Field Notes


January 31, 2024 - 0 Comments

Field Note

February 1, 2024





The best way out is always through.

~Robert Frost

We must not wish for the disappearance of our troubles but for the grace to transform them.

~ Simone Weil

It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it never had shone.

~John Steinbeck



















Many of you may see or hear this title and wonder, “Huh? Why would I want to magnify the problem? Don’t I want to get rid of it? Surely, it makes no sense to want to make the problem bigger than what it already is.”



Indeed, I cannot emphasize the prevalence of ideas of what might be called common psychology, or common consciousness, strongly enough. Within this consciousness the automatic reaction is to want to destroy the problems we encounter, and as quickly as possible. “I must defeat this feeling,” “get past this,” “overcome my tendency,” “kill this feeling,” “think and be positive” and so on with the view that the difficult ‘problem’ will automatically dissolve and a new and better way of being will emerge! However, as many of you know it is not so simple as this, and of course this urge with which most of us are familiar is quite understandable. It is surely the survival instinct showing up to protect us, and yet such short term efforts to ‘solve the problem very often will work against our real interests. And in more global situations the idea that we must destroy our enemies to make the world right is, and has been, dominant throughout history. As we see this has not solved the tendency to solve global problems through military means that continues to this day. Perhaps we can do our small bit to exemplify a different way of being in our own relationships.



I propose that we take a closer look at what we automatically say to ourselves and then attempt to perform when we encounter problems in life. If the problem one encounters is deep and intractable enough, that means that the problem has enmeshed itself within your consciousness and way of being to such a degree that it seems no less than a part of yourself—even an integral part of the self. If that is the case, then, you cannot just get rid of the problem without ripping open, cutting, and breaking into yourself. Put the matter this way, I hope my reader can see that within all these expressions of ‘getting rid of problems,’ there is an implied sense of inner violence or violence against your self, particularly the core of who and what you most authentically are.



I would further propose that the origin of this inner compulsion to ‘get rid of problems’ lies in seeing problems you have as your enemy. Once seen as enemy, then it’s only natural and logical to want to get rid of or eliminate the enemy. You ask: “Are you suggesting that we see our problems as friends, then?” Friend rather than foe?



How about seeing yourself at those extreme moments as a crying baby who is inconsolable? A newborn is both part of your self and not part your self. And I am quite sure you do not think that actually annihilating a miserably crying baby, or even a child who  is misbehaving, would be a good idea.. I propose that viewing the persistent problem you encounter as like one’s crying baby or as a child whose vital needs have not been met is helpful in learning how to grow and develop as an outcome of those painful moments relived. When such needs have persistently not been met, this recurrent experience results in arrested development, and significant damage in the growing child in the form of personality formations that takes possession of the life energy, or perhaps we might better say the soul of the child, and oppresses and even suffocates it, not totally but sufficiently to compromise their development of becoming the most authentic way they can be.



So, how does the idea of ‘magnifying the problem’ come in here? Here is a further analogy to move our thinking forward. If your car is not functioning properly, you take it in for a service check and analysis. If you don’t feel well, you might go to your doctor and describe your symptoms and then your doctor may order some tests. The point I am making is that we best sort things and repair or heal them by getting a good idea as to what is actually going on, and in the personal realm understanding your personal history is a central support for this understanding that is required. However, as I endeavoured to show, when it comes to having bad, unpleasant, or uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, and behaviors there is a great tendency to attempt to do whatever is familiar, namely to attempt to get rid of the offending and unpleasant feelings and thoughts. I will add that this is something that is embedded in us from all aspects of our early childhood experiences and then ongoing into adulthood, including school experiences, culture, peer culture, religious affiliations, political environment, and so on.




The Process and Practice of Magnifying

Let’s now talk about this process and practice, and particularly the phase of magnifying the difficulty. What this means is not making the problem or difficulty worse. Rather, it means looking at what is actually happening in order to see the ground for re-initiating the long ago arrested developmental process. In fact, we are applying the magnifying ‘glass,’ not to make things worse, but rather, to see what is going on in a bigger, more nuanced, and detailed way. When we do this though, chances are that we feel worse than before we put our magnifying glasses on, which is understandable. It is important to realize we really only are seeing the actuality of this experience. We are not ‘making’ it bigger. We are seeing how big it actually is.This type of practice of course involves becoming more willing and accustomed to actually feel and acknowledge what is painful for us, and as it is happening in the moment.



I think this latter point bears stating again. When magnified our experience of unpleasant, uncomfortable, and negative feelings seemingly increases. We can remind ourselves that what is being experienced is what has long been avoided: namely, however bad it actually is and always has been, albeit hidden in the shadows. The emotions and body sensations will be much stronger than before the magnification, which includes learning how to be with such experiences for a sufficient time period.



As you are now addressing what is actually there, rather than using the well programmed ‘method’ to avoid and evade these feelings and sensations. Adding to this are any delusions that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact what you don’t know that is lurking in the shadows of your entire being, creating a stress in your psyche-soma that eventually will lead to some kind of systemic failure.



To reiterate, unacknowledged psychological pain and conflict in your inner world will indeed hurt you. The timing is unknown, but if there is inner friction that eventually wears on the body. For, mind (the emotional, the psychological) and body (the physical), and spirit are interconnected: holistically speaking, they are one; kokoro is a Japanese word that identifies these dimensions as one thing. Emotional and psychological friction lead to an increased rate of aging, and eventually the weakest parts of you will begin to manifest symptoms and illnesses. Many reputable and well-known authors have written on this subject: (I refer you to Gabor mate’s book, When the Body Says No; and Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score). Reducing psychological stress through inner work at the deepest levels is also good for not only life extension but also having a more exuberant life experience.



To review, what we are looking at is magnification that shows you the depth, breadth, countours, associated feelings, body sensations, behavioral patterns, and the path to knowing the history associated with your life, and the particular experience that has opened the door to a more in-depth knowledge of your life experience.



To aid you with the magnification process, here are some suggestions:


  • Identify an experience:
    • Reactions to
      • an individual
      • a world event
      • a physical symptom
      • a loss
      • helplessness
      • victimization
      • any experience that is a reminder of previous woundings



  • Rather than moving on from your discomfort, you can choose to stay with, and study your reactions in the service of
    • Learning about your tendency to move on
    • Developing your capacity to tolerate what is a new experience and what may be increasingly uncomfortable.
    • Learning to be with your own discomfort and your pattern of reactivity (remember to distinguish between reaction and response)



Watch for “Flickers”: small signals that come and go in a flash and that you may barely notice. Behind this barely noticing or not noticing could be a well-developed pattern of dismissing these small signals as unimportant along with the important information that they contain about your life





I am aware that I have a feeling of fatigue in and around my eyes.My usual reaction that I now notice starting to unfold is, “Oh, I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I had a conflict with a close friend who treated me very unfairly. I am stressed out.” This last is my pattern of seeing the problem as ‘out there,’ which is not to say that there is not something out there. I will tell my wife about my problem and get some sympathy. Again, connecting with another, and not being alone and isolated with personal troubles is usually a good idea, and the material for deeper work resides in your own inner world.



I focus my attention on the physical experience. I notice that it is not actually my eyes but the surrounding area. I also notice that my brain area, the inside of my skull, particularly behind my forehead has a feeling of fatigue. I have a sudden totally unanticipated non-rational shift, and I am suddenly aware of the world and current conditions of violence. I feel suddenly weak and helpless. [I particularly encourage you to respect and follow such shifts. It is potentially your unconscious, maybe your soul, speaking!] I have a thought, “I don’t know what to do.” I have another thought, “What can you possibly do about all that?” I feel a sense of loss, loneliness, and despair. I do not like having these feelings, and yet I do. I suddenly notice a line coming to mind that I attribute to Leonard Cohen, “There ain’t no cure for loneliness,” and I quickly realize that the original line is “There ain’t no cure for love.” I have substituted ‘loneliness’ for “love.” Hmmm, what can this all be about? Surely, experiencing lack of love, love that is shown by real and authentic attention from people that matter when growing up, or anytime, can and likely will impact  my ever-developing capacity for fully engaged attention, and having such attention ‘turned on’ is certainly some kind of remedy for loneliness and isolation and when it comes to the world’s troubles I see the macrocosm of my own inner difficulties in terms of patterns and systemic inter-connections.



On a more personal level I recall my quite conscious awareness of being very different from my neighbourhood friends as a child, recognizing my difference in understanding from my parents, the felt, though not actual, loss of my extended family (who were not what I imagined them to be. So, I lost my imagined family; a good and valuable reality check), and as I grew into being a teen-ager, young adult, and eventually an adult, at least in years; recognition that my values and interests were quite far from those around me and subsequently being beset with loneliness and despair. As well, I had a cultural difference, my Semitic background that I had no idea about as a factor until well into my adult years. The further adventure for me was and has been increasingly accepting and valuing my difference. I also recognized, based on experience, sometimes very hard experience, that I would be, as Machado the Spanish poet put it, be on “a path made by walking,’ and, that at times, I would need to employ relational and at times customized martial skills in order to preserve my integrity both as who I was and am, and to hold myself up ethically and morally.



Concluding Observation

There seems to be a very strong tendency in humans to react and a great inability to respond. As I have written previously, reaction is automatic and programmatic. Response is attuned, sensitive, fits the context and circumstance, and is fluid and flexible in each and every moment; indeed a tall order and one that arises out of increasing knowledge as to who you really are. I have previously talked about how to work with reactions so that one is responding rather than reacting. In this Field Note, I focused on how to work with reactivity, and particularly with the patterns of your reactions. In your work, it is essential to recognize the identity and stage of your developmental stopping point, and work to nurture the growth and development of this ‘little’ and ‘young’ self.



Further, this process of arrested development due to some degree of lack of attention, care, support—in short, love—creates ‘sticking’ points, what is referred to as the ‘impasse’ in gestalt therapy, and as the ‘edge’ in process oriented work. This phenomenon does not just pertain to individuals. It is also very evident in relationships, groups, families, and organizations. The overwhelmingly powerful tendency here is to stop at the developmental edge of the ‘lowest’ common denominator. What follows then is likely very familiar to most of you: telling the person what to do, getting angry with them, pitying them, shunning, and/or ostracizing them. In short, non-recognition of otherness; in essence a significant erasure of that person that is representing something that is other than I am. What needs to happen is finding the ways for the whole group to take responsibility. This would be in line with principles and practices of deep democracy. I have talked about this in some of my previous Field Notes). Deep democracy is, at the individual level, inner work with all the disparate parts of yourself, and, at the group level, working with the relational and non-relational parts of yourself and the group. In essence, deep democracy looks for and encourages the common human factors and their recognition and effort to address, understand, and include ‘otherness.’.



My intention with this Field Note has been to convey the great value in noticing, studying, and putting the magnifying glass on your experience, particularly in paying attention to the Shadow material within you.



Many thanks to Heesoon who, as usual, is behind the scenes helping with ideas development, writing, structuring, and fine-tuning.


Shalom to you all for now!



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