Crossing the Chasm
When I do something that stimulates pain in another person and they tell me about it, often the trajectory for me is generally the same; I start out thinking that it’s all the other person and none of it is my fault. I protect myself and place all the blame elsewhere. Even in talking to someone else about it I notice that I frame it to remove all responsibility from myself.
We teach a process or map called Making Amends that can reconnect us to the other person. I’ll talk more about that map in another post, but before we can use it, we need to get to the point where we are willing to use it.
This can feel like a big chasm; we’re standing on one rim, feeling disconnected from ourselves and the other person, blaming, judging, and protecting ourselves, and not wanting to know their side of the story but definitely wanting our side to be heard. Far off on the other rim we know there’s a possibility of being willing to hear the other person and take the steps that might lead to reconnection, but it often feels like there’s no way to cross the chasm.
After all, it’s easy to say “just forgive” or “have compassion” or “put yourself in the other person’s shoes,” but how do we actually do that?
As long as we stay in the blame and shame game, where it’s either all our fault or not our fault at all but all the other person’s fault, we stay on this side of the chasm. It’s a process to cross over, a process we must choose to go through if we wish to reach the other side. Here are a few thoughts about what I have found helps make that choice easier and concrete ways to cross the chasm.
When I’m in my own distress about a situation, I can resist going into any process; being willing to shift into self-connection comes from being aware of the pain I’m in and wanting relief from that, as well as from the experience of having that pain relieved in the past through self-connection. If you’re getting started and don’t have that experience yet, just try it out and see what happens for you; you can fairly quickly begin to build up that experience.
There are many different ways you can go about self-connection; the way I do it is through breath, body and needs. I focus initially on my breath, elongating it, making it more regular, and feeling it enter and exit my body. I then check in with what sensations I’m feeling in my body. Finally, I look for what needs of mine are or are not met. If I find myself spinning out in my distressing thoughts, I return again to breath, body, and needs.
Doing the self-connection process makes it easier then to go into the Enemy Image Process, the map we use when we have a judgment about another person. I find it very helpful, particularly in a situation where I am still highly stimulated, to have another person support me in going through this process. The other person keeps me focused through asking questions and supporting me in the inquiry process. When I do it on my own it’s easier to get caught up in intrusive thoughts that tear me away from doing that process and carry me back into believing my judgments.
In the Enemy Image Process, we deepen into the needs of our own that we are trying to meet in the thoughts we have, and then begin to guess what might be going on for the other person. We then consider what we have learned from connecting with our own and the other person’s needs, and how we might want to proceed.
Doing all of this self-connection work gets me to a point where I’m willing to really hear the other person and be in the making amends process. Even after years of practicing, I still have to do this work before I am able to fully be in the process. It’s still a huge chasm for me to cross; I cannot just flip a switch and say that I’m going to make amends. My initial reaction is still that the other person is wrong and I’m blameless.
I experienced this in a recent retreat, where a facilitation I did in the midst of a number of things happening in the room resulted in a participant feeling very hurt. I only found out about it the next morning, and I felt so upset and misunderstood; I was in distress over how it could be that I had gone to sleep with this idea that I had done a really sweet piece of facilitation and celebrating all the needs met, only to find out that one of those involved had been highly triggered from it and her needs not met at all. I had no compassion, no interest in seeing my contribution to the situation; in fact when I first sought support I could even see how I was trying to shape the story so that I would be blameless.
I could try to do the steps of making amends while still on this side of the chasm, but if I did, my underlying thoughts and judgments would leak out in my words, tone, and body language. The process would not be as likely to work even if I’m saying all the right things because my intention wouldn’t be in alignment with my words.
Since I have a lifetime of trying out the route of staying on the blaming side of the chasm and seeing the unsatisfactory results, even in these times when I am in my own pain and distress I know there’s another option and that in choosing it I will much prefer what unfolds. As I go through self-connection processes, I can get to the point where I regret that I’ve had the impact I’ve had, and sincerely mourn the consequences of my actions, all without sliding into blaming and judging myself. I begin to be able to see how the other person’s reaction makes sense, not necessarily to me but to them. I’m better able to step into their shoes and get it from their perspective.
We talk about how our training includes both personal growth and skill development, and this is an example of how those two are different. The skill development is knowing the map of making amends, the language to use to convey what we want to communicate, tracking the process and knowing where we are in it, the likely impact of some language over other language, and so on. The personal growth, though, is having done it enough times to know that I want to do it—I want to cross that chasm when I come upon it because I can more clearly see the other side and the promise that lies there. I have done it enough so that I can do my own self-connection work much more quickly (in this case in three hours while I was facilitating a training) so that I can reach out to try to heal the rift.
We build a bridge across the chasm by doing these practices, and each time we do the process we are strengthening that bridge, making it a little easier to cross the chasm the next time we find ourselves on the rim.
Post by Ike Lasater with Julie Stiles