Mixed up, if not dissociated

A mixed up day, or life, can end with beauty and at least some clarity

This day was a curious mixture in my experience. First, the experience of absence of a colleague I felt the need, and was expecting, to talk with; then a good presence with another who I wasn't expecting to talk as much with as I did. Straight afterwards, there was a meeting between a small group of us Art of Hosting practitioners in Belgium, which I was expecting would be just average, but it turned out to be unexpectedly satisfying. Then, what is currently one of my weekly doses of Collective Presencing; and that is what I would like to dwell on this evening.

In her ‘framing’, Ria was mentioning (psychological) dissociation. We split into two groups of about 9 each, and got down to check-in and dialogue around the question we are holding in all these Friday sessions at present, which brings in images of the dark forest and wildness. In our group, the check-ins varied in tone, from quite up to quite down. One person was telling a story about using a no-kill mousetrap, with the inherent tension between wanting to be rid of the mice, but not wanting to harm them. There was the contrast between, on the one hand, feeling good about being in a smaller group with more space for everyone's contributions, and on the other hand, being separated from others we have got to know well and want to be with.

This all chimed in with my own mixed feelings: on the one hand, awkwardness and frustration; on the other hand, surprisingly deep connection. But what really struck me was the way in which dissociation itself was enriched with extra meaning.

There was a feeling among us that dissociation was being downvalued. We always want to be fully present, don't we? Dissociation means that we are less than fully present, so that's not what we want, right? At very least, we don't want other people to dissociate from us – maybe that's at the heart of it. If we want to focus and dissociate from what is around us (playing chess, maybe?), or if we just don't have the will or the energy to deal with a troublesome tangle of emotions – most likely, some from the past, some from the present, some from anticipation – then why not, indeed, dissociate from that, temporarily?

Just checking up on what is said about dissociation on the web brings up different aspects as well.1 Yes, it's common and makes sense in some situations. Also, yes, it can be a problem. If you're stuck in a permanent dissociation, how will you ever get to integrate, to engage all of your psyche including your shadow, and develop personal integrity? How could you possibly engage in a practice like Collective Presencing?

A rare and special sense of tenderness, vulnerability and closeness filled our group. What came up in me were these words:

You, the dissociated one, you may feel that you are in a trap, but you are not dead; you may feel lost but we have not lost you; take your time, you will return, you are still loved, you are present for us even though you may not feel you are present with us

It resonated with others, suggesting to me that it was not ‘me’ who was the author, but something around me. It seemed to me that there was a deep desire for that dissociated one to be understood with great tenderness, care, patience; not labelling the dissociation as bad in any way, but just letting them know that the collective was holding the presence that they were temporarily unable to recognise in themselves.

And now, after the event, I see this as an appearance of the same spirit that was in the telling of the parable of the prodigal son.

Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son

For me, that resonated back with the good conversation this morning. Where we imagine one person to be the ‘boss’, we are in a hierarchical organisation. When we see one person as the ‘authority’ or ‘guru’ or ‘therapist’, we're still not in a peer-to-peer collective. But how can we find guidance then? What I've understood in my heart for a long time, but never fully experienced in real life, is that the collective has a higher potential than any one of us individually. We can all be imperfect, and we don't need to enthrone any other one, because the collective, if we are playing a living part in it, can play that role for each of us. Two writers come to mind: first, Arnold Mindell, who distinguished ‘leadership’ from the wiser ‘eldership’;2 and second, Parker Palmer and his ‘circles of trust’,3 which set out one proven way in which the circle can guide every member of it.

In this way, no one is shut out from their own personal growth, by having to carry authority projections, which can anyway lead to ‘egoic capture’. Authority has its place, of course; but no individuals are gurus in 5th order consciousness. It's easy to get that mixed up.

1: For instance: Dissociation Is Not Always a Mental Illness and Dissociation - Is it Dangerous or Normal to Always Zone Out?

2: See Arnold Mindell's "Sitting in the Fire" ISBN 9781619710245, Chapter 13: The Metaskills Of Elders (p.184)

3: See Parker Palmer, "A Hidden Wholeness" ISBN 9780470453766

Topics: Collective Presencing; Complex psychology; Personal development

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