Mapping and Stage-appropriate Action
The better mapped we are on the legs of love and wisdom, the better we will understand what we need to do each step of the way to keep life vibrant with meaning. Mapping helps us find stage-appropriate action. The rule of thumb for mapping is to make your actions stage-appropriate so that you can fully engage your turning points when they come.
The most needful thing is to possess the discernment to distinguish the major turnings from the mini turnings that lead to them. The mini turnings, though they too involve choice and bring meaning, and make a difference, are less deeply transformational. Mistaking the mini for the major is to mistake the shadow for the form, or the backwater for the current. To traverse the great turnings well, we have to recognize the turning of turnings when it comes and comport ourselves appropriately in it with an eye to attaining our time-sensitive freedom.
I count three principal mini-turnings leading to the big turning of turnings, the one’s Ken Wilber, following Hegel in the Phenomenology of the Spirit, treated as the great dualities of life. The first requires us to recognize the split between self/world, the second between ego/body, the third between self-regard and self-loathing. Wilber wrote of these,
“At the Existential Level, man imagines himself separated from and therefore potentially threatened by his own environment. At the Ego Level, man fancies that he is also alienated from his own body, and this the environment as well as his own body seem possible threats to his existence. At the Shadow Level, man even appears divorced from parts of his own psyche–from the point of view of the spectrum of consciousness, these terms all refer to the same process of creating-two-worlds-from-one which repeats itself, with a new twist, on each and every level of the spectrum.” 1
The three basic dualisms weave into all dramas of love and wisdom. In my view, we can stabilize the dualisms, but we cannot overcome them for long without deceiving ourselves.
The stable dualisms tend to fall apart in crisis times. Falling apart is what makes them adaptive. We must know when not to resist it. That takes mapping too. Our work is to put them together differently once they decohere. That’s when lovers change their aims and seekers after wisdom reject their current understandings.
It takes an odd but important kind of strength to accept the paradox that comes with holding your intentions firm while accepting the impermanence of the self that does the holding. That firmness-in-fluidity gains you a point of purchase in the ‘now’. From that place, you can apply enhanced moral leverage to your actions.
This amplified power in the moment I think of as the existential equivalent of leverage, on an analogy to the mechanical advantage one gains in using the simple tools, the screw, the inclined plane, the pulley, the lever.
If we can muster intention appropriately and make choices timed to the turning moment, a small implementing gesture, itself a slight per-turbation to the ongoing rhythms, can initiate a bifurcation that brings amplified effects into the world. This amplified power does best when expressed rhythmically. Our sensory-motor grace, mental agility, firm intention, imagination and courage come together in the leveraged moments. (I explain this more fully in # 118- 121)
Only in the moving ‘here’ that rides on the fleeting ‘now’, can you focus the energy of your intentions to a point. Stage-appropriate action brings personal power. Moreover, personal power is inherently ethical because it rests on choice.
Wounds to Love and Wisdom
In an imperfect world, mapping shows the actions we can and cannot take. It points at the deeds we have not the strength to perform along the legs of love and wisdom. Mapping shows us our wounds and reveals the pain in them and plots the misdirection they cause us. Face it. Nobody gets through life unscathed. We carry our injuries along with us. Our wounds create leg-specific breaks in our approach/separation and withdrawal/return patterns. The breaks interfere with our actions. They keep us from fully engaging our natural inclinations. Most importantly, they undermine our capacity to give and receive.
With good mapping, we can learn to see how our wounds stop us in action in specific places on the legs of love and wisdom. Experiencing our wounds as wounds to action, we will become less likely to mistake the sensory changes accompanying them as threats to our well-being in themselves. We’ll know where we’re at. Even in our failures, we will have achieved more meaningful transactions with life.
I stress meaning here because meaning deprived people are always poorly mapped. They do not know whether they are coming or going in love or wisdom. They do not clearly experience the alternation of both legs within each dynamic. Failing to experience the power of turning points, they cannot really connect the legs of love with each other. In wisdom, each step seems like an independent process, parts of an unconnected series of “moves” going nowhere with no clear purpose. Approach, separation, withdrawal, and return don’t fit together as sequences in a series.
In the tensions of modern life, the modules of the mind that shape behavior defend themselves against encroachment. Each draws on its own style of aggression. As if one could foreclose on one aspect of the polarity love without distorting the other. As if one could separate without approaching. As if one could redesign wisdom by excising the need for withdrawal from the need for return, or vice versa. From this misapprehension people lose contact with the desirable movement of one phase into the other. Lacking authentic turning points, they never acquire the skills to manifest their best intentions. They do not appreciate their strengths or know their weaknesses.
Eventually our conditioned fears dispose us to favor one side of the oscillation over the other. To the extent that our experiences in any one sensory zone nurture and please us, we favor that zone and reinforce it. However, when we encounter harsh treatment, and the harsh treatment repeats, and we associate it with sensory cues at certain sensory distances, we avoid going there. It follows from this that approach, separation, withdrawal, and return develop characteristic shapes differently in each of us. Those whose energies are dominated by the interpersonal may have difficulty withdrawing into themselves. Those whose energies are dominated by the internal may have difficulty in the interpersonal world. You and I are different. We endure different blocks to action.
We accommodate ourselves differently to the visceral realities of our gains and losses in love and wisdom. We react differently to the sensory immediacy of other persons, to the different circles of sensation, to the ring of solitude and silence in our lives, to the stress of change, to our experiences with belonging and estrangement and giving and receiving. We have faced different obstructions and aggressions along the way; life is hard for us in different ways; we have different needs and different motivations. The peculiarities of the way we learn to move through the four distances, our state-dependent associations with each, the emotions they evoke in us, the balance of inner and outer senses employed, the kinesthetic memories of our early caregivers, especially the anxieties transferred to us by our parents at specific distances, condition us to live certain lives and to seek certain loving relationships.
These basic differences cut close to the bone. They give us our temperaments, and, with these, we come upon the contrasting ways we respond to opportunities and danger.
That is to say, our capacities for love and wisdom, our eagerness for them and our outgoingness on the legs of return and approach are idiosyncratic. We each go down a path of possibilities at our own rate and readiness. When our wounds are deep and festering, we lose our way and customarily hide our confusion and dislocation from ourselves. We compartmentalize and quarantine our injuries. Our psychological defenses make our memories selective and unreliable. The wounded areas grow shadowy in our consciousness. As time passes we can hardly depend on our sense of our own pasts, so clogged with compensatory fictions, false regrets and phony enthusiasms have they become. Moreover, these memories of explanations become as solid as memories of events. They much more readily spring to mind because we repeat them endlessly to ourselves in order to justify ourselves to ourselves. They form our behavioral repertory, our modus vivendi. They instruct us how to deal with estrangement, rejection, disappoint-ment, loss, betrayal, confusion, anxiety and distress.
People who get hurt too often and too hard, who carry many wounds, may after many sharp losses and failed turnings give up on love and wisdom altogether.
The wounds to love are particularly onerous because their pains come from the fear of abandonment, and abandonment grows from inherent infantile dispositions. On the other hand, the wounds to wisdom have ignorance as their source, not abandonment, and not a happy insouciance, but a fearful uncertainty of “where the next blow will fall”. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav considered the wounds to wisdom worse than the wounds to love, because we experience them alone. In his view, a person living alone is more likely to break into fragments than is a person living in a family, because in solitude the warring inner factions fight each other, while in a family people do the fighting.
The most perilous wounds to both love and wisdom hit during turning points. This is the worst possible timing for trauma, for in the turbulence of a change we are more vulnerable to injury, particularly in childhood when the modular components of the personality are still forming.
Strong and Weak Legs
We have weak and strong legs in love and wisdom. Weak legs lead us into diminished or pathological turnings. When the withdrawal leg is weak, for example, it does not support a full turning toward return. Under pressure, we may turn back toward home too soon because turning back feels better than going aahead. For some of us, the inward path toward wisdom evokes terror and doubt, while for some it evokes delight.
Some of us prefer the depths and are very eager to leave the daily round. We love to wallow there tracing castles in the air, and we fear return and avoid coming back to bestow the products of our inward-ness on others. We may be tempted to turn again to the withdrawal stage before we complete the return because we find reentry difficult. Others eagerly rush back from a brief inwardness waving their plans and projects, ready for validation, comfortable to implement any plan as long as it makes them feel wanted.
Some have an easy time getting close to each other. They’re more comfortable on the approach leg, more realistic there, more in the moment. Separation, even mini-separations, may be hard for them. Therefore, they consider the approach the essential part of love, indulge in fantasies of eternal felicity in the embrace of the beloved, and consider separation cowardly or dissolute. Others separate easily and come back refreshed and seemingly open, but are wary of intimacy and fear dependency and hedge their bets. These people consider separation the key to successful relationships. They want to maintain boundaries, take responsibility for themselves and avoid codependency.
If the weak leg is separation and you’ve never been able to face up to solitude in love, you may cling to the other out of fear, but in your delusion call it devotion and never understand why the other keeps trying to scrape you off. Alternatively, you can believe truly that love is a chase in which your goal is never to be caught, but never give up the chase. You get strength in the subtleties of separation. Approach terrifies you. On the weak leg in love, for instance, you are shocked by the unexpected rebuff (or approach) of your partner.
The shock itself has physiological roots and generates a stress response. The stress can throw you out of your sustaining fantasy, but without giving you the means to come to a direct perception of the real situation. That’s why so few people deal well with disillusionment in relationships. On the strong legs, when they are at their best and feel more capable and freer, they indulge themselves out of proportion to the rhythmic play of the whole. The larger pattern gets lost, and with it their sense of the meaningfulness of their lives.
On the weak leg, as we experience it ourselves, we are likely to have a harder time accepting that the changes we go through are parts of a meaningful design. We suffer from tunnel vision because we cannot discern the overall design. We may feel the presence of the Dark Night of the Soul, for example, but only as a timorous anxiety that throws us out of the darkness that if persisted in bravely could bring us to a turning point. For some people identity confusion overwhelms them with terror in the movement to the turning point. During the withdrawal, for instance, they so firmly anchor themselves to consensual validation that they cannot stand being thrown onto their own resources. It evokes great anxiety and confusion. Identity confusion disturbs them in intimacy where the needs and rhythms of others enters their consciousness and whips them away from their hold on themselves. Here too not the whipping away but the holding too tight is the problem.
Abrupt, premature turnings don’t bring much growth because they are weak in intention. In them, we haven’t accumulated the depth of experience that comes in a real withdrawal to generate a self-transforming turning point. I knew a woman who went mad consulting the I-Ching. She had several turning points a day. She stopped seeing friends. She didn’t leave her apartment. She was going through too much. But her changes of fortune were limited to tossing coins and interpreting the oracles. Being swept from elation to despair and back by the toss of the coins, she had no time or energy to do anything else besides tossing the coins for another reading. She did not experience real turning points because her changes did not change her.
The more out of balance the weak and strong legs, the more the turnings degrade and the emptier they become. Without memorable turning points, as I said, we cannot really connect the legs that lead to or from the real dramas of life.
Since on the weak leg we are more rigidly defended, more out of touch with the natural flow of experience, more awkward and ill-at-ease and fearful, we become less competent on it, less realistic, and more inclined to create compensatory fantasies to cover up our lapses. These lapses influence sensation first. How we see what we see – and what we can see at all change. Presentness turns to absence, awareness to distraction, inwardness to outwardness, outwardness to inwardness.
Since the fears and defenses are specific to the weaker leg, they produce state dependent experiences. We don’t grasp our real situa-tion. All we can detect, as if from the corner of our eye, is how deftly we have scooted away, how smoothly we have shifted from one personality part to another with hardly an inkling we have done so.
Too much fantasy makes our love lives weak because it keeps us out of touch with our partners’ needs, and our own. Because the fanta-sies and actualities are intermingled on the weak leg, our experience becomes harder to recollect and harder to make use of later. Our sense of time on the weak leg is foreshortened or elongated because it is built on the impoverishment of experience and not checked and shaped by realities. In this state of confusion, our hopes and fears become less realistic. We can come to believe practically anything: that love will always make us suffer, that we must accept it as a sacrificial, selfless clinging, that this may not be its own nature, but it is our fate decreed by a cruel God; that we are extraordinarily gifted in ways that we are not; that we are strong on the weak leg and weak on the strong leg, that we are loved when we are abhorred, or hated by our parents who love us deeply, that we are giving when we are taking, that our malice and thievery are justified.
These illusions lead us into all kinds of conflicts, drawing us away from present perception, hiding the sensory cues that would give us information for appropriate distance regulation. Finally, we hardly know where or who we are. Being out of touch, the unexpected rebuffs (or desires) we receive from our partners shock us. We live like the Chaplin tramp who dances attendance on an indifferent girl without even noticing how aloof she is. We are so enthralled; we are inattentive to the real state of affairs.
The less we use the weak leg, the fewer chances we have to strengthen it. Moreover, when the inevitable perturbations come, we are easily tossed off our pathways. If the impinging forces are large, even the strong legs can break and when they do, our transformational moments become even more inaccessible.
Insight in Turning Points; Signs of Turning
To my observation, the turning moment does not bring insight, unity, relief, beauty, meaning or gratitude. They come, but they only come later. The insight is like the exclamation point at the end of a sentence. Only afterwards, during implementation, on the next long leg, little by little, do the insights come – and only if you keep making the changes.
Insights feel strong and important. However, the feelings inside the insights can deceive us. Felt shifts make unreliable indicators of change. People feel all kinds of things under all kinds of circumstances. They can feel they are flowing when they are stuck. They can feel awkward when they move gracefully. Hysterical people determine truth by their feelings.
Experiences of inrushing energy, of an urge to do, of exaltation, do not signify completed turnings. Transformational turnings require evidence of actual transformational events, not just sensibilities.
I have observed in myself, and among my counseling and biofeedback clients, three relatively trustworthy indicators of change. They occur in close succession, usually over a few days. One is a special dream, another is the restoration of a significant lost memory and, third, and most difficult to explain, is a synchronistic event that confirms the change.
The powerful dream has been well described by Jung. The restored memory, called abreaction in psychoanalytic theory, we understand as an event following the release of physical tension, particularly the unlocking of bracing patterns in the musculature. The restored memories let us put the past together differently. During personal paradigm shifts, when the model changes, the temporal sequences leading to it shift as well.
The third sign, the synchronistic event, is harder to grasp. It comes unexpectedly, as if from beyond the causal realm. But it strikes you as significant, right and meaningful. Someone important unexpectedly shows up. That which was lost is found. A person you are thinking about thinks about you and makes contact. The world seems to be affirming you for mysterious reasons. Jung called synchronicity “an acausal connecting principle.”
Where does the synchronicity come from? Is it really acausal? No. The straightforward explanation is that it registers in consciousness with a special emphasis: you see what you could not see before. We take the shock of recognition for a synchrony. If your voluntary control over your autonomic functions, on the borderline between what you think you can do and what you are reasonably sure you cannot do, shifts, for instance, if the boundary moves, your range of freedom expands. You encompass more of what before had been autonomic and unconscious. You experience new freedom as a “synchronicity”.
You can liken the experience of synchronicity to the experience of a fellow who trudges off to work each day, his eyes averted, face to the pavement. He does not look up because his expectations are so low. Coming his way is a woman, her eyes averted too. She never looks up either. Then one day something changes. They both happen to look into each other’s eyes. He smiles, she smiles back, they are attracted to each other, and in that moment they make a recognition. They see each other. A great deal travels on eye contact. That’s the wondrous thing: they get a sense of their possibilities. Model change helps them see the possibilities better – or gives them new possibilities.
Here a small starting gesture, performed at a moment of readiness, something seemingly trivial, like the glance and focus of the eyes, produces great consequences. Opportunities open.2
On their twentieth anniversary, the two tell their children about the mystery of their meeting. They call it a miracle. Something God arranged. The scales fell off their eyes. They got a new way of seeing.
Full and Empty Turnings
I call turnings full when they are conscious, lit by intention and empowered by a precisely timed starting gesture. I call turnings empty when we have them without knowing we are in them, or when we are not aware that an opportunity has come -- an opportunity sets the groundwork for the future.
In a full turning, one accepts reversal of fortune. In an empty turning, one resists it. In a full turning, a person makes choices from the heart of his or her vulnerability. In an empty turning, the person denies or resists the vulnerability, making authentic choice unattainable. In a full turning, a lover realizes the consequences of his actions on the beloved. However, in an empty turning, love lacks consideration. The heart of caring fails. A full turning in wisdom serves others. An empty turning in wisdom seems to serve oneself, but really does not.
Empty turnings fail in five ways:
1) When the turning comes it is entered, but without powerful affirmation and without clear consciousness. The turning resolves, but it is empty. Moving mechanically through our moments of highest opportunity, we generate only a weak fanning of possibilities. We come to rest on a low adaptive peak, with little potential energy for a next move. Environmental, cultural and technological forces drive the changes. The person, by long habit entrained to these forces, really follows the line of least resistance. However, he does not know it. He calls himself realistic.
2) The turning is never fully engaged. Instead, one precipitates a premature turning from a shallow place along the way and leaves the scene too soon. Love stays love, but goes from approach to separation too early, in various combinations. Wisdom stays wisdom but goes from withdrawal to return too soon, or vice versa. The reversal in a premature turning is defensive in nature, a flight from the full force of life.
3) Another kind of failure comes from delay. We stay in withdrawal too long, or in approach in love, fearing separation. We fear the turning because we know that different actions will be demanded of us afterward. We will have to confront the insubstantiality of our fantasies. We may be shamed before others for our weaknesses. We hang back from the transformational opportunity until it passes. Then we enjoy a depleted, late turning.
4) Where in a full turning point there is one great moment of reversal, in certain troubled turnings we tremble indecisively. We go back and forth. We endure reversals and then reversals of the reversals. A rhythmic vacillation ensues, a tremor of intent. The competing personality parts struggle for dominance. Hours or days pass, or longer. We cannot establish order around a new set of passing rules. We neither change nor remain the same. Instead, we oscillate around a center, unable to enter, unable to leave, unable to retreat, unable to advance. We endure the experience of the Dark Night of the Soul continuously. Repeatedly we flirt with despondency. We cope with interminable fear. Finally, the disorder gets familiar. It wears us down and numbs us out. In love, Mr. Numbnuts cannot commit and cannot break up. He “can’t live with her, can’t live without her.” Something from outside eventually resolves the impasse. Someone, something, or some series of events chooses for us. Last of all, death makes the choice. If we are spiritually inclined, we may even delude ourselves into thinking, when we review our lives, we were Taoists and “went with the flow” – but we did not. We went in the direction imposed by the concatenation of forces.
5) We cross over. A crossover is an abrupt and inappropriate jump from love to wisdom or wisdom to love.
It happens close to a turning point when the temporal patterns are most easily disrupted. For example, there you were writing the great American novel, now you have suddenly fallen in love. Who has time to write? However, when the intimacy gets too hot you jump back, you are writing your novel again. Crossovers are defensive shifts: They let one escape from oneself just when the going gets tough. Instead of hanging in there, one jumps away. The defensive crossovers relieve the short-term physical stresses but they undermine the integrity of the process. Crossovers are usually made by jumping from the weak leg of one dynamic to the strong leg of the other. People who agonize over why they cannot experience deep love, or people who never have a satisfying creative accomplishment, may be avoiding the transformational turnings by crossing over.