I recently ran across this quotation from James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing is changed until it is faced.”
Mindfulness and compassion training help us with this practice of “facing” in so many ways. The practices help us be aware there’s something there to be faced in the first place. The practices then help us see and start to understand the thoughts and emotions that often stand in the way of this standing upright in the face of our suffering. And the practices offer us tools for understanding and processing as the depth of what we hope to change becomes clear.
But it’s so easy to narrow the project down too much. We narrow it down to something each of us alone must do. We are so individualistic. A separateness is deeply wired into us. “I should be able to figure this out,” we think – a reflex we assume to be truth.
The more I go along the more I think this just isn’t true. We can’t figure it out, really. We are too easily misled by our own too-small point of view. We need others to help us face what needs to be changed.
Given that we truly need each other to face what must be faced, the question that’s on my mind lately is how do we need each other?
Do we need warmth and friendship from each other? Do we need insight and fresh perspectives from each other? Do we need trusted friends who will question our assumptions about what’s going on? Do we need supporters who will simply offer us unconditional encouragement, having total trust that we can do what we set out to do – that we are strong and intelligent and resourceful?
Probably we need all of the above but perhaps we also need another quality in the supportive others who help us to see who and what we are: The quality of neutrality.
At a recent retreat a participant who’d experienced significant trauma said something like the following to me: “I really love how neutral you and the other Mindfulness Northwest teachers are when I talk about my problems. You don’t get too excited or disturbed. You don’t give advice. You just listen and you’re neutral.” He went on to talk about how that gave him the space he needed to trust his own resources, to keep working on his life. To face what needs to be faced.
Isn’t that interesting? I think we very much need people we trust, whom we can talk to deeply and intimately, who can be neutral with us. Who can just listen. Who help us face what needs to be faced by simply bearing witness to our process.
And this is a gift we can give others when we’re the trusted friend or family member. We talk all the time about being present for people in the mindfulness world, and that’s more or less the same thing, but there’s something that’s striking me deeply about remembering to value neutrality.
So here’s to wise neutrality.
I hope when you read this you are having a good-enough day!