Alec Dartley spoke with Roseanne Farano about being self-aware in our programming, maintaining open cycles in psychotherapy, why ambience matters in parenting and what matters most at the end of our life.
I do believe all of our life’s experience coagulates to give us our last experience. So, a truer answer is that everything matters and nothing matters.
You once told me that what matters most at the end of your life is how you interact with yourself. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I knew you had a near-death experience, so I didn’t know if the two related. How did you know this?
It didn’t come from that, I don’t think. But I do believe all of our life’s experience coagulates to give us our last experience. So, a truer answer is that everything matters and nothing matters. But I came to that conclusion through aging and experience. We want to impress people when we’re young, we worry about how other people see us, we have all sorts of exterior directed concerns. As you age, you start realizing that the only person you live with 24/7 is yourself. And the only person who can bring you peace is yourself.
That includes self-review. If I treat you in a way that I think is beneath me, or isn’t up to the standard of “I know better,” then I need to do something about it. Not because I need to make reprimands or repairs with you, but because I need to be okay with me. Does that make sense, Alec?
It does make sense. I guess two things come up in my head when you say that. I don’t know if this is just my programming and my upbringing, but I feel like it’s always been so much more important how I treat everyone else, right? That is the key to being happy. But it doesn’t really work that way.
It’s a good point. I do think how we feel about ourselves is reflective of how we treat others, but it’s half the story. If you are treating other people in a way that you think they’ll like you or is the right way to treat them so you get a certain result, then you’re probably betraying yourself. Because who we are is probably better than how we behave. If you intrinsically want to be kind to somebody, if it comes from an inner source, then it serves everyone. If, from an inner place, you want to be cruel or have revenge, it hurts everyone, including yourself. We often think our outer behavior only affects the other person, is what I’m saying. That’s not true.
I was just watching the Picasso documentary and thinking about the big trail of destruction he left. He was a cruel, cruel man. Is it possible to raise kids so that they can become self-aware of their programming or the stuff they learn when they’re young, before they’re 40 or 60 and a lot of their life is over? How would you do this?
“Is it possible?” Your question makes me want to respond to the asker rather than the question, meaning that your question tells me a lot about you. That’s something you would like, and it sounds like it puts an awful lot of pressure on parenting. So if I say yes, it sounds like you’re asking an awful lot of the parent or creating this vessel of failure. And I do believe there are ways that you can raise children to encourage their ability to self-reflect and be aware. And that’s being self-reflective and aware of yourself. In other words, if you are what you want to teach, you automatically teach it.
The more aware you become, the more you teach your children that. Not through a lecture or lesson, but through their ambience. Fish don’t know they’re swimming in water until you take them out and they flop around in the air. Children exist in the ambience of whatever their living condition is, and they absorb that like a sponge. So if their environment bespeaks compassion, self-awareness, reflection, care for others as well as self and the idea that what you do has an effect on others, then they are going to grow up with that kind of natural ability.
I also hear in that question, “What can I do to be a good or better parent?” That intrinsically is a great question, and it also puts stress on you, or the generic you, not trusting that the core of who you are is what your children are going to absorb. No matter how you behave, your children will absorb who you are.
I feel like if I hadn’t really looked at myself and gone through the whole process, maybe who I am would be impeded by the house I grew up in, right? So I would just be unknowingly passing on all this stuff. Or is that core of me somehow separate from trauma, programming and all that?
I believe our essence or soul can remain pure. The idea is, how much layering do you put over it, so how much can get out? We’re human beings; we’re all imperfect. I think within our imperfection is perfection. I believe children and all of us learn not just because you did something right, but because you learn by seeing the struggle that humanity has. So, again, the genuineness of who you are when you raise your children is more powerful than “doing things right.”
For example, if you want your children to learn compassion, you can teach them, but also, are you compassionate? Are you patient? How do you handle struggles? Do you show your children that when you lose your temper? When you are normal and imperfect and make mistakes, how do you resolve that? When you blow up and come back the next day and everything’s fine, do they see the resolution part? Do they see the struggle and the end of the struggle as you being okay in the end? Not “Life is perfect,” it’s “I’m okay.”
Say your child is playing sports and they care more about winning than anything else. As they’re celebrating the win, spin them around and tell them to look at the other team. Just look at them for a second. You don’t have to say anything. Just draw their attention to the fact that they may me happy, but just look at those boys over there crying. What does that do to you? It can be very simple like that. And then they have an awareness that they’re not the only person in the world and that their behavior has an effect on the world. That’s a very, very powerful idea for a child to have.
Personally, I let my kids in on that process to an extent and try to be like, “I’m triggered right now. This is what it’s like,” at least with my older kids. Is that helpful?
Yes. And in the end, do they get to experience Daddy’s resolution of that? And the resolution isn’t that Daddy won’t be triggered again and he becomes perfect. The resolution is that you’re okay. You’re still Daddy, and with children, depending on how old they are, that you’re still there for them, and you can be triggered and they’re still safe. The message of that is powerful.
Daddy’s screaming at someone in the car who just did a stupid thing, and the awareness that you’re screaming in the car is also frightening your children. At some point, you let them see “I’ve just lost your temper because I got frightened that they were going to cause an accident and I want to make sure my kids are okay.” That’s sort of a sophisticated example, but does that address what you’re asking, Alec?
It does. Sometimes I wonder, right? The kid’s brain is developing. Are they just repeating what I’m saying, or…?
You just used the sports example. My son just lost the biggest soccer game of the season. Afterwards, he was like, “Yeah, I was upset for a few minutes, and then I remembered we’re on a rock flying through space.” I’m like, “Is he just saying that?” It seemed like he was real about it. It seemed very adult, and I’m like “This can’t be a 12-year-old.”
Not being there, it’s hard to assess that particular example because I don’t know. But on the surface, what he’s showing you is a greater awareness that this is just a moment in time. The fact that children get that upset about losing a game is more what they learn from their parents and their coaches, by the way. It’s not a natural, inbred response. It’s learned.
I try to stay exactly with what’s happening in the moment and follow where the crack in the vase is. Where is the crack I can follow, and where is it going?
The pace of therapy seems so incredibly slow. With us, for two years, you were saying the same five things in different ways, using different analogies, and it took years to sink in. Is it ever frustrating for you, or is it just frustrating for your clients?
I would answer that individually. It helps me understand where you are as the patient. It gives me an awareness of where you’re at, then it helps me self-reflect. Maybe I need to improve. Maybe I’m not clear. I never see therapy or sessions as fast or slow; I try to stay exactly with what’s happening in the moment and just follow where the crack in the vase is. Where is the crack I can follow, and where is it going? And you — or the “other” as the patient — are the one who tells me that.
If I change the pace to what I want it to be, then the best example that I can give you is when I go mountain climbing with my husband. When you’re taking a group of people on a serious trek, you go at the pace of the slowest person. Otherwise, the group falls apart. It makes perfect sense. If you climb or hike at the pace of the person with the highest skill level rather than the lowest, you’ll be miles apart and you cannot be safe or coherent. So, he taught me to just go at the pace of the slowest person, and everything is more coherent that way, so I trust that.
What I’ve learned is that you can’t skip steps, unfortunately.
It depends what you want to get out of a session, or five years of sessions. The gift of this planet — as your son would say, this rock — is hindsight. If you look back after two years of therapy or one session, you see very different things. Is that attributed to therapy, or is it just life, growth and aging? I don’t know. Maybe both? That’s what I’m always saying to you; hindsight is such a great teacher if you take the time and look.
But in the moment, if you’re feeling a feeling you don’t want to have, when you’re anxious or angry or hurt and don’t want to feel that way, you become very impatient to feel better. And the impatience to feel better shuts us down from the only path we have to feel better, which is through and with the feeling and knowing these are part of the human condition, rather than wanting to get rid of the feeling because it’s uncomfortable and we don’t like it. Hindsight gives you that.
I was just watching your interview on YouTube, and I wish I did a while ago. They asked what makes you feel good at the end of the day, and you said it’s not your client having a big breakthrough or that their relationship worked, but how you handle yourself. Working with you, I’ve been like “Am I a success story to her, or am I a failure?” And it just flipped all that on its head, but that’s your message. I guess you’re kind of living what you’ve been telling me.
Well, it’s like saying “Are you a marionette and the world can jerk your strings?” That’s what it is. “I am only happy if the world reflects it to me.” For example, people who are in discordant relationships. They have to make the other person happy to be happy. They have to get the other person to understand their point of view to be happy. It’s all over the place. I’m not saying that doesn’t have value. What I am saying is that at the end of the day, it’s really about you are with yourself and how you conducted yourself in your relationship, whether it’s a relationship to nature, your children or your work. It can be animate or inanimate.
How are you connected or disconnected from life? We’re always disconnected when we’re angry at somebody else making us miserable, and we’re always connected when we say “Yes, I did that.” If you’re fighting with someone and they’re yelling at you for an important or unimportant thing — “You left the coffee cup on the counter and it drives me crazy! Why don’t you put it in the dishwasher?” People rarely say “Yes, I left the cup there.” They always start with their defense. “I didn’t mean to.” “I’m sorry.” “I was busy.” “The phone rang.” They always go to a defense rather than an acknowledgement. It changes your interior world when you’re not in a defensive posture.
You once told me that when you really do something bad, you know it. That should be so simple, but it’s been very helpful. For example, a bug, some variation of a fly, landed on my palette. It was kind of a skinny version of a fly with these striped wings.
Usually, I just blow so the bug gets away without stepping on the paint and dying, but this time, I didn’t. The bug got in the yellow paint and I was like, “Argh, what an asshole! I could have saved that bug.” It was so intense, and I was like, “Well, I didn’t do anything wrong. Why am I beating myself up over this?” I’m not sure where I’m going with this.
I want to do therapy with you right now! Using that example, it’s sort of like your psyche is hanging out, waiting to figure out how to make you bad. It speaks more to your psyche than to the question. We know when we do something bad. It’s like, if you intentionally hurt somebody’s feelings, you feel very differently than if you hurt somebody’s feelings by accident — if you take a baseball bat on purpose and drop it on somebody’s foot than when you drop the bat not knowing someone’s foot was there. You can feel that inside you. They evoke very different feelings.
If we do something that harms someone or the world or even property and it’s an accident, you genuinely feel bad. You have this sense of feeling so sorry. If you do it on purpose, you feel riled up — “They deserved it!” — and very defensive. One is an open posture where everything is possible and the other is a closed posture, where pretty much nothing is possible except that you repeat your history. Which is a history of “I’m right, they’re wrong, I’m good, they’re bad.” That always leads nowhere. It’s a closed cycle.
But if you have an open posture, everything is possible. So, your question as to whether when you do something bad, you know it, is because there’s an intention to harm, or hurt, or destroy. Even when you’re fighting with someone you love and you know you want to fix it, your intention is revenge or to hurt them back because they hurt you, you already know that’s going to make you feel terrible. It’s not going to work, and it’s not going to make you feel better. And an intention to heal always feels much more dangerous and scary because you’re open and vulnerable.
Any final messages you want to send out to the world, Roseanne?
What you don’t know is a heck of a lot more interesting than what you think you do know.
Curated by: Alec Dartley
Conducted by: Phone
Transcribed by: Morgan Enos
Published: June 22, 2018
Total questions: 11
Word count: 2644
Reading time: Nine minutes
ability, absorption, Alec Dartley, animate, behavior, breakthrough, care, coagulation, coffee, compassion, computer, conduct, defense, essence, evoke, fish, hindsight, impede, imperfect, inanimate, inbred, intrinsic, marionette, nature, New York, normal, paint, perfect, phone, Picasso, programming, psychotherapy, relationship, repair, reprimand, resolution, response, Roseanne Farano, soccer, soul, Southold, space, story, string, success, temper, trauma, uncomfortable, unknowing, yellow
About the curator
Alec Dartley is a painter and sculptor working from The Palisades in New Jersey. He received his BA from Parsons School of Design in 1995 and was later awarded a Skowhegan residence. He was born in 1973 in Englewood, New Jersey. Alec is also the founder of Aagoo, a record label for emerging musicians.
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