Archive for October, 2012

The spam issue, cont’d

October 31, 2012

This morning I was standing in front of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, waiting with a friend for it to open.  I had made this commitment years ago to go with this friend, who grew up in Boston, is a member of the Museum of Fine Arts — which is a few blocks away — and had never been to the Gardner.  It’s one of my favorite museums, but I have to confess I hadn’t been there in years myself.  On the one hand, I have all sorts of extended-family stuff on my plate, on the other, it is not clear to me how much of it is mine to deal with.  And I had made this commitment, so there we (finally) were.

While we were waiting (my friend is not a big talker), it suddenly occurred to me that the pattern of the spiritual email being regarded by spam after the well-meaning interference of a third-party (my computer guy) — please see my previous post — reminds me of a version I encountered as a small child and which did not feel as benign: family members deriding my sense of the spiritual realm and regarding it as spam I created in my head.  (We had a record at the time about a little boy who was confident in the face of family members who derided his faith that “Carrots grow from carrots seeds,” and that seemed to me, as a younger sibling, all too familiar a position to be in.)

So that’s my resolution of the issue in my previous post: it’s another iteration of the pattern of someone categorizing faith as nonsense.

(And when we had lunch afterwards, my friend drew my attention to a poster in the diner for a concert in the area by Jerry Douglas next week — please see my post before the previous one — which was a nice piece of something or other, too.  I bought a ticket later.)

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Email

October 31, 2012

My email program got stuck the other week.  It stopped downloading emails.  Tony, my computer guy, fixed that, and now, perhaps as a consequence of an errant click he made during the process, many of my emails go to my spam folder in my email account on the server.  Doesn’t seem to matter if I mark them as “not spam.”

One of these persistent misdirections is the Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr.  I can think of a number of different interpretations of that, ranging from that’s what other people think of what I write, to a need of mine to sequester other people’s spiritual understandings from my own, to an issue of obstacles to finding spiritual support, to a cue that I should be moving on from a particular stage of spiritual understanding, to a reflection of how some people disregard spiritual guidance in general.  I have no clear sense of what it means.  I just fish the thing out of the spam file every morning as “not spam.”

I know, what’s going on is just due to an artifact of the way some computer software was written, nothing of deep significance.

I don’t know if I believe that, either, I think I probably see it as some sort of synchronicity but with what it is in synch with being unclear.  Maybe eventually that will become clearer to me.

Merging and enmeshment

October 29, 2012

This post is inspired by my viewing and listening to Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas singing what turns out to be a Bob Dylan tune (in other words, I didn’t realize this at first), during the Transatlantic Sessions, series 5.

A little after the three-minute mark, they sing together.  Their respective expressions I find very moving and their very different voices blend beautifully.  For me it’s a wonderful experience aesthetically, but it’s also an illustration of how we can relate to each other.

I think so often we end up enmeshing with each other using the part of ourselves that is only our personal identity and is managed by our ego.  These jockeys interact with each other, and with many of us, using them we cross one another’s boundaries and become enmeshed — extensions of one another.  This can manifest in trying to tell other people what to do or in bleeding for them.  Suggestions can be good, compassion is good, but trying to be someone else or to live their life for them is a dynamic that ultimately fails (and damages).

Merging our spiritual selves with the divine works.  And we all have the divine within us, too.  Rohr’s daily meditation for today speaks to that.  Those aspects of ourselves allow us to merge with each other.  Merging with each other through our souls, on a sort of spiritual exchange platform, is fine, I think.  (And I think those mergers are temporary, even if the effects can be long-lasting.)  The outer parts of ourselves can interact in other ways, like singing harmony with one another, and maintain their needed boundaries.

So I see in this video two people separately going deep into their respective selves while also interacting with one another.  I suspect they connected with each other on multiple levels through the (musical) experience.  To me it’s what we should be doing with each other, even without the music.

I noticed after listening to the video multiple times that many of the commenters to the video also noticed the passage that caught my attention too.  I think we all are attuned to the same sense of what works — we know it when we see it, even if we can’t do it or don’t analyze it.  I am grateful that musicians have preserved in their realm a public demonstration of this core human dynamic.

Leaving something unsaid

October 28, 2012

Poetry does this.  (I was going to call this “Leaving the Rest Unsaid,” but I think that may be a poem by Robert Graves and I think that poem may be about something else quite different, as well.)   My point is to explain why I am sometimes cryptic and don’t spell out everything I mean.

It’s because if the reader is ready for the lesson they will see the rest — what I write will be suggestive and it will prompt a leap to the concept I have in mind.  To explain it in a way that everyone can understand would be to support a situation in which understandings might be incomplete or distorted, relying as they would on the content of the communication appreciated through the intellect, etc., not on a perception prompted.  And these misunderstandings are the ones that tend to be then disseminated through ingeniously wrong books and such.

So I try to say enough to direct someone else’s attention towards where they might find an insight within themselves, I try not to explain what I think the insight itself in great detail.  This is why metaphor and imagery and story-telling are so important, I think — they are suggestive without being dictatorial.  The mind slides around its thoughts, and in so doing, sees things for itself.  That, to me, is teaching a person how to fish and not just handing them a cooked seafood platter.

Of course, this explanation, in a way, undercuts all that.

Driving baby’s car

October 28, 2012

This morning I opened the blinds and across the street was this pink and purple thing, which upon viewing through my glasses turned out to be one of those toddler toys, a plastic toy car with a handle in the back for an adult to use to push the car along.

I don’t know whose it is or why it’s there — no one in those two houses has anyone under the age of thirty living with them, I don’t think.  Maybe it belongs to a family around the corner, whom I know to have young children, including girls.

But it suggested to me a resolution to one of those issues I’ve been puzzling over.  That issue had presented itself to me as a person in need of a ride home, a person in need of a ride to care, a person whose own car had been damaged, a person who no longer felt able to drive her own and wanted to take the passenger seat and have somebody else drive, a person whose car was commandeered by someone else for their own use and agenda.

The person is question I think has been a very young child who was abandoned and perhaps also disabled.  But we each have to drive our own cars, in the sense we each have to complete our own spiritual journey.  The plastic car across the street is for just the child, the adult pushes and steers from behind, they don’t get inside.  When we ask for spiritual help, perhaps it is like having an adult behind us contributing their energy and guidance.  While the car illustrates for me how we helped the young and very limited child complete her spiritual journey while participating in the material world, despite her limitations, it also suggests to me that even the most competent and intelligent and self-aware of us are really no different from that small and limited child, in comparison to the forces who guide us.

So, Baby, you can drive your car (pace the Beatles’ lyric “Baby, you can drive my car”) and return to your original destination.

What she couldn’t say

October 27, 2012

Once upon a time in a medieval village, there was an elder who was trained in history, law, and the healing arts, who told this story:

“There was once this woman, of indeterminable age, very thin and nervous.  She didn’t meet your gaze or say very much, she was clearly holding on tight to getting through each day.

“At some point she starting talking about women’s property rights, about her rights in property on account of her having been married.  She talked of unrecognized rights of succession through female kin and she talked of legally recognized but ignored rights she had in property held by her husband’s family.  She wanted me to believe the source of her agitation and sorrow lay in these disputes.

“So I duly investigated her rights and the rules, but at some point I found myself studying the story of Lucretia, her rape and the overthrow of the Tarquins and inauguration of the Roman Republic.

“The telling of Lucretia’s story that attracted my attention made it clear that she was coerced, and at knife point.  But she didn’t choose death at that juncture because Tarquin’s threat was that that would bring her family deeper shame if she did, as he would make it look as if she had been caught in adultery with a slave.  She had no good choices, and she tried to walk a line between self-blame for dishonor and belief in her own virtue.  In her culture, suicide allowed her to resolve this conflict in some way.

“I could see too great an internalization by Lucretia of a culturally contingent blaming of the victim for having been overcome.  That turned out to be my own interlocutor’s source of damage: she blamed herself for having been overwhelmed.  Paradoxically, it left her wanting to be emotionally overwhelmed by others in order to blot out the trauma and to push everybody away and lock herself inside herself so as to make any emotional engagement with others impossible.

“This state of things left her alternately imploding and exploding, until I finally understood the root cause was that in some way she really was blaming herself for not being able to protect herself from being physically overwhelmed and raped.  That helped her see a way out, just the recognition that she was blaming herself suggested that there were other ways of reacting.  The recognition made it impossible to be 100% swept up in the reaction as if it were the only reality.

“Part of this woman’s horror was the aftermath of the rape.  She became pregnant and she didn’t like the child’s temperament or behavior as he grew up.  I suggested her experience was a shadow play of the earth’s experience of giant meteor impacts and the new turns in the development of animal life those brought forth.  The woman found a purpose for her life through this, and she reconnected to the physical world.  And gradually a sense that things, and she, could be okay again replaced her despair.

“I was relieved.  I wondered whether her assailant and the guardians of her culture would ever realize how damaging it is to make an innocent person a contributor to their own destruction.  At least I had had a teacher who had cautioned me not to expect more of people than they were capable of, not to take on the stupid cruelness of a situation to my own detriment — here I can see that it wouldn’t have helped, it would have hurt, but oh, it was so tempting.  Especially in light of all the equally misguided ways these people tried to ‘help’ this woman resolve her disquiet before she came to me.  Compassion for people’s limitations, grace for when I can’t locate enough on my own behalf.”

That’s where the account of this story ends.  I am happy to pass it along, with my apologies for any anachronisms in the way I’ve retold it.

Unseen artistry

October 27, 2012

Actually, it was about unseen dentistry.

I had a filling replaced this morning, in order to encompass the edge of the tooth which had apparently subsequently chipped.  The procedure didn’t take very long and wasn’t difficult to tolerate, but my dentist seems to go through a much more elaborate procedure for crafting a filling than I remember from years ago.  I think there are sealants before the actual filling compound is introduced and then there are different kinds of procedures for finishing the surface of the filling (not to mention some sort of temporary brace for making it easier to fill to the edge of the tooth).

Anyway, when he was done and I was leaving I said, “It’s too bad nobody will get to see it,” and I made a reference to the care that he put into crafting the filling, and he smiled and said something about how he had seen it and enjoyed seeing his work and that was all the satisfaction he needed (he put it more succinctly but I don’t remember how).

I liked that.

Regional office

October 25, 2012

I was on my way back from taking a walk in the woods yesterday, in the late afternoon, and I took a turn down a street I don’t usually walk on and ended up at Mass. Ave. at the Lexington town line.  I turned east to go home, and I found myself passing a regional Democratic Party campaign office.  I stopped in for campaign buttons to wear and the volunteer asked me about volunteering.  I had an interesting emotional experience that I don’t connect with my own usual ways of interacting.  I couldn’t bring myself to be forthright about how much of my time and energy I was willing to contribute.  I didn’t lie but I didn’t give the response in my heart, I gave socially acceptable superficial responses.

In this context I don’t think it’s a particularly damaging behavior to have engaged in, but I suspect other people do it in personal interactions in which it is.  It gave me a window into how other people may be feeling on the inside when they politely make excuses on the outside.  I have to say it made me acutely uncomfortable, like wearing in public an outfit meant for a teenager.  For people who do it without discomfort, I want to say, “Honey, you’ve drifted way off course.”  I suspect they are not even aware of it.  But since I can’t change other people, I am grateful to have had an experience of what they may be experiencing so that I can at least understand it.

What I see is a very large need to be thought well of, one that overrides judgment, and that the persona whom the person wants to be thought well of is very different from the person within.  When that difference is exposed to others, it’s actually more damaging than having used the true inner person and their preferences to begin with.  I think in the end, everybody is more damaged by the fallout when the disjunction between external behavior and internal position is exposed, not to mention the ongoing damage to the person from living with the disconnect.

It’s not about you

October 24, 2012

That’s one of my favorite ways to help untangle a problem:  to choose, in a sense, not to take whatever is going on personally.  If I actually see it as the result, at its origins, of impersonal forces happening to come together in a certain way, the strands slide apart, like spaghetti after you add the butter or oil in the bowl after it’s cooked.  A different variation of “spacer” from the space I was thinking of in my previous post.  There the spacer was the kind that occurs when each party has their expectations met (in the case treated in the post, even when the expectations conflict).  In the case in this post, instead of sating an attachment (using extraneous resources), the expectation is denatured by avoiding the attachment by means of minimizing the involvement of the ego.

Discrepancies

October 24, 2012

It was this time of year nine years ago that I began a long struggle to receive payment of the life insurance benefits on the policy Willy had had through his employer.  It involved, apparently, a discrepancy between the system of requirements the insurance company was saying it had and the requirements the employer had communicated to their employees.

Who pays when there is a flaw in the conduit and the transitive property in mathematics doesn’t work?  When it’s like a game of telephone and the original message arrives garbled when it reaches its destination after passing through links?  If there have been multiple links, how is responsibility attributed?

With the life insurance benefits, the employer and insurer settled, I received the benefits in dispute from the insurer, and the employer and insurance company parted ways.

With spiritual matters, there are other alternatives, even when the three primary parties won’t or can’t settle.  A fourth party with access to infinite resources can come in a say, “Not only will I pay the beneficiary the benefits in question but I will pay the life insurance company and the employer any profit they they expected to make.”

And then it’s over.  Any reopening is actually an opening of a new relationship among the parties, should they wish to engage with each other again.

A conduit can be flawed for many different reasons, but one that is not uncommon in spiritual matters is when the conduit as it were siphons off for personal use or gain some of what is being exchanged by the parties at either end.  That didn’t happen in my life insurance case, but I mention it because it is a pernicious flaw in spiritual cases because it produces one of those “death spirals” in which a small perturbation eventually downs the entire system as its consequences snowball.  Luckily there are folks who recognize the stupidity of letting it get that far and intervene gratis.