This article serves as context for Barr Rosenberg’s courses and workshops, which fall into the Skillful Means field of study, and are designed to transform how you relate to yourself as well as others, through exploration and inquiry into how we relate to and define ourselves in relation to our mental processes.
By loosening up and ‘seeing through’ your mental constructs, you can heal your relationship with yourself as well as with others.
by Barr Rosenberg
The challenges of being ‘I’ probably began in your third year of life. After you became ‘I’, just like the other children, you confronted many challenges, such as dependence, growing up, being alone, relating with your peers, vulnerability, overload, self-images that diminished self-knowledge, imperfect understanding, confusion rooted in emotional needs and the prominent role of imagination and fantasy. Once you announced your independence by saying ‘No!’ and took your own stand, you began to relate with others across an illusory gap, upholding your independent side and expecting others to uphold their sides. Since then, others must persuade you to cooperate, and you must persuade them. The structure of relationship, referred to in this program as “Society Within,” establishes ‘You and I’ in this way. We persuade one another to cooperate while upholding our separate sides. Society Within balances contentious self-interest for the sake of cooperation.
The structure of relationship also includes a form of relationship that works for almost all of us, in which our own pair-model of ‘I’ and ‘You’ interacts with another person’s model of ‘You’ and ‘I.’ As each person’s ‘You’ model and the other person’s ‘I’ model come closer, the two pair-models develop into a unique, matching pair. In this way, we learn about one another and build relationship through “pair-models pairing” This form of relating accommodates all the challenges mentioned above fairly well. However, it gives us little traction when we are ready to move beyond the ‘You and I’ form of relating. What does it mean to be ‘We,’ as opposed to ‘You and I?’ How can we begin to heal divisiveness, starting with our own relationships? How can we experience the joy of ‘We’?
Together, we can be ‘We’, sharing mutual trust and unconditional support. These days, we humans most often taste this mutual warmth with a beloved pet. We also find this warmth mutually when we fall in love, as well as in the love between parent and infant and in the closeness of long-lasting friendship. Why don’t we ordinarily come closer in human relationships? The reason is that almost all of the time we are kept apart by the distancing between ‘you’ and ‘I’ that results from balancing contention.
The form of ‘We ‘ that we are usually able to experience occurs when we are sharing ‘We against They’, as in the teamwork of a close-knit competitive team or when we are on the same side of a division in today’s divisive world. ‘We against They’ is as contentious as ‘You and I,’ but the contention is directed outwardly toward ‘They.’ Now we have the reward of willing cooperation among our ‘We’ side, in contrast to the aloneness of ‘I’. The truth of ‘We against They’ could be viewed as a great sadness, since the only readily available way of sustaining ‘We’ in the culture is to join together in contending against outside forces. However, there is also a positive side, because this insight offers a pivotal opportunity: The simple solution is to be ‘We’ without being ‘We against They.’
Our root human characteristics could lead us to cooperate willingly and enjoy ‘We.’ In earlier times, humans lived together in small groups and felt the deep cooperative impulses of working together for the common good. However, in our present cultures, it seems what we need help to come into contact. The ‘We’ exercises in the course reintroduce us to mutual cooperation, remind us of our innate human potential for joy, and encourage us to choose a direction for our lives in which we can share these harmonious feelings with others.
Through the ‘We’ practices, we discover how ‘We’ works: the ‘I’ model in each pair-model expands to include the others who are sharing in the exercise. When we relax, there is no longer any gap among the members of ‘I’, and all the complexities of ‘You and I’ are avoided. When we are together as ‘We’ and each of us is included in the other person’s ‘I’, we have companions within our ‘I’ with whom to compassionately explore the burdens of ‘You and I’. The results are gentle and reliable, and at times almost miraculous in terms of their power of transformation. (By contrast, it may be hard to overcome the longstanding obstacles of being ‘I’ when we are alone performing our own exercises, because being alone is one of the great obstacle that ‘I’ imposes and it is hard to see through it on our own.)
We have ready access to higher forms of ‘We’; we activate ‘We’ together through exercises and introspection. Society Within manifests in ordinary conscious mind as the ongoing sequence of conscious thoughts sometimes called the “mindstream.” The ‘We’ exercises almost immediately silence these ongoing thoughts and open up a different level of mutual experience. Consequently, there are significant benefits from the beginning. Together we can face the challenges of our individual ‘I’s without ‘You and I’ separation between us. We explore a path of progressive deepening that can lead to ‘We sharing love’ and culminate in the simplicity of ‘We for All’. Recognizing the value of ‘We’, we can choose ‘We’ as our way of life and extend our ‘We’ to all living beings. This path of ‘We’ brings peace and joy—which we experience during the course. It is a path of experience and insight that can ultimately lead to freedom.
Barr Rosenberg, Ph.D., has been a student of Tibetan Lama Tarthang Tulku since the early 1970’s. He is a member of the Yeshe De translation team, and is a successful entrepreneur. Barr taught for many years at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, has taught at the Nyingma Institute since 1982, and served as Co-Dean of the Nyingma Institute from 1999-2016. He regularly teaches courses at the Institute in Nyingma Meditation, Buddhist Studies, and Tibetan Art and Language.