2007 – Year Of The Cull

Last year, I attended one of those free all-weekend seminars self-development gurus run as a teaser a few weeks in advance of expensive follow-up courses. The “guru” in this case was Christopher Howard – typical all-American self-development package. You know: fresh-faced, slightly tanned, fit and expensively suited, smiling mouthful of perfect teeth, bouncing around the stage like a SuperBall.

Truth is, in spite of myself, I was impressed. The Yanks do this stuff so well. They are masters of crowd psychology. However, what I’m on about here is not Christopher Howard (who will be the subject of a future post), but one of the exercises he conducted after some goal-setting activities and a deep relaxation session similar to those hypnotists and some meditation teachers use. You end up imagining yourself in some ideal location, your “perfect place”, where you feel completely at ease and relaxed (and most open to hypnotic or auto-suggestion).

After a while in this “favourite place”, The Voice went on something like this:

Imagine the new you, the “you” you’ve always wanted to be. This is not the future. This is now, and it’s real. All those goals are no longer words on paper. They are real. You have created them. You have created yourself just as you want to be, as you deserve to be…[pause]…

Now, imagine you are on stage. And you are inviting on stage with you, one by one, everyone in your life, past and present…

Family members, your spouse, ex-spouse, parents, siblings, friends, lovers, workmates, neighbours, acquaintances, teachers…impose no restrictions…[pause]…

Now…as each person comes on stage…look at them, look them in the eyes, and ask them whether they support you in being who you want to be. Do they 100% support you? Do they truly want for you what you want for yourself? Search their souls for their answer. Do not shy from the truth.

If they answer in the affirmative, and you KNOW they mean it, have them stay on the stage with you. If they do not support you, if they do not want for you what you want for yourself, tell them to go. Do not discuss, do not compromise. If they do not support you, let them go…

The imagery became too painful for me from this point. It was imagery of release, of severance – of a type of death. And the reason it was so painful was that I realised as I looked into the eyes of every significant person in my life going back to my early adulthood, and earlier – family and friend – that very few of them wanted the best for me. Overwhelmingly, the eyes spoke of fear of change, or jealousy, or both.

And as I farewelled from the stage my siblings, my mother (deceased some years earlier), and every one of my longest-standing friends, I bound myself in an emotional straitjacket, lest I – cynic of cynics when I entered the auditorium that morning – should collapse in a blubbering heap of grief and self-pity.

It occurred to me later, as I sought through rational thought to neuter the wracking reality of that inner experience, that the entire miserable revelation could be explained away as projection. Could I not merely be expressing my own fear of change, my own petty jealousies of others who, by achieving, threw my failures and non-achievements into sharp relief?

I searched myself for the answer, an answer that would yield the comfort of a guilty verdict that would allow me to accept full responsibility for my mean, petty nature, and indulge in a little self-flagellation (o the suffocating womblike warmth of one’s comfort zone). But the evidence that I tossed around as I rifled through my memory banks refused me solace.

Cut to now.

How much it has to do with the Christopher Howard exercise I am unsure, but this last year, and part of the year before, has been a culling period for me. I have cut ties with some people who have been fixtures in my life for many years – in one case, my “best friend” since primary school. What power a label has to defraud!

In the case of this person, and others, I abruptly ceased contact, determined not to make any further effort to maintain ties, since it seemed that all such effort always came from me. Needless to say, the silence has been thunderous.

Interestingly, my newer friends – all of whom remained “on stage” with me in the Howard exercise – remain. Indeed, doors to other friendships, also, appear to be opening.

But if my writing seems sure, and my way ahead clear, do not be deceived. It takes courage to disengage from the certainties of the past (and the illusion of future stability) and sometimes I am full of fear.

Further, I am not even sure I have done the right thing. I discussed this culling stuff with one of my newer friends, who replied that he maintained all his long-standing relationships, even if he no longer got much out of them, simply because in his experience friends did not come along readily. A valid enough view.

But then, if you once had plenty in common with someone and no longer do, what is a shared past worth?

What if competitiveness and jealousy and lack of acknowledgement, or even disrespect, are present in a relationship and have always been – was that ever a true friendship, even though both parties may have labelled it so? Or was it a dead duck waiting to be called by its name? I don’t know. But what’s the point now of ruminating over a carcass full of shot?

And values – how important are they? Can friendships thrive when values are different, or in conflict? I think so. They have for me in the past. So why am I now in contempt not only of the stinginess and money-obsession I see in one of my long-standing friends, but of the person themselves? Aren’t we supposed to mellow in time?

Why, now, as I write, does an image from a Marcel Marceau performance I saw as a kid – of a man bricking himself into a shrinking prison of his own making – come to me like a spectral message from the mists?

I recall that disturbing and enigmatic line from Oscar Wilde’s poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol:

Yet each man kills the things he loves

And I think, perhaps, that was never truer of anyone than it is of me.

2 thoughts on “2007 – Year Of The Cull”

  1. Very Harsh Rolan. Nothing remains static – and even if it did it would become stale. Life evolves and friends that you had when you were young, now take on a different meaning when your resonsibilities in life / foci / perspective change due to external influences, such as; work commitments, wife(s), children that you acknowledge and some that you still have to pay for even if you don’t formally acknowledge them! It sounds to me that you have certain expectations that you want from friends however; by the sounds of it, you have come up short….maybe you need to reassess your expectations, or alternately find someone that will fill those expectations. But here within lies the paradox, how do you know this new friend won’t fall short in the long run?? I thought friendship was a journey and you can step on and off this journey as it suits. I know persoanlly that I have dipped out of life and that most friends that I’ve come across all agree; competing priorities encroach, somethings must/need to take a back seat (at least for a while). That is not to say reignition of the journey cannot commence at a later date. However Rolan, it sounds to me that if a friend decides to take a break in the journey, they (with you) will have to make up for the indiscretion……Now I must go home, drink a bottle of wine and reminisce about old journeys….

  2. I don’t think you’ve fully understood my post, Brendo – not sure whether that’s my responsibiity (not expressing myself precisely enough…although I put a lot into that post, so if this is the case I do not know how to better frame the mindset I was in and the things that informed it). But perhaps that responsibility lies more with you.

    It seems to me you have misinterpreted the piece, focused on a very narrow and relatively insignificant part of it without giving the rest due weight, and brought assumptions to your reading that are not necessarily applicable or valid, as well as – perhaps – projecting your own circumstances on to my situation and taking some of my comments personally. And you know, you do come across here as full of judgement, which you, by implication, accuse me of!

    Of course, I know who you are – I suspect you thought I was referring to you in part in my post. It is true that you are one of the people I decided not to contact again, since the effort was always coming from me…and if you’re honest, you’ll have to acknowledge that it was only a chance meeting that prompted a resumption in contact. But I can tell you that to the best of my recall I did not have you in mind specifically when I was writing any part of the post.

    The people I was mostly referring to above are not those who have merely put no energy into keeping up contact. That seems to be the part you’ve responded to while not factoring in the far more important parts. Not putting any thought or energy into maintaining contact is a small enough thing, and as you say, often merely a function of changing focus and added responsibility. My gripe is not with such folk. And it is nothing to do with things not remaining static – I found that comment somewhat patronising, to be honest. Do you think me so simple, and so fossilised in my thinking? You do me a disservice; in a sense, the whole piece is actually about moving on!

    The people I am referring to – that is, those I have “culled” – are those who, I have come to realise, were not genuinely supportive of me in the way I think I was of them and as one might expect people to be who really care for you. Further, and ironically in light of your “static” comment, they actively sought to prevent me from moving outside the narrow confines in which they had me contained (or thought they did)! This is not something you can comprehend from the little I have covered here…that would take a lot more space and time than I am prepared to put in, and besides, who wants to hear all this past shit? I can say, though, that in some cases, active betrayal was at work. That’s not a nice revelation, especially when it applies to your own blood, or to people you have labelled “friends” for most of your life. And I believe it is something that is beyond the judgement of ‘outsiders’ – certainly when that judgement is made without access to relevant and vital facts, as I put it to you that yours is here.

    Until you understand the profundity of the sort of disappointment to which I refer (and I hope you never do, though it’s hardly unique), you will probably not be able to fully comprehend, or at least identify, with some parts of my post. In a sense, the post was not meant to be other than personal reflection, and a coming to terms with decisions I had made, and the reasons I made them. Such is the intriguing nature of personal blogging: diarising in public, so to speak. Are diaries meant to be fully understood by anyone other than the writer? I would say not necessarily. And I would assert that this understanding – that diarising can still be entirely valid without being fully comprehensible to the ‘outside’ reader – should be brought to any such reading of texts like my post. Since this is not a diary as such, though, reader and writer roles are not spelt out, so confusion is hardly surprising…and I acknowledge that.

    I do not mean the paragraph above to be a putdown. I know that you are intimately familiar with various family dysfunctions, for example, and the pain that can accompany them. But your situation is not the same as mine. Your experiences are not the same as mine. Your friendships have different dynamics from mine and I, for one, would not pretend or assume to understand them fully without extensive and intimate knowledge of their natures. Neither would I presume to judge you and your assessments and decisions based on less than intimate knowledge. Perhaps, then – and this is the main point of this response – you should extend the same consideration to me (and others).

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