Archive for April, 2014

Misunderstandings

April 28, 2014

I was writing about the Anglo-American property law concept of adverse possession in a comment I wrote to Paul Krugman’s column on Cliven Bundy, because I wanted to focus on how people get emotionally invested in their initially mistaken notions of what is theirs.

People do that in all kinds of contexts, including spiritual ones, I think.  In most social circles in our culture we don’t allow much discussion of trespasses against others that are not visible physical ones, but that doesn’t mean people don’t trespass against others in other ways.  In fact, the fact that we can’t talk about it helps such trespassers continue the trespass:  “What, are you crazy?  I can’t be doing that, that possibility doesn’t exist!”  And it doesn’t mean nobody talks about such trespasses, either — it is acceptable discourse in some circles.

I will focus on a context in which it is more generally acceptable to talk about the issue:  the muse relationship.

Writers, artists, and musicians who focus on someone whom they think is a muse may actually just be focusing on some particular real life person living their life on this planet.  Their focus may come across as a “wrong number” phone call to that person, and if the caller perseveres in the call, it may come across as a trespass; it may even damage the person.  And like Bundy grazing his cattle for years without paying, the caller may get used to the idea of a free grazing right.

People who have a lot of spiritual development and are very open get plenty of people who want their emotional and spiritual support.  Some of the people looking for the support try to establish muse relationships (some try other type relationships), and some of those relationships work, some of those relationships come across as trespassing or worse.  It can feel to the “muse” as if they are getting an unsolicited cold call promising them a scam.  They may follow up on the call to make sure it really is the scam it seems to be, and if it is, they may terminate the connection.  But first they may give the caller an opportunity to recast the relationship into a viable form.  If there is no willingness to negotiate in a reasonable way, then the connection will probably fray and fade.

Just calling the relationship a “muse” relationship doesn’t make it one.  It may be experienced as something quite different on the receiving end — the “muse” may feel as if she has a Cliven Bundy grazing his cattle on her resources, claiming, in essence, adverse possession.

 

Awareness

April 26, 2014

Before I started chatting with my fellow Diana in the lobby this morning (see previous post), I was reading “Have You Lost Your Mind?” in The New Yorker.  It’s by Michael Kinsley.

It’s about awareness of dementia and Parkinson’s disease, at least as far as I read this morning (a little over a third of it, I think).  I was really grabbed by the description in the second paragraph of

a comic-book tale about some residents of our three-dimensional world who go through a hole in space, or something like that, and find themselves living in two dimensions.  ‘And nothing’s changed,’ one says, triumphantly, unable to to see what we can see:  that he is now the approximate shape and depth of a postage stamp.  Maybe this is what the descent into dementia is like:  everyone around you knows or suspects you have it, but to yourself you seem the same.

That’s close to how I imagine the relationship between how we think when we are incarnated (the world with fewer dimensions) and how we think when our souls are not constrained by the material world (the world with more dimensions).  Maybe enlightenment is when we become aware of the difference.

Diana from Arlington

April 26, 2014

I was sitting in a lobby this morning, about 30 miles from home, waiting for a bureaucracy to grind its way through some paperwork, and I realized that the woman sitting near me was similarly waiting for the same process to be completed.  So we started chatting, and sharing how we came to be there, and in addition to having in common some details which were somewhat predictable, it turned out that her name is also Diana and she also lives in Arlington.

Volume

April 24, 2014

I very much appreciated Richard Rohr’s reminder this morning that “Without all the inner voices of resistance and control, it is amazing how much you can get done and not get tired.”  That’s in today’s Daily Meditation.

Gita and I have talked about this, too — couldn’t do it without “letting go” and “turning it over.”

Now, I am perfectly prepared to believe that I could do this better.  I put up resistance (like a kid pushing the spinach to the side of their plate), I fret, I get ahead of myself, I try to get other people to act in a way to prevent a future problem (like trying to get them to correct, before it is filed, a tax return that has mistakes in it).

I think I see two additional issues, in addition to “letting go” and “turning it over,” but, as I said, I am prepared to discover the issue lies with me.

One is volume.

I just end up with too many things on my plate as a result of being open to and able to do caretaking.  The inflow can feel as if it exceeds my processor’s capacity.

The second is society’s (unreasonable) demands.

The two kind of intertwine.

I once heard someone say that she thought of the nursing home in which her mother lived as being like “one big alcoholic.”  She meant that the institution could be as difficult to deal with as a human alcoholic, and with similar patterns of behavior.  I’ve felt similarly about other institutions, including schools, hospitals, social services, the justice system.  Whether it’s damaging behavior by the institution to a loved one or demands from the institution on me (as a caretaker), it can feel as if what I am called upon to do exceeds the amount of energy I can give it without too much damage to myself.

It’s no secret that patients in hospitals and nursing homes who have caretakers of their own weighing in as case managers do better, get better care, etc.

So where to draw the line between detachment and involvement?

It’s not just the wisdom of knowing the difference between what we can change and what we can’t, it’s also putting a boundary on how much of ourselves we can deploy without too much depletion.  Inflow from prayer and meditation certainly helps, but I think outflow can exceed inflow if care is not taken.  On the other hand, there is an instinct or desire to try to prevent or ameliorate suffering of others.  Part of that is wrapped up in trying to avoid pain — something we are encouraged to do by our norms and our survival instinct.  I think there is also a part of helping others in some situations that is from pressure from social norms more directly, regardless of where we think we should be drawing lines and regardless of inner guidance about where to observe boundaries, of what’s ours to do and what’s not.

My sense is that we have with our current social organization shifted around responsibility like a hot potato or like a shell in a game in which something is being hidden beneath one of a number of inverted cups.  Some techniques we seem to me to use to do this include, for example, narrowly defining our piece of the project and expecting others to do more;  littering, on the justification that one little piece won’t hurt;  setting systems up in such a way that requires a person without authority or control to have responsibility.

I don’t know if human free will can “clog up the plumbing” of the system of human interaction and society, or whether it’s the case that any system we devise can work, so long as those who have to use it interface adequately with divine help.  But I admit that sometimes I think we have developed a system that doesn’t work, especially for the long run.

For me, the questions are relevant to the issue of how much better a situation can be expected to go — because I am often hearing from others that things could be better if I just _______.  I have run through a fair number of _______, and I am here to say they do not necessarily work as advertized.  Maybe this is why 12-step programs refrain from advice and why the most general helpful source I found after Willy died was actually Al-Anon, the program for family and friends of alcoholics, although Willy was not a qualifier of mine.

At any rate, I conclude for now that working on my part of the equation, so long as I do it gently, can’t hurt, but that I should also be wary of assuming that optimizing my own part will result in things going better in other ways.

Hawks

April 23, 2014

This caught my attention for many reasons, some more obvious than others.  It’s about a red-tailed hawk that died, one town over, and a woman named Moses who cared.  For me, the soundtrack is “Reunion Hill.”

Not available

April 20, 2014

My local supermarket often runs out of things they advertize as being on sale, and email ads I get from clothing vendors often do the same.  In some cases there are rainchecks or backorders, but sometimes there is just nothing helpful.  It colors the way a consumer thinks about ads and vendors, I think — it’s all about them, the vendors, not about the impact on the consumer;  for example, if the item on sale is something the consumer needed to buy anyway, and was perfectly willing to pay full-price for, and which would have been in stock but for the sale, while the world as we know it doesn’t come to an end over such a failure to transact, it may mean that I have to find another store that does have unsalted stick butter in stock.

Handkerchiefs

April 20, 2014

I bought three cotton handkerchiefs at the 5 & 10 yesterday (along with picture hooks, sponges, and a pocket mirror).  They are stiff, too stiff to use until they are washed.

This morning I was stripping my bed to wash the sheets and pillow cases, and I decided to put the folded extra blanket that usually sits at the foot of my bed on top of a trunk while I launder the linens.

The issue popped into my head of whether there was something on top of the trunk I needed to put elsewhere before I put the blanket down on top of it.  I thought, “Well, I can always pull out the box of tissues easily enough when I need it,” and went downstairs with the sheets to put them in the washer.

I’m filling the washer, and I thought, “Do I have anything to put in with this load of sheets?”  And then it hit me, that I ought to throw in the handkerchiefs.

So there was something on top of the trunk I did need to pull off before putting that blanket down on top of it.

I love when different parts of my mental apparatus interact and I feel as if I’m kind of along for the ride.

“Two wives”

April 18, 2014

There’s a spiritual story in which a wise man tells an ambitious man that one can’t have two wives successfully.

The ambitious man thinks, “Well, we’ll just see about that, I’ll show this ‘wise’ man that it can be done, and undermine his credibility to boot.”

So he marries two different women.  Different versions of the story have this happen in different ways.

I’m not even sure that all of the households in all of the stories are unhappy — because that was never the issue;  the issue was that a person cannot be successful in both the material world and the spiritual world — one can’t “marry” both.

Bunnies and birdies and deer, oh my

April 16, 2014

I’m visiting out in the “wilds” of suburban New Jersey, and while I’ve been here, we’ve seen out the back windows, at some surprise to my host, a large rabbit and a youthful-looking deer.  There have also been plenty of birds and squirrels sighted, too.

Well, I am thrilled to see a bunny, and excited to see a deer, although I am concerned about the latter animal’s safety and eating prospects.  The deer clearly wanted to come into the yard this morning, perhaps to eat the leaves and flowers, but a town fence prevented it.  It went up on its hind legs to try to eat some shrubbery hanging over the fence and kept looking into the yard as it walked along its boundary.  The rabbit had found a way into the yard yesterday and had eaten its fill of wild rose bush leaves, before resting beneath the bushes in the yard.

A veritable garden statue come to life.

It does give me pause when I find myself seeing life in terms of an imitation of art — what’s wrong with that picture? — but I have to admit that I kept thinking of statues of St. Francis or angels or cherubs welcoming deer, birds, and rabbits, which I see in other people’s yards as I take walks while I’m visiting.

How much?

April 15, 2014

I suppose it is not necessary to believe we have through reincarnation multiple opportunities to develop spiritually to believe that it may be preferable for people to do what they can in terms of what Father Rohr’s tradition calls “dying to the self” instead of aiming to do more than they can safely accomplish.  In the reincarnation model, we can think of it in terms of laying a strong foundation (for future layers), but even without multiple opportunities, we could think of it in terms of progress made — how far we have come from where we started — and see “delta” (change) as what we are looking for.

I have concerns about everybody feeling they should be able to achieve it all, and hence not trying at all or trying in a way that actually results in harm, such as regression or implosion.  I’m in favor of taking solid steps, however small, towards becoming aware of what about us is flawed and ephemeral and what about us is timeless and stable.  Rome was not built in a day.  Every stage of development is important and having people at different stages of development is important.  I would rather see people moving slowly in a helpful direction than not moving at all or incurring too much damage from tumbling backwards after trying to take too large a step on difficult terrain.

Where I do see privileging one stage of development above others is in being able to see a bigger picture and being able to encourage others not to get stuck in limited thinking, in mistaking a part for the whole, or in clinging to a stage as if it were a permanent resting place.  Being able to suggest an overview can be helpful, but the actual nitty-gritty of coaching individuals, in terms of where they are and what may be helpful to their progress, I think is something else.