Have you ever noticed that in any reasonably large group of people, there's always one person who you just don't seem to get on with? One person who gets in your face, and just doesn't seem to agree with you or like you, no matter what you say or do? How do you deal with them?
Earlier this year I went to a Shamanic Practitioner's training course, up near Byron bay. The purpose of the course was to learn shamanic healing techniques for dealing with spiritual, emotional and sexual problems. I had been lured by the promise of dealing with three of my biggest bugbears: guilt, fear and shame. It was one of those courses where you just know everyone's going to wind up getting naked.
This was a residential course lasting 6 days, in the beautiful, warm Byron hinterland. There was a lot of stomping, pillow-hitting, tantrum-throwing and other techniques to deal with the range of emotions that came to the surface. There was a lot of discussion and practise of setting boundaries, learning to say "yes" and "no" to what we did and didn't want, learning to ask for what we needed, and recognising when we were playing out old patterns in the way we related to other people. We learned some extreme healing techniques, and then practised them with each other. It was intense, and I was way outside my normal comfort zone.
Anything that happened during the week was considered part of the course, whether it happened in a formal training session or not. I stayed in a 6-share mixed dorm room, and took an immediate mutual dislike to the woman in the bunk bed directly above me. Let's call her Bertha. Bertha was a large Germanic woman with a thick accent and short black hair. During the night she would toss and turn every 30 seconds. Being in the bed beneath her felt like trying to sleep in an earthquake zone. I was fatigued and exhausted pretty much the whole time, and after the second night of being kept awake I decided I was going to have to practise asking for what I needed.
So I said to Bertha in the morning:
"I'm finding it really difficult to get to sleep at night. The bunk really rocks whenever we move, and it keeps waking me up when you move around suddenly. Could you please be aware of this when you move?"
"Well, I can't help it if I turn in my sleep!", she screeched back, "There's nothing I can do about it! Why don't you sleep somewhere else?"
In hindsight, that mightn't have been such a bad idea, but I didn't know if there was anywhere else; certainly all the bunks in our room were full and as far as I knew the place was booked out. But the next night was much better: Bertha didn't move nearly as much or as violently. In the morning I thanked her, saying "I had a much better sleep last night, thank you". She merely grunted in reply.
Nevertheless, I was still exhausted most of the time and desperately needing rest. I spent every lunch time in bed hoping to catch some sleep in the hour or so we had free. Right next to my bed was a small wooden table with a few small meditative ornaments on it. During lunch time while I was in bed, Bertha came in to our room and set up her laptop on the table only a foot away from my head.
She was relatively quiet, but nevertheless the gentle tap-tap-tap of her keys on the keyboard and the occasional Windows login sound so close to my ear was distracting. It felt like she was right in my space, and I just couldn't fall asleep. "Can't she see that I'm struggling with exhaustion?", I thought to myself as my frustration slowly grew, "Why doesn't she just leave me alone? Does she really have to do this right here, right now? Can't she go and do it somewhere else? And what is she doing on her computer anyway? Surely that's not part of the course."
I was desperate for rest, and Bertha was keeping me awake. "How can she be so uncaring and insensitive?" All these angry, paranoid thoughts were buzzing around my head, making it even more difficult to rest. I hate conflict, and the idea of asking for what I need from a potentially hostile person dosen't thrill me. But it's all part of the course, and I was here to learn to deal with these kinds of things.
So I figured I'd better risk it:
"Do you have to do that right here?", I enquired.
"What?", she said acting suprised
"I'm exhausted and I'm trying to sleep, but you're keeping me awake."
"I'm not making any noise.", Bertha snapped back.
"Well, it's disturbing me. Your laptop is right next to my head. I really need to rest."
"Well, I'm doing my work."
"But you're in my space. Do you have to do it right now? I'm really struggling here."
"I have to do my work!!!"
"But we're on a course. I'm not here doing work. I'm trying to rest so I can get everything I can out of the coure."
"Well I'm doing my work."
She was adamant that her work was more important, and she couldn't possibly do it anywhere else. No matter what I said, she was staying.
"So your work is more important than my need to rest?", I said angrily.
"No, I'm not saying that. You're saying that."
"Oh come on! If you're going to disturb me because your work is more important than me getting the rest I need, you could at least acknowledge that."
Now I was incensed.
"Look, could you please just leave?", I asked with increasing fury.
"It's my room too! I have every right to be here."
"Well yes it is your room, but do you have to work right next to me when I'm trying to sleep? I'm really struggling here."
So much for asking for what I need. How could this woman be so insensitive to another person's needs? I was furious. She was determined to do what she wanted regardless of how it affected me, and wouldn't even acknowledge that. For all I knew, perhaps her work was saving the building from imminent destruction... but I doubted it. I was livid. Instead of getting the rest I needed, I'd spent half of lunch time arguing with this woman who I just couldn't reason with. It felt like arguing with my mother. Eventually when lunch time was almost over anyway, I got up, and stormed out:
"I don't want to be around you; you've got a real 'F_ck-You' energy. I just don't want to be anywhere near you."
I was angry. Really angry. I could see that being unable to reason with an emotionally insensitive woman who always put her own needs first was just replaying the pattern with my mother that I grew up with; but how was I going to break it? Normally I'd try to fix things by appologising, trying to talk to them, and working to smooth things over. Play the nice guy. But it never seemed to work; I'd just end up giving away even more of my power, and Bertha clearly wasn't in the mood for compromise.
Cranky as all hell, I went down to the main hall and did some stomping, threw some tantrums, and bashed some defenceless pillows in an effort to get it out of my system. But I was still angry. Every time I saw Bertha, it reminded me of how little she seemed to care. I'd see her showing love and grace to other people, but cold indifference towards me. It really pissed me off. I tried not to think about it, but the unpleasant thoughts and feelings kept coming back. "How can someone be so insensitive?" It was pushing my buttons, big time. I wanted her to suffer, like she'd made me suffer. Now in addition to being exhausted, I was suffering inside because I felt so angry.
Later in the afternoon, I found myself chatting to Caroline, a drop-dead gorgeous young woman with a pretty face, cheeky smile, long brown hair, tall and slim, with subtle female curves in all the right places. She was a Gestalt therapist who had done a lot of deep inner healing work and had got to the point where she was in an almost constant state of bliss. The weather was warm and Caroline wandered around totally naked and blissed-out pretty much the whole time. So when I bumped into Caroline in her natural state, I asked her what her secret was.
"It's love", she said in a starry-eyed, spacious kind of way. "Everything is about love. I send people love, no matter what. Love love love."
Maybe Caroline was onto something.
Later that evening I was back in the room when Bertha stormed in and grabbed her sheets and blankets. "I can't stand being around you", she cried, "I'm sleeping somewhere else tonight! Tomorrow night, you can move."
She was angry. Angry women freak me out. But I didn't want to keep replaying my mother-pattern of giving in to an angry woman just because I was afraid of conflict. And I didn't want to stay feeling angry myself, either.
"I'm sending you some love", I said.
"I don't want you're love!", Bertha shrieked back
"Well I'm sending it anyway!", I replied as she slammed the door on her way out.
Oh well, at least she wasn't in my face any more. Over the next few days, those feelings of anger kept coming up in me from time to time. Each time, I'd consciously think "I'm sending you some love.", occasionally along with "You sure as hell need it!"
I'd had a lifetime of repressing my anger, and I knew that wasn't the solution. Anger had empowered me to speak up for myself and ask for what I needed; but if I was to hang onto it, the only person who really suffered was me. No doubt Bertha had her own reasons for being so easily triggered by a man who just needed his space from her, and I probably pushed her buttons just like she pushed mine. I never really found out. For the rest of the course, she ignored me. She never came back, and she didn't say goodbye to me or give me a farewell hug like everyone else on the last day. But I was able to sleep better at night, and to rest during lunch time. I was able to ask for what I wanted, survive conflict, and even end up getting what I really needed.
So when uncomfortable feelings of anger at someone who has done you wrong come up, firstly stand up for yourself. And then if the feelings persist, just do what I do: visualise blissed-out naked Caroline, remember her wisdom... and share the love.