Archive for November, 2012

Treasuring up

November 30, 2012

The first time I started to learn ancient Greek was while I was in high school.  This boy I liked wanted to learn and my mother agreed to teach both of us.  I forgot how long we did it for, I want to say a number of months, maybe the length of a school year, I don’t remember.  Anyway, the primer we used started with a line from Matthew’s Gospel, I think, about treasuring things up on this earth.  I think the verb was from an easy conjugation.

Anyway, I’ve been mulling over a spiritual story about a young girl who treasured up food and clothing and wood and other supplies while awaiting the return of an older male who would protect her and take care of her.  She didn’t use the stuff, she just arranged it neatly, almost the way it’s sometimes done in the burial chambers of the very rich.  In not using the supplies she was storing, she actually hastened what she feared — that she could not survive on her own.

What I’ve been wondering about is the relationship of her behavior not only to her fears about her ability to survive on her own (she didn’t know how to create a fire, for example), but to a sense she may have had at some deep level that this man had lied to her that he would come back.  Would an attempt to deny that the promise was empty have resulted in the behavior, maybe as a way of trying to assuage the anxiety about the lie itself, as well as about difficulty of surviving on her own?  The man may have thought he was setting her up with hope and good habits by telling her to make things ready for his return, but such a strategy I’m thinking could end up with both a clinging to the expectation of his return and a deep-down recognition that he wouldn’t, and the behavior resulting from the latter might undermine the effectiveness of his strategy.

Just a thought.  I’m no psychologist.

I do have a sense that the empty promise and the behavior were linked.  I’m wondering if the girl felt safer treasuring things up that she would need, and preferred to actually die feeling more in control, in contrast to using the stuff, and wondering if she could replace it as needed, and actually surviving longer.  I’m not sure how long she would have survived even if she had used her supplies.  As I said, she couldn’t make a fire, so she might have frozen to death if the winters were cold.

I am curious about what function that treasuring up served, how it may have  related to these multiple factors:  how it could have allowed her to keep up the pretense of believing the man would return as he said, been an attempt to keep a promise she might have made him in return (for example, to be a good girl and collect supplies), and also been a way in general of displacing her anxiety about survival.



November 29, 2012

Sometimes when I pray, I go into it basically looking for some cleansing and renewal of energy.  Somebody asked me who I address this to.

I don’t address it to some other sources of spiritual guidance I might have, sources some people might call a spirit guide or a spiritual partner who is more spiritually advanced than I.  I don’t think of to whom I’m addressing myself in the way that I understand Christians understand Jesus.  I also don’t confuse such sources with astral plane boyfriends, or worse, confuse an astral plane boyfriend with an even deeper source.  And, of course, I try to avoid sources of what I’ve heard called spiritual spam.

Sometimes what I do when I pray for renewal, as I guess I might call it, is I think about my “friends” in the universe — positive energy that would like to be helpful to me, is how I might express that concept.  The “friends” idea helps me focus my own emotional posture, in order for me to be more effectively receptive to help.  Sometimes my conceptualization is more impersonal — light, water, energy, a cleansing process almost like giving over my dirty laundry and receiving back clean clothing in exchange.  (Sometimes I think of it as changing out dirty air filters, for example, when I’m in a room full of people and absorbing all kinds of stuff.)

I try to be careful not to throw my spiritual antennae out in the direction of a limited source (a dead end),  someone who will do something damaging with my trust and energy, or even just someone who is not actually structurally supposed to be a conduit for me.  I think there are intermediaries, I don’t think I plug into an ultimate source myself, I don’t think I hear “God” directly — I think I plug into the universe and through a broad connection, can hear things as translated into ideas I can understand with my mental processes, and I think there are “layers” through which this translation occurs (I’m not sure it needs to be thought of as “beings” doing active translation, I think it can be more like filters that add something like contrast medium, so I can follow, to what exists in a more abstract format.)

So that’s my sense of intermediaries.  Please take from what I’ve said if you find it helpful.


November 29, 2012

I think I’d better admit up front that I just like the word.  As I remember it, it refers to those guys who read the entrails of the animals in ancient Rome or Etruria in order to divine the will of the universe, in the way I might put it.  I didn’t much feel like one when I was cooking my turkey giblets a week ago.  But there were echoes of something yesterday as I viewed and discussed swirling flocks of geese above our heads with a priest at a prison yesterday (after pausing in my car to let a rabbi cross from the prison property to the parking lot).  The word for that sort of interpreter I think is augurs — not as wonderful a mouthful of syllables.

I had noticed one flock overhead while I was parking my car.  By the time I got out of my car, that flock seemed to be headed in the opposite direction.  When I came upon the priest as I crossed the lot, there were even more geese circling overhead above us, and the priest excitedly and happily volunteered to me that they seemed to be rounding themselves up into a larger group and massing for flight together elsewhere.  My reaction was to feel grateful he was able to see a pattern where I couldn’t.  He saw this rally coming together like almost the maneuvers of a marching band at halftime at a college football game (my words and image to communicate what he said in pieces and through pointing).  My own sense was of infiltrators leaving voluntarily.

What do I make of this?  Probably an illustration of how what we perceive is filtered through our own human crud.  I think in this case, my crud was probably worse and more negative than my interlocutor’s.  The priest was awestruck, as was I, but saw a positive movement.  I was awestruck but saw the phenomenon through the lens of feeling tired and more overwhelmed by others than I prefer.

If I really want to apply the haruspices idea, I’d make the point of noticing that one of the turkey giblets last week went from seeming like a large whole to splitting open into two connected parts after it was cooked; maybe that image was in the back of my mind when I wrote about the source tearing open and forming the universe.

In any event, I really enjoyed the priest’s explanation and his sharing his obvious excitement and joy in the event.

Achilles’ heel

November 26, 2012

I sometimes get the impression we have a blind spot in our spiritual life like the one we have in our vision from our optic nerve.  Maybe that’s what the notion of Achilles’ vulnerability through his heel is.

I wonder if we all have a flaw we can’t get rid of, beyond the generic limits of human mental processes.  Maybe our identity of self is what gives us our vulnerability, no matter how well-cleansed that self is.

I like imperfections in antiques, in rugs, in all kinds of things.  I like anomalies that add interest or texture or “character.”  Maybe that’s analogous to celebrating life as we live it in the material world.

Providing a handle when asking for help

November 26, 2012

The point of departure is that stereotype of guys who won’t stop and ask for directions when they’re driving and lost.  It’s probably an outdated stereotype, what with GPS and Google Maps.  But my point is the dynamic between the person asking for help and the person who could provide it.  That process often goes awry.

I think each party to the helping dynamic needs an emotional posture that works for them and also is conducive to the other partner responding in a constructive way that furthers the transaction and the relationship.

Damsel in distress and knight in shining armor is one, not necessarily to be emulated, example of such a dynamic.  Nowadays in our culture, there seems to be a posture taken by families selected for extreme home makeovers, or fund-raising drives, or the like, that facilitates people’s wanting to help them.  Between student and teacher, patient and doctor, client and social worker, there are dynamics that work and those that freeze, fizzle, or even explode.  If the helper has no ego needs involved, there is, I think, more allowance for unhelpful postures on the part of the person being helped — a “saint” will be open to trying to help regardless of how the person needing help presents themselves.  I think all this also goes on in relationships among family and friends, but I think it’s more subtle and so more difficult to see.  I can even imagine social programs, whether public through government or private through charity, being engaged in this dynamic.

What people require people who need help to do can be a serious impediment to getting a helping transaction or relationship started.  Needing to strike a pathetic or pitiful pose, or to have the right combination of strength and weakness to be judged worthy of help will screen out some people who need help and don’t do those things.  But it might turn out to be the case that people who need help might, as a practical matter, and “unfair” as it may seem, need to give potential helpers, who may be limited in their own ways, a point of access to them.  The tussle may actually be over vulnerability (how much vulnerability must the person needing help show or admit to) or even “bending at the knee,” but I am thinking that those issues may be transformed into something else, maybe even through humor, into issues more acceptable to the person needing the help.  I do think, though, that a person needing help makes it more likely they will receive it if they give the person who could help them a leg up, a hand-hold, a handle to grab — some point of access.

The person who needs the help may have the opposite need — the need to have their situation acknowledged as being intrinsically and objectively worthy of help and of having their view and emotions validated.  And of not budging an inch off of where they are emotionally to get that help.

Finding common ground between the two sets of needs doesn’t always happen.  But maybe a little more awareness of the dance going on would make it more likely that some common ground is found.

Self-awareness example

November 25, 2012

I was talking to my mom this morning.  My dad went into the hospital last night through the ER.  My mom had told me of his deteriorating condition (and how he didn’t want to go to the hospital), I had called the visiting nurses involved with his care, and the rest followed suit.

During this conversation, I was confirming to my mother that she has a really good sense of when a family member is in medical trouble.  I was also trying to figure out why my immediate reaction to what she says can be not very helpful and how I have to override it (usually after a pause to consider) with something more helpful.

What I came up with is that, from my perspective, my mother tends to take a posture of wringing her hands, predicting the worst, and saying nothing can be done.  I suspect a portion of my reactiveness is to her not taking practical steps about the part that can be worked on and leaving the other part(s) aside.  I also probably misread as fatalism her way of expressing that she is having trouble doing anything constructive (as opposed to the interpretation that she is trying to say that nothing can be done).  Sometimes I think I just have my own negative reaction to what I perceive as her negativity.  I also thought about how I have to watch out for my own level of denial of a family member’s being seriously ill — that desire to push away something emotionally difficult and also threatening to become yet another item on my already full plate and another logistically-difficult issue to problem-solve from afar.  Or it may be a situation that resonates with old instances in which there were other issues going on, which damaged me, and I have yet to dismantle my difficulties with those.

I lay this out mainly as a way of illustrating what I mean by self-awareness as being so key.  If I can name and address what impedes my responses from being helpful in the new situation, I feel better and things tend to go more easily.  So for me it’s worth a little introspection and digging into what is getting in my way.  It’s, admittedly, a work in progress.

Big bang or rent in the fabric (or both)?

November 25, 2012

I seem to have discovered that if I have a lot of love for someone, but don’t act on it in the usual way, and resist trying to form a particular relationship with them, something else is produced instead.  It feels almost as if, if I pull away, something pours forth from the rent in the fabric of the connection.  At a mundane level, that something sometimes seems to be seeing others engage in a pattern of behavior I have engaged in, or it may be some new insights that occur to me or some lessons I finally come to learn in my own life.  At a different level, what pours forth feels analogous to something beautiful, like music, streaming out.

This got me thinking about the Big Bang theory.  What if the initial movement was more of a tear than an explosion?  A tear in which an original unity separated enough into two parts to have the parts interact as distinct entities in their own right?  Maybe the bang came out of that (subsequent) interaction, maybe the tear was in a way a bang itself.  I don’t know, but a tear would be an easier way at least for me to understand how things could have gotten started.  I guess we’ll have to wait to see what science discovers through its own means.

Gray hair

November 24, 2012

My mother used to promise me that my hair would turn white and not gray.  She was extrapolating from the similarity of my hair in some obvious ways to the hair of her Aunt Judith and of her maternal grandmother.  Their hair did turn white.  Mine goes gray.  Oh well.

It may have something to do with original color.  My Great Aunt Judith and my Great Grandmother had lighter hair than I, I’m pretty sure.

The process of hair going white or gray I don’t completely understand, but I was told by a hairdresser that it has to do with the hair strand no longer having its usual core.

This state of affairs may be a useful analogy for thinking about what traditionally gets categorized as “good” and “evil.”  Because I think the energy of Source (I’m trying to stay away from theistic vocabulary) and the energy of its difficult, or “dark,” side is really like merely the difference between the hair strand with or without its core.  The  kind of hair strand deemed “other” is different but not monstrously so.  (Yes, I know, some people have a real issue over going gray, but I don’t think it’s perceived as an existential threat.)  I think God’s Dark Side, to be more portentous and theistic about it, is really only God with or without some of God’s usual aspect.  This presence or absence of this aspect we perceive in an unhelpful way if we bring to the party too much of our own human accretions.  We need to match what we’re perceiving, or else we will see ourselves as a reflection in a mirror at the place where we think we’re seeing something directly through a glass.  (At the extreme, people we categorize as narcissists do this all the time.)  We look at God’s difficult aspect and see something fearful but it is only our own crud reflected back to us.  (The monster at the end of the book was only Grover himself, if I remember that Sesame Street book correctly.)

What do we need to have put away before we encounter difficult energy (God’s Dark Side)?  We need complete surrender, no questions asked, no anger.  Fear and anxiety make for problems, too.  It’s best done unwittingly and with a child’s trustingness and lack of preconceptions.  It’s a form of total acceptance, which I think many religions characterize as God’s attitude towards us.  Maybe we accept God’s difficult stuff, too, and that allows it to pass through us without damage.

Time for me to take down the plants in the big garden.  “As a matter of convenience, We don’t speak of dying gardens” goes some lines (I’m quoting from memory so I may not be completely accurate) in a Dave Carter song Tracy Grammer sings on her Flower of Avalon album.  It’s the eighth track.  A lot there about seasons.  And stoicism.  And very sad.  If I speak of dying gardens, maybe they will not exercise such power over the imagination.


November 24, 2012

I wonder if reifying something denatures it, reduces it to a manageable size, similar in one respect to the dynamic within Grover Norquist’s idea of reducing something to be small enough to drown in a bathtub.

This idea occurred to me while I was reading about the movement in Texas to have that state secede from the United States.  I thought about some religions’ interpretation that an angel wanted to secede from some part of creation.

I’ve never bought that version.  I’ve always heard it more impersonally, that what’s being perceived was more like a limb falling from a tree during a storm — damaging perhaps but without mal-intent (or intent of any kind, for that matter).

When I read about Texas, I thought, “Well, maybe finally we reduced that thought form [about fallen angels] to a political movement that, while maybe controversial, isn’t profoundly frightening.”

The real issue of The Fall, the one that actually caused so much damage, lay, in my opinion, in how what fell disturbed, and threatened to disrupt, the equilibrium of the system here.  It not only caused some obvious damage, but it imported something foreign to the system into the mix, like a speck of sand in an oyster, and off we went careering towards instability.  There was nothing inherently wrong with that speck of sand, it just didn’t belong to this type of system we have in our world, it was like a piece to one jigsaw puzzle ending up in the box of another puzzle.  The type of puzzle to which it belonged was an unfortunate match for our type of puzzle, but separating out that issue from the nature of the damage from its impact wasn’t easy, because the damage was so difficult to experience or even to observe.  (And returning the piece to the cosmic Lost and Found was also a technically difficult matter.)

So I’m not happy with (some) Texans’ apparent high displeasure with being part of our union, but at least a political quarrel doesn’t produce the appearance of consequences that seem to threaten our existence for eternity.  So in a peculiar or narrow kind of way, I see the this news event as reflecting progress of a different sort.


November 22, 2012

I wrote in a parenthetical aside at the end of a comment to another comment to a column on the NYTimes website that I tend to translate “gratitude” into something like active appreciation.

Sometimes that appreciation includes a sense of wonder, sometimes a sense of joy, sometimes grudging respect — it varies.  I wrote in the parenthetical aside that I get impeded by (my sense of) the connotations of “gratitude.”  I think one part of my sense of its dynamic is that people who feel grateful often express it as passive partners in the whatever it is for which they are grateful.  I am suspicious of passivity of that sort.  While I’m all for active passivity in having willingness to go along with what serves my greater good and the greater good, passivity in terms of social action or personal spiritual progress, or just in general, I think can lead to paralysis or implosion of the person.  I like an emotional posture that keeps me moving.  My sense of “gratitude” is that we sit around feeling it, appreciation that it inspires our own activity.

On the occasion of the Thanksgiving holiday, I will say that I am appreciative of how everybody plays their role, so bravely, it seems to me.  On a more mundane level, I am appreciative of the help I got in cooking the turkey giblets so that they came out just the way I like them, and for the food itself.  And for someone encouraging me to celebrate this holiday this year in a way that I want to, with whom I feel comfortable, and doing things I enjoy — kind of like the vacation I find hard to find an opportunity to take, kind of like going on holiday.