11 May A Good Defense can be Offensive
A few weeks ago I had drafted this post about how our learned defensive behaviors might make us feel safer but often at the expense of connection. Finding a way to be present and aware, so that when a threat arises we are able to respond to it is preferable to being on guard. I sat down to edit it just now and immediately thought of a post a friend wrote today. It’s the story of his coming to this exact understanding I was trying to articulate. He wrote,
Since adolescence, I had maintained strong emotional boundaries, and cordial yet distant relations with my family of origin. I believed I was not accepted for who I am, and chose to preëmpt the pain of criticism and rejection. And while I rejected the judgmental Christianity and Southern values of my youth, the damage to my sense of self lingered. This strategy served a purpose of self-preservation, but it was a blunt instrument that also did damage. With respect to my mother, it has proved deeply dissatisfying to us both.BB
The post goes on to explain that, through a plant medicine experience, he found divine compassion and acceptance for his mother as well as himself. After settling with this experience, he reached out to her with love and was met with love. He continued,
I am grateful for my mother’s love and support. She and I both have made mistakes as parents. Everyone does. What matters is our love and divine connection. Like so much about this era, it’s time to move on, deconstruct the old order and connect with what matters. This Mother’s Day I continue this process and offer my gratitude and love to my mother
While being wary of others may make us feel that we are being “safer,” it can push people away, while simultaneously keeping us disconnected from ourselves. If we see the world – and others – as inherently dangerous, then our nervous system is always on high alert, which means we have to overcome our own defenses in order to be present with other people. Our defensive posture makes it hard for us to fully hear what others are trying to communicate to us, and it also signals to others that we aren’t really listening. Unfortunately, this defensiveness makes it difficult for us to be present, and we often aren’t even aware that we are communicating such profound resistance. However, many people react to this kind of lack of presence and lack of listening very badly. Since the defensive person isn’t even aware of what’s going on, things can easily escalate. When we examine our relationships, we can see how this might play out in different ways.
The good news is that if we use our awareness, we can begin the process of dialing back our defenses. This doesn’t mean that we need to be completely trusting of everyone that we encounter, or do things that make us uncomfortable. However, we can begin to examine why it makes us uncomfortable and determine if the reaction is keeping us safe or keeping us stuck. The truth is, that if we are more present, it can be much easier to be aware of those who we need to be wary of and those who are better-intentioned. Our defensiveness often leaves us so focused on protecting ourselves that our vision is limited.
In my friend’s post, the change described is rapid and profound. Plant medicine clearly can be very powerful when used wisely. It isn’t however, a magic potion. Instead, it’s a tool that helps people gain greater insight. I have not tried Ayahuasca, but I have read a lot of good things about it. I have tried other psychedelic drugs and I credit them with a lot of powerful awarenesses that have stuck with me on a deeper level. It’s not that they have radically altered my behavior or my patterns. However, I often find myself grounding my thoughts with a spiritual awareness born of these experiences. When I’m making photographs, I’m often pushed to gently think of things from another perspective and this often yields work that feels new to me.
I struggle with putting down my defenses just a little more all the time. Much of my writing is an effort to be as present and real as I can. The goal is to help others feel that not only is it safe to live in this way, but in fact even better to. This does not mean that I float through my relationships in a state of ease and openness. My daughter and I go head to head a few times a week. We both have work to do, and we’re doing it. The best offense is less defense, and less offense. It’s collaboration.