Archive for January, 2014

Liberal levels

January 30, 2014

I really appreciated reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today.  It’s about “levels” and “stages”of development, and today he observes the stage at which many liberals get stuck.  He’s already observed that conservatives seem to be stuck at a previous stage.

I am so appreciative of reading this because I have found myself of late criticizing a number of regular liberal commenters in the NYTimes comments threads for things that seem to me rather similar to the rabble-rousing through disingenuous techniques and a lack of compassion and respect that they decry in their opponents.  It has looked to me like similar limited process only filled with different content — liberal beliefs instead of conservative.  Maybe I understand this as being stuck at a particular level but at a slightly different stage within it.

I find myself asking myself, “Why am I taking these comments on?”  I really am not sure, I do try not to be simply reactive, I try to distinguish between a reaction and an answer to a call to act.  I don’t have the impression I will directly influence those whose comments I criticize, I do it in the spirit that for me to not do so would be worse, including for me.

I think I’m kind of used to not fitting in with particular ideological groups — neither did Willy, and we used to talk about it a lot.  I still miss having company with that.


In for a penny

January 28, 2014

I have in mind the saying, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

I was thinking about it in connection with a story I heard about a genie who kept abusing his power with respect to the person who had uncorked him.

At first he may actually have been unaware of the true impact of his interaction with this person.

He may also have done what he did on purpose, when he realized the “wrong” person had opened the bottle;  that is, someone who couldn’t really help him in return.  Of course, he was flawed and somewhat deceitful himself;  why he expected to be paired with someone who did not mirror that back, the story doesn’t say.

Then, the story goes, at some point he became aware that he was doing something harmful and he became acutely embarrassed, even ashamed, thinking this indicated some fault in himself he could not erase.

So he began to embrace an image of himself that was, at its heart, a consequence of his feeling bad about what had happened.  He wore black, he cultivated a rogue/outlaw image.  And he kept repeating the damaging behavior.

This was the “in for a penny, in for a pound” part.  He believed he was irredeemable.  He believed the person would not forgive him at that point.

The person actually, more than anything, just wanted the harm to stop.  In fact, the person was so harmed, they couldn’t speak for themselves and ask.  They sent someone else to ask on their behalf.  The genie didn’t recognize them, since, of course, they were not the person with whom he had the relationship.  Eventually, though, the genie became open to hearing the plea.

When he realized that just stopping now was in itself a good thing (perhaps even a significant good thing), and that perhaps eventually the harmed person would let go of any resentment, once they were in better shape, he stopped.

I think the concept of being “damned for all time” is a self-generated one, I don’t think the universe thinks in those terms, thinks at all, for that matter.  Things happen, some do cause harm, each party must then figure out a path forward.  There is grace for when that isn’t enough and it serves their greater good and the greater good in general to add some “outside” help to the situation.  I think people need to feel that there is always the possibility of forgiveness, at least at some level, even if another person directly involved can’t find it in themselves at the moment.  Moments pass.  When we feel better, maybe we can locate that forgiveness after all, unless we have willfully decided not to.  The problematic behavior does need to stop, though, for most of us to feel better enough to do this.

So the genie reforms his behavior, the other person eventually feels better, and in the ensuing iterations of the story, something else happens between them instead of the harmful behavior.  Perhaps both of them become satisfied with these next iterations, perhaps not, but they are making progress.


January 26, 2014

There’s a version in another culture of the story the Romans tell about Lucretia in order to explain how the reign of the kings got overthrown and the Roman Republic got established.

The Roman myth is known as “The Rape of Lucretia,” and in the Augustan Roman historian Livy’s version of it, Lucretia is coerced into having sex with Tarquin (a king) by his threat of shaming her more by making it look as if she had had sex with a slave.

In this version in another culture, the Lucretia character rebuffs a suitor on the grounds that she’s married, he says, “Well, I can fix that,” and kills her husband.  He then forces himself on her.  She’s now a raped widow with orphans.  In her culture, she should marry her rapist.  In one variant, she kills herself rather than do this, in another, he refuses to marry her because he doesn’t want two families.  I don’t think this culture thought in terms of divorce, but if it had, I think he would have said, “What?  I can’t do that!  That would have a negative impact on my family!”

How should the male character resolve the situation?  Clearly the train left the station when he figured he should have more sex — whatever went into that “decision” is the problem.  If he is that same person, it is doubtful he will do something helpful, even if one assumes a helpful resolution exists in theory.  If he develops some further insight into himself and others as a result of this situation — we could imagine a variant, maybe the operatic version, in which he is moved to compassion in a final scene with swelling music — maybe he will at least voice the realization that he has created a situation in which he has enriched himself at the expense of others, no matter what he does now.

In a situation in which it is unclear what to do, there is always the “Phone a Friend” option — ask the universe, pray to God, look deep within for insight.  That may well be a lesson of the situation, to present the male character with a problem he can’t solve on his own.

I don’t actually know what understanding of what to do this male character would develop if he did that — in the variants I know, no epiphany comes because he isn’t willing to ask the universe or God and he hasn’t developed his ability to hear what wisdom lies within himself.  Maybe his amend is to live a changed life going forward and arrange for substitute care of those he has made destitute in the present.

In this other culture, the story doesn’t usher in a new world order abruptly.  It’s more of an illustration of how we are stuck with an old flawed one when people don’t learn from situations in which they are challenged to do more than think and behave in their usual patterns.

Price guarantee

January 24, 2014

An employee of my phone/internet service provider made an unauthorized change to my services last summer and, in the course of putting that situation to rights and restoring my old services, I ended up with a deal that included a price guarantee for 12 months but no contract.  I was specifically told that because I was dealing with a manager and she was giving me a manager’s bundle, which included services a regular customer service representative could no longer access, it could include a price guarantee without a contract.  She went into detail with me about how this price guarantee would work.  We went through examples.  It was not just a passing comment.

So a few months later my bill increases and I call to get this increase rescinded and a rep agrees she sees the price guarantee, once I reference the date of the call and the manager’s name, and that they will honor it.  She points out that I had actually ended up being charged slightly less than the guarantee, due to a customer reward coupon, and that I would now only get the guaranteed price, and I replied that I could not argue against that.  She also adjusted the current bill, using a credit.

Next bill showed no change from the increased bill.  I called again.

Now I’m being told that a manager could not have given me a price guarantee outside of a contract.  But here’s the kicker:  they now claim the notes don’t contain evidence of the manager’s price guarantee.  Last month they obviously did, now they don’t.

Eventually the representative in the “Elite Dept.” gave me a third coupon to offset most of the price increase.  Now I should be getting something slightly below the price guarantee and above what I had been paying before.  I accepted this arrangement.  It does, of course, not include recognition of the 12-month price guarantee, so if they raise the price of individual services again company-wide, I will again have a problem.  But I could not see that I was going to do any better than this at this point, short of taking my business elsewhere, because they now claim there is no such thing as a “manager’s bundle” and that a manager has no authority to give a price guarantee without a contract.  I am thinking that they may have revised their rules, but I don’t know.

The other issue, which is nothing new, is that it is difficult to get anything in writing, even in electronic writing, from them.  Even when one knows what one wants in writing.  Sometimes they tell you they’ve sent you an email and it never comes.  Then they hold it against you later that you don’t have enough evidence.

What am I learning from this?  That company policy of a reputable company seems to include what amounts to lying and covering up.  I don’t know how one responds to that.  I got the extra coupon and then turned the rest of the problem over to forces greater than myself.

Eating candy

January 23, 2014

Someone once asked me if having faith was like asking the universe to help you find an orange piece of candy in the candy dish without looking.  I wasn’t comfortable with that understanding of faith.  I thought that it was quite possible that the universe might help with that request if it served the greater good and the petitioner’s greater good, but it didn’t sit right with me.

So the other day, years later, I’m actively and consciously choosing an orange piece of candy and I’m about to unwrap it and I get this message — to unwrap it over the kitchen sink.  And sure enough, it’s a broken piece of candy and little pieces fall into the sink.  I had recently cleaned the kitchen floor and I would not have been a happy camper if the pieces had fallen on the floor.  That is the kind of help I receive when I have faith and I trust the universe the way a swimmer trusts the ocean to support them when they float.

Which gets me to my favorite part of the David Remnick piece on President Obama, in the current issue of The New Yorker.

It’s a quote from the president:

‘One of the things that I’ve learned to appreciate more as President is you are essentially a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids, and that river is history,’ he later told me. ‘You don’t start with a clean slate, and the things you start may not come to full fruition on your timetable. But you can move things forward.’

I very much resonate with the relay team conceptualization and I also resonate with the river imagery.  I don’t usually find them combined in my brain, though.  For me, the river part is peaceful and about me as an individual, about my relationship with the universe.  The relay part is about navigating the material world and doing my part in what’s going on here.

But I lead as private a life as the president’s is public, so maybe it looks different to him.  The issue of combining — here, images — I also think plays out differently in different people’s lives.  Some people’s ego self and greater self are well integrated, others very much tie the ego self off from the greater self.  I often relate more easily to the greater self of someone else, and I get upended when their ego self isn’t consistent with it.  I am trying to learn to be open to the possibility that the two selves will not be in sync.  So if President Obama has integrated the rapids of material life with the bigger picture of the universe, maybe that’s a more helpful way to view things.  I have to admit that one of the other things I have to work on in my own life is integrating my spiritual and material world lives better with each other.  If President Obama has, I should certainly not be criticizing that.

Doing the opposite

January 21, 2014

Well, maybe not quite the opposite, but close.

I read the David Brooks column on being “present” when people are grieving or in other difficult situations.  Part of the advice was not to pull in comparisons to one’s own travails.  Some commenters said this is not a hard and fast rule, as they actually found such comparisons helpful.  I suspect the attitude with which the comparisons are made is important —  it can mean the difference between making the conversation shift to a focus on the interlocutor (or using a comparison to shut down the conversation), and trying to put one’s emotional finger on the right understanding of what the other person is going through so as to be able to acknowledge the bereaved’s experience adequately.

But what’s interesting to me is how many of the comments sort of make comparisons.  I thought of doing something similar myself, but it struck me as flying in the face of the point of the column, and so I didn’t.

I just complimented the column instead.  I thought it was “spot-on and well-articulated,” worthy of being kept with emergency supplies for future reference when needed.

Of course, advising people on what is helpful is a different task from making sure people who need presence at a time of mourning or difficulty have it, but he’s a columnist, not Florence Nightingale.

Three swans a-resting

January 21, 2014

There were nine swans at the res today.  The res is partially iced-over, but there is some open water, especially near where water from a brook flows into it.

They seemed to be grouped in sets of three.  One group was napping, their long necks gracefully folded back onto their backs while they floated in the water.  One of these was obviously a youthful swan, as it had many dark feathers.  For a while it seemed to be awake, with its head up and stretching its wings a bit, but then it, too, assumed the dozing posture.

I think another group of three also included a juvenile, but the third group seemed to be all white in feather color.  One of those was actually standing on some ice.

I was happy to be able to walk all the way around the res today — I wasn’t sure how packed down the path would be, how icy from refrozen melting it might have become, and, therefore, slippery.  There was even a jogger.  But no ice hockey going on down below on the ice — I imagine the ice isn’t sturdy enough right now.  We’re supposed to get another snowstorm in the next day or two, and after it, some more really cold weather, I think.  Then I suspect the swans will be gone again and the hockey players will be back.

Punishment does not undo damage

January 20, 2014

Maybe I should have written a reply to a reply one of my NYTimes comments received.

Richard Luettgen wrote about “dreadful consequences” that “cannot simply be expunged.”  I was talking about limiting punishment, especially of juveniles, and not having an adjudication dog them for the rest of their lives with negative consequences — limit the punishment to the actual terms of the sentence.

I don’t think any incarceration expunges the consequences of criminal behavior.  The movie is not run backwards, and then replayed with different action, on account of a participant’s punishment.    The impacts are still there.  But that — how to address the negative impacts — I think is a separate issue.  If we incarcerate people until dreadful consequences have been expunged, I don’t see on what basis anyone would ever be let out.

Which tradition?

January 20, 2014

Richard Rohr talks about delving deep through one’s spiritual tradition, citing the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa as sources.

My sense is that the only bedrock guidelines are, open your heart and listen.  If that process leads to going with a particular current religious tradition, that’s one thing.  But if it leads elsewhere, that’s something else.

So, too, with the notion of the happy mystic Father Rohr has written about.  To me that sounds like a human interpretation, the idea that mystics will give external evidence of happiness.  Maybe the “physics” of being a mystic do necessarily produce what we perceive as happiness, but I am open to the possibility that they don’t, that there are varieties of mystic experience and that the tradition he refers to is just one of many.  To me, the issue is what serves the greater good in a particular situation, what puzzle piece fits.  It’s a logical possibility that a grumpy mystic might.  Not every partially enlightened person fulfills the same function, is doing the same job.  And I’m not sure that the completely enlightened people hang out here, I think to be incarnated we have to accept having some kind of flaw.  Even the happy mystics.

As to what religious tradition has worked for me, in terms of spiritual union, I believe it is a much older one, one which most people no longer use today, and I believe that for me that reflects that I am helping someone from the past resolve an attempted spiritual union that went awry in a complicated way.

Which leads me to a spiritual story.  It’s about someone who thinks they are getting someone else’s dreams.  Today we might think of it in terms of getting someone else’s email and wanting to forward the messages on to the correct recipient, who would know how to respond to them.  It was clear to this second person in the story that the first person was getting her stuff because he had too much of her energy incorporated within him.  If you’re impersonating someone, you get their messages.  Not surprisingly, he didn’t want her to take her energy back, just the messages.  He didn’t understand that it doesn’t work that way.

They interacted, she got the messages, did what they indicated needed to be done, stuff which he didn’t know how to do (and he knew that he didn’t).  Then the universe found a way to keep the problem from recurring.

All the rest was irrelevant detail, in the great scheme of things.  She could see that, even if she didn’t like some of the detail, and eventually she made peace with the fact that he had his own interpretation of what had happened.

For her it was a little like overpaying to recover needed information stored on a stolen computer, a computer that was now in the hands of someone who really thought it was theirs.

No one ever told her she was getting a pleasurable or easy role in the story.  It’s being of service that brings inner peace, not necessarily the particulars of what that service entails.  And within the confines of the story, she complained heartily.  It’s just that she could also see (after the fact) that it was only a spiritual story and that she was being of service by playing her role within it.

Longing for love

January 19, 2014

There’s longing for love and then there’s longing for Love — yearning for the romantic love of one’s life to walk in and desire for spiritual union with the divine within us and outside of us, respectively.

The two can get confused, or maybe they are simply the same urge experienced at different stages of development and expressed according to the vocabulary with which the person is familiar.

But, maybe because the anniversary of my father’s death is in a week, I am thinking that romantic love with another person may be a decoy for deeper love with the divine.  He seemed to come to me after he died, confused about where he needed to go, and I redirected him — “No, not my light, but that bigger light in the distance; go with those nice folks who will help you go where it serves for you to go.”

I think I’ve gotten people who are actually searching for, yearning for, God, getting distracted by the kind of love I apparently can provide.  Again, “No, it’s not my love, but that bigger Love, for which you are really searching, and if you confuse what you really want, with having a relationship with me, it won’t end well, for either of us.”  I have these suspicions, I think, less because I am looking to flatter myself and more because I get so drained by those sorts of relationships;  I don’t have infinite love available on demand without pause the way God does, and when people expect that from me, I get exhausted.  That’s what gives me the heads-up that something is amiss.  Such a misplaced relationship also tends to play out as devastation in my personal life, as well as this emotional, spiritual, and physical depletion of me.  (Al-Anon talks about this pattern arising in relationships affected by the disease of alcoholism, too.)  I notice what’s going on more quickly when the love sought is not romantic, but eventually I even recognize it there — and I think it’s harder for me to resist, too, when the love is romantic, although I’m not sure why — romantic love can be quite seductive, I guess.  Maybe it’s got a quality found in substances that encourage a Pavlovian response or an addictive response.  As I said, there seems to me to be some connection here with patterns found in situations affected by the disease of alcoholism — maybe people so affected are looking in their own way for God, too, and get waylaid by a more immediate but destructive substitute.

My point is that, if people are looking for Love, could they please direct their attention to where they can find the supply they need?

For my own part, I need to recognize earlier what’s going on for what it is, and to find a way to redirect the person searching, preferably in a way that also results in a relationship with that person that works for both of us.