By Shakhar Pelled
"Our identity" writes Taylor "is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted and reduced mode of being". (Taylor, C. (1992). Multiculturalism and 'The Politics of Recognition". Princeton University Press, p. 25).
When we walked into the big room with its twenty six couples, all we could see were the identity tags: the funny hat, the woven Yarmulke, the athletic biceps, the golden slippers, the bushy brows, the wide-eyed gaze, the frowning countenance, the bored indifference, or worse still, the secular, the religious, the just-so, the just so-so, and of course, the not so so's....
Yet, once the preliminaries were over, i.e., a short synopsis provided by Yumi, Hedy came on with an extremely firm admonition to put it all away, put everything away, in order to be there, just be... The first couple takes the plunge, and Hedy is there to coach them through the straits of this new mode of conversation. Complex analyses jostle our crania from the inside, trying to make sense of the pattern of this relationship. But Hedy would have none of it, no psychologizing on this work-shop. She forces us all to frame our feedback in terms of energy. Deprived of our heavy intellectual armaments we are forced to channel insight into energy, and the entire audience is suddenly involved, freely describing the energies of the couple, the push and pull, the tow and underdrift, the upswing and down surge when content is removed, compassion is freely available.
Now that the audience is primed, that we have all had our first hands-on taste of the energetic fiber of a couple's relationship, we are taken further into the theoretical complexities of the easily contaminated space between two persons. Yet Hedy allows no headwork, she insists on tangibility, on the reality of live images. No dry psycho-language for her, only living images taken from the couple. "Different languages are spoken in Itsik-Land and Yaffa-Land" she insists, using the particular couple before us as the point of departure. She teaches, teaches how to listen, to really listen, then mirror what we have heard.
This is truly beautiful. This poignant learning with a man and a woman in intense emotional conversation. There is no detachment now. Rapt attention on all faces. This is true learning. Hedy never lets up. She reflects everything, every word that is spoken. She teaches by example, telling everyone to tell it like they heard it, whatever it is, she reflects it, complements, insights, slights too. She contaminates nothing, she is translucent, the light goes through and is reflected back, and somehow, in the act of reflection, a person comes to understand himself, herself through their own words. Hedy lets no interaction go by. She is our mentor and she WILL illuminate us. How we all need illumination, how we all need to be educated.
A 15 minute break. We are fazed.
Then Hedy, full of regal energy, triumphant wisdom, stalks the circle again. Imperious she delivers assurance: "If you are unaware, if you let yourself be heedless, you will contaminate the sacred space... no malice is necessary, mere insensitivity or simple ignorance will suffice. "What are you thinking of when your are thinking of love?" Hedy fires away the options, friendship, estimation, equality, she laughs, yes, yes, passion too. Is that hard to hear? Are you hard of hearing... passion she says, her energy radiating over the audience in waves as she prowls the circle with her sensitive mike, her voice impersonating people, animals, beings in flight, in struggle, in freeze, in submission. Rapt, we are with her, the entire audience emoting with her, as she smoothly goes into old brain/new brain theory, pointing out the finer points of brain evolution theory in a way that has everybody feeling like upgraded reptiles.
Another break and the atmosphere changes as we are swept away into a primordial place where quiet musical strains paint the backdrop for a new kind of contemplation. In the uterinean semi-darkness of Hedy and Yumi's hypnotic sounding voice, we are guided through meadows to encounters with different aspects of our personalities, embodied in father, mother, animal and wise-man. And having met our inner images, we are swept into another encounter as a husband quietly informs his wide-eyed wife: "I am your mother. How does it feel to be with me?" Pain wells up. An awful crimson flower. Tears stain my face. My throat shuts down. "Mother gave me away" says the girl/wife to her mother/husband, and Hedy is there, there, there, to coach, to give sustenance, to help them through the pain to a new birth. To the discovery that saying it helps. That crying out and having someone not cringe, helps. We desire our parents with such blinding passion that we can withstand all, all except their un-being. Be anything my mother, father, be what you will, but be. Do not go, do not leave, do not forsake. For the pain of separation is deeper than any. So she cries, she cries the girl/wife. "Mother, mother", she calls "you could not hear my pain, you could not bear my desire for you, you could not see me cry, so you went away, away, away". Her husband is breathing hard, a true Imago mate, his soul is wrenched by the agony, his spirit fluttering to get away, away, but Hedy is there, she teaches, she coaches. Reflect. Talk. You are not the mother. It is not you that she would swallow whole. It is a mother long gone. But if you just let yourself be that clean space, that quiet place of acceptance, if you would just let her tell it to you, you will heal. Hedy, Hedy, how can you be so brave. How can you look so much pain in the eye and continue to hope, to cherish, to give energy. Tell her, she tells the husband, tell this little girl: "I want to hug you because I love you, and you deserve a hug for having suffered so much". And he hugs his little girl, and an old festering wound begins to heal.
Once again, Hedy has taught. Suddenly, we know that a man and a woman, two people, can do it. They have the power to heal the grief, the power to bridge the gulf of loneliness.
Yumi gives us homework. We dutifully write down our duties.
The night is short. Morning we are back. Expectant. Yumi is there. Fatherly pedantic. And Hedy with the bouncing energies of the healed and healing. A minor exercise in telling something nice deepens in a major confession as a brave, brash, bright, loudmouthed and witty man from last night's "identities" suddenly cries out "No, no, no". "I will not yield to this game". "I reject this entire exercise". Indeed, when expectations are high, an inevitable crash becomes expected, and rather than the fall, one prefers the rigid safely-known husk of non-feeling. But Hedy will not allow us to hide. She is firm. She will make room for his pain and he will be able to grow. On her haunches, she supports the wife, helping her receive the pain of her man, the hidden pain that took him away from her all the years, that made him secretive, that made him his own-man, not sharing, not caring, always moving, never staying. Now he is here and his poor Imago wife is swamped by his destructive energies. "You are angry" she reflects to him, "you are angry, angry, angry". She is so afraid. And Hedy tells her quietly: "take your time". "Look at him", "gently, gently". This is the core of the listening: The waiting. The contemplating. The not-jumping the gun. The not hastening to react. This is the root of it all. No vested interests. Just being. Just quiet attention. Acceptance. "I refuse" he shouts. "No.No.NO. NO!!!" he shouts. Tears are streaming from his eyes. My wife is crying too. Many eyes are bleary. But his wife is transfixed by his great REFUSAL. He is a combat fighter, an outstanding soldier raging against the night. She is struck dumb by his big bad NO. She does not reflect the anger and the fear. The fear of letting defenses go. Of disarming.
Where is Hedy? When will she leap to the rescue? He is out on a limb and his wife is too scared to give him the safe place he needs to land. She fails to reflect his fear, the child that is within him. She sees only the struggling, kicking man.
But Hedy is teaching us another lesson. The deep dark lesson of even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil... better still, more simply put: I will fear not. She teaches us not to fear pain, not to fear emotion, to let things run their course, to have patience. Slowly does it. Gently does it. The cavalry does not come to the rescue. For, she, this frightened woman, is this man's mate. She has the powers inside her, and if she finds them, she will be made strong and whole herself. Hedy is healing them both. Not just the one. The one and the other. She lets them find their own away, and then, only then, does she help the wife make the switch and tells her: "Say to him: 'you are very angry. And beneath the anger you are sad!" And she tell her. "Make room. Make space for him". And I think to myself: "How will she contain him, this woman? How will she contain this strong, intelligent man, so full of pain. She must be made of stern stuff this woman. Indeed, she can't take it. She is frozen. Unable to react.
Hedy pleads with her. "Listen to this history" she tells her, "listen. Open your heart and listen to his story". Hedy's voice breaks with emotion, she cries. She identifies with the strong man wounded from the inside. He is like her. She too is strong from the outside, and the pain is inside. She beseeches the poor woman who must now appease both Hedy and her husband. He is crying too. Hedy is listening to him like he would like his wife to listen to him. With compassion. So much compassion. He has no faith in his wife and he is angry at Hedy for giving him the illusion that he will be heard, that there is a place where the pain can be put to rest. And poor, poor, Leah, his wife, is crushed by these great emotions. She, his Imago, who was always so good at taking his departures, his leavings, his reticence, is now facing the storm of his pain.
But Hedy knows. Hedy knows. She realizes now that Yoram is ready, ready to open up, to let go, to live his pain and come to terms, she realizes that the problem is with Leah, and she is now with her. She teaches her to be generous. To love her man. To have compassion. Indeed, she is teaching Leah to grow. For Leah has chosen him so that she will never have to do such a thing he never threatened her with his wild ways as he threatens her now when he needs her. This big strong man is never more intimidating than when in sudden need.
But Hedy is now teaching Leah to breathe. To reflect. It's easy. Do nothing. Just say the words. What words? The words that are put into your mouth. Move yourself out of the way, and just let the words come and go. Don't react, Don't do nothing. Just reflect. "Make room", Hedy tells her urgently, "Make space for him within yourself". Slowly, slowly, Leah struggles. So brave. So brave. She says the words. She sees her man. And he, sensing the shift, sensing the sudden appearance of a SAFE place, brings out the very core of his agony, the fear for his very sanity, the fear to share his innermost, most excruciating memories. And Hedy is there with her, teaching her to take it in, to roll with the punches and go with the flow, teaching to listen, to hold out for her man. And she is learning, she is learning.
What has this man gone through? He hints at terror, at deepest darkness. How can one be such a big, brave hero of a man when one has gone through such experiences. The inhumane is always human, all too human. And when you trust nobody you have nothing to lose and there is bravery! But it is bravery with a price. And Hedy is allowing this man and woman to grow new hearts. The worst, she tells them, is that we could not be there when it happened. But we are here now. We are here.
The workshop flows on. Our external identities are melting. We have lost our most outspoken and manly man to personalization. We know him now and love him. We have lost his cool and aloof wife too, she is now an old friend, someone we know from within. We suspect now that we are all human, for we have seen who cried when we cried and who cried when our wife was in tears. Everybody has somebody. But here we are all everybody's somebodies, we are all in this together, human, human.
Hedy has taken to the circle again. She walks, she pounces, she strides, she is a tigress out to claw away the veils that enshroud our hearts. My wife says Hedy has just the right jewelry for honesty. They are silver. They do not have the false glint of gold. They reflect. She wants everything exposed and in the light. Say YES she cries. Say YES to the children. To thought, to action, to emotion, to sensation, to LIFE. She is in constant touch with us, her gaze, her voice are everywhere, she is with us and we with her, and we are laughing, laughing our bellies into ache, laughing our heads off, laughing our sorrows away, melting our depressions, our stick-in-the mud ways. Il principio della streche, the Iker foon the Metikhe... Hedy is laughing us away into insight, the 10%-90% principle who can ever be angry again, and then she goes completely Vaudeville with that incredible "perfect-fit" suit and we all realize that we are all haute-couture, for our "memories are woven" into our posture. What a posture.
Let us end, as we have began, with Taylor: "This crucial feature of human life is its fundamentally dialogical character. We become full human agents, capable of understanding ourselves, and hence of defining our identity, through our acquisition of rich human languages of expression....we learn these modes of expression through exchange with others.... We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others our parents, for instance and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long we live".
Hedy and Yumi have shown us how deep these matters go. How deep is your love? How deep is your love?
More than sixty people in that room, we came as strangers and departed brothers, sharing just one identity: people.