Q: I am aware how different my grandmother was while I grew up with her in a little village in Orissa. She was incredibly selfless, to the point that she seemed much bigger than a single, human being. She was so connected to other people’s experiences and needs and also reverent towards nature—animals, herbs, trees, and the river. I feel so self-centered, always worrying about my needs and wants. Is it even possible for us in the modern world to be like our grandparents who lived in villages?
A: It is very touching to be around people who are so connected to the earth and don’t seem to be so focused on their individual selves. You are lucky to have experiences and memories of your grandmother as such. A small village that hasn’t been too affected by modernism still has that slow, gentle and safe environment, where people know and need each other and the land hasn’t been paved over or built on with tall buildings. It supports the deep, interconnected awareness that your grandmother had.
It takes a lot more work after we have been so individualized in this society to once again be that open, aware, and selfless. The thrust towards autonomy has resulted in desacralizing almost anything outside of the human self. When our surroundings have been fragmented, we also don’t feel whole. This is very sad. Living in a modern culture, we need to often immerse ourselves in rituals, silence, poetry, music, and nature to touch back into the beauty and harmony of the world. It could be as simple as gardening or bird watching, or making a meal slowly with whole ingredients, the way your grandmother did for you. These activities begin to restore us and make us more whole and connected to others and the world around us.
Q: My husband is an engineer who loves to work and think. He gets very excited by ideas. But when I share my feelings or ask about his, he seems totally disconnected. Feelings is a language he hardly knows how to speak. I am finding that our communication has remained very superficial and logical. I don’t feel close to him when we are being analytical all the time. Can someone like that ever change?
A: Engineering is, in most cases, a very linear and analytical endeavor, especially as compared to art or sociology. Thus, his personality is reinforced by his choice in career. This is a difficult combination. First, he has to see the limits of his style and focus. He’ll need to recognize that he is using one skill—analytical, linear thinking—for all of his concerns and relationships. People with strong mental skills feel very powerful in doing this and quite insecure in opening their emotions.
Start by gently telling him what it’s like for you when he doesn’t respond to your feelings with his feelings. How does that make you feel? Disconnected, estranged, empty, frustrated, angry, sad? Start communicating that to him. At first he won’t have a clue what you’re talking about and why you would have so many feelings around his lack of feelings. He might get angry at your persistence. This is actually a good start. Offer him some help when you ask about his emotions—some adjectives to help him pick the one that might match his inner experience. I recommend he read a book called Being Intimate: A Guide to Succesful Relationships by John Amodeo. It will help him begin the process of getting to know himself slowly.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (650) 325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com