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Exploring loss via personal experience

Exactly. Therefore it is a question worth asking because no answer to it already exists. When we talk about finding resolution and peace, what we mean is the attainment of a goal previously reached, which is the return to the comfort of the past.

I understand. If we are going to ask the truly essential question about relationship without relying upon our stored patterns of comfort, it wouldn’t focus on pain/pleasure, rather:

Can we love one another?

Yes, it is the same question. Therefore it means we are starting from an honest place, not assuming a thing about what the other feels or should feel or how they should behave or any of that nonsense.

You see, your question is about loss. But how can there be loss of relationship when the meaning of that word ‘relationship’ has never been explored?

Good. Let’s explore it.

The essence of relationship is a connection between two or more things. One thing, no relationship,
it takes two to tango.

Wherein lies this connection?

Does it exist materially as a web or force that connects people and people, people and things, things and things?

Does it exist in the mind of the relationshipees as a felt-thought?

Does it exist via inter-causality, everything affects everything else?

This makes no sense. Can you find another way of putting it?

Is it possible for you and I - or any other two human beings - to meet one another outside the limited field of pleasure and pain? That is the question we put. And we don’t know the answer. Thought as memory may offer us something quick and hypothetical as a way of filling in the uncomfortable gap that seems to materialise between us when such a question is raised, but actually we don’t know. We shall only find out by remaining in that uncomfortable gap, remaining with that feeling of psychological disorientation, because what we are asking for in putting this question is not something that thought can ever provide.

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Contact - let us this word ‘contact’ - because this is something our bodies are very familiar with. I am in contact with this chair as it supports me. I am in contact with this keyboard as it helps me talk to you. But, psychologically, are we ever actually in contact one with the other? Or is a relationship chiefly about maintaining the distance between us, avoiding any real contact?

Driving a car, the last thing I want is contact with other vehicles, with pedestrians, with trees and fences. Are we protecting ourselves in the same way? Because real contact must bring with it terrific change, even destruction and pain.

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Here I feel I need to speak for myself, because I’m not sure how it works for other people. For me, an apt metaphor for direct unmediated contact with another human being might be looking straight into the sun. I can only stand it for brief moments, any longer and it’s unbearable, I need to either look away or put on sunglasses. That’s one of the reasons I like online forums, because it encourages indirect contact.

I hope Nobody and Paul excuse me for butting in here. Surely we can establish a relationship and, if both parties wish, become closer. As we communicate more there is more proximity as we get to know each other better.

In an online forum like this, however, we generally know very little about each other and our lives. Our relationships are not deepened very much.If you don’t “hang out” with people, how are you ever going to get to know them?

Howdy Sean, butt away! As far as I’m concerned, it’s an open conversation. Can’t speak for Paul.

This ‘contact’ thing we’re talking about might be nontrivially different from the closeness one feels hanging out with a friend. I defer to Paul on this, since he brought it up.

There is no such thing as indirect contact. Either we meet and make contact or we don’t. Either we have a relationship or we don’t. Have you ever had direct unmediated contact with another human being? The metaphor of looking into the sun is just an idea which prevents the actual contact. It is only something we can talk about once we know what it is; it is not something that we can in advance say what it may or may not feel like. We don’t know anything about it, do we? So any metaphor will only act as a hindrance to finding out.

What you are talking about that makes you look away, or that you call unbearable, is still in the field of pain and pleasure. We are looking to see if there is such a thing as relationship outside of this field. That is our question.

But is it actually relationship, this getting to know each other? Is relationship something that grows, deepens over time, expands? More to the point, is relationship something that can ever be established as though both of us have some sort of control over things?

Paul’s not in today, but I don’t want to lose the good energy of this talk, so I’ll continue on my own.

Why do I find direct contact with another person so difficult, frightening?

One reason: I’ve gotten hurt in the past when relationships I cared about ended. Not just a little, but wrecking-ball hurt. I am afraid of this happening again. Avoiding direct contact seems to be a strategy I use to protect myself from loss.

Another: I find direct contact emotionally intense and exhausting, I feel judged and seen, both of which are stressful.

And another: I am an introvert. When I’m with others, especially extraverts, I tend to lose my sense of self and feel tiny and lost.

Note: As I often do, I’m speaking in first-person here. That’s because I don’t feel comfortable speaking for others. If the “I” heaviness bothers you, let “I” refer to you, or to another, or to humanity in general.

As we said earlier, it is not something we know about. So for the moment the word ‘contact’ relates only to an idea. Therefore what you find frightening is the idea of contact about which you have already formed an unpleasant image.

But what is direct psychological contact with another human being?

If I know I’m living within “the limited field of pleasure and pain” , I know intuitively that there must be a less limited or unlimited way to live, and my attention turns from seeking pleasure and avoiding pain to finding out what I’m doing that keeps me in this limited field. But I don’t know I’m living within this limited field until it is so abundantly clear that I can’t avoid observing the whole process of pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance.

Most of us are living in this limited field, and though we acknowledge it, we’re aware of it only when it’s too obvious to deny. At those times one might ask whether it’s possible to “live outside the limited field of pleasure and pain” and not expect an answer from thought.

Whatever I say, you will say: That is not it. So I’ll let you answer your own question:

What is direct psychological contact with another person?

You are going it through it now: profound sense of loss. You have been hurt and you don’t know why. Therefore you are trying to analyse and explain the hurt in order to bring it into the field of knowledge.

Knowledge is the destroyer of relationship. It converts pain into pleasure through the manipulation of ideas. So we are never in contact with pain, which is the fact, because we escape so quickly into pleasure, which is the idea. Love is terrifically painful.

But what do we mean by ‘it is too obvious to deny’? Are we to wait for a crisis to occur in order to face this? Or the crisis exists all the time just below the surface anyway, so it is possible to look at it right now. Here we have a choice, apparently, either to look or not to look. When a crisis comes from outside, accidentally, unbidden, we are caught with no choice; there is just the tremendous shock of it. Then we are shaken awake and we have to deal with it; and usually we deal with it inadequately. But even while we are now sleeping, the crisis is still there, is it not? Indeed, in the sleeping is a far greater crisis than anything life may throw at us.

Hi Paul and all. I’m not sure what you mean here Paul. My understanding of relationship is all of the above. For example, a skillful educator or a therapist will seek to establish a positive relationship with their students or clients. If learning or healing is to take place, the quality of the relationship will usually be very important. Likewise, an online forum like this one or an online video discussion forum will also benefit from relationships being established and deepened. How do you all see this?

I like this quote from K. It’s good to bear this in mind when we get into dialogues here I think.

“It is not possible to have a discussion with a large group like this. So it’s a dialogue, a conversation with two people. And we will, if you do not mind, treat it as such. Two friends are talking over together about their problems. They are real friends, not convenient friends, but friends who have known each other for some time, and they are walking, perhaps, in a wood, sitting on a bench, and talking over their intimate problems, as friends do. So this is not only a conversation between two people, you and the speaker, and it’s a dialogue, a friendly conversation, each one trying to penetrate into the problem as deeply as possible, and trying to find an answer to all their innumerable struggles, pain, anxieties and so on. So that’s what we are going to do this morning, two people talking over together and not asserting anything, neither one nor the other, two people who are concerned, deeply, with life, with all its complexities, with all its subtleties, its varieties, the craziness that goes on in themselves and outwardly. So we are together, like two people who have known each other for some time, friendly, going to have conversation together.”

Public Question & Answer 2 Saanen, Switzerland - 26 July 1982