Once, a number of years ago, I remember sitting in a couples therapist’s office, driven by what seemed like 10000 traumatic memories surfacing in my psyche and my primary relationship simultaneously. I managed to compress them all into one single complaint: “She treats the dog better than she treats me.” While the therapist looked directly into my eyes, she actually spoke for my partner’s benefit: “Be kind to Mark,” she said, “And he will deliver you the world.”
Not surprisingly, that directive brought me to tears, not only for its kindness and its clarity, but also for the essential truth it cut to. The therapist seemed to see through all the confusion and hurt directly into my truest true heart – a genuine desire to be an agent of healing presence, service and kindness – in that relationship and in the world.
If only being present, kind and healing were that easy.
In My Defenselessness Kindness Lies
Most of us (who don’t carry around the genetic neurophysiology for psychopathy) I believe possess true hearts just like mine. Those hearts unfortunately get buried under this, that or another Adverse Childhood Experience – none of us escapes childhood unscathed. Later, as adults, few of us wake up one morning and proclaim: “Today feels like a great day to be distant, wounding and unkind!” So, most likely something else must be at work.
In many cases when traumatic reenactments are surfacing for one person in a relationship, closely connected traumas which dovetail perfectly are also being triggered for the other person simultaneously. While my own brain’s transference and projection operations were working hard to paint my partner as my mean and critical abandoning father (transference and projection care little about pesky things like gender continuity), her brain was busy surfacing me as her angry, distant and disengaged mother. Heinz Kohut, the founder of Self-Psychology is famous for his observation that “the mark of a good relationship is when only one person goes crazy at a time.”
If only scheduling insanity to take convenient turns were that easy.
Tension Is as Tension Does
One thing I notice is that I mostly walk through the world with a degree of low-level brain and body tension, a kind of defensive tightness designed to protect me from some sort of impending unkind sneak attack lurking over the horizon. It’s something I need to be continuously on the lookout and at the ready for.
As a consequence my brain and body are often surprised when instead, kindness towards me from others shows up. More often than not it cuts through that tension and takes me completely unawares. A big part of the reason every couple of years I post an invitation to donate to the research I do for this blog is because of the way it makes my brain and body feel. When a notification from Paypal shows up in my Inbox, how I read it is: “Someone wants to be kind to you!” I experience a palpable release of tension in my muscles and a shot of pleasure neurotransmitters in my brain. I can exhale. I am reminded that there are people in the world with demonstrable capacity to be kind and an intentional desire to promote safety and well-being. My kind of people. Not only that, but I take great joy in knowing the research that shows their kindness profoundly benefits their own brains and bodies!
Knowing what I know about how the senses take in energy and information and how the brain creatively constructs and compiles the inner sensory world I experience, you would think I’d be much better at touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing kindness than I am – that (in words Gandhi never spoke) I would be able to BE the change I want to see in the world.
If only giving and receiving kindness were that easy (not to mention quoting historical figures accurately).
Can’t We All Just Get Along Little Doggies?
There are nearly 8 billion other human beings on the planet, and all of us to one degree or another are busy co-creating our own sensory experience of the world. One day, I fully anticipate, a critical mass of human beings will wake up and find kindness no longer feels surprising in the least. It will simply be the direction the human race has ultimately run. Feel free to quote me on that. Accurately.