Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
August 2014 - Volume 14, No. 8
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The Space In Between - Pt I (Blessing)

One of my approaches when working with “anger management” issues, is to insert a space between the trigger event and the expression of anger. It’s making use of the old ‘folk wisdom’ of “counting to ten” before reacting. That’s not easy so many times, because the trigger is impatient to be set in motion.  The part of the brain that is active here harbors no desire to “think about it,” rather to ‘let go with it.’  

It’s not easy to train the brain to do this, because the part of the brain that would insert a space is a different part, a more developed part. Yet it is possible. The near universal success of toilet training is one of my favorite examples.

The growing ability to control one’s anger is only one of the benefits to this effort of self-training.  I’ve begun to notice that this new “space” has numerous additional qualities.  

Let me give another example.  When people are anxious or angry, there’s a natural loss of peripheral vision - both physically and psychologically.  When two parties contend, the narrowness of vision may mean that each is looking almost at the same thing, yet their narrow vision allows no overlap or place for agreement. When I’m working with a marriage, I find that unacknowledged space in between is where the ‘marriage’ is (or has been lost). When working with child/parent conflict, that unacknowledged space in between is where ‘family’ exists. Yet completely lost to view.

One of the classical laws of logic state that if of two propositions, one is the negation of the other; then one must be true and the other false. There can not be a third proposition (Aristotle). Exactly like the arguments I hear in marriage counseling!

But then I’m reminded that if the world were logical, I’d have to find another job. 

Most of my folks aren’t really trying to find and prove right vs wrong - even when on the surface that’s what it looks and sounds like. They’re looking for a life worth living - the current catch-word of this search being the term “happiness.” I happen to like much better the phrase “life lived to the fullest” - a term I found in Native American roots.  

My favorite approach is to look to that “space in between” - once I can begin to find it.  It’s not that I’m looking for compromise. That frequently betrays just a division of spoils, where nobody really “wins.”  

No, I’m looking for something other, something different, something even of a different essence.  In a way, I’m constantly looking for “a third thing.”

Leonard Cohan (singer, songwriter, long a favorite of mine), in his song Anthem, gives us these words:

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

And my client folks keep coming up with this something else, something new, when willing to “insert a space” in between things, often to break things open - and so the light gets in. 

Sometimes that “space in between” is broken open by external circumstance - a betrayal of health, relationship, trust, of presumed security. Sometimes that “space in between” is broken open by the willingness of new choice, of courage to make a change, from a new sense of one’s purpose or destiny.  

I find a great number of clients seem to be around 40 years of age.  (Another constellating age number is 50 years.)  I’ll often call it a transition to the second half of life (‘half’ here being a very relative term).

Something wants to break open, to break through, to break out.  Each here has the word ‘break.’  I think it’s no accident that every worthy work of literature has a betrayal in it (plays, novels, opera, movies, television drama, Harlequin romances.  Even the Bible - it has two major ones (and many minor ones) - one at the very beginning and one in the middle. 

Only in us humans, in the particular exigencies of our human nature, do we find that “space in between” - that breaking open where the light gets in - from which can come that life more fully lived to the fullest.  

Even in anger management, where we work to break the flow from the primitive mind, so that a higher developmental process can break through.  It’s not just learning how to count to ten.  It’s about entering the struggle for life. It’s about that which is the glory of being human.  And it’s what psychotherapy means to be all about.

Pay Attention

Next month, in Part II,  I’ll talk about the “space in between” more as ordeal - where the blessing may be long-hidden.

Comments (1)

  • Leonard Cohen

    Wonderful reference to the crack where the light gets in - memorable to keep the more complex truth accessible in the moment. Thx, Bill.

    — Cynthia, 8/7/2014

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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