By Fiona Robertson
When we begin to investigate it, we discover that the self-concept is not a singular entity. The I or me that we take ourselves to be is multi-faceted and consists of a myriad of interwoven concepts, thoughts, memories, associations, assumed meanings, feelings, emotions, sensations and senses. Like a tangled ball of yarn, when we begin to pull out one thread, others follow. A series of attached or linked elements is revealed – images that come with feelings that have words attached to them, and so on. This is what Scott calls the Velcro Effect, of course.
As we all experience in our day to day lives, the self is not a fixed entity, either. Who we are and how we identify ourselves changes frequently, sometimes moment by moment. We’re a friend, a parent, a lover, someone who feels lonely, someone who is working hard, an addict, a loser, a high achiever…the list is endless, even if we tend to major in a handful of key identities most of the time.
In addition, part of our sense of ourselves seems to come from external objects (including other people) which appear to have some agency over us. For example, if we’re scared of rats, they appear to be threatening to us; they make us feel a particular way. If we’re addicted to cigarettes, they seem to be compelling us to smoke them. If we crave attention or approval, other people seem to be giving us what we want or withholding it from us.
We talk a lot about the separate self, and of course, the sense of separateness is a key aspect of the ‘me’ experience. However, what we don’t talk about so often is the relational aspect of the self, which gives it so much seeming solidity. At any given time, a multiplicity of relationships is going on, both within and without. We’re relating, not just to other people, but also to our environments in all kinds of ways. We like this, we don’t like that. We want this, we don’t want that. This or that are affecting us or impacting on us in negative or positive ways.
We’re also constantly relating to our inner experience. We have a thought, or a memory comes up, and we have a reaction or a response to it. We might enjoy it, or make a judgement about it, or try to avoid or escape it. Likewise, a feeling or sensation arises, and we relate to it in some way – running away from it, resisting it, bracing against it, enjoying it, holding on to it, congratulating ourselves on having it.
In Living Inquiries sessions, we explore these relationships fully. (In fact, the original title of Scott’s book The Unfindable Inquiry was Living Relationship.) As we get into the dense, tangled knot of a particular self-identity or compulsion, we discover much more about both inner and outer relationships. They become much more explicit, rather than being assumed. We become aware of what’s actually related to what; the hidden associations and meanings that we’ve been unconscious of, but have nevertheless been driving our behaviour.
These relationships can get very subtle. Take resistance, for example. As I work with clients, resistance often arises, as it does in my own looking. That’s natural, of course. It’s useful to map it out. There’s an original feeling (or thought or image), and then another sensation that comes in response to it (the resistance). There can also be thoughts or images attached to the resistance (words like I don’t want to feel this, or this feeling will annihilate me). There is frequently another layer of resistance on top of that – resistance to those thoughts or feelings of resistance. Sometimes we discover four or five layers. By looking at and feeling each one, we also discover that the feelings have an assumed meaning or purpose. The energy that we label resistance may be protection or defence or a loud no. We can’t ever prejudge what we’ll find – it truly is a fresh discovery in each moment.
When we give each element of the relationship its due, staying with it and letting it be exactly as it is, it is able to be itself in a way that’s difficult to convey. When we feel a sensation, for example, free of the words and images with which it’s always been related, it can be itself more fully. We often discover that it’s more or less than we believed it to be. When we come into the fullness of each element, we also experience its emptiness. When the various threads are loosened in this way, the self-construct or compulsion begins to loosen too, because it is those very threads.
As the tangled ball is slowly unravelled, the sense of self becomes far less dense. External objects no longer mean something about us, and they no longer effect us in the same way. Our relationship to our inner experience becomes simpler and more direct, and we develop the capacity to be with it with far fewer conditions, caveats or judgements. We feel freer to be just as we are in each moment.
Fiona Robertson is a Senior Facilitator/Trainer of the Living Inquiries, and the co-creator of the Anxiety Inquiry. She loves her work, and she also loves writing, music (she used to be a bass player) and dancing (in the kitchen, mostly). She intends to live in a house by the sea one day. You can find out more about the Living Inquiries here: www.beyondourbeliefs.org and you can read Fiona’s writings here: www.whilstwalkingjack.blogspot.com. Feel free to email her at email@example.com