Tuesday, September 25, 2018

No Escape

Question: How do I determine my level in Riso & Hudson's Levels of Development? Is there a test for this? (Posted in a Facebook Enneagram group.)
I've thought about this anonymous person for weeks. (Perhaps a young adult, someone new to self-awareness practice, who doesn't see the heavy weight of ego dragging the desire to judge and label and fix, the assumption that we can force our development once we know exactly how we show up in the world?)

But upon further reflection I remembered when I was first introduced to The Levels of Development, well into mid-life, and my "fix-it" plan as a coach, a chart of how to move upward through the levels. It's taken me thirty years and engaging with many, many clients to see how my desire to "plan" movement upward was being dragged by my own ego.

Call our personalities patterns, fixations, strategies, beliefs, or addictions, any effort to "improve" or "fix" ourselves only brings more of the same, because ego lurks behind our efforts to be "better." Instead, we only need to be curious, to clearly see what shows up without labeling it, and -- each time -- we are a little bit more free.*

Each time, we can be with it and we can mess with it a bit. This week, for example, I'm observing how my current illness is symbolic grief for many losses over the past year and a half. I feel a little nauseated and I think of escapes -- "I'll go for ice cream, then I'll feel better." "I'll have a martini, then I'll feel better." I stay with the noticing, I don't go for ice cream, I don't pour a martini, and up come deep, racking sobs, my sinuses previously clogged up with a "virus" now loose with tears as I feel the grief.

We could analyze the above in terms of my style Nine patterns, my tendency to experience emotional blows physically and suppress my own needs/ emotions, my "poker face," my "narcotization." We could applaud Mary: "Wow, great that you let yourself cry."

But no. That's not what happened. I'm not a method actor, I can't make myself cry.  I simply noticed my desire to escape the physical pain and nausea and stayed with it, not escaping. The tears arose because for that moment I was free of the patterned behavior. Will I never again "narcotize" my emotions? Of course I will. And I will, again and again, be curious, stay present or notice when I haven't been present, and also be aware of freedom from trying to escape. There is no escape.

Instead of my long and ego-based quest for ways to change ourselves for the better, now I simply suggest this: read any page of any book by Pema Chodron. In the past, when stuck, I've especially benefited from When Things Fall Apart and (a decade later) The Places That Scare You. This week I'm re-reading Comfortable with Uncertainty
The central question... not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort... When the flag goes up, we can stay with our painful emotion instead of spinning out... gently catching ourselves.... we often think that somehow we're going to improve, which is a subtle aggression against who we really are... the ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest... the point is not to try to get rid of thoughts, but rather to see their true nature...

...this moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky -- that's called liberation... We become familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to fortify our cocoon [and] they begin to wear themselves out. Wearing out is not exactly the same as going away. Instead a wider, more generous, more enlightened perspective arises... Curiosity encourages cheering up. So does simply remembering to do something different... Anything out of the ordinary will help... you can sing in the shower, you can go jogging -- anything that's against your usual pattern.
* Note, from The Enneagram Institute: "... the movement toward health, up the Levels, is simultaneous with being more present and awake in our minds, hearts, and bodies. As we become more present, we become less fixated...."

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