My Struggle for Simple Friendship
Getting involved in Sevenoaks Pathwork Center administrative functions, roles very familiar to me from my career, has meant many hours of conference calls, many of which I lead or facilitate. However, in sharp contrast to these administrative conference calls, facilitating a short conference call for a small group of Pathwork students where I am an assistant teacher spooks me. We had one such student call Sunday night, and the entire day I experienced anxiety leading up to the call. The call went well enough, but why the pre-call anxiety here and not when working with all the leadership groups with which I am involved? This was the subject of my Hakomi bodywork session with Ed yesterday.
The session took me to my earliest childhood experiences with grade school. I got in touch with just how uncomfortable I felt with my peer group of fellow first-graders. Somehow I had always felt comfortable around adults, but not around my peers. In fact, my earliest peer group consisted of only one person: my younger brother Paul and eventually another boy Paul’s age. Other than going to church and Sunday school, I did not make friends with kids, and did not have kids in the neighborhood that I would play with. No, my favorite time was playing with electric trains, construction toys, my brother, and the like.
When little Gary showed up at school he was lost and fearful, he just wanted to run home and play with his toys. What were his strategies for belonging? Well he depended on the safety created in the classroom by the teacher. He trusted the teacher to maintain order and to give him structure that he could fit into. But come recess where he was out on the playground with peers in an unstructured playtime and he did not know what to do, he did not know how to fit in. He did not feel like he belonged. Oh for the recess bell to ring so he could come back into the ordered classroom!
Over time his strategy became one of doing well at school, playing leadership roles in groups, and being in structured activities like scouts. But in none of these capacities would he feel like he belonged or fit in. It was all make believe for him. And the same could be said for home life. He just did not know where he fit in the family beyond being the obedient child, doing his chores, and being quite satisfied playing in his room with his toys and his brother. For whatever reason he did not seem to belong to the world of Mom and Dad. They would provide structure, but he did not feel connected or safe just being simply fun-loving little Gary. I have no idea why.
Paul would say that all kids felt this way. Maybe, but to me it seemed that most of the other kids felt relatively comfortable being with each other in playful unstructured settings, whereas I did not.
As an adult I can see that my ego took over for adult authority and protected little Gary from his anxiety with people and could-be friends. This adult ego could quite easily make it in the world, could do well in school, could lead, could organize and run things, and the like. And could spend endless hours doing work on its own. But this adult ego covered this frightened inner child who remained terrified of connecting in any true heart-felt way with others. Little Gary simply did not know the experience of friendship, of heart-felt connection, of belonging to a group of peers, or to a family or church, or other organizations.
And this Gary came to live his life this way, beginning in grade school, then high school, college, including fraternity activities, which were very awkward for him, and then his career, organizational life, and family life. Until he was 50 his ego figured out how to play all the roles he was in, but he did not even know there was an experience of connecting and belonging that existed below the carefully constructed externals of his life.
So this is part of what has come to be with all my Pathwork activities. I am comfortable in my various administrative roles. But still, after ten years of deep personal work, I struggle with true heart-felt connection with other Pathworkers, with playfulness, with spontaneity even in these groups of fellow Pathworkers. So how does this way of being figure in to my role in teaching? Isn’t playing this role another safe structure from which I can operate?
Apparently not. What is different? Our goal in Pathwork is stripping away all roles and being able to connect from our vulnerable heart space. Here true love can be experienced. And as much as my Soul longs for this deep love connection, this very space scares another part of me, a very young part of me. From this young place, when not protected by structure, I am vulnerable, unprotected by role or function. So how do I facilitate student groups or lead them into these spaces, spaces in which I still so struggle? In a way I feel like a phony, like a hypocrite, even like a fool — the emperor who wore no clothes!
And I simply do not know experientially this space of true authentic connection. I have not experienced it in a deep way. Oh I can talk about it, even share deeply, but it is not the same as surrendering to and sharing my feelings and rolling with what ever arises, being spontaneous, trusting my inner intuition in each moment, and feeling deeply what I am feeling. In short, getting into the mud of life. This is my struggle.
I so want to be authentic in my teaching role. I do not want to hide behind some PowerPoint presentation or some leadership role. I want to be me, fully me. And part of me simply does not know how to do that, has not experienced that, and feels very vulnerable at the notion of such openness. My adult will not trust the child in me to come out and play, and the child in me is terrified of what might happen if he does come out to play with those who could be, even want to be, his friends.
It feels so good to arrive at this understanding of my life. To see the struggle I have had my entire life for simple friendship explains many facets of my life experiences. May I find the courage to step forth into the world of Mystery that I talk so freely about, into the messiness of not knowing how to be or what to do in the world of human connection. This is my prayer. And I am sending love to you to join me here. Come play in the mud of life with me. Amen.