Context Matters (Matter is Contextual)

From our July Newsletter Tips & Comments Section:

When I think about selling our home and office of thirty plus years, finding property, finding temporary housing for a year while we build a new home, and moving everything we own, not once but twice, besides feeling overwhelmed I become acutely aware of context. Our homes and offices are the context in which much of our daily lives unfold. They frame and contain the activities, and the relationships, that take place within them. Context is what imparts meaning to the activities of our lives. Just as you wouldn’t expect to have surgery in a restaurant, or to order a meal at the teller’s window of your bank, you don’t expect to have certain kinds of conversations (for example, “pillow talk”) at work, nor negotiate over who is responsible for getting a big [work report written by the boss’s deadline while tucking the kids in for the night. (Unless you have a home office, but more on that later.)

Context provides us cognitive frames that allow us to make sense of what is happening in our lives. One thing neuroscientists have learned about frames is that there only seems to be room in our brain for one at a time – which is what can make a home office tricky. It’s not always clear what conversation we are having with our significant other, and the cross over from one area of concern to the other can create fatigue, literally mental fatigue, as we try to “switch frames” to stay in sync with each other.

Context figures into our lives in other ways as well. We are born into a particular context if you will, a particular set of parents and possibly siblings or grandparents, a particular building we call home, a particular time period. All of these contexts shape what different actions mean and shape who we become. The context of a depressed mother and a critical, angry father, shapes not only our sense of self and our understanding of what is right and good and true in the world, whether the world is a safe and friendly place, or frightening and dangerous. These contexts form the matrix for our developing body-mind. A long with ideas and ways of thinking, the weary or sad expression on our face when relaxed, or the hunch of our shoulders anticipating an angry, overwhelmed parent’s outburst, continue to manifest in our bodies long after we may have left the original context of “home.” These contexts that shaped us continue to influence our interactions with other people, sometimes leading to sympathetic connection, sometimes to confusion and misunderstanding when the expression on our face is right for our family-of-origin context, but out of synch for what is happening in our current family. How do we know what is “written on our face?” The answer to that is pretty simple. I’m taking a course right now from PACT therapist, Stan Tatkin. He puts it pretty simply, “People mostly don’t know what they’re doing or why.” This is especially true of what our body and face communicate to other people.

What’s more these old contexts that we’re unaware of are influencing our relationships in ways we may not understand, or want. It’s really challenging to get a sense of how your own appearance may be affecting others. And, most of us odn’t see other people very clearly either, we’re too caught up in the context of the mind to allow ourselves to see and feel another human being. When Bert Hellinger would sit quietly beside a client or look at the person walking up to work with him, he was completely available in that moment. And, because he was completely available, without any agenda of his own, he could perceive the other person clearly. To perceive in this way is to know the story that is being told somatically, in the layers of expression on the face – past, present, hopes for future, in the experiences layered into the body – the gait, the posture, the rhythm of another person’s life. When we can learn to see in this way, we know each other in a truly intimate way, not in a sexual sense, but in the sense of feeling what it was like to grow up a sensitive child in a household with a depressed mother and angry reactive father, to know what it’s like to be a parent who has lost a child on the cusp of adulthood, to know what it is like to have suffered through a major illness and come out the other side in love with life. There is so much of the intricate contexts of our lives that is present to the open heart and willing eye of another human being. And, to be held this way, in that open hear and willing eye, is also a precious gift. It is the gift of “feeling felt” by another human being that Dan Siegel describes in his book, Mindsight. It is the way that we truly come to know ourselves.
In our upcoming workshop on Somatic Imaging on July 31st, we’ll explore this way of seeing, holding, and being with each other. Something truly sacred emerges from this kind of meeting. I hope you will join me.

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