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respect & regard

I created this graphic in an effort to better understand what respect means, or at least what it really means to me.

Sometimes I'd think I was being respectful. But the reaction of another, or a reaction within, told me that wasn't true.

One pattern I noticed was, I was falling back on regard for accuracy. I would say what seemed true & correct, from a factual standpoint. And I told myself hey, that's respectful, what's more respectful than the truth? But something about it felt hollow, sometimes even aggressive or defensive.

Another pattern was, I'd fall back on honesty. I'd share how I honestly thought & felt. In my mind, I told myself this was respectful, because I was sharing my honest self. But others often seemed turned off by it, or even actively bothered by it. And when I looked within, I found I often felt worse after dumping my honesty. Maybe temporarily relieved, in a numb or spent kind of way. But not fulfilled, not refreshed, not whole.

Being a head-type, it makes sense to me that I'd rely on these two approaches. They allow me to pour out words without attending to my feelings in real time. I either run a truth program in my head and spew the results. Or I do a flash assessment of my mental and emotional state, and then go on a rant about them. Neither involves checking-in with my emotions as the words come out. It's more like running an algorithm or pulling the string on a doll's back.

I created this graphic in an attempt to better understand what respect really looks like. Having regard for honesty & accuracy are two parts of it, for me at least. Having regard for feelings is the third piece that finally made the picture feel (hey!) whole.

One insight was, I couldn't really tell how another person was feeling. I could imagine - but that's mental, speculative. It's not really a connection to the other. It's reacting to my internal notion of the other. Alternatively, I could read someone's reactions. That's better than pure imagining/speculating. But it still involves interpretation & characterization - room for my biases and blindspots to creep in. And our expressed reactions - facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc. - don't always reveal how we truly feel inside. I realized regard for feeling meant regard for my feelings as I talked.

I felt something in myself click. Maybe being a head-type was, in part at least, a way to stay away from my feelings, to bounce around in the abstracted mind rather than feeling the raw sensations of the body. And maybe a big reason my conversations didn't feel respectful is because I wasn't respecting my own feelings, my own body, during the conversation. It seemed like I was, when I was being honest about how I felt when I started my monologue. But respecting my feelings meant attending to them as they unfold and shift in the present moment. In other words - what I wanted was feeling, rather than reporting how I was feeling the last time I checked.

The graphic above has helped me remember this dynamic. It's useful as a guide going into conversation. I've found it far more valuable, though, as a way to gauge & correct course during conversation. And not just conversations with other people, but in conversation - any interaction, really - with the world, or even just with myself. If something seems off, awkward, disconnected, etc., that's an invitation to check my regard. Do I have regard for the accuracy of what I'm expressing? Do I have regard for the honesty of what I'm expressing? And do I have regard for my feelings as I'm expressing?

For me, it's most often the third piece that's missing. What's cool is, when I begin regarding my feelings more, my honesty & accuracy tend to improve as well, kind of like teammates reciprocally stepping up their games. The three aspects feed off of each other, in vicious or virtuous cycles. When I'm cultivating regard, monitoring regard, & gauging regard, in real-time, the cycles tend to unfold more virtuously, to the benefit of me and those I'm interacting with.

It's usually not easy.

For one, I'm addicted to mental absorption. Many of my habits are geared toward operating conceptually & not attending to my feelings. To the compuslively conceptual streak in me, feelings seem like messy & irrational data that just confuse & clog. I've been operating that way for years. It's been a gradual & fitful process to integrate feelings in my sense of self.

Another difficulty is, even when I accept that my feelings are valid & valuable, my mind then turns integrating them into a project. It creates programs, rules, formulas, etc., to get the project done. Mind being mind.

The trouble is, while it's applying these efforts toward the right goal, it's doing so mentally, which draws attention further into the mind, rather than toward feelings. In other words, its methods are well-meaning but ultimately counter-productive.

I'm finding that engaging my feelings in real-time is a repeated act of surrender & engagement. Surrending attachment to the mental streams I'm addicted to fishing. And engaging the ocean of feeling I'm so accustomed to avoiding. This is hard even when I'm alone. Doing it during conversation is waaay harder.

What's working best for me so far are simple things. Noticing the sensation of breath. Noticing the sensation of the heartbeat. Noticing the sensations in my belly. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are all along my center line - connecting with these spaces literally centers me.

Trying to gauge & interpret my emotional state - this quickly (sometimes very subtly) turns into a mental operation. I'd always equated "my feelings" with "my emotions." Now I'm embracing a more literal notion - my feelings are what I'm actually feeling. The sensations themselves, rather than concepts around them. Interestingly, when I engage the sensations rawly, the regards for honesty & accuracy naturally articulate them into emotions. I'd been mentally trying to shortcut my way into understanding how I feel. Thereby bypassing the first step of actually feeling.

This new method involves trusting the feeling part of me to feel, the expressive part of me to express, the informative part of me to inform - without running an effortful mental program attempting to do all three once. The energy that was devoted to operating the overfreighted mental program is increasingly devoted to real-time regard & gentle adjustment. I'm less engaged in absorbing & internally-impressive mental gymnastics - a way of getting high, stroking ego, & avoiding feelings. Instead, it's more like tending an inner campfire of regard. Warmth, light, & welcome. Ah.

I want to acknowledge something at the end. Progress has not been linear. In fact, the more I operate in the new way, the more savagely the old way tries to reassert its power. Addictions die hard. And the mind is clever, resourceful, quick, & at times ruthless.

I'd be lying if I said this was getting easier & easier. And I'd be lying if I said it wasn't.

It is easier & easier to recognize the addiction in action, to apply the new methods, & to be honest with myself when I'm out of alignment. In other words, my skill is improving. That's true.

But my mind steps up its game, kind of like an arms race. The difficulty level often seems the same, & sometimes seems even worse than before. The mind unleashes flurries of pain & torment to try and get its way. No matter how wise my response ultimately is, the onset always hurts, & frustration builds. That part, for me, honestly never gets easier. And the more I think hey, I'm getting the hang of this, it's getting easier - the harder I fall when the pain & frustration return. In sum: it sucks, and sometimes it sucks really damn hard.

I go forward in faith that eventually there will be a tipping point. I don't pretend to know when, or even if, that will happen. Well, I do pretend. But I recognize in moments of honesty that I don't really know, & can't really know. I see that it's happened for others. I believe it's possible for me. I see progress in my skill. Beyond that, I'm hoping.

I like to think it's the addiction that will break. Something tells me though that what'll actually break is me. Well, an aspect of me, not all of me. Something I believe I need - pride maybe, attachment to ego, inflated self-conception? Something that can't be willfully surrendered or defeated, but must be broken against its will. A dam clogging a river. A phoenix primed to burn. A cliff giving way to the sea. Something like that.

I don't know.

I do know that this new way feels more authentic & leads to more fulfilling interaction. And I know the old way can't deliver those results, no matter how charmingly & torturously it insists. The pain & struggle are worth it, for those results alone.

I pray to remember the truth of what works & what doesn't.

I pray for the tipping point to come.

I pray to let my obsessing over the tipping point go.

There's a campfire to tend.

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