In my life, I’ve had the good fortune of recognizing the continual presence of formative partnerships in my experience. When I look through the course of my years, I am unable to delineate a time when I was truly alone in my existence, alone in my experience:
whether in romantic union
in deep friendship,
in the constructed character's voices in my head,
In the language formed by an author before my eyes on the page of a book,
in the casual encounter at a poignant moment,
or wrapped in the comforting-yet-containing arms of my family,
I have always had others with me.
These others reflect my experience back at me and illuminate for me the world around me, as mirrors in a stand lamp reflect the light of a room and make it more visually perceivable. And like lights, these others cast different shadows on my experience. In this way, I cannot pinpoint a moment I was without a teacher or guide. I cannot assert that I have ever been without reference or framework at the most, or contrast at the least.
At times this has been maddening. Sometimes the need to be “alone,” to find “center,” to forge my own path, is overwhelming. In this state, I will try, try, try and try to “get out” or “make space.” This is really a form of resistance, a form of control. Control brings suffering, usually experienced by me as a “melt down” (a loss of my presence and, ergo, my ability to proceed with my daily commitments at a level I find satisfactory). Alternatively, I cling unhealthily to or lash disrespectfully out at those who surround me.
Eventually, I realize that there is no place to go, no where to get to. I remember (if that’s the verb for how my mind functions in these moments: I mean the kind of knowing that’s a blank space) - I remember center may not exist after all, not in the way I’m imaging: whatever I am is no-thing, no-one, except in reference to the rest of that which surrounds and reflects me.
So I have learned firstly to take everyone as a teacher, and secondly, to understand that some of what is taught are lessons in distortion... some lessons seem to me incomplete examples, are gestures, or are ideologies derived from very specific viewpoints which I may not comprehend intellectually. And yet, I must learn from them anyway, in order to gain a more complete, a more whole understanding.
It’s as if my sense of self is at the center of a fun-house. For every mirror which provides a reflection which resonates as “true” or “correct” or “the thing I would like to be” there are hundreds of examples which to me look twisted, bent or malformed. Are they truly those things? Or is it my perception of them, my inability to see their completeness, see the completeness of their point of view, point of perception, that makes me fail to learn from them? Do I recoil in fear at their foreignness, at the strangeness of their lines and patterns echoed back at me, and in doing so do I miss an important opportunity to learn?
Are my expectations of what my lessons should look like getting in the way of my learning? And if our teachers are our mirrors - isn’t any incompleteness we perceive really just a reflection of our inability to perceive ourselves?
Questions notwithstanding, the lessons are reflected back to us, there to attempt to learn from, if we’re brave enough to do so. Sometimes the repetition of these reflections makes us react very strongly, very negatively, and as we attempt to push the reflections away, they draw ever closer. The reflections force us to see ourselves in whatever way we find so horrifying and confusing, and from that we find a way to evolve. Other times, the lessons are reflected as beauty, as potential, and perhaps we stare at these reflections for a long time, to understand how to “be” in the way that is being reflected, or maybe just to admire the existence of such a lovely resonance.
Whether we like the reflection or not, it’s up to each one of us to integrate into our framework (our processing, our conceptual understanding) the lessons that our teachers, our reflectors show us. Otherwise we become stagnant, and if we are stagnant, the system suffers. And that’s where the work of experience lies. But we don’t have to do it alone - no, we can’t do it alone! For all-one-ness is easy to come by, but all aloneness, is very rare indeed.
So what’s a being to do? Collaborate, ask questions. Decode the differences. Watch how a teacher proceeds in experience. Seek to understand the reflection, not as a reflection, but as an entity in and of itself.
By working with my reflections - clarifying and sussing out the expectations, the values, and the process of how any teacher’s image of experience is created - I find the commonality between myself and my teachers, my reflections. This gives me the in-sight to see their experience from where I sit, and I become able to cite (sight) my guides in describing myself.
This requires vulnerability and patience. This requires me to allow, deeply, for differences in language and subcultures. It’s like looking for the lowest common denominator: and sometimes I have to choose to work with a denominator which I know is not the best, or the most complete, but which gives me enough connection to proceed in my understanding, enough connection to accept the reflection. Knowing the self is the work of lifetimes. As long as I’m willing to accept and attempt to integrate the information provided, as long as I’m able to collaborate, my work is supported deeply and daily by every other being around me. And for that, I am deeply grateful.