An ex is taking me to court. The case seems obviously absurd to me and I imagine others will see it too, so I am not taking it very seriously. During my testimony, I take responsibility for far more than what is really my responsibility, and I highlight my own shortcomings and her virtues. I want to show that I am not in it to “win” or make her look bad. I distort the picture in her favor. In addition, I have been assigned a lawyer who is retired, bumbling, and clearly incompetent. After a while, I realize that my ex is doing exactly the opposite: She is presenting herself in a good light and me in a bad light, and does everything to win and bring the judge and jury over to her side. I realize I will likely lose, based on the distorted picture the judge and jury is receiving.
In the dream, I know what’s happening and that I will likely lose because of the way I am dealing with the situation, but it’s such an ingrained pattern in me I can’t help it. And that reflects my waking life. I often don’t stand up for myself at crucial moments and in crucial situations.
My ex is someone who did act in this way as our relationship ended. She acted so I lost my share of the house we owned together, and most of my belongings. And I allowed it to happen because I assumed she would be fair, and I didn’t want to go into some kind of adversarial situation.
The lawyer in the dream is an English gentleman who used to work as a lawyer in Hong Kong. Perhaps I see this pattern – to take responsibility for far more than is accurate, and highlight my own shortcomings – as being a kind of gentleman? A part of me certainly sees it that way, although it’s not my conscious view.
Why Hong Kong? Perhaps because it shows that he likely retired more than twenty years ago? He mirrors the part of me that’s here to be an advocate for me but is bumbling, incompetent, and retired a long time ago.
Why now? In waking life, I am in a situation where I am not fully standing up for myself and what I see as the best way to approach a project. (It has to do with designing and building a house without being there to find the location and oversee the process, which to me seems profoundly unwise but others involved in the process don’t want to put it on pause until we can be there.)
This is a big issue in my life and most of my regrets and frustrations have come from it. A part of it is a fear of conflict and confrontation, a fear of hurting others if I take up more space and stand up for myself, and a fear of being seen as someone who just wants things his way.
I’ll list a few examples here, in the interest of transparency and seeing it more clearly myself.
(This is a draft list and is in progress.)
I quit a graduate degree I loved. I needed to do it a bit slower than usual because of my health, and talked with an assigned advisor about it. His response was: “If you are not willing to sacrifice your health, family, and everything in your life for this, you shouldn’t be here”. I could just have gotten a medical statement and talked with someone else, but instead gave up and abandoned it all.
In another graduate degree, something similar happened. Most of the classes were consolidated into two or three days a week, which was perfect for me since I then had rest days in between. The last class was one hour five days a week, which as too much for me and my health. I explained my disability to the teacher, asked to be able to skip one or two days a week, and also showed him that I had already taken several more in-depth classes on the same topic. He too responded as if it had to do with laziness and not my health, and said he would kick me out of the program unless I attended every single day. Here too, I didn’t take it further and my health predictably crashed. I still haven’t recovered from this.
In general, I don’t do much if anything to correct the image others have of me, whatever it is.
When I join a spiritual group, I almost never say anything about my background and where I am at with the exploration. I play the role of a beginner.
After leaving the Zen Center in the 1990s, I came back for a few weeks to join in with the daily program and do a wilderness retreat. During the day, I worked on a translation job. One of the senior students saw me there during the day (when I came out of my room to get something to drink etc.) and put me to work on tasks at the center the whole time. She wouldn’t listen when I said I needed to do my paying job and said I had to leave unless I did as she told me. This created a situation where I was severely behind on my paying job, and I had to abandon my plan of joining the retreat. Here too, I didn’t stand up for myself or take it to someone higher up in the system.
In a meeting with my doctor in Oregon in my thirties, she strongly emphasized “less salt”. This seemed absurd to me since my blood pressure was perfect and I already used minimum salt in my food. (I made all my food from scratch and didn’t eat processed foods.) I followed her admonition and removed the last little bit of salt from my food. After a few weeks, I had heat exhaustion/heat stroke because of the lack of salts in my system. It almost killed me.
In my first relationship, she gave me an ultimatum to get married or it was over. I loved her deeply and loved my life with her, so I wanted us to get married more than anything, but not right away. I wanted to wait a year or two. I didn’t negotiate or speak up for myself, so the relationship ended. (She may still think I wasn’t interested, which is far from the truth.)
Following this, there was a string of close friendships where we both were interested in a romantic relationship, but neither of us said or did anything about it so nothing happened. Later, I found that the other one thought I wasn’t interested, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
In general, I tend to charge a very low price for my work. I have also worked innumerable hours for free when I could have charged and the other would have been happy to pay.
In a design and building project with others, I allowed my views to be overruled and didn’t share that I have experience and expertise with design and building.
In conversations, I typically match the level the other(s) are on. I often won’t reveal that I may have more experience in a certain field or topic.
I have been part of many conversations where people talk about someone who has a particular experience and insight, and I don’t mention that I have that too.
I have been invited to talk about what I write about here, and I have been encouraged to write in magazines or write a book. I have always said “no”.
The list could go on almost indefinitely.