How we relate to situations

In my teens, I had a brief conversation with a much older man in a waiting room. I happened to mention that I find that how I relate to a situation is as or more important than the situation itself. That’s what shapes my experience. He seemed upset and said “Shut up until you are dry behind the ears”1. I took his advice and decided to not talk much about these things.

I know he was right in a few different ways.


He shared that he had a serious illness, and he likely felt scared and vulnerable. I gave him unasked-for advice, as the enthusiastic teenager I was.

The essence of his advice for me is good, although I would phrase it differently: Don’t give unsolicited advice, it’s usually not what people want or need.

When we share something vulnerable, most of us just want to feel seen, heard, and loved. We are not asking for advice. Receiving advice can feel like a kick in the gut.

He was completely right, although the phrasing wasn’t as skilled as it could be. It’s up to me to rephrase it so it’s genuinely true, wise, and kind for me, and advice I can use for myself.


I didn’t take my own advice in that situation.

I allowed my wounded response to shut me up instead of relating to the situation in a more kind and wise way. I took it as a confirmation that I shouldn’t talk about these things, and in general, not say much.

I could see that it came from a wounded place in me, but that was not enough to change the course of how I responded to it.

This wound in me – to be not seen, not heard, not taken seriously, to not have anything worthwhile to share – was too challenging for me, and it’s still a theme in my life.


On the topic of what I said to the guy, which is peripheral to what I just mentioned…

It’s often not easy for us to change how we relate to situations. Our system operates on habitual responses, and it’s easy to get caught in it. (These habitual responses are essential for us to be able to learn and function, and they also can make it more challenging to change.)

In that situation, I decided to talk about it in a more everyday language. I find it helpful to notice how we relate to situations and see if there is a more kind and constructive way to relate to it. One that brings in healing. That’s one aspect of it, but there is something more essential.

What’s more essential is my perception of the situation itself. That’s created by my own mind, it reflects my own biases and hangups, and it’s often created by unexamined assumptions. It’s good to notice it’s happening within my sense fields and within and as what I am, and it’s helpful to identify and examine any assumptions behind it and find what’s more true for me. That, in itself, shifts how I relate to it. I don’t need to work on relating to it differently, I can instead find a more true and kind story about the situation.


(1) I had several similar experiences at the time. One woman in a bookstore seemed angry that I bought an anthology with Jungian essays about the shadow, she thought I was far too young to understand it although I understood it then about the same as I do now. A Norwegian teacher at the Tibetan center got angry when I shared my direct experience of tonglen, which was from within a context of oneness.

How I *relate* to what’s here vs what’s here

If we exclusively focus on healing our own emotional issues, it’s an endless process. There is always more.

That’s why I like to give equal, and sometimes more, attention to how I relate to my issues and the sensations, thoughts, or whatever is here.

How I relate to what’s here is, in a sense, one. And what I relate to is innumerable. So it makes sense to focus more on the former without ignoring the latter.

What type of shift am I referring to?

For me, the shift is from seeing what’s here as a problem or an enemy to befriending it. And befriending it has many sides, including the ones I mention below.

How can we invite in this shift?

I have found heart-centered practices very helpful. For instance, doing tonglen for whatever I subtly or not-so-subtly see as a problem – whether it’s a person, situation, myself, a part of me, or an experience. I can also use ho’oponopono or metta here.

It also helps to identify beliefs behind any slight enemy-image and explore these, for instance through The Work or Living Inquiries.

I can dialog with what’s coming up. Ask it questions. Listen to what it has to say to me. Get to know it. Perhaps understand it a little better. Find a new partnership with it. If it’s an emotional issue, I can see how it’s here to protect me and it’s coming from (slightly misguided) love and is an expression of love.

I can identify any emotional issues in me behind and fueling enemy-images, and explore and invite in healing for these issues. For instance, through inquiry, heart-centered practices, dialog, energy healing, or more.

I can find myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me, and whatever I see as a (subtle) problem, and see it’s all happening within and as what I am. It’s not inherently “other” and cannot be.

A version of this is that what’s here is a flavor of the divine. It’s the divine having this experience for itself.

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How we frame

After deciding to work on it more intentionally, a particular issue has been more on the surface recently.

The most basic way of framing it is as something I can explore, rest with, and find healing for. I can relate to it more intentionally, notice what’s there, do Vortex Healing on it, and perhaps do some simple inquiry.

In the slightly bigger picture, I can frame it as something that comes up to be seen, felt, explored, and healed. It’s from my past – whether this life, ancestral, or from past lives – and it’s now coming up with an invitation for it to be met with kindness, rested with, allowed as is, and possibly for it to heal and release.

It can be helpful to frame it as similar to a creature – a being – that comes and wants what we all want: To be seen, allowed, respected, and treated with kindness. And then possibly be met with a gentle curiosity, and – if it wishes – find healing and release from its suffering.

This way of framing is not “true” or not. It’s just a pragmatic way of relating to what comes up. It helps me relate to it more intentionally, to release some identification as it, and it feels more comfortable to me than most other ways of relating to it (for instance struggling with it or identifying as it).

Note: What’s been coming up has to do with the collapse that happened when I got CFS a few years back. It was a collapse at all levels, and smaller versions of it happen if I haven’t had enough food combined with some disappointment (only lasting the same day). It comes with a sense of hopelessness and is connected to a victim identity. It feels old and was buried for a long time but is now up so it can be met with kindness and perhaps find healing.

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Three ways of relating to emotions

We have three ways of relating to emotions. Often, there is a combination, and we may cycle through them as well.

Two of them is reacting to emotions and their associated stories. We can act on them, or we can suppress them. When we act on them, we act on the anger, sadness, fear, or whatever it is, as if the stories behind the emotions are solid and real and not to be questioned. When we suppress the emotions, we may pretend they are not there, or choose to avoid them, and we do that too because we see the stories behind them as real, solid, and scary.

The third is to relate to the emotions more intentionally. We recognize the emotions. We may be aware of the stories triggering the emotions, and our stories about the emotions. We may intentionally allow ourselves to feel the sensations. We may speak about what’s happening and share it with someone else. We may meet and explore the sensations and the stories with curiosity, to see what’s really there.

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Shifting relationship to life

Situations and experiences always change, so my best option is to shift how I relate to it all.

The Work helps me shift how I relate to thoughts – about myself, the world, any experience.

TRE helps release tension, which helps me shift so I relate to any experience from a lower baseline of stress and tension.

Ho’oponopono shifts how I relate to situations that bother me. I take responsibility for having created them (whatever I see reflects my stories and what’s here), ask for forgiveness, and remind myself of my love.

Asking for help from God (Christ, angels) opens up for a larger wisdom and kindness (Big Mind/Heart/Belly) than what’s here as who I take myself to be (a particular human being).

Breema reminds me of my wholeness as who and what I am, which in turn shifts how I relate to what’s here.

Noticing what’s here helps me coming into more conscious alignment with reality. What’s here is already accepted. What “I” am is that which any experience already happens within and as – including any images of an I, me, a world, and someone relating to something else.

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What does it mean if there is no other?

here are several ways we can discover that there is no Other. There are lots of others, of course, in a conventional sense, but also not in a few different ways.

First, I can notice that how I relate is how I relate to anything happening within experience, including myself, others, the wider world, life and God. Said more accurately, how this human self relates, is how it relates to others, life and itself. The I-Other boundary is there in a practical sense – as this human self and the rest of the world – but not in terms of this human self being able to relate to others or life in a way different from how it relates to itself.

Then, I can notice that the wider world is a mirror for me. Whatever characteristics and dynamics I see in the wider world mirrors what is right here. I cannot find anything in others that I don’t find right here now. Here too, the I-Other boundary is there in a practical sense, but not in terms of seeing something in the wider world and not also seeing and feeling it right here.

Finally, noticing what I really am – that which states and experience happens within, to and as – I find that there is no Other. It is all awareness itself taking different forms. The conventional I-Other boundary is still there, noticed as a mental field creation and having a practical function. But there is no I-Other inherent in what is.

In each of these cases, there is a difference between just noticing this and working with it occasionally, and seeing and feeling it more thoroughly, getting more familiar with it through returning to it over and over, and take the consequences of it in daily life.

How does this human self relate to itself and the world, within this context? What does it mean for this human self? How does it look, in daily life?  How does it look, in this specific situation?

Noticing all of this as awareness itself, what does that mean for how this human self relates to itself and the wider world? How does it live its life within the context of all as awareness itself?

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Relating to effects of beliefs

A portion of what we think of as being human are effects of beliefs. It is the portion that has to do with a rigid view, reactive emotions and behaviors, and a more closed heart.

How do we relate to this part of our humanness?

Often, we defend it. We find reasons why it is right and even good. Or we may be ashamed, unable to change it much even as we see it unfold. We may blindly be in the grips of it, experiencing it and also living it out in ways we sometimes regret afterwards. We may distract ourselves from it as much as possible. We may try to stuff it, holding it back, resisting the experience or living from it.

Or we may work with it more consciously.

We can allow these parts their voice and insights, through Process Work, Voice Dialog or the Big Mind process. We can step into their perspective, and see what they have to say to our human self, what they ask of us, what their contributions are, what gifts they offer, and how our human self can relate to them in a more constructive way, and how they can help our human self in a more constructive way.

We can allow the experience fully. We can fully allow the anger, sadness, pain, frustration, or whatever it may be. Just by releasing identification with the resistance to it, a lot changes. There is a release of identification with the dynamic as a whole (whatever arises and the resistance to it), which gives a sense of freedom from it, and even an opportunity of a more conscious choice in how to relate to it and express it.

We can use it as a pointer or invitation to explore more in detail what is going on. For instance, what is the belief behind the reactiveness? Is it true? What happens when I believe that thought? Who would I be without it? What are the grain of truths in its turnarounds?

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Relating to the world, on both sides of the split

When we relate to the world from within a sense of I-Other split, we relate to both sides (I and Other) the same way. We just can’t help it.

In short, it means that to the extent I am at peace with myself, with what I take as me, with this human self, the more at peace I am with the world. The more acceptance with this little guy, the more acceptance for others and the wider world. The more generosity with this rascal, the more generosity with life in general.

As with so much of the essentials of life, it is very simple.

And it seems fresh when I notice it anew, partly because everything is, even that which a thought may tell me is very similar or the same as a previous insight, and partly because it is always discovered in new ways, from new angles, with different filters, maybe a little more finely grained.

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