Where Are We Now with Mutuality?
Edited Transcription of a presentation by Fax Gilbert followed by a Discussion of Trillium Teachers at our Teacher Retreat, June 14, 2017
Fax: In light of the events leading up to and surrounding the grievance process a few years ago, I began to wonder whether a) my understanding of mutuality was very incomplete, or b) mutuality itself has limits in its scope and its range that I wasn’t aware of. I thought that, either way, it would be good to come up to speed with all of you together to see where we are on this important subject. It’s an important subject because it’s fundamental to our identity. What distinguishes this work more than anything else is our leadership in this field, and with the split that took place, it’s crucial that we see if we can harvest a better understanding of what mutuality is, what it isn’t, and it’s limitations.
It’s always been difficult for me to define mutuality. Mutuality is a mystery, really, and just like awakening and embodiment, mutuality is hard to define. It’s more of a structure to allow a kind of magic to happen between people.
What we can define is the structure, what has to be there for this magic to happen, for this coming together to happen.
In the area of awakening we look at it in terms of what it isn’t: consciousness is not this, not that. And eventually consciousness itself becomes a Knowing, the not knowing of a, b, c, d—facts, figures, identities, and so on. That not knowing transforms into an awareness that is itself a Knowing.
And the same thing happens with embodiment. The not knowing of who we are as a person, and all the different parts. And in just being in that space, holding that space, things reveal themselves, as if magically. And we begin to integrate, or at least see, or relate to all the different parts of who we are as a person.
In mutuality we’re also creating a framework so that something more than the sum of the parts can take place when there’s a relationship. Mutuality is a mutual awakening—a coming together of individuals to create something that’s different, more, a greater wholeness.
I’ve found that there are 4 parameters for the possibility of this to happen.
The first is respect. Respect means that even if there is something in the other person that you don’t agree with, or is not in sync, within your awareness there’s still the whole person. In other words, there’s the part there that you don’t like, and there’s the wholeness of the person. You respect the totality of the person even though you’re not in harmony with the part. To me that’s what respect is. It’s also a kind of fundamental trust. And if you don’t have that, then there’s no magic.
The second parameter is something that Krishna brought up a couple years ago, and that is: we only know partial truths. Having the awareness front and center that even our perspective, and what we know, is only partially true. Here is the quote that Krishna gave us:
“Every opinion and account that I hear from someone or about someone is probably at least partially misunderstood by me. By partial I don’t mean that it’s just part of ultimate reality, I mean that even when I understand it, it’s only a partial piece of their reality and not an account of their whole ever-changing experience.”
To me, that’s meeting with a certain amount of vulnerability, that whatever your point of reference, it isn’t the totality of the situation.
And I realize in saying this that, OK, we can nod and agree with it now, but when you’re in the trenches, that little piece that you don’t agree with becomes the totality.
And it’s only with the passage of time, perhaps, just settling in and feeling into it over days, weeks, months and years that the totality of whatever we were involved with becomes clearer.
So, meet with respect, that’s the first thing; the second thing is that I only know part of the truth, even when I think it’s totally right.
The third parameter is: put yourself in the other person’s shoes. And that’s probably the most difficult thing of all. Just to feel, empathize where they’re coming from, or at least be open to hear where they’re coming from without immediately translating it into “that’s not right.” Listen and feel.
And the fourth parameter I feel has to be there for mutuality to happen– the meeting to happen, the transcendence to happen, the integration to happen—the fourth parameter is self-knowledge. You have to have a certain amount of self-knowledge, as does the other. To at least be aware when you’re triggered. To at least be aware that, OK, this is reactive, that this is not the best time to engage. “Know when to hold ’em; know when to fold ’em” so to speak.
And so I think that a certain amount of self-knowledge has to be there, because if you’re functioning from just reactivity, then—no magic—the magic of mutuality does not happen.
I’m beginning to look at mutuality as more of a process than as a product. In other words, who’s right, who isn’t, or whatever comes out of it in the form of some sort of coming together perhaps, or not, is less important than how we go about it, what we’re left with in terms of the connectivity we have with the other person or the relationship.
Again, I’m beginning to see mutuality as an awakening within itself. It’s not a personal awakening, or a personal embodiment, but it’s an awakening that can happen many times in many different ways. As we meet in truth, and as we meet with these parameters in place, then some deeper connectivity–just as we’re establishing between ourselves here–gets connected.
I also feel that there are two kinds of mutuality: personal and impersonal. We’ve primarily been engaged with the personal. But there’s also impersonal mutuality, which some other groups are also exploring, creating mutuality within the space that we create together as a wholeness and what we contribute to that as individuals.
Mutuality is so important to this work. It is foundational to our teaching. This is how people awaken! They awaken to their conscious nature because of the mutuality of the group, their teachers, the sittings, the small groups—all of that is kind of a mutuality of manners, a protocol in which we create the space for someone to feel safe enough to own who they are as consciousness, to own who they are as a person, to own who they are in relationship.
And so this whole aspect of holding and reflecting is mutuality. It’s fundamental to our work. It’s not just one of the three petals of Trillium Awakening; it’s the petal of Trillium path that provides the juice for the awakening and embodiment to happen. And so to me, it’s crucial to feel into where we are with it together.
[At this point, Fax invites observations and discussion from the other Teachers in the room. Excerpts of their remarks are included below.]
Cielle: For me what I come back to with mutuality is my paraphrase of our very traditional statement about mutuality: we stand, or we abide, or we rest in our true and total nature while making room for the other to also be standing, abiding, resting in their true and total nature. And I don’t really ever find a problem when both are standing in their true and total nature because they really are the same. Where I find a problem is if I reduce an aspect of your true and total nature to all of you are, if I reduce a part that’s afraid, or a part that’s sad, or a part that’s even just hungry and a little grouchy, the conflict comes when I reduce that part of your true and total nature and believe that’s all of who you are, that’s when I come into conflict.
When I can step back into what is really my true nature, that which is holding All, all of you and all of me, and not reduce either you or me to one of the expressions one of the juicy, myriad expressions of who we are, then I am not in conflict with you.
Krishna: I really loved the quote that you started out with. I wrote down three things that were always important to me as what mutuality has been to me since I’ve been in the work from the beginning. Because, as Fax said mutuality is a kind of awakening in itself. I also think that awakening is a kind of mutuality in itself. And mutuality is a kind of embodiment, and embodiment is a kind of mutuality. That’s the Onlyness.
And I really love that you mention the personal, because that’s actually what is unique about us, about our transmission, about our DNA. That’s the difference, from my perspective, between “we space” and mutuality.
There’s actually a difference – they’re both great, they can coalesce, they can both be done—but our awakening has everything to do with our transmission and our respect for Individuals, existing as individuals. More than respect, a kind of appreciation that without the individual, we’re at a loss. We’d be diminished without individual voices, distinct voices.
Where we have been unskillful, from my perspective, is to be clear about how to be masculine in the midst of mutuality. How to be balanced that way, how to be able to speak our truths in such a way that we actually are willing to and what to do when the other is like, No!
Elijah: How to do this when the relationship is on the line: “You need to change this, or else . . .” when that kind of firmness is required. It’s important then to bring the masculine back. “You need to change this behavior. It’s not acceptable to keep doing this. If you are going to keep doing xyz behavior, OK, I honor your intention to do that, but these are the repercussions.” I feel something like that needs to be included in our understanding of mutuality.
Van: A couple things I’d like to say: from the early days the formulation of mutuality was that the wholeness of mutuality, how we were looking at it then, requires the second birth so that you could know your true and total nature and then know the true and total nature of another and then have the divine mutuality combined with the human mutuality.
Where mutuality breaks down is in points three and four, the empathy and self-knowledge and self-awareness. Because speaking as a broken soul, having grown up with trauma and abuse, and having gone through 8 years of therapy, if a person is very wounded there will be blind spots in the personality and stunted developmental stages.
And if your parents didn’t show you empathy, you may be deficient in empathy and you may be blind to even know that you don’t have the full capacity of empathy. Then you can’t alter that and be empathetic with another person. It’s not there.
And if you’re very wounded, you’ll awaken with that wounding. If you have a personality disorder, you’ll awaken with that. Second birth doesn’t turn you into a loving, warm, psychologically balanced person. Your capacity for mutuality is going to be compromised, and maybe not able to happen at all. So you can get triggered and project. You may have the ideal that you want to be in mutuality but you can’t do it because you’re triggered and you’re enraged and resentful at that person. Conceptually, you’re trying to hold them, but that won’t yield a true mutuality.
So there are personality limitations due to personality level factors where there’s not enough empathy, self-knowledge and self-awareness.
Fax: Thank you. There are a lot of heads nodding, so you struck a good chord there.
CC: I really appreciate you, Van for what you spoke. I’m not so much in this place at the moment, but I definitely have felt. . . where is the right place for the triggered, reactive voice that wants to come in the room? And/or the voice of pain, disappointment, and frustration, or whatever?
I definitely experienced a fair amount of disillusionment about the ideal of mutuality, that maybe we can’t really do it, or give it more lip service than we give it actual practice. You know, that we’re not good at it, and look how it failed and how it failed us.
The bigger part of me, though, says that mutuality is just a baby, like a puppy—it makes mistakes. We’re just learning and we don’t have it down. And what I’m hearing here warms my heart, because I feel hopeful about it.
Leslie: I’m really glad you included self-knowledge and the wounding, triggering, that anyone has. To the extent that they are going to get triggered, they’re not able to really be in authentic mutuality, but they might not know that. I was thinking how much I dislike . . I’m very politically active but I can hardly stand going to political meetings, because people have so little self-knowledge and they’re just getting triggered all over the place. That’s something that I so admire that we’re doing in our circles–and there’s been plenty of triggering over the years – but we’re really attempting to include our self-knowledge. Yet that’s part of the holy mystery that it just keeps going deeper and deeper, the layers of what we learn about ourselves and so many fallen-off-the-wagon spiritual teachers – you’d think they know themselves, but the didn’t. They had their blind spots. So, yes we need the healthy boundaries about behavior to protect the whole container from people’s triggers and blind spots.
CC: Thank you for bringing this discussion, Fax, and everyone who has commented so far. I love where we’re exploring here. I think it’s so germane to the core of where is our culture and where we are going.
To ride on what’s already been spoken, I think an element that hasn’t quite been teased out yet, is that you can fall into a culture of almost, “misery loves company.” Or tell me your problems, I’ll tell you mine. Let’s meet around our challenges or our pain. Let’s find our point of relating to one another around what doesn’t work well in our life.
I think this is really a challenge for a maturing culture, because when we’re supporting students it’s so essential to their development that they really have full invitation and permission to bring that forward in a way that maybe other places in their life don’t give them. It’s a part of growing into their wholeness. But do we choose to continue to live there for the rest of our existence? Resurrecting our wounded childhood! I think that’s a big question for us culturally.
So, how do we support someone and yet help them to get past these “drama triangle” roles, you know I’m not just going to hold someone forever in the victim role. There’s more to you than that. How do we empower ourselves to support people in alternative ways of being?
I think that was a big part of the grievance process: everybody polarizing into drama in sometimes very big and flamboyant ways and sometimes that ricocheted throughout the community. I don’t have an answer, but we want to raise our awareness around it.
Fax: Along those lines in the process of doing coconut yoga one person apologizes to the other, but the question is, what is the responsibility of the person who was hurt to own the fact that they were somehow wounded, to take responsibility for their part of what happened? It’s an opportunity to look into why they were hurt. Our culture emphasizes an act of contrition on the part of the teacher, but not so much the responsibility of the student to look at why did this affect me as it did?
CC: Right, because another person might not have felt it that particular way.
Joanne: I’m aware of a split, and have been for quite a while, between what I call psychological/emotional development and spiritual development, that they don’t necessarily track, and they certainly don’t track in this work. Some of my work in companies, in the corporate world, is around emotional intelligence. It’s also a foursquare model, but it starts with self-awareness and self-knowledge. That’s the first piece, to be aware of what we are feeling and what’s happening for us. The good news is that emotional intelligence is skill-based. It’s not like IQ—you’re born with it, you’re stuck with it. We can get better at it. And I think there’s some integration here with spiritual intelligence, but I’m not exactly sure how that fits.
So we start with self-awareness and then self-management: I’m triggered, so what do I do with that? Do I scream at somebody, or do I go sit somewhere, or do I talk to someone?
Then the next level is awareness of either the other or the group, so that’s mutuality, you know, being sensitive to that, and that’s asked of us in all that we do; and then management of that.
So I just wanted to bring that in because I think we have to look at the psychological and emotional arenas.
Fax: That’s a saving grace, that it is a skill that can be learned and developed . . .
Joanne: with consciousness and attention.
Cielle: This comes up with my students—I tell them if they want to understand consciousness, they have to put their attention on it. They can start inquiry practices or other practices that can bring their attention to that larger sense of self. But then we stop using our attention when we kind of “bucket list” that ‘now I am awake. I don’t have to be skillful any more’. With that capacity you can bring your attention to developing other skills, like emotional intelligence. But we just sort of stopped offering anything other than bringing our attention to consciousness. Why not use that skill to develop emotional intelligence.
Bonita: I love this discussion, and Fax I love those 4 elements. I don’t know if this is a separate element, but I feel like without a mutual commitment and investment in relationship, that it can’t take place. It can’t be one-sided. And when that doesn’t exist, when there’s not an equal commitment to mutuality or relationship, then it’s OK to walk away. You can’t try to practice this with everyone. I feel like that’s a limitation. But it’s OK. If you feel like the other person is not invested or committed to this process, it’s not going to happen.
Fax: I should say also that I didn’t make up these 4 parameters. We were driving across the country and heard them on a radio show. Two men were on opposite sides of the gay marriage issue and debated each other at colleges. Then they had dinner together and . .
Krishna: fell in love. [laughter]
Fax: They realized they had a common bond in that they both had a great respect and care deeply about the institution of marriage. They became close friends. The first three parameters came out that: Mutual respect, partial knowledge, and putting yourself in the other’s shoes. The critical importance of self-knowledge and self-awareness came from our understanding.
Bonita: And they were committed to the process. They were going to go do all these presentations together so they had to continue relating.
Fax: What you’re saying is similar to what Cielle said about having a focus toward, a commitment to knowing yourself as consciousness, as a person, and to being in relationship.
Bill: The central point I want to make is, am I willing to allow myself to be vulnerable and not just assert my perspective, because then I really am in relationship and not just objectifying myself and the other and trying to get something.
Sanji: a question was coming up for me, and I don’t have an answer: Where’s the edge of mutuality? Where does mutuality fall down? An exploration of that edge—you know, what are the feelings that come up that I don’t feel I can express in mutuality?
The kind of things I typically tend to back off from are like, envy, greed, guilt, shame . . . you know, all that yucky stuff that’s just so hard to own and speak in a way that’s not throwing it at the other person. Can I really speak it vulnerably and really get through to it? You know, those yucky, edgy things.
Vivian: It’s been a great discussion. A lot of times people say, I get mutuality, let’s move on. So it’s good that we’re sticking with this to flesh it out and not just check it off the bucket list.
For me what’s important is deep listening. So that whether we get triggered or not, in our commitment to work things out, we are able to deeply listen. That takes a skill too that we don’t always consider or think about. In our workshops Krishna and I do a listening piece, and I think that’s really a significant part of all this–to be there with the other person—to take the other person in, to give them space and listen to them.
Margit: One of the things I resonate deeply with is this notion of vulnerability and the willingness to be affected by others. That feels like the heart of it for me, in my practice and in my marriage.
What allows the vulnerability to be here? How do we create the container that allows the vulnerability and also the courage, the strength for the challenge, so that it’s safe enough–not pristine and sterile–but safe enough?
Krishna: I just want to be the voice for mutuality being integral with waking and down, embodiment, because our embodiment, from my perspective, is unique. Our whole teaching about the core wound, which I refer to as “essential vulnerability,” is entirely different, absolutely unique. I haven’t seen that anywhere else, except in John Welwood somewhat, but it’s not the pervasive thing. When people talk about embodiment, they’re usually talking about walking your talk, getting into your life. And it’s like that with us also, but the means, the main focal point, is the conscious wound– the willingness to be consciously more and more vulnerable. In our work, that is embodiment. The energetic field opens up deeply as you speak from that place that is essentially vulnerable. When you live from that place you are really willing to feel it.
And to me, this goes to what makes it possible for mutuality, because everything’s interdependent in the wholeness. So, the way that we do mutuality is unique. It’s not just emotional intelligence. But I’d love that paradigm applied in the second life to see what kind of magic happens.
So, it’s not just about skills. Where do we get the capacity to be that vulnerable? By doing our incarnation, our down work. And to remember that it’s not about feeling good, it’s about feeling more and more vulnerable. That lets the energy in, and that makes us more full and embodied.
And that’s kind of scary. So where does the safety come from? It comes from consciousness itself. Consciousness is the space. It is the container in which mutuality is happening. In the same way you can say that mutuality is the container in which consciousness is happening. I really think it’s essential to be able to flip that each way because we’re unique in that we hold the essential vulnerability being the means to embodiment.
And it’s continuous. It’s not like “I’ve hit bottom; now I’m fine for the rest of my life.” We remain vulnerable, and that’s the fountain through which the energy of mutuality is constantly tapped. So I just wanted to bring that in.
And when you were talking about the personal and impersonal: the personal is the vulnerability, and simultaneously, I’m actually the space in which all this is happening.
John: Listening to the conversation, I’m realizing that I hold mutuality slightly differently. I experience mutuality as a process of self-discovery.
I feel like it’s happening right now as each person speaks. I’m aware of my own judgments coming up and thoughts and anxieties and fears, right? And then there’s this moment that happens, you know, when I just kind of allow myself to hear what a person is saying—I allow myself to be impacted by it. I don’t even know how that’s happening, but something kind of moves or shifts, you know?
When I do it with a group, with another person, it often requires space. Like, I can listen to somebody, or someone is there that I’m trying to speak to, and there needs to be a space that opens up–because sometimes I’m preparing my response while a person’s talking and I’m not creating enough space to just receive the impact of what is coming at me. It’s almost like I’m afraid of being impacted by it. But when I do, something does get transformed.
And it’s happening right now as people are speaking. As I really let you in, I can feel this transformation happen. So I kind of hold it as: mutuality is going on every moment if I really allow it to be there. I’m really enjoying, loving this opportunity to be with you all so deeply.
Fax: Thank you all for your contributions. It’s been said that the more we evolve the more complex things become. When I envisioned doing this, this was just the kind of multifaceted conversation I envisioned.