – and we slip, momentarily, into the black hole of our core conflicts.
Sounds like fun doesn’t it?
But that’s how it works. Really.
We all repeat patterns in our relationships, and the therapeutic relationship – although unique, with important parameters – is still a relationship. As we fall into our favorite tried-and-true dance steps, we all pull and lead our partners to fall in line. Even if we want to learn new steps – even if we want to quit dancing altogether – the old rhythms return.
So, whatever it is you want to break free from, we should expect it to happen, watch for it to happen. And when it does – that is our moment to strike! We can see it happening, live, in vivo, in our laboratory. If we can catch it, we can deconstruct it, we can explore what was at play, assign language to it for the first time, or rewrite the narrative, we can transform it, re-work it, create a new experience.
But, I will step in it. If you stay long enough, and want more from the process than some company while you wait out a disruptive brief crisis, I always do.
And so will everyone you ever love.
The road to all intimacy leads straight through the deepest hole of our worst fears and crashes smack into our darkest core conflict.
Lets not hope that it won’t happen. Lets hope that it does.