Archive for August, 2012

Shopping with “the Force”

August 31, 2012

My younger son tends to roll his eyes when I even look as if I might say some thing of a spiritual nature.

He’s a dedicated fan of Star Wars, though, and says things in jest like, “I sense a disturbance in the Force” when he hears someone coming.

So today we go out in the car, shopping for one of those reading pillows for him, and the first two stores we went to were sold out of them.  I suggested a route home along which we might pass other stores that might carry such an item, but I didn’t really want to go chasing particular stores if we were likely to encounter spent inventory — I figured we’d order one on line when we got home.

He agreed, and I asked him to keep a look-out for plausible stores.  At one point we were pulling up to a traffic light and I felt prompted to turn to look at what was the occasion for a traffic signal.  I saw a store in the distance tucked away in a mall there and said, “Oh, there’s a store.”

Jordan asked, “How did you know to look there?”

And I said, “I felt prompted by the Force.”

This time he didn’t roll his eyes.  Of course, that store was sold out, too.

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China plates

August 30, 2012

I mentioned putting out the best china in my last post.  It was an analogy for using a more enlightened version of ourselves, a version which sometimes is not appreciated by others or is even appropriate to the situation.

So I talked about using paper or plastic dishes instead, the way one would at a picnic or barbeque.

Of course, there my imagery breaks down in its usefulness.  If I’ve got good china in a spiritual sense, when I use the everyday stuff (again, in a spiritual sense), or even paper or plastic, it’s enhanced.  It may look like the store brand of flimsy paper, but it’s actually really strong.  I want to say it’s flexible, resilient, and permeable — but my housewares analogy won’t support that.

People often talk about how their faith allows them to bend like a willow and not break the way something brittle would (of course, willow trees are notoriously easily uprooted, I think, so I’m not sure how far that imagery goes, either).

What I would want to convey, through what imagery I’m not sure, is that once you’ve got your best china, even when you use the everyday or the paper or plastic, it includes the ability to see things in an enlightened way — seeing things as being more in harmony, seeing things less divided into dual categories, and seeing how to re-frame a situation so as to bring to light a positive from it (growing flowers from detritus).

I don’t think we can say the fine china becomes embedded in the casual stuff and have that statement make much sense in the physical world, but that’s what I think happens in terms mental perspective  — when we go back down into the hurly-burly of interactions between people with their egos in pretty full play, we have an extra bit of space from which to observe with detachment before we translate our response into words and action.

What I think I’m looking for is a more helpful image with which to communicate how this enhanced process of responding might be understood.

Ani Dalit

August 30, 2012

I was going to write about my reaction to the speeches I’ve been watching or listening to on line through the PBS website at the Republican convention (about what came across to me as Condoleezza Rice’s fear, discipline, and brittleness, for example), but I decided to write about my reaction in a different way.

When I started writing comments to news items on line a few years ago, I think I was much less judgmental (and my expression in my writing was much more crabbed).  I used a screen name, Ani Dalit, in part for privacy.  The two pieces of the name come from people in the lineage I’ve been exploring.  “The Dalit” was a girl in India centuries ago who didn’t even know her given name — she was just referred to by the people who kept her as “the Dalit.”  Ani was somewhat older, her given name had been Ang, and she had not only a poise I admire but a strong spiritual discipline I would do well to emulate.  I think I was seeing the world more through their eyes.

As I was listening to Paul Ryan’s speech last night, I noticed my resistance to it.  That’s what got me thinking about my screen persona as Ani Dalit, and how differently I would have reacted to the speech and to Ryan through her lens.  I am mindful that sometimes it doesn’t serve to put out what we think of as our “best china” — paper plates or plasticware at a picnic or barbeque would probably be more appreciated by the guests, to use the analogy.  So I am not sure whether I should try to “go back” to seeing things through their eyes, and think of what I’ve done more recently as sort of a detour.

I think Ani Dalit would find a way to embrace someone like a Paul Ryan, with the sorts of limitations he apparently has, with compassion and with acceptance that he’s doing the best he can do, and without taking on his set of values and worldview or trying to meet him on his own terms, regardless of how provocative she might find what he says to be.  I don’t think she would become angry or agree to become provoked.

But what if I should be using my paper plates instead?  Or plasticware (if the food is likely to be too heavy or greasy for paper).  What would that look like?  How to accept the messenger and still respond to the message as a participant and not merely as a detached observer?  How to respond to the message in a way and in a language that will be understood by the person to whom I’m responding, without actually adopting their own language?

I am thinking there’s a way to take what Ani Dalit would see and then translate that back into a language useful to those who don’t.

Why isn’t the answer reincarnation?

August 29, 2012

I was reading a piece about how we sometimes acquire memories of things we haven’t directly experienced in our physical lives, and a letter criticizing it.  Both were in The New York Times, and I thought, not for the first time, “I guess to Times‘ readers and writers, a notion like reincarnation is just not on the radar.”

Reincarnation provides a conceptualization and vocabulary for understanding, talking about, and learning from this phenomenon, I think — it has utility even if people find it foreign at first.  Like scientists who find the notion of time travel so incredible, these folks are confusing the limitations of their understanding with the limitations of human understanding.

In universities I used to notice how people could get so much mileage out of discussing fairly commonplace understandings from one discipline in another department or school within the university.  This strikes me as similar but opposite: it’s the failure to import the ideas across departmental lines that is notable here.  I am hopeful that some enterprising scientist from a culture that uses the concept of reincarnation or shamans will eventually help cross-pollinate those ideas with what grows in scientific fields.

The road occasionally traveled

August 22, 2012

Heading off tomorrow for some travel.

Active requests, or, Don’t Feed the Animals

August 21, 2012

I’ve wondered, as I think many people wonder, about why we seem to need to actively request help from the universe to receive it.

On the one hand, let me get out of the way first that I think general willingness to serve can lead to some kind of help in a particular situation.

But there does seem to be in our system a need to ask for help from the universe.  This is tangentially related to the issue I touched on recently in a previous post about what happens when needs are not sufficiently communicated to another human being.  In the case of asking for help from God or the universe, we wonder why they can’t see our need and meet it without articulation, the way a parent might meet a baby’s needs without the child’s communicating those to them explicitly.

For one thing, there’s the issue of our receptivity to the help — if we’re not open enough to hear and be guided, all the help can be available to us (and is, I think) and yet we can’t (as in, we are unable to) make use of it.

The issue of specific requests I think could be related to something else.  If God and the universe are too easily accessible to us and our needs don’t serve, that helping energy will go to uses that don’t serve.  If the system requires a request, it is also requiring a certain mindset on the part of the requester, one that may screen for authentic communication from the heart, for example.  It is furthermore inserting a pause, however brief, into the dynamic and an opportunity for a decision of some sort.  It strikes me that this could ensure that energy does not just gush out to wherever a flawed human being might direct it.

I came to this thinking as I was contemplating my interactions with others that I find draining.  I’m very porous, but what I think actually is more at the root of my trouble is that I actively share my energy with others too easily.  I think I need to look at requests instead, to assume my energy will circulate for me unimpeded unless I divert it per a request or at least with my permission.  I think I have not been sufficiently aware of what seemingly innocuous interactions lead to my giving away my energy in ways that don’t result in anything truly helpful.  (I’m not sure I’m right about this, since so many people like myself end up using other techniques to keep other people at bay, including limiting their availability physically for interactions.)

Energy is energy, so having thought about my own system, it struck me that while God’s energy is limitless, pouring it into things that don’t serve would not necessarily be the system we have, and that requiring a request might be a way of maintaining equilibrium overall in the system.  Then, only requests (or subterfuges or donations, prudent or imprudent) to move energy around would actually change its distribution.

I don’t know if this is accurate, and just as knowing that there will be pain so long as there is pleasure in a world isn’t particularly satisfying or comforting to someone is distress, it doesn’t address the apparent difficulties in the system that seem to arise when a person doesn’t know to or is unable to make a request.

To me, the story of an angel who rebels against God is really the story of someone questioning the system we have in the universe.  I think when the system is viewed from some perspectives it really does look stupid or cruel.  I’ve encountered folks who needed to hear that before they would accede to rejoining it.  A more neutral way of putting it is that we may experience the systemic as difficult.  If our cosmology includes something like a demiurge between ourselves and God, who is responsible for our system the way a game designer is responsible for a particular game, I suppose our complaint is with the demiurge and not with the universe.

For me, a component of faith is that from some other points of view, the system has its merits and makes sense, if I can put it that way, that from other perspectives our concerns and complaints are about things that are irrelevant from that kind of perspective.

I think human beings have a peculiar position in our ability to participate in the system with our heads to some extent in the clouds while our feet are in the mud.  At our most helpful we are conduits, I think, at our least, we implode into energetic black holes.  Somewhere in between those two extremes lie the people whom I experience as large hungry babies who just want to suckle and grow large from energy from elsewhere, without themselves becoming donors of it in turn.  I think I am learning not to feed them in ways that don’t serve.

I am not surprised that in the world we have people who see this upside down and backwards in terms of activity in the physical world — such as political conservatives who see society in terms of productive people and lazy people on the dole.  I suspect they are voicing for themselves their own spiritual situation but have lost the ability to hear.  But they do us a service in making apparent the problem to other people who can hear what they are saying.  Eventually that perspective will spread.  I believe that the spiritual situation is the dog and the physical manifestation is the tail, and that when the perspective of enough people changes sufficiently with respect to our spiritual situation, the situation in our material world will improve.

Present

August 21, 2012

It felt like a present.   Instead of taking the walk I had planned to take, I walked around the corner and up the steep hill I used to push Jordan’s stroller on the way to pick up Jonas from elementary school, and I followed the same route we used to take the rest of the way.

There’s a playground with a ball field on the same block, before one arrives at the (rebuilt) school itself, and on the grass near the sidewalk near the slide was a large striped feather — much white with brown horizontal stripes.  I picked it up and turned it over — on that other side the white sections looked smudged with brown.

I’m supposing it’s a hawk feather.  I like it.  I also liked finding it today, on what would have been my wedding anniversary.   I don’t much care who it’s from, I’m enjoying it without knowing exactly how to attribute its appearance in my life on this day on this walk.  It feels like a present.

Small talk

August 20, 2012

Late last night I had another iteration of a pattern that goes back a very long time for me, at least until I was a pre-schooler.  It has to do with warming up to present a need of mine to someone I think can meet it.  It occurs when I don’t bring up the need directly, because I’m pretty sure I’d get a negative reaction, so I start with something akin to small talk, in an effort to start a dialogue, so I can see how to negotiate and modify my request before I present it.

What I’ve found is that it often doesn’t work.  The other person sticks to their own agenda and doesn’t take my responses as a prompt for a discussion, the other person dismisses me enough so that I go away without ever getting anywhere near communicating what I need, etc.  As a pre-schooler, I once ended up with chocolate milk poured over my head.  This time it was just what felt like a dismissive email.

I’ve tried the direct approach in other situations, and that hasn’t worked either.  It usually results in an empty promise, I suspect to make me feel better in the moment and with no regard to how I’ll feel later.

Maybe I tend to zig when I should zag — maybe I use indirection with those with whom a direct approach is needed.  But I suspect the real lesson has something to do with why these people will never meet whatever need it is I think I have, regardless of how I reveal it, and what I am to make of that.

Processes

August 19, 2012

I’m not sure whether Amazon.com is employing new software or whether it’s just that the way I’ve used the site has recently triggered something that’s always been there, but I don’t like it.  I consider buying something, and then either they raise the price of the item I’m considering before I decide to buy it or they start sending me emails about even more expensive, related items for sale.  It’s enough to make me change my use of the site.

Similarly with the processes of posting comments to pieces on newspaper, and such, websites.  I long abandoned posting comments on the website of The Boston Globe.   It had turned into a “conversation,” and the results were not, in my opinion, for the better, in terms of quality or interest.  At the time, I didn’t much mind, because I was enjoying posting comments on the NYTimes website.  That was back in the days of the previous commenting format, in which the comments were numbered, for example, and everything was, I think, on a first-come, first-served basis.  And Marie Burns took top prizes.

I think Marie Burns can be found elsewhere on the web.  But there are other aspects to the old process I miss (such as the greater formality of most of the entries), and I am thinking I am detecting the degenerating of the whole enterprise into more casual interactions among commenters — better for the social networking, worse for the content, which I think benefits from focus on ideas, not on their reception.

I’m not against interaction per se, I just think it needs to be structured in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on the primary enterprise.  I should probably also note that under the current regime at the NYTimes, I personally am able to post my comments without going through moderation — on the Globe website, there is only moderation after the fact, and for everyone, of course, I think.  But I am much less content with the dynamic now at the NYTimes as a whole than I used to be.

I also comment on the PBS NewsHour website, where many fewer comments are posted and I can’t quite figure out the moderation practices.  There the dynamic seems to vary, with some very interesting interactive threads and some seemingly random and oddly-inspired comments.

But, to get back to my original point:  just as I don’t enjoy the apparent Amazon.com algorithm I’m encountering, I find my interest in commenting on the NYTimes changing for the worse — I find myself feeling put off by the dynamic.

My reference to the dynamic on the NewsHour site makes me want to say that I really don’t know what makes an interactive experience satisfying and what doesn’t for me — I suspect for me it’s about openness and a focus on ideas and not personalities.  I wonder whether for others, it’s more enjoyable when it’s quite the opposite and has a greater component of reacting to one another.

I don’t know what the NYTimes’ objective is for their commenting feature.  With Amazon I’m going to suspect it’s pure profit.  So I really don’t know whether to expect that there will be other changes in the future to the commenting feature to try to maintain quality and not just traffic, for example.

I have been contemplating other changes in my life of late, and I’m not sure how this issue fits into that.  I’ll be going away later this week and into the next, so maybe time away will help me determine what I’ll do about all this.  Maybe it will seem to me that the universe is nudging me to go in a different direction from what I’ve been doing and turn to something else.  Things in this world are always changing in some way.  Or maybe I’ll just come back with a different attitude towards the same activities.

After the storm

August 18, 2012

I wrote a belated comment on the PBS NewsHour website about the selection of the presidential debate moderators, including their own (retired) Jim Lehrer.  In it I said something to the effect that I was looking for, in the debates themselves, evidence that the performers had beforehand stepped outside the details of their respective roles to touch base with the theme that they are their for the benefit of the American people, and that I wanted to see this attitude reflected in deeds as well as the usual words.

The note that I think I would like to hear them hit behind the scenes, and hear its reverberations in the performances on camera, is similar to what we in this country seem to feel after a large but not devastating snowstorm or hurricane has moved through our neighborhood.  (We probably feel it too after devastating storms and after events like what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, but I don’t think we need that much trauma to get to the note I’m after.)  We come out of our houses, like bears coming out of hibernation, and actually connect with one another.  It could be because we are forced to by the loss of electricity or the need to clean up debris or remove snow, but as we do, we communicate with each other in ways we don’t usually do in our daily routines.  We remember our common humanity, our connection to one another just as fellow human beings.  We are reminded that we’re all in this together.

We obviously have trouble sustaining that note.  We go back to hibernating and business-as-usual all too soon and easily.  I’m not entirely sure why we shift back.  I wish we wouldn’t.

Anyway, the moderator choice came to my more focused attention after I read an article in the NYTimes about its reception.  The implication of the criticisms put me in mind of issues talked about in relation to Queen Elizabeth II of England and her lengthy reign.  But I’m also not sure what the answer is here, either.   In situations like this, where we end up sort of stuck, with no obvious good options, I usually look to the underlying structure and where changes might be more easily made in places other than where we’re stuck.  With regard to the debates, I guess I’m wondering whether, given all the social media and websites and technology, there’s some room for other activities by other journalists who are also good at the incisive question, the keeping the conversation on track, the showing us a different facet of the same politician we have seen so many times on his or her own terms.  I don’t know, but maybe this situation can give rise to a creative response that enhances the democratic campaign process for all of us.