I love to live in denial.
Not deliberately, of course, but it kind of slips in around the edges, hovers just outside of the edges of my vision. And the funny thing about denial is that I don’t even know it’s there. And when it finally swims into focus, the wake up is often astonishing. Like finally noticing a giant black hair that must have been growing out of my chin for weeks. (And yikes! How does that happen? How did I miss it when it was just a little hair baby?)
This is how it goes:
My ex sent me an email to let me know that he was dating again.
I sit, staring stupidly at my computer, trying to register the polite words on the screen, “I don’t know how to come out and say it, so I guess I’ll just tell you: I’m dating again.”
The flood of unexpected feelings is fast and hot. I have been punched in the chest. I am angry, I am hurt, I despair. I have been abandoned, cast off. I am alone.
And as all these feelings engulf me, and I surprise myself by crying over my keyboard, the strange little (and not unkind) thought surfaces, “Well, I guess you weren’t quite as over that as you thought, were you.
Reality in yo’ face
Reality checks can be extremely uncomfortable. Suddenly, the way we had viewed the world, and the way that the world actually is, collide. Perception and reality square off, and, friends, reality always must win.
Sure, we can shove it down, push it underwater, or cover it with blankies, but ultimately reality is our benevolent and relentless teacher.
My ex’s email was a wake up call. My attachment to him was exposed, like an upturned rock can reveal life swarming beneath a quiet surface. The rational part of me that glossed over the breakup was shattered, smeared by the emotional monster underneath.
The crack in my reality armour was revealed.
In relationship, these moments happen continually: at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.
When we are just starting to get to know someone, it is so tempting to fill in all the missing pieces with our favourite hopes and dreams. We project-vomit all over our subject, endowing them with habits and desires that are surely compatible with our own. Or sometimes our projections produce anxiety and fear, as we fill in the unknown with the necrotic remnants of previous hurts.
So the practice becomes staying in the unknown.
As we move from dating into relationship, the practice becomes to keep our eyes open. Discerning the real from the unreal is viveka, or discernment. As well-wired neurological beings, we will shape our perceptions according to what we expect (or want) to see. Seeing our date or our partner for who they really are requires wiping (and re-wiping, and re-wiping) our perceptual slate clean so that we can experience them without our own agenda.
As my ex-husband and I split, I noticed that an alarming distortion began to permeate our relationship. He began to say he “didn’t know me at all,” and that (despite 4 years) I “wasn’t the person he thought I was.” To cope with the ragged awfulness of the split, we began to turn each other into strangers. It was easier to believe that the other person was “wrong,” “evil,” and “selfish” than to sit in the reality of a mutually created split. However, being “right” hardens us and divides us from the tender and complicated truth. In conflict, the far more difficult spiritual path is to feel the whole scope of the situation, and to uphold what we need to do nonetheless.
- Get comfy with uncertainty.
- When you notice yourself fantasizing about an imaginary future or conversation, pause. Stop. Do a one-minute meditation and breathe. Bring yourself back to the “is-ness” of the now.
- Be open to real information.
- See what you see. Hear what you hear. And feel what you feel.
- When you notice interpretation happening (“He didn’t mean that.” “She must have meant….”): Stop. Ask. Get more information.
- Notice what you wanted it to mean, and ask yourself why.
And finally, be sweet to yourself.
When reality strikes, take a breath and pause. Give yourself some space to process and integrate.
Reality is the gift that keeps on giving. The more we soften to its wisdom and reflection, the clearer our vision can become.