Breaking down the barriers

If I had no problems, I’d be miserable.

A green caterpillar had dropped onto my clothes, and was now going round and round my table. It would grasp the table with legs at its rear, and lift its front end, waving it about, trying to sense food. Then it would put its front end down, bend and bring its rear end a few millimetres forward, and lift its front again. This was perfectly rational behaviour, but ineffective as there are no leaves in that room. There’s an Iris Murdoch character who finds a snail somewhere, say Kings Cross, and takes it somewhere else, say Hyde Park, as it needs soil and vegetation.

-Will you take it outside?

In the Still Face experiment, a mother faces her baby, who cannot walk or talk, expressionless. The baby tries to interact, smiling, laughing, pointing to something so she will look as she looked a minute before, but she does not react. The baby quickly gets distressed. In one of the various personal growth email series I accumulate, the exercise was to watch the video and state three emotions the baby was feeling. I thought of perplexity, and one other, but could not think of a third. After about a minute, I thought of fear– and instantly felt huge distress. I interpret this as referring to my own unbearable fear. It is a memory, empathy derived from having had the exact same experience.

With Tina, the problem is to tell her about it, and then I find the barriers. I am talking of other things for fifteen minutes after thinking of it- instead I was enthusing about various things. A Quaker I met in London on Sunday, from California, told me how meditative she found life-drawing. I was excited to hear of a radio programme about people who have no mind’s eye, as I find it hard to explain to people and have not heard of others like me in that way before.

I was fascinated by Salvage magazine: I got a paper copy. An essay argued, pace Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language, that demand for clarity is authoritarian: the idea that a piece of prose would have one meaning which could be discerned by every reader, rather than provoke different minds in different directions, is limiting.

After about a minute of the mother’s still face the baby is distressed, and the mother starts responding again.

-I am wondering what would happen if I didn’t explain to you why I’d started on that, just turned to another matter.

After a long pause I feel hurt, and the thought crossing my mind to stop me articulating my hurt is that I’m making it up. I feel the hurt comes from my early childhood, and the thought is that it could not possibly. As I tell Tina this I am forcing the words out, pausing between each. There is a brake in me, a barrier, against articulating these things.

Then the thought crossed my mind that I should be
facing- current- problems rather than- moping- or-

Then the thought that the internal blocks and barriers preventing me from moping and wallowing are for my own good. Yet the exercise of discerning what the baby was feeling during the Blank Face distressed me at that moment. So it is a current problem.

I have two habitual metaphors. One is seeing through my blind spots. How can I see when I don’t even realise there is a blind spot. And the other is breaking down a wall with my head. That’s what this feels like: I have internal blocks and barriers to seeing certain things or seeing them in a particular way and having discerned them I want to break them down.


(I am talking to myself, of course.)

It seems to me that if I can overcome the block I can allow and assuage the distress. Unarticulated distress congeals and haunts me. My attention may heal it- fifty years later.

It felt wonderful to be able to say this to another person. Typing it, even to blog it to anyone who might read it, is comparatively easy. I celebrate that I can see the blocks, see the truth behind them, and articulate it to another. I am making progress. And then I am tired. It is hard work.

I have been here before, of course, considering the blocks, considering the distress of the baby, but I am clearer now.

-Did you feel loved as a child?
I don’t know what I felt as a child
-When did you start feeling?

At University I noticed that I did not know what I was feeling, and around the age of thirty I could articulate strong feelings, sometimes. Strong feelings got through. In childhood I don’t remember noticing feelings, unless extremely strong.

Strange that “unaffected” has the double meaning of not showing emotion, and not pretending it. Why should “simple and unaffected” be a compliment?

The caterpillar had climbed onto my phone, and I took it outside, trying it on various leaves to see if it liked them. I could not hold the phone still relative to the leaf, so the movement of the leaf might repel the caterpillar- so I thought of holding the leaf against the phone, and the caterpillar crawled onto it. This could have been my act of kindness, or just doing the thing in order to see if it were possible, out of interest. The caterpillar could have been a pest, even an invasive one. I want to say I was kind, and I have blocks against that type of claim too.

I was kind. That pleases me.

There. I said it.

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