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EAL #11 – The Distance Between Us

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Do Other People Exist?

We are all solipsists, we don’t really believe other people exist. For the most part, we see people through the lens of the emotional impressions they make on us (a la Maya Angelou — people will never forget how you made them feel). We don’t take them seriously, don’t peer intently into their worlds to see who they are beyond our reflexive ideas of them.

Just beyond our projections, is a real, live human being, with just as much life, just as much confusion and pain, sorrow and joy, as us. Another world. Another serious world. There is something unbelievably mysterious, profoundly beautiful walking around us all the time, but we rarely see it.

For whatever reason, our minds are wired to get the greatest joy from prosocial states of mind, from leaning just a little bit out of ourselves and into the world of another. There is a certain peace, a quieting of our agitated preoccupation with our own welfare, that descends when we fall out of ourselves this way.

If our greatest joy (and when I say greatest, I mean the one that leads to the deepest contentment and satisfaction) is to be found in relationship, than it behooves us to prioritize becoming really good at it. (Future cocktail party interlocutor: What do you do? Me: Oh, I’m working on getting really good at relationship. 😘)

Relationship is a (Beautiful) Monster

But relationship is a monster. Other humans are so freaking annoying. They’re really difficult and don’t cooperate. They won’t just do what I want them to or see the world the right way. 

We resent other people and the imposition they place on our lives, the freedom they take away from us. So we try to control them or they try to control us and we attempt to please them. We have some ideal of what we want the other to be which we subtly and not so subtly seek to impose. And we abdicate our selves and fake who we are to avoid the burning pain of disappointing others.

A complete sharing between two people is an impossibility and whenever it seems, nevertheless, to exist, it is a narrowing, a mutual agreement which robs either one member or both of his fullest freedom and development.

(Rainer Maria Rilke, Austrian poet)

There is no love without surrender. But there is no surrender without agency. You must be who you are before you can yield to another, must be something before you can be nothing. You must feel just as much entitled to the last cookie on the plate before you can freely let someone else have it. Else it is not you giving it away, it is not you in relationship, but the suppression of you. A yes that cannot say no is no yes.

Real relationship can only take place when we are willing to bravely inhabit who we are while allowing someone else to be fully who they are. Life is letting go of who I think others want me to be in favor of who I actually am. Love is letting go of who I want you to be so I can find out who you actually are. 

But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up…

Letting go is losing something. I’ve said before that being good at life requires being good at loss. We must lose our cherished but very fictional ideals if we’re to realize the blinding beauty of another human being. When we stop trying to make the whole world ours, we can…

succeed in loving the distance between us which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.

We are lucky that we are not stuck with just our own world. We are lucky that we can see and be seen whole against the beautiful sky. 

We are beautiful.


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