Eighth in a series [gs *]
This seems like a good place to clarify some terminology and values. If I’d done this up front, we wouldn’t have this story now. Rule number one in a dialog or conflict – make sure we all understand how we’re using our words. Number two, figure out what values are at stake for each participant.
In this instance, there are three or four ideas (terms or values) that seem essential to our misunderstandings:
The first is ‘oneness’. I could be misreading, but it usually sounds to me that by ‘oneness’ people mean something that resembles pouring two glasses of water together. Once combined, there is no difference between one quantity of water and the other. ‘Oneness’ generally seems to mean erasing difference and almost definitively to mean the absence of conflict. It always sounds so happy – like oneness is identical to ‘pure love’.
This happy ‘oneness’, though usually posited theoretically as an underlying cosmic fact, is usually spoken of casually as if it were something to be achieved or not achieved. To say “I want to be ‘one’ with you” presumes that in the moment of saying it, you are not. This happy ‘oneness’ is thus articulated from the perspective of separation.
In Buddhism there is a saying of mistaking the moon for the finger pointing at it. Whenever I hear that happy-sameness-oneness word, I see a finger waving around with a case of mistaken identity (same with ‘pure love’)
This happy ‘oneness’ seems to have been lunch-guy’s working definition – I could be wrong about that, but I was trying to discern his meaning for the term, and I didn’t get any clues that contradicted the above.
My ‘oneness’ is not like that. To me ‘oneness’ means we’re all part of one larger whole, upon which we depend utterly for every breath. There is no point at which you can say, absolutely ‘this is separate from that’. Thus, whatever state we’re in, we are still, always, symbiotically enmeshed with everything else. My body, the oxygen in my veins, the genetically not-me mitochondria in my cells, the micro-bacteria in my gut and the parasites in my eyelashes, along with the thoughts in my head, the aches in my joints, as well as the pulsing overlapping energies of all of those entities and whomever’s energy-body penetrates into ‘mine’ – these are all ‘one’ in my use of the word. And by extension, the ‘one’ of ‘me’ overlaps with the ‘one’ of everyone near me and everyone I’ve ever ‘connected’ with and all are subset of a larger ‘one’, in unending layers. But those parts of the whole are not all the same.
My oneness is more like an ecosystem, where wholeness and health demand diversity (which inherently includes difference and conflict). My oneness is not, a priori, happy or loving – or anything else. It’s simply a fact.
I don’t make this distinction to split hairs, or to badger, I make it first so you might see how lunch-guy and I got snagged in our conversation, and second because I think it’s important. In my experience, if you try to gloss over or avoid differences and conflicts and all the not-happy feelings, you may never get to anything deeper. The magic in the muck will forever elude you. So, as he was gushing ecstatically over his new-found finger, I was contemplating what a poor stand-in it was for the moon.
Plus, that conflict-evading happy oneness is more achievable (I think, I haven’t actually experienced this) in a context of generally equivalent privilege – or where only superficial agreement or change are necessary. Where there are differences in power and privilege, any effort to impose happy oneness (i.e. to deny, whitewash or side-step the conflict inherent in those situations) is merely a refusal by the privileged to acknowledge those differentials. It is the privileged imposing their own narrative on ‘the other’ – which really doesn’t make those others want to be ‘one’.
Here is a good summary of white privilege, if you don’t get what I’m saying here. The thing about systemic privilege is that it’s only clearly visible to those without the privilege. White people get to (are even trained to) be oblivious to white privilege, and men can be even more ignorant of male privilege. For the privileged, seeing it is a matter of choice and education. For the less-privileged, it is the mud they slog through daily.
The crucial thing for the privileged to know is that they can trigger anger, resentment, withdrawal, violence, subversion in a single instant of ignorance, and never even know what happened, in spite of terrible consequences for everyone. Those triggers can be released very easily and quickly, if the privileged are willing to deal responsibly with their privilege, but they can also destroy a group in an instant, if the will to acknowledge the impact of privilege is absent.
Being oblivious to the triggers of the non-privileged in any context is a dangerous practice, and one’s lack of intent is no protection.
Maybe it’s a sorry comment on my own life and decisions, but what I see happen most often when a non-privileged member of a group gets triggered, is that everyone dismisses him or her as incoherent, emotional, unproductive – they brush it aside and try to move on. People can be so eager for ‘oneness’ that they shut down the potential for effective collaboration.
It seems to me that awareness of the impact of privilege differentials has gotten lost in the mad dash to pop-spiritual feel-good-ism. A dash to greater meaning, peace, and connection seem warranted, but in the systems we’ve inherited, I think we’re still a long way from being able to implement that dash without trampling people underfoot and ruining what we’re trying to create. By my observation, rushing to outcomes or abstract ideals, without carefully examining the layers of our being-together as we deepen, almost inevitably involves one narrative dominating another. To me, that’s the same as someone, on some level, raping someone.
The missing voice passionately hates unexamined hegemony – seeing narrative dominance in action makes me want to rip heads off. And ‘happy-oneness’ is one of those narratives.
In any case ‘oneness’ – to me, is not something that we achieve or fail to achieve, because it already exists whether we know it or not. The question about ‘oneness’, for me, is never a matter of ‘if’, but ‘how’. Are we going to be ‘one’ in a shitty way that exploits or denies the other’s differences, and represses those underlying inevitable systemic tensions? Or are we going to be ‘one’ in a way that honors and respects each part of the whole in all of its unique glory? Is our ‘oneness’ going to be truthful and authentic, or is it going to conform to some mental agenda of who we should be in this moment? A ‘oneness’ that fails to surface conflict and differences, that cannot sit with ‘what is’ in the moment, an all-happy-sameness ‘oneness’, is at best a wishful illusion, and at worst, it’s a bid for power over something or someone.
Some days, just the word by itself makes me want to punch someone.
This is just me, based my life. It doesn’t have to be your interpretation. But if you try to ‘be one with’ me, (especially too fast) and you presume that I share your meaning, and that am going to do it your way, you’re probably in for a shock.
My ‘oneness’ is also based on my marriage. My husband and I would both say that the principles I think are necessary for group effectiveness; deep listening and respect for otherness; utter honesty about what exists in the moment; courage when ‘what is’ is conflict and pain – these are at the very core of our marriage, because we’ve learned, through trial and error, that this is what makes us stronger – as individuals and as a couple. We practice being with what is, and digging deeply into every little ripple on a minute by minute basis – and we experience, daily, that magic of discovery, breaking out of old deadening paradigms, increased connection, greater compassion, intimacy and erotic flow.
This leads us to our second difference in fundamental assumptions – regarding marriage. My idea of marriage is different from conventional assumptions. It’s not about procreation, convenience, tradition, other’s expectations, status, sex, love, security, or efficiency. No. For me, marriage is a spiritual practice. It serves the same purpose as sitting on a cushion for years and years, except it’s less abstract, more dangerous, and often very painful. To me, marriage is a crucible, a container that holds volatile elements together with the intent of catalyzing transformation. That’s it. Period. But I find it truly astonishing what comes from that crucible if you can survive it. To me, if marriage is not doing that, it’s not worth keeping. But I get that that’s just us.
I don’t expect anyone else to be practicing that kind of marriage, and I don’t judge other’s marriages based on my values. But I tend to be very careful around people whose marital intent is less clear, or less contained. Sexual polarity is powerful stuff. People who are less than conscious about how it works and who don’t know how to direct it according to their vows (whatever those were), are people looking for trouble. And I don’t want to be any part of that. I’ve learned those lessons.
Because of my view, my related word-use is broader than usual. If I refer to fidelity or betrayal, I’m probably not talking about fucking, or even touching. I’m talking about – if you say things to someone else about your marriage that you don’t say to your spouse. I’m talking about – if you share yearnings (verbally, energetically) with another because you aren’t getting needs met by your spouse, and you’re not telling your spouse about either the yearnings or where you are directing them. I’m talking, fundamentally, about two things 1) hiding ‘what is’ from your spouse, or 2) refusing to listen carefully to, or take seriously, your spouse’s ‘what is’. None of this necessarily precludes any manner of open relationships. But it does preclude lying or evading the truth – and that’s what I mean by betrayal.
And while I don’t judge other’s marriages based on my own values, a marriage (regardless of what type), has a powerful impact who you are and how you engage with the world. I don’t like to be around what I sense are messy marriages. People that lie to their spouses, treat partners disrespectfully, evade important topics that they discuss with others, violate one another’s privacy (by sharing personal details with others the spouse wouldn’t want shared), cast about elsewhere trying to meet needs they’ve agreed the spouse should meet (I don’t care how that is defined – I just want people to honor their intentions). I say Ick.
I’m not judging the people, I may even love them. I’m just saying – I don’t want to be around that behavior. I’m not the person you want to gossip about your extramarital affair with, unless you need a sounding board for making grown-up decisions about how to work through your conflicts with as little ugliness to the fall-out as possible. Nor do I want to hear you bitch about your spouse about things you won’t go home and address directly. It’s not that I judge you for being human – far from it. I just want you to handle it like a grown up, or else keep it to yourself. That stuff is so “80’s” to me.
I say these things so you understand where I’m coming from later on. Because I don’t think any of this was remotely conceived of in the mind of my lunch date that day, and those last three paragraph had a lot to do with how I responded to him.
Another word I probably interpret a tad differently from the lunch-guy is connection. It could get really esoteric, but I’ll just say that his ‘connection’ seems a lot like his ‘oneness’ – sort of mono-meaning’d and mono-colored – pretty. Mine is far more complex. Predator and prey are connected in the hunt, and in the kill. A baby and mother are connected in one way or another from conception through death. A master and slave are connected, lovers are connected. And a group, when it gets to the bottom of the U (in [gs Theory U]) and suddenly the future emerges, is connected. Like ‘oneness’, ‘connection’ to me is not about if, it’s about the quality of the connection – are we going to be conscious and responsible for how we connect, how our connecting impacts others? Or not?
Lastly, from my perspective, any interaction between a pubescent-or-older male and any female is fraught with gender and power and ‘otherness’ dynamics. Regardless of our wishes, gender, and the differences between how the masculine engages the world and how the feminine engages the world, are so wrapped up in power and privilege and meaning-making, that I still say – every interaction between a man and a woman is a microcosm of how each one of us deals with the power dynamics of patriarchy.
I don’t evaluate the dynamics between myself and any man outside the scope of gender and power dynamics. If you use male-privilege tactics to control or take advantage of any aspect of what is feminine in me, I notice it. If you choose to remain oblivious to your male privilege, I notice it. You may never have a clue, but I notice every little bit of it.
And if you want to get close to me, you have to learn how to honor womanhood – every woman’s womanhood, whether she’s your wife or your bus driver. So when I refer to male/female relationships, I’m not talking romance. I’m talking every single fucking sentence.
None of us is perfect, but, to me, any man who isn’t intentionally making at least a small-scale, interpersonal effort to stop taking advantage of the masculine hegemony (which is most powerfully upheld in these small, interpersonal dynamics) doesn’t get to use whatever gifts I have to offer. You won’t necessarily know about this expectation of mine – I’m not out to control anyone – you just won’t see much of me. I’ll be invisible to you, because I’m done with that game.
At least, I’m trying to be.
So – whether you agree or disagree with how I use my words, in what follows, at least you’re informed.