It’s been far too long since I’ve posted here! I was inspired to start writing again by a disturbing but very educational experience I had recently.
A few weeks ago, I attended a conference for psychotherapists to learn a model of therapy called Functional Analytic Psychotherapy. I was expecting it to be a typical conference where there are a series of presentations with me taking notes – like a big classroom. Instead, it turned out to be a VERY experiential conference with a set of exercises where the conference participants were assigned to groups and asked to do role plays with each other using our authentic emotional struggles/issues. The three pillars of Functional Analytic Psychotherapy are Awareness, Courage, and Love – so we were asked to do role plays in small groups with these pillars in mind. Awareness is pretty easy to define – mindfulness in the moment to what is happening for you, the other person, and what is happening between the two of you. Courage was defined as a willingness to be open about your experience in a genuine way – which made sense to me and something I believe in doing and cultivating in myself. Love, however, was a little trickier to define – especially when thinking about showing “love” to people you just met at a conference. I was initially quite nervous about what would happen in our role plays, and then proceeded to have a very negative series of interactions with one of my role-play partners – so negative, in fact, that I decided to talk to the conference organizer and change groups. I definitely wasn’t feeling the love!
In the days and weeks following that experience, I have been reflecting a great deal on what was coming up for me during those interactions that was so intolerable, and the word that keeps coming to mind is “understanding” – or really, “misunderstanding” in this case! And then I was reminded of a definition of love from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”
Yes, of course! The basis of giving love to another person – regardless of context or the nature of the relationship – is understanding the other person’s experience, or even the active attempt to understand is quite loving. This just rings so true when I think of the people in my life that I feel loved by – these are the people I feel understand me and I understand them. My role play partner at the conference did not understand me, and I did not understand him, and we caused each other pain and were not loving because of this.
So, as often happens, these great truths like the quote from Thich Nhat Hanh sound so simple! So, then what gets in the way of understanding someone else? A lack of understanding for ourselves! Here again, Thich Nhat Hanh has some valuable things to say:
“When we learn to love and understand ourselves and have true compassion for ourselves, then we can truly love and understand another person.”
Ah yes, if I’m in pain but I don’t support myself in the mom