The last few days, I’ve been on one of my many regular road trips. This time, I decided to go to Mesa Verde National Park. It’s the last national park in CO I hadn’t been to yet. This one, though, is a bit different than the usual. Its main focus is education about the structures left by the cave-dwelling people of 600-1200 AD. I’m usually not interested in stories about history or museums, but once I got there, I was fascinated – not by the differences, but by the similarities to the modern human.
The first detail that hit me was their sandals. They made their own sandals out of yucca and human hair and they looked not too unlike Chaco’s (apparently Chaco’s were inspired by the Chaco pueblos). And then – their ideas. They made bread that looks a lot like our version of pie (but with partially chewed materials inside them). They figured out how to make reservoirs and even retaining walls! Their spears and bow and arrows and pottery and even their clothing woven from hair look almost exactly like our current versions of these items. They made extensive villages made of adobe built into caves – sometimes four stories high! Clearly their day to day life was very different than our current rat race (I daresay likely more relaxed and community-oriented/less lonely). And yet, when all is said and done, they were humans very similar to us with similar thought processes and shared activities and goals for survival. The ranger even told me that technically, we could as current-day humans viably live in these structures right now.
And this got me to thinking: I feel like a different person in even the last 2-3 years of my life. But how much have I really changed in reality? A few months ago, I would have said my thought processes and goals for my life changed dramatically. Except that about a month ago, all three of my partners were in a hot tub with me reading from a scrapbook of my writing from senior year back to childhood that I put together in senior year. Everyone commented how I haven’t changed much at all – especially in my beliefs and thought processes.
So what gives? Have I changed in foundational ways or not? Have we as a human race changed dramatically or not? Who are we under all the superficialities? Can we actually change – even and especially when we want to?
I went to a tantra class recently (the only one ever actually) where they separated us into groups and had each of us ask the others: “Who are you?” We each used one word or a small phrase to describe us and then kept going around the circle. Nouns were most typical: “Wife”, “Mother,” “Sister,” “Daughter,” “Friend,” “Dancer.” “Teacher.” It seemed to be consensus that our shallow descriptions of ourselves was satisfactory. And then the next question came: “Who are you really?” A sigh spread around the circle and we looked at each other with a newfound question unspoken: “Can I really trust you with this?” Suddenly, new and bold and vulnerable answers began spewing from us, feeding off each other. “Afraid.” “Lonely.” “A sexual person.” “A sensual person.”
The person who said “Afraid” happened to be my partner at the time. I suddenly saw him in a new light – not because of this word, but because he would share it openly with random strangers, but never with me. I knew he was afraid. In fact, I knew or felt that he was terrified. I tried in every manner that I could to be a safe space for him to be his true self, unedited. No matter how hard I tried, though, it seemed he hid more and more behind a wall of his own making. I think, perhaps, that my desire to be a safe space for him was in part because I’d noticed a pattern – that every one of my friends expressed often how safe it felt to come to me with feelings and thoughts and yet my partners at a certain point would often seem hesitant to share or completely unwilling. And to some extent vice versa.
What is that? This ability to be open, non-judgmental, compassionate people with everyone except the people who matter most to us? As soon as someone means something to us, it’s like we have to make sure there is a space within us that is ours and ours alone. We feel suffocated. At one point, we wanted to share all of us with them and then…eventually…we slowly but surely close doors to our heart one by one.
I insisted when I left D that I would not do this again – because I felt how much it hurt when D did that to me and how much it hurt me and him when I eventually locked myself away from him as well. Really, there was no coming back from it. And so, it was frustrating to feel myself doing it again, even what felt like against my will.
This all, I believe, goes back to the question “Who are you really?” Because *why* we do this to ourselves is, I believe, because of where we’ve come from, who we have been, who we want to change to be, and all the messiness between. All of us have had some sort of trauma – often from relationships (family, friends, romantic, or otherwise). Can you remember back to your first serious relationship? Or at least the one you wholeheartedly felt like you *loved* the person you were with? Was there trepidation or hiding of your self, your heart, your love? For me and for many people I’ve seen examples of, I think the answer is generally no. Why would we hide when we’ve (generally besides our parents perhaps) seen no huge reasons previously to distrust sharing ourselves with someone? It is only over time when we see example upon example of reason to stop sharing ourselves because of the result: being hurt.
It is easy to *say*: I see the pattern and I realize it will not necessarily *always* be the outcome and I wish to be the kind of person who wears my heart on my sleeve and lets potentially hurtful situations roll off of me.
It is not easy to *be* the kind of person who wears my heart on my sleeve and lets potentially hurtful situations roll off of me.
Who am I really? Someone who was opened up at one point like a flower – to her feelings, to love, to adventure. She ran wild with the freedom and her fear kept getting smaller and smaller until it was a small speck in the distance. She consumed the world like a hungry dog who hasn’t eaten in years. And as she consumed, she began to be given bits of poison, bit by bit becoming afraid again, consumed again by worry and doubt that every new morsel might be laced with another dose. Even as she finds more beauty and love in the world, she fears what may come, what feels inevitable: its thorns, its poison, its death. And so she builds walls – to see the beauty from a safe distance. But it is lonely behind these walls. Numbing,
Who am I really? A person who sometimes feels “big” and often feels “small.” A woman who often sees a lot of different escape routes, but has a hard time seeing the way to stay. She knows how to run, she knows how to hide, and she knows how to fight. She doesn’t know what peace looks like or how to keep it. She knows how to lose, but not how to win. Even when she wins, she focuses on keeping the win safe. She is terrified. She wants to save others because she doesn’t know how to save herself.
Who are you really? I ask this of you because under all the masks you’re wearing, there is at least one that is true and there may be parts of it you don’t want to keep. And you may wonder if you can change them. The stories you tell yourself are just that – stories. My story above is one I wish to discard aspects of. Namely: fear. Again. The most courageous person looks fear in the face and walks right on by it. I want to be that again without destroying everything in my path to get there. I changed once…or thought I did. Would it be that hard to do it again? Maybe I never really changed the way I thought I did.
One of the things humans can do that separates us from many animals is meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). Not all. Rats and monkeys and many other animals can do this too. Meta-cognition supposedly makes us capable of making complex informed decisions and specifically to change our behavioral patterns. What I find interesting for myself, though, is that I often have a disconnect. I can *logically* see incorrect thinking on my part and work to find a new solution. And yet, emotionally, I am incapable of integrating the information I “know” in my head until my heart is damn well ready to hear it. There is no forcing it. There is no convincing it with logic, with words, with anything. Eventually – sometimes months or years down the line – my heart gets what my brain “got” a long time ago.
Being polyamorous has been a long road of this frustration. I can fully understand and agree with the concept of “compersion” for instance (being happy for your partner being happy with someone else), but actually feeling that? Geeze, I’ve only really honestly felt it a couple times. I can fully understand and agree with the idea that I want my partners to be free and happy and autonomous – whether or not it is with me. And yet, my heart will often tell me when they are happy with someone else that they are abandoning me and it makes me hurt so deeply that it feels like it will make me die to be happy for their happiness. I am better at sitting with it, breathing, knowing deep down that I will be okay no matter what. But I wonder every time whether it will ever change – whether my heart will truly know what my brain does. Will my heart ever feel it is not under attack? Will it ever stop watching for danger in the innumerable ways it does?
We live in a world that trains us in the way it wants us to be in the world – including how it wishes us to feel, think, and behave. So it’s a huge simplification to say “Just because we have the ability for meta-cognition, that is enough to change at will.” It’s like telling someone addicted to nicotine that all they need to do is stop picking up the cigarette. It’s not that simple. I’m sure most anyone who smokes would tell you they know it’s not a good idea for them to smoke – for their health, etc. That doesn’t mean it’s as simple as saying it should be so and thus it is.
It seems to actually honestly change something deep inside of us requires a lot of work. And that work often requires tricking and rewiring the brain/un-training it subconsciously or just…time and practice confronting the issues over and over again.
How do you go about changing something you want to be different inside of you? What techniques help you in facing those issues? Do you think you really inherently change you to do that?