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The Sensitivity Handbook: Training Materials for Developing Balanced Sensitivity

Alexander Berzin
July 1999
Revised February 2003

Part III: Dispelling Confusion about Appearances

Exercise 12: Visualizing Life's Changes

I. While focusing on someone from your life

1. While focusing on a photo or on a thought of someone with whom you have a close daily relationship

  • Note how the person deceptively appears to exist permanently as one age, either the present one or an outdated one, and how you treat him or her insensitively because of this
  • To deconstruct this appearance, visualize portraits of the person spanning each year of life from birth to death standing in a vertical stack, like a deck of playing cards, with those from infancy to the present on one side of him or her and those extending to old age and death on the other
  • Flip through the stack and see the present image as just one in a series
  • Alternate focusing on the person's accurate current appearance and his or her changing image spanning a lifetime
  • Focus on the restricted and expanded perspectives simultaneously, like seeing Venetian blinds and the view of a busy street behind them
    • Let the feeling sink in that the person's seemingly fixed appearance as one age is a deceptive view
  • When advanced in this practice, repeat the procedure, extending the visualization to include images of hypothetical past and future lives

2. While focusing on your conception of someone who recently upset you, by using a mental image or a vaguer impression to represent the person, and only looking at a photo occasionally as a point of reference

  • Note how fixed your conception based on this incident feels
  • To deconstruct this conception, recall other encounters in which the person acted differently and imagine a variety of possible future scenes
  • Represent these scenes with a mental image, a feeling, or both, and imagine them like stacked slides on either side of your fixed conception
  • Repeat the rest of the procedure as before

3. Repeat the procedure while focusing on your seemingly set feelings toward the person who upset you, by using a mental image or vaguer impression of the person as a focal point for representing each feeling and only looking at a photo occasionally for reference

II. While focusing on someone in person

1. While sitting in a circle of men and women from as wide a variety of ages and backgrounds as possible

  • Repeat the procedure to deconstruct their deceptive appearances as people who have always been and will always be their current age or weight, by looking at each person in turn
  • Repeat the procedure to deconstruct their appearances as having a seemingly permanent, singular identity, by looking away, working with your impression of each within the context of a cluster of images of other known or hypothetical aspects of the person's personality and behavior, and glancing back at the person only for reference
  • Repeat the procedure to deconstruct your seemingly permanent feelings toward each person, by looking away and only glancing back for reference

III. While focusing on yourself

1. While focusing on yourself without a mirror

  • Repeat the procedure to deconstruct the deceptive appearance of your current self-image as your permanent, singular identity
  • Repeat the procedure to deconstruct any seemingly fixed emotions you might feel toward yourself as you are now

2. While having before you a series of photos of yourself spanning your life

  • Repeat the procedure to deconstruct your identification with your present physical appearance or how you looked at one stage in your life, by working with the photos and adding to them projected images of how you might look in the future
  • Repeat the procedure to deconstruct any fixed conceptions you might have of yourself at difficult periods in your life, by recalling a wider range of memories and using the photos merely as a point of reference
  • Repeat the procedure to deconstruct any fixed feelings you might have toward yourself at difficult periods in your life, by using the photos only for reference
[ Corresponding Chapter 13 of Developing Balanced Sensitivity.]