The Guest house by J. Rumi Translated by Coleman Barks, Penguin Books
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor……….
I haven’t posted for a while and have also been having problems with uploading the audio I made yesterday, so I am, for the time being, posting the transcript:
Hi. Today I thought I’d talk a bit about a topic I have written before in previous posts – specifically, how events and encounters with people can lead to the creation of stereotypes and blind spots that operate below conscious awareness, and are therefore, easily reinforced within new contexts without our being able to break the cycle. Gaps in our knowledge, natural cognitive biases, unvisited wounded places over our life span, frozen emotions and beliefs we have absorbed during childhood contribute to the creation of stereotypes and blind spots that serve as filters and to a great extent define our experience below our conscious awareness and can create lasting patterns with far reaching effects.
Some or many of our unhelpful beliefs are created during childhood while trying to navigate our way through more and less optimal situations, but also through the process of internalizing others’ responses, ideas and belief systems that circulate in our environment whether that is family and school, the media and the bigger socio cultural contexts we are embedded in. Many stereotypes are propagated through the available discourse, but stereotypes can also be born as a result of negative experiences throughout our life and since a lot of our experience is relational they will involve other people. Left unexamined, underlying or semi conscious beliefs, our natural human tendency for fast processing and cognitive biases and unmetabolized material can all render us blind in some sense and influence our opinions, beliefs and emotional reality and can lead to disempowering behaviours, disappointment, losses and unnecessary suffering, but also projection, biases and racism which may often not be overt This type of aversive racism is a theory proposed by Samuel Gaertner & John Dovidio (1986) where as opposed to traditional, overt racism, which is characterized by overt hatred and discrimination against others, aversive racism involves more complex, and ambivalent expressions. More and more studies have revealed that even though people often hold liberal and more egalitarian views and are totally unaware of their racial motivations; they may nevertheless change their behavior when relating with members of certain groups because of implicit or subconscious beliefs.
Actually, the study of unconscious bias shows that we all use stereotypes without knowing it. Automatic or implicit stereotyping is actually something that we all do very often without being aware of it. Previously, researchers who studied stereotyping asked people to record their feelings about certain groups, for instance, and then used these answers as an index of their attitudes. However, it is now understood that these conscious replies are not the whole story, and it has been found that a progressive or liberal person may harbor many biases on an unconscious level.
I will briefly refer to a personal example that comes to mind of how a negative encounter with others can persist as aversion and recreate the same emotional discomfort years after the event. I was about twenty and staying in a hostel for one night. Hostels usually close at a certain time and so one would not expect new arrivals in the room after a certain hour. Anyway, at about one o’clock I was awoken by the arrival of two people. I got very little sleep that night and even though I was not hurt physically; actually they seemed totally oblivious to my presence, the experience lingered on for years. I was in some sense forced to take in their presence through observing their behaviour, characteristics, clothes, body type and so on for hours. The discomfort and resentment made that experience even more memorable and impactful in some sense. Decades later I still experienced visceral responses when I encountered people that resembled them, which also brought up some mild judgment. However, I never connected the dots between this past experience and current thinking and feeling. At the time I had felt trapped between spending the night in the street which had not seemed like a great idea and having to put up with them, and it also had not seemed wise to set boundaries because I had felt that the power dynamics were not in my favor. I was much, much younger and alone and they were both heavier and sturdier and so on. Many of us may have stories where we have personalized others’ behaviour towards us instead of setting boundaries. Anyway, at the time invisibility had seemed like a good idea.
So, I had to connect the dots back to the event to dismantle my aversion and emotional discomfort. I was just stuck with the old physical reaction and mild fear for a long while since every new encounter with people that reminded me of them reinforced the original experience, which was not even deemed as that significant in my conscious mind. Examples like this can demonstrate how old information, events or wounds can linger on forever and influence our experience and how they have the potential to become stronger biases if left unprocessed and this can then culminate to Othering and aggression towards certain groups of people and we can also fall prey to other people’s rhetoric at times
Somatic and mindfulness-based practices can help us reclaim our capacity to perceive more within each given new moment, and through increased awareness we get to navigate our life from a deeper place of knowing. These type of practices allow us to be more immersed in our daily living without the filters that label and box us and others, and keep us bound in old battlegrounds or stuck places. Were our attention freed up or stabilized we could attend to more information and cues both from our external environment and our bodies at any given moment. Reactions and emotions that keep showing up in diverse contexts could actually be viewed as keys to discovering blind spots and prejudices that hide and get affixed to current situations. If we can mindfully stay with our experience insights tend to surface. Every emotion and blind spot usually has some useful information for us, which can potentially allow for more creative and life-affirming responses in the here and now.
Also, two useful questions we can ask or explore over time are: Why does this situation or person trigger these emotions, thoughts or reactions and Who or What do they remind me of? Maybe for deeper and older traumatic events this might not initially bring up clarity because our defenses may get in the way, but it could provide some level of understanding. In other situations however it can free up energy for living more in flow and less in constriction and also for dealing more effectively to what life throws at us in the present instead of carrying the burdens of both the past and whatever we are called to deal with in the here and now.
So, this is it for today. Thank you for listening. Take care and bye for now.