Archive for December, 2012

Wrong number

December 30, 2012

I was going to write, “Sorry, wrong number,” but that wouldn’t capture what happened.

Once, years ago, a medical provider to a family member called me, thinking I was another medical provider, and I got to hear how medical providers talk to each other when there’s a problem.  It was not flattering to either of them — to the one who called or to the one he thought he had called.   (It took awhile before he would hear that I wasn’t the person he thought he had called.)

There’s a spiritual story about a man who discovers he can “call” people through their subconscious and manipulate them, like a hypnotist with a self-serving agenda.  Eventually, his mother gets curious about how he comes to amass all kinds of wealth and benefits he clearly hasn’t earned the old-fashioned way, and goes undercover like a cop on a chat site. Or maybe she is recruited out of the old-age home to figure this out on behalf of others, who feel victimized and frustrated but don’t understand what’s going on.

In any event, she engages in an interaction and ends up intercepting one of these instances of manipulative hypnotic communication.  Only, at the time, she actually isn’t aware she’s his mother or that she’s on this mission, because if she were, he would know it, too, and evade her and it.  This ignorance leaves her vulnerable to his manipulative charms, but the beauty part is that he will have a very negative reaction to her if they meet, and that will puncture the manipulation for her and allow her to reconstruct the problem and her role in dismantling it, so all she has to do is engage with him, fall for it, and then meet him on the physical plane.

She does, the illusion is exposed, and she reports back to headquarters how it is that somebody who has no idea what they are doing has come to assume positions as if he does — he is like that impostor whom we hear some people claiming a particular religious or political leader to be.

What happens next?  I’m not sure.  My suspicion is that it’s the beginning of a long process, that what will improve the situation turns out not to be trying to persuade the impostor to climb down from his pedestal, or trying to embarrass him or shame him into getting down, but, rather, trying to dismantle the pedestal piece by piece while he’s on it.  Because it’s actually the pedestal that’s the problem.  And we thank him for his service for bringing that to everyone’s attention.

Maybe I should have called this, “You can’t fool (your) Mother.”




December 24, 2012

I saw a lot of them yesterday in the mid-afternoon as I was walking.  I wasn’t at the reservoir, but I suspect that’s where they had taken off from (given where I was walking and their flight patterns) — I think they spend the day there but overnight elsewhere.

When they take off from the water, they usually precede it with a series of honks.  Someone told me that it sounds to her as if they’re conferring with one another about whether they should go, whether it’s time:  “You think it’s time to go?”  “I dunno, do you?”  “Maybe we should go …”  “I’m not sure, what do you think?”

The honking gets louder and more frequent, as if consensus is building, and then off they go.

I think that sense of a building a critical mass towards consensus is what I have in my life of spiritual “bleating.”

I need to hear other people honking and I think eventually we form a critical mass.  I don’t think we fly off in a rapture, though, I think we help change how we as a society look at the world, including at each other.  To me, “flying” can happen in a conversation, when the exchange gets going and we really understand what each other is getting at almost before the words are spoken.  Maybe that kind of mutual understanding will eventually become more frequent, I don’t know.

Anyway, at one point, one of these flocks was flying overhead pretty low, and I could see the bodies and wings of the geese pretty well.  And they seemed so wonderful.  I felt like cheering them, “Go, geese, go, you’re so beautiful!”  And yet, of course, I’m well aware of picking my steps through their droppings, not so much around the reservoir, but at places like the sidewalk near the Fenway entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Art, beauty, flight, our detritus — it all has its place.

Thinking you remember

December 23, 2012

I wrote a post here some time ago in which I referred to computer programming in Basic, to “if … then …” structure, and as I wrote it, I could feel myself not really remembering the details, in terms of the programming, of what I was writing about.  I’m not sure it mattered in that post, the concept I think I got right.

But that experience gave me a window into what some people apparently do when they continue to act as sources of wisdom after they’ve lost the knack of discerning in a way that gives access to profound understanding.

This is easier to see within a belief system that includes reincarnation, although maybe after I explain it that way, I will be able to see how to translate it into a system that doesn’t.

Somebody attains in a particular lifetime the ability to see beyond dualism, to no longer see things in opposition to each other but to see unity, to harmonize seemingly conflicting strands organically merging and to see unity without intellectual rationalizing.  I think what I’m referring to is what Richard Rohr describes much better in his book The Naked Now.

But they are missing something in their spiritual development and are reborn to explore that.  (I don’t think everybody develops themselves in exactly the same sequence.)  They grow up and they have a vague sense they should be offering wise counsel and they have a vague sense of how to do that.  And they have a fleeting thought that even if they don’t do it exactly right, it won’t matter in terms of whether their audience notices.

I think they don’t want to do what it would take to regain the ability to see in unity (again).  It may be that what they are looking to explore in this lifetime of theirs is the humility to relearn alongside of people learning how to discern in stereo for the first time.

That learning requires, I think, a huge amount of openness, and coming to that state of openness can be quite painful.  I suspect that for some reason the person in question just really doesn’t want to go through that, perhaps because they have a vague sense of what it would entail from having done it before, and they don’t have the vague sense that that’s just the point — to go back and do it again.

I’ve struggled with the explanation that maybe they have a good reason for not going through the learning process again, for not becoming more open.  In the end I think I made no determination on whether they could have done it successfully, because it became clear that, regardless, they weren’t agreeable with trying.  So somebody else took their place, in terms developing this particular talent.  And the original person tried to continue to offer wise advice, although now, in this lifetime, they were doing it while relying on their imperfect recollection of how to discern it.  And they did not pursue the lesson they had come to learn.

If I try to explain this without reference to past lives, I guess I would say it’s someone faking it, maybe after reading a description of how it’s done but not actually going through the process described.

For my own part, I’ve come to see that my lesson may be to learn that people don’t have to follow through on what they set out to do, that I have to stop believing their self-reporting that they will, and that eventually some other way of serving the greater good needs to be used.  Eventually, the “This is so stupid” aspect of the situation comes to trump any concern about whether finding another way to resolve it is “fair;”  who cares about who spilled the milk?  We can clean up a spill, regardless of who or what contributed to its occurrence, if cleaning it up is the important thing.

I’ve also learned not to wait around for the other person to perceive the situation as I do.  Jewel may sing about not being “made useless with despair,” I’m more worried about being made useless by waiting for something to happen that won’t.

Which brings me back to the issue of belief, or not, in reincarnation.  Because some of these people take the attitude that I should wait, that they really will get to it [in this lifetime].  What I see is that maybe they will get to it, but it will be during another lifetime.  That explains their sincerity and my disbelief.


December 21, 2012

I was reading Richard Rohr’s post about incarnation this morning, how it’s a big focus of God’s.

And I could read his post as saying it’s God’s big focus, as in, his chief focus.  But I’m not sure he actually says that.

Anyway, I think it may very well be a big focus but I don’t think it’s more important than other aspects of the universe, I think it’s more like the big deal for our part of the universe and that we’ve gotten stuck trying to get those pieces (spirit and material) to meld together.  Sometimes there’s too much heat and the components lose their identity, implode, and become something inert, sometimes there’s not enough and the identities are fine but there’s no union and therefore no transformation into some third thing.

I can see Jesus’ teachings as trying to get people to do this melding, but I can also see distortions in the way those teachings have been transmitted.  I think the teachings need to be set out there but that to actual do the melding, coaching is needed, not teaching.  And the coaching is about interior development of individuals, starting with the development of self-awareness.  No one’s going to meld on the basis of having been taught the idea.  Even surrender to God requires the ability to be able to distinguish between our wishful thinking and spiritual understandings if it is to be most helpful.  In the meantime it seems to be something like “two steps forward, one step back” for most of us, I think.

Anyway, I titled this “Beads” because to me, the incarnation issue is one bead on a strand with a number of beads.  Instead of picturing a clasp on the strand, I see our learning to balance spirit and material as what will make one of these beads (the incarnation bead) cohere and become unified, and that this helps the strand be a continuous loop.  While our task may be to focus on this incarnation bead, if we don’t recognize that it is one of a number of beads, I think we can distort its importance and from this, distort our actions in our attempt to unify the bead.  It’s a string of beads, I think, not a pendant.

The secret handshake

December 19, 2012

I apparently didn’t learn it.

I was at a talk last night, and beforehand, someone came up to me and said, “Do I know you?  You look familiar.”  I gave it a shot, trying to guess if she seemed familiar to me from other talks on similar topics, and asking if we had met at one of those, but no.

She turned out to be the rabbi giving the introductory prayer before the talk.  Made me wonder in retrospect whether she had really been asking me if I am Jewish.  (To be perfectly honest, my first –hopeful — thought had been to wonder if she had known somehow I loved prayer, but then a more prosaic and likely explanation occurred to me.)

I had to leave before the end of the program, so I didn’t have a chance to tell her how much I enjoyed the prayer she sang.

As a footnote, let me add that I decided at the last minute to wear a pair of red clogs, because otherwise I was dressed pretty much in black and gray.  I also grabbed a red paisley shawl for color and a light purple jacket (instead of the black one I had been using earlier in the day).  So I was amused when I noticed that the main speaker was dressed in gray and wearing red scuffs or mules (sort of soft-soled red clogs, I’m not sure about the heel height).  The rabbi, by the way, was wearing, in the style of a stole, a beautiful solid red scarf, maybe silk.

Teaching Spanish

December 18, 2012

I studied Spanish in school, from seventh grade through twelfth.  It was a pretty good program, I think, and part of that was because the foreign language department hired native speakers.  Some of the native-speaking Spanish teachers for the upper levels of instruction didn’t speak English all that well, but for those levels, it didn’t much matter since within the class, only Spanish was spoken anyway.  (The only problem I remember was when we learned something like the subjunctive and were trying to understand its equivalent in English — we would have to suggest possible equivalents and the teacher would agree or not.)

I was thinking about this in light of the shootings in Newtown, CT and participating in on-line discussions about our reaction to them.  I have come to wonder how my perspective is of immediate help.  I feel a little like someone who doesn’t speak the language in which the discussion is occurring.

On the one hand, I can take the position that others will help guide the discussion and our national reaction, others who speak the language of the discussion and especially others who structurally have positions of influence.  They can reach people.  But when I hear much of what they say, I am concerned.  So much of it sounds short-sighted to me — understandable but short-sighted.  I start thinking that to navigate the world in this language, people cultivate certain ways of seeing, of interacting, of getting along, and that they don’t develop ways of seeing a bigger picture.  I am not sure how to bridge the gap directly, between what they see and what I see.

Maybe it’s not helpful to try.  Maybe just speaking my perspective on the topic, and in general advocating things that foster developing self-awareness and listening, are what’s helpful — in the long run.  Maybe the most I can expect are tiny shifts now and then from small changes at a different level, not sea changes at the surface.  I know I’m only part of a whole, that everybody has a role to play, that all I should be doing is playing my own.

Who reaches out

December 17, 2012

I was going to write a post about “Fear, pain, and damage” and what seems to me to be going on when people perceive “evil.” I would have talked about how it’s all perfectly fine energy, it’s just that some of it is difficult to process if a person has not sanded down enough of their “flaws,” enough of their humanness.  I would have tried to show how we can get rid of the dualism of “good” and “evil” by realizing that evil is in the eye of the beholder and by subsuming both under “energy.”  I might have talked about destruction being part of the cycle of creation, and that we are better off seeing destruction as just that, and shy away from distinctions like accident, tort, and crime.  I was going to talk about including everybody in our community, and finding a way to mourn for Nancy Lanza and Adam Lanza, too.  (I think, almost paradoxically, that until we maintain a compassionate connection to everybody, we will not resolve the problem of our safety.)  I was going to talk about attachments getting in the way of our clearer perception, about my reaction to watching President Obama reflect his strong attachment to his children in his remarks in Newtown last night.  I was thinking of making the case for celibacy in leadership positions.

And then, as I was crossing the street, I was reminded (because I suspect I’ve had this understanding before) that we need to reach out to God affirmatively because that is the posture in which we are open to receiving God.  Without our having that posture, nothing terribly helpful will happen even if God reaches out to us.  And I thought, trying to communicate that message is probably a more constructive thing to do, rather than trying to get people to see what I see.

Because part of what I see is that we’re not going to reduce the problem of gun massacres by the “mentally ill” by demonizing them, their caretakers, the people who love them (who are able to love them because they connect with something not diseased within them).  We’re not going to resolve the problem by doubling down on our attachment to our children.  I think we need, rather, to spread out more evenly our love and caring to all.  Gun control is fine with me, but I think if we improve our mental hygiene, people’s desire for guns may decrease, so I would include coaching people in general to improved mental hygiene (through teaching coping skills and how to become more self-aware, for example), so I would include that in a broad effort to reduce the presence of guns in our society.

I think I see myself a little like a bleating sheep, or maybe like that cow in the Richard Shindell song “Stray Cow Blues”  — I keep repeating what I perceive and hope it helps.  If people don’t want to hear, I accept that, even if I’m disappointed or frustrated.  I can see my reaction as a form of impatience, maybe even with a little fear mixed in (fear that not enough people will ever perceive clearly), and those are things I can work on.  I think I’ve developed enough detachment to keep doing what I do regardless of its reception.


December 16, 2012

It has been clear to me for a long time that a person’s perception of something like an insult depends on many factors besides the details of the actual episode.  Different people are, or have come to be, calibrated differently, not only for insults but for things like unmet expectations, deprivation, etc.  Some people shrug those things off, others are somewhat bothered, others take the event quite personally and spin stories about what happened (including morality tales) in order to soothe themselves about the event and the way the world (allegedly) works more generally.  Some seek not only to right the situation according their own sense of what should be and what “should have” happened, but to punish those who seem responsible for what happened that they didn’t like.

For many years I worked on resolving a situation that turned out to involve this issue.  Someone had been claiming that their consent to something (a something that had become problematic) had been coerced.  I duly investigated how to help them heal and get back on track from what had happened.  I came to see that while they may have felt coerced, in fact they actively chose to engage in a behavior that was necessary for the transaction to occur.  The “coercion” turned out to be more like a combination of manipulation and withholding material information, not what we would usually mean by coercion.

The targeted person in this transaction was unable to perceive this nuance or communicate the true details of what had happened.  Their sense of self was too fragile to acknowledge their contribution to what happened.  They couldn’t see that their being vulnerable to the manipulation, etc. was also a contributing factor — that which had damaged them enough to make them vulnerable to this means of obtaining consent was relevant, too.  But they had a need to not recognize their damage.

What had happened, apparently, was that a situation had come up in which they were offered something tempting but something they knew they should have refused.  It was offered (first) in a guise that seemed to relieve them of responsibility for going along with accepting.  Then, it was temporarily withdrawn, and then re-offered, only this time when it was offered, they had to take an action at their end to make the transaction occur.  At that point, they had become emotionally invested in having the thing that had been offered.  So taking the action affirmatively to obtain it was glossed over by them, and they reported the whole mechanism as “coercion.”  Throughout all this, they really didn’t know the details of what this transaction would entail.

It turned out to be a disaster from which they could not extricate themselves without asking for help.  Which they wouldn’t do for all kinds of reasons, including that they liked some aspects of the situation and had managed to shift some of its costs to others and to blind themselves to the damage to themselves and others. They also felt somewhat paralyzed to act differently, as if they were under hypnosis, in a way.

Eventually they and/or others realized the situation needed to be ended.  I discovered that resolution of this situation was made difficult by the fact that the help tailored to the situation as they described it did not help end the actual situation that had occurred; they did not mention, could not admit to, their own contribution, and that was relevant to what needed to be done to resolve the situation.

My reaction to having finally unearthed this wrinkle, to having discovered why we were having so much trouble resolving this issue, was relief and tiredness.  I had worked through the “treatment” multiple times, each time on the basis of the information I had, and some of those work-throughs were quite taxing.  I was glad I stuck with it long enough to understand what really had transpired that had lead to the problem.  I could see with compassion why the person was unable to share the details more accurately.  And I could pause long enough not to fall into venting any frustration I might have had in their direction.  I admit I was glad when we had accomplished what was needed and were done.

For me, part of the lesson all along was that this case did not actually involve anything unique or esoteric or special, despite the sense of the person involved that it and they were special and unique.  Seeing the problem more accurately was important — its power could be reduced once it was seen differently — it was kind of like the story of the moth fluttering in a headlight that looks like a signal that it’s not, looks like something more exciting than it is.

Of course, even with seeing the issue as it was and applying an appropriate treatment, we still had to clean up the damage and to dismantle what we could and to dispose of what we couldn’t, as safely as possible.  One of the tools we used is a tool I have been advocating in the wake of the shooting incident in Connecticut on Friday:  people less affected by a difficult situation bringing in as much positive energy as possible, in the form of love and caring, for example, to buoy those who are most directly impacted.  It’s like when people say, in the context of fashion, that a smile is the finishing touch on an outfit — bringing in positive energy is a help.  I sometimes think of it as bringing in an air freshener, or opening the windows, in a stuffy and sour-smelling space.  Sometimes the whole world seems to me to be such a place.

Connections and disconnections

December 15, 2012

I was interested to read an explanation of sort for why a person might shoot small children at a school:

Often in a haze of illness, the schoolhouse gunmen are usually aware of the taboo they are breaking by targeting children, said Dewey G. Cornell, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project. “They know it’s a tremendous statement that shocks people,” Dr. Cornell said, “and that is a reflection of their tremendous pain and their drive to communicate that pain.”

That’s quoted from

Nation’s Pain Is Renewed, and Difficult Questions Are Asked Once More

Published: December 14, 2012

in the NYTimes.

I had written a comment (to Gail Collins’ op-ed column; I wrote it before I read what Cornell said in the article, but after I had heard him on the PBS NewsHour), about how I have been taken aback by the crossing of a line in the shooting of small children.  I compared it to a similar reaction I had to the slamming of planes into sky scrapers.  I want to say, “We [humans] don’t do that.”  The apparent coldness, the disconnectedness from fellow feelings for others are what strike me.

So, being the person I am, I have the urge to harmonize in some way Cornell’s explanation with my own reaction.

When I myself have felt what I want to describe as unbearable pain, the kind when you can’t stand being in your own skin, in your own body, my response has been to try to escape up into the spiritual realm until I have enough distance to process the event.  (Watching my child being beaten is an example.)  It’s hard to do in the moment, at least for me it is, because the pain seems to close the heart and my heart needs to be open to receive the help.  I suspect that this is why prudent people pursue training, usually through religious practice, to keep the heart sufficiently open even in these situations.

I wonder if people who cross bright lines in their pain lack even more on-going connection to what I call the spiritual realm, but which can also be thought of in other terms, like Plato’s forms or forces in the universe or the collective unconscious or Source.  I wonder if they are, first, cut off from themselves, and then, cut off from others and from a sense of community probably most of us have without being fully aware of it.  And if a person is cut off from themselves, I think their awareness of the universe at large and of other people is not mediated through a conduit that includes compassion — I suspect they are using a mental process that includes information but lacks other components for understanding the world.  So when pain is overwhelming for them, I’m thinking that they don’t have a safe harbor to escape to and that they don’t have in place the internal equivalent of Jersey barriers on a highway — a strong (internalized) connection to identifying with others and with community —  to keep them from crossing bright lines.

For me, then, the issue turns into how to foster people’s feeling connected and how to coach them or encourage them to locate in themselves that part of our mental apparatus through which we connect.


December 15, 2012

Moses, according to the story, brought down from the mountain his recording of the Ten Commandments.  I was thinking yesterday (when I wrote all but the last sentence of this) about trying to impose a way of looking at the world developed in adulthood on small children.  I think that requires the child either to see the point behind the adult way of doing things (like taking turns) or just adhering to the rule for some extraneous reason, like fear of punishment or desire to please.

If I think about this issue in a spiritual context, I arrive at a similar point:  the prophet goes up into the cloud and receives some understanding, then comes back down and tries to share it.  Do we in the audience accept the understanding, in this case a law code, because we, too, understand, or do we try to follow it on some other basis?

There’s a tension in there.  If said prophet goes back to thinking completely the way people in the valley think, then the prophet will see no further than they do and lose his understanding.  If the prophet can’t communicate what the prophet has understood on top of the mountain, what was the point of the experience of receiving the understanding?

Perhaps it was to learn the limits of trying to provide for others guidance for living through external teaching, instead of working to encourage others’ development of their own internal guidance.