Events from the past can have a profound impact on the way we experience the present. It is not only what we have learned from the past, but also the emotional imprint from past events that resurfaces, at times unexpectedly. I recall the first time I returned to Moscow following my expulsion from Russia, as a diplomat, for professional reasons unrelated to my own doing. I had kept good memories from my time in the country and many friends, and I was happy to be able to return and reconnect with a place and a culture which still resonated deeply within. Stepping back on familiar territory, however, I was quickly overwhelmed by a feeling of tension and heaviness. The only explanation seemed to be a body reaction to a stimulus based on what had happened when I left Russia several years ago. I was paralyzed, as if my fears and anxiety at the time had been left on the sidewalk and, as I was walking the familiar streets of the city, they were coming back to haunt me.
A fleeting moment of clarity popped up between the stimulus and the physical and emotional reaction, with flashbacks helping me consciously observe what was happening and acknowledge the power of past events. By identifying the intensity of my reactions and staying with this uncomfortable feeling for a while, I came to understand the importance of replacing that experience by a more positive one to be able to overcome the reaction.
Modifying our reactions by changing our thoughts may prove challenging and perhaps not the best way forward. Simply identifying the process is already powerful, paving the way for greater consciousness. Understanding the reasons behind such reaction is yet another step towards diffusing the negative charge. We actually create boundaries and develop defences to protect ourselves, just like trees need their protective bark. We need the boundaries and defences so that the more vulnerable parts of ourselves can safely heal and grow. There comes a point, however, when boundaries and defences are no longer needed, and can even prevent further growth.
The time had come for me to shed the fear and heaviness in order to soften and loosen up to eventually grow to the next rings and expand boundaries. I hoped to eventually perhaps become a bigger person, having outlived the usefulness of such defences. The timing is different for everyone, and there is nothing wrong or right in questioning boundaries, just like honouring the protective barriers we put in place to allow for growth remains essential. There is a time and space for everything.
As I look at the tensions in Western-Russian relations, I am always mindful that it is a matter of time and space. I had the privilege of knowing periods of growth and periods of constraint in this dynamic, but I often wonder whether the decision point (time and space) is a function of quantity when more people feel it is time to shed the boundaries and defences; or whether it is a function of quality – consciousness—with the right alignment of forces at play.