Navigating Conflict Through Feel
by Nicole Diaz Feb 23, 2014
As a lawyer, this is all new to me. I have been rigorously trained to see the world in terms of black-and-white fixed truths. There is a plaintiff and defendant, an aggressor and a victim. These mental models can be helpful because they provide a clear winner and loser. Only one of us is right. The other is wrong. While they have their usefulness, these models are not actually true or real. They are our mind's simplified interpretations of a much more complex reality.
Before you start to think that this is just a lawyer-problem, I ask you to think about how these mental models show up in your own daily life. How many of you--no matter how deep in connection with someone you might be--lose that connection when conflict comes along? How many of you know that fun-house mirror experience where that person suddenly becomes foreign and strange, the "other" who "did" something to you? You forget how or why you ever trusted them. In that moment, you stop relating to them as a live human being, and start relating to the mental model.
Now here's the kicker: How many of you actually prefer to stay in those nice and tidy mental models--where you can figure out who was "right" and who was "wrong" (problem solved!)-- rather than do the much harder work of being vulnerable, open, and feeling your impact on each other. Actually feeling each other can be so intense and disorienting that we choose to escape into our heads. That's no surprise, as most of us were never taught how to stay present and mindful during high sensation.
Here is where OM can help. As I increase my capacity to feel, I find that I can take off the mental training-wheels and dive into the messy reality of life. There is no one way to look at things. There is no solid truth. And there's no formula for handling conflict. Instead, there is the always shifting intricacies of human experience. We are all laughing and shouting and crying and hugging together, in a never-ending circle where we constantly change roles. There's no end or right answer or hero in sight, but there is the aching beauty of connection and intimacy. This messy world is much harder to navigate, but ultimately it is more satisfying.
So now, as my body starts to wake up, I am drawn to reflect on these mental models I was taught in law school. I wonder: what would it look like if we learned to resolve conflicts through sensation, rather than using our heads? What if we dropped our victim-aggressor, right-wrong roles, and became more willing to feel each other?
It would be messier.
It would require more emotional vulnerability.
It would require more personal responsibility.
It would require greater attention to what is really there.
It would offer the possibility of deeper intimacy.
It would offer the chance to heal.
It would feed our souls.
I have had one deep personal experience with this new model of conflict resolution, and it was all of these things. I got "married" to a guy (in a shamanic wedding ceremony in Mexico that we never legalized, but close enough) and left him four months later because of things that I won't go into detail about here. Suffice it to say that similar situations have spun many people out into a long and familiar story about "the jerk who lied to me and couldn't commit." I saw and felt the seduction of that story. I also felt the seduction of the story about "I am to blame, how could I have let this happen to me." Or the one about "if only I had done X, he would have loved me better, and its my fault he didn't want to stay." These stories are the things that divorce lawyers feed off of, that trap people in years of resentment. The lure of the "Poor Sad Mistreated Victim" role is strong indeed, and it could have gotten me a lot of sympathy. But it wasn't real.
Somehow, I didn't go into any of those stories or up into my head. I stayed in my body and I felt. I felt deep, deep sorrow. I felt white-hot burning rage. I felt fragile and small. I felt alone and lost. I felt ugly twisting shame. And finally, I felt washed out and clear. And then, the stories stopped knocking at my door, and there wasn't much more to say or do. It was what it was. I had my things to work on and he had his. And ultimately, I had this sense that neither blame nor guilt captured the richness of what had happened. From that place, I was able to forgive both of us and move on with my life.
That experience catapulted me into the body-based practice of OM. What was an anamoly back then has become a beacon for the kind of life I live, and a template for how I approach the world every day. I am grateful to be helping to create a world where we are taught how to live from our bodies instead of our heads, where we touch life directly rather than tell ourselves stories about it.