Archive for May, 2014


May 29, 2014

My carpenter was on the phone with me last night about all the repairs he’s going to get to on my house today, most notably concerning the downstairs bathroom, now that he’s rebuilt what rotted underneath its outside corner.

This morning he texted me that he will be late, he’s going to mass this morning, because the cardinal will be there, at St. Agnes’s.

I hope the mass is great, is what I told him.

We had a brief discussion the other day about my Kwan Yin statue in the backyard near where he’s been working, whom he referred to as Mrs. Buddha.  I said I think Kwan Yin hears the cries of people, maybe like Mary does?  I’ve got Mary elsewhere in the backyard, next to a small seated Buddha near the door to the shed — where Joe’s been keeping his tools, so he’s probably seen her, too.

The statue of Kwan Yin I bought because it depicts her less elegantly than most statues do, and I like my spiritual helpers earthy.

So somehow there’s this strand of religion winding through my home repairs.

Maybe I should note that my garden statuary is not all religious, although there is also a young monk under a rose bush.  I’ve got a few rabbits and a turtle and a pig (who is now on its side and covered by leaves, not to mention that it had sprouted moss, last time I checked, so I think it may no longer be visible).  And then there’s this bird statue of Willy’s, I think it’s a turkey but it could be a peacock.  He came home with it once and I did not understand its attraction for him (he explained that it was on sale because it was damaged), but now I’ve kind of grown fond of it and I have it where I can see it from the dining room window, among the vinca.

Young men

May 29, 2014

My older son let me know about a terrible accident involving his friend’s cousin, who was someone whom he also knew a little, I think, from school.  She was hit and killed by a train and she was pregnant.  She was in her twenties.

My son was texting and emailing me about this while I was out and he was getting on the wrong train for an appointment and his friend was coming over that night, I think, to talk and it was not easy for me to know what to say.  Something about keeping people company and showing them we care.

Rabbi Kushner makes a point about how human suffering is an opportunity for human love to come forth, as I recall.

But in the throes of it, I think it just plain hurts, like a body blow and a hole in the heart, there are stages of it when it’s really tough to feel anybody’s love, I think, we contract so much in our reaction to the event that very little gets in.  It’s tough.

Words are not enough and analysis seems just beside the point.

For me this feels almost as if I am watching people on an Outward Bound experience.




I am so sorry for the losses, for the pain and suffering, and I hope for everybody some measure of comfort, now, in the coming days and nights, and in the long term.

My best to you and your family, Alex.  (I was surprised to learn from Jonas that you sometimes read this blog.)


May 25, 2014

Gita has told me that learning to discern is an issue in my life, but the context of discernment she has had in mind has never rung a bell for me — I see what she’s talking about, but I have a fairly strong understanding that I’m not supposed to practice what she’s calling “discernment” there, that instead part of my portfolio is not to discern in that way in that context — to not discern in the context she has in mind is part of allowing anonymity, and that can be something that serves.

So today I read Richard Rohr on discernment (it, too, about “‘discern[ing] the spirits'”) and he’s got something else entirely in mind — something about distinguishing what is our false self from our illusions.  Again, I think I see the point, but while I am sure I struggle with what he’s talking about, I don’t think that’s my discernment issue either.

But the compare-and-contrast of Gita’s and Father Rohr’s respective versions of the discernment issue precipitated in me the thought that my real weakness in discernment comes in the very mundane context of discerning between people who take advantage of me and people who don’t.

I think it was Ann Landers who said something about how people can only take advantage of us when allow it.

I suspect my challenge is something related, namely, to find a voice and a posture to deal with people whose behavior, whether intentionally or not, asks too much of me.

Whose version?

May 25, 2014

This is not about different ways of translating the same idea, which I just mentioned in a reply comment, but about different versions of what happened in a situation or encounter, it’s about different factual accounts.

I went to a doctor for one of those annual “preventive care” rituals.  It did not go well.  I finally insisted on something that I had suggested before we got started — that I place my feet in a somewhat unorthodox position.   For one thing, I had a doctor decades ago who taught me to do that, for another thing, I am somewhat short (this doctor’s office says I’m not even 5 feet tall, which I had thought I was), including in the legs, so equipment may not be scaled for me.

Afterwards, the doctor wanted to engage in some “Do you have any questions?” discussion.  I didn’t have any questions, but I did say I had some concerns about what had happened, that it wasn’t okay with me that she had taken the point of view that I was “doing something

” when it really was a muscle issue dictated by the position of my feet.  She countered with a claim that she had actually prevailed before I switched foot positions, I pointed out it hadn’t gone well enough for her to do what she needed to do until I had switched foot positions.

My insistence on my version I couched in terms of what I had experienced.  But beneath the surface of our accounts was the issue of who bore responsibility for what — what’s my stuff, what’s someone else’s.   I often have trouble seeing where that boundary is.  So while I was not a happy camper about what had happened or about our exchange about it afterwards, what happened and the discussion afterwards were actually therapeutic and helpful to me because they were unclouded by other issues;  I could more clearly see someone trying to shift facts in a way that would make their stuff mine.  In other situations, I don’t see things so clearly, but I am pretty sure I encounter the same technique nonetheless.

So this time around I was able to assert myself and say in essence, “No, that’s not what happened.”

As I walked home I began the process of letting it go and forgiving.

She is young, not only younger than I am chronologically, but also in some other way.  I suspect that that latter characteristic is overrepresented among doctors — fix-it people whose expertise can be seen by them as elevating them above their patients in other ways, and whose perspective on these things may offer them some self-protection and shield them from some of the hazards of their work.

Of course, as she expressed, she doesn’t want to think of herself as hurting her patients.

So she is doing the best she can in her circumstances and with the equipment she has.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t present and insist on the reality of my experience.

But I also thank her for the opportunity to see more clearly than usual what happens to me if someone tries to deny the reality of what I experience — that it has the effect of diminishing me in some way, that it makes me feel smaller.  I wonder if that’s part of why people engage in the technique, to make other people feel small.

Faith, color blindness, optical illusions, and doubt

May 24, 2014

Some people have what turns out to be a temporary willingness to believe in forces in the universe greater than themselves — God, if you prefer — and then lose the sense that such forces exist.  I’ve wondered how that loss of faith occurs.

My current thinking is that in some cases it is a matter of entertaining, however briefly, another way of looking at the situation, and hence the world, another “explanation” of what is going on, an explanation that is considerably less expansive and optimistic and encouraging.  You look at the phenomenon from another angle and all of a sudden you don’t see the colored numbers among the dots on the colorblindness test picture, you don’t see both ways of looking at one of those pictures that contains two images that can’t be viewed simultaneously but can be toggled between.

Here’s an example.  I have lots of flowers in my gardens and grass I didn’t plant, columbines, bleeding hearts, purple spikey things, black eyed susans, wild rose bushes, fuzzy pinkish half-spheres — a lot.  It can feel to me as if nature is helping me with my gardening.  I confess I can’t always keep up with doing my gardening myself and I am tickled when there are beautiful plants I didn’t plant.  I feel embraced and supported by the universe.

I could see the phenomenon instead in terms of a series of steps:  the scattering of seeds through the activity of birds, the scattering of seeds by the wind, what have you.  I don’t say these mechanisms don’t occur, but that “engineering” explanation falls flat for me.  I see the flowers and I am thrilled.  The flatness of the engineering explanation and my thrill don’t correspond.

In a way I think I have an attachment to the universe and its currents, just as I work on detachment from the world of human activity and its ups and downs.  I understand that some people do the opposite, are attached to the human activity part of life and detach from the currents of the universe.  Of course, some people are able to maintain helpful relationships with both the currents and the activity.

I think lack of faith, though, can be a real difficulty with recalling how to look at the world with trust in the universe beyond what we understand through the engineering explanations.  The failure of trust may occur, I am thinking, just from seeing the infrastructure.  I think it occurs when the competing explanation shuts out a basis for hope that there is always grace, always a spiritual safety net that may come into play when it serves.  I think it occurs when there is a sense from the competing explanation that there is something wrong — some unfairness because of others’ behavior or some cause for embarrassment or shame on account of one’s own — if the explanation implies something is wrong with the world, I think the perspective of faith may be difficult to maintain.

I have this difficulty with interpersonal relationships much more than I have it with my relationship with the universe at large.  Once trust has been undermined between me and another, the whole relationship tends to deflate.  I have difficulty going back to seeing the person and the attitude behind their behavior the way I did before; I have a hard time believing in them any longer.  If they do nothing to address that head on, the relationship kind goes into an agnostic category:  yes, I believe you might be involved with me, but no, I’m not all in anymore, I am holding something back, not necessarily because I’ve decided to, but because I have a sense of “fool me once, shame’s on you, fool me twice …” that is making that impossible for me to do.

I don’t do this with God.  I tend to figure it’s me and my not looking at the thing in the most helpful way, when I have trouble accepting something in my life.  I have found that when I’ve taken this approach in human social relations, I get taken advantage of.  It has been the rare situation in my experience to have a major falling out with someone and then be able to negotiate back to a close relationship (and not for want of trying) — the falling out usually turns out to be for good reason and one that will repeat if I give it a second or third opportunity to repeat.


May 21, 2014

I bought one recently, for $7.00, an odd little flow blue lidded sugar bowl with occasional orange-y berries sprayed along the leafy vine decoration and some gold outlining.  It replaces a small handleless tea cup, white with blue stripe along the rim and a songbird gracing an upper part of an inside wall, which got broken years ago.

I already own a couple of flow blue handleless tea cups, I’ve come across other white with blue handleless tea cups over the years, as well — so for me, the sugar bowl aspect of the piece I just bought is important.

I will get to my interpretation of the imagery, but first I need to say that my image of my self is not that of a sugar bowl — unless that sugar bowl has holes in the lid, holes in the bottom, and is generally porous.  My image of myself is of a conduit of some sort, not of a container.

I may have tasted the sugar, I may even understand that I am the sugar, but the sugar must be particles that we share, not something to be stored in discrete containers that have complete integrity.

Safe spiritual practice

May 18, 2014

I know I can’t teach it, I am not even sure I can describe what I do to achieve my own, but I do know that it’s an important issue for me and one that plenty of teachers of prayer and meditation don’t pay enough attention to, from my point of view.

I am thinking about it this morning because of a comment I read to a NYTimes piece about college campuses grappling with the issue of students having traumatic memories triggered by works they encounter in class and the question of whether instructors should provide warnings.  The comment was by someone who writes as “GrammyofWandA” in Maine.  She wrote about how meditation foisted on her during class by a teacher triggered flashbacks, the difficulties she had with that, and how she handled the problem.

I wrote a reply, because I was grateful that someone had raised the issue.  I’ve encountered a version of it.  If someone insists I follow a guided meditation or meditate with them, I can run into real trouble.  I can even run into trouble with meditation at home, again, especially if I use a guide on a CD or something.  My mind can go much further afield than is intended, I can get flashbacks, I can get all kind of emotional stuff bubbling up from within me (I’m not even sure all of it is mine), and boy, can I get “spam.”

But I do have plenty of ways to engage in prayer and meditation that work for me.  I have no idea whether they would work for others, what else about me factors into why they apparently work for me.

Thinking about how much I don’t want to describe either these factors or how I engage in prayer and meditation reminds me of people who really don’t want to peel off their layers and open themselves up.

But, as I’ve written about before, what I want to avoid often seems to be what would unravel a knot for me, even when I am unaware I have such a knot.  Maybe I’ll give it a try, that is, try to explain what I do and how I got here, but it will probably be piecemeal, in separate posts, if I do.  If I had to take the whole thing on at once, I would probably quail, just like someone faced with the task of trying to actually develop a spiritual practice in one fell swoop — I think it makes more sense to try to take such a project in steps.


May 9, 2014

I have an old scented geranium that resides on a potting bench inside during the chilly weather but takes its summers out of doors.  Its leaves smell great.  It rarely flowers, hasn’t flowered for probably a decade.

Just now I was talking on the phone and during the conversation I noticed flowers opening on it.  Wow.

I had actually been pondering a different kind of regrowth issue, one I’ve probably written about before:  when a plant involving a graft dies back to the root stock and then regrows from there.  The regrowth is less “ornamental” — straight shoots instead of curly, a more common petal color or arrangement, and so on.  I was wondering if we sometimes have a hard time letting go of the ego self we have developed and all its ornaments and don’t want to “die back” to a simpler, core version of ourselves and regrow from that.  We liked the ornamental look, perhaps, or maybe it went unacknowledged or underappreciated, and so it was held onto in a wait for that acknowledgement and appreciation from others.

The re-flowering of the geranium presents a different image, of something beautiful that was dormant coming forth again.  That’s an easier image, perhaps an easier process to accept.

In any event, my sons and I were discussing Mother’s Day, and they wanted to know what I might like.  I mentioned, among other things, that flowers might be nice.  I got some already, so it seems.

Down here

May 9, 2014

I may just be looking for an excuse to post a link to this, Richard Shindell & co. playing a couple of tunes, but I thought I could reasonably freight the second song, “Your Guitar,” with a deeper meaning.

I can hear it as being about how some of us feel about being born into this world.  We do hope that a song may flow forth from us, even as we wonder what this world is all about and what we are doing here.

Veering off course

May 6, 2014

The decision by the Supreme Court handed down yesterday allowing prayer at the opening of the meeting of a local government body seemed to me to illustrate how one misstep can lead to another.

I think I’ve written how I often pray before I participate in a meeting.  I want openness and space and to have things go as well as they can.  I don’t want my behavior to get in the way of that, and I include willingness and a request to get some help with that when I pray (privately) before I participate in a meeting.

At a meeting that is avowedly focused on things spiritual and that opens with a group prayer, I can often feel the atmosphere change for the better during the prayer, especially if it goes on long enough and catches a current; I notice openness, peacefulness, calm, good will, relaxing of faces and postures.  So I do like group prayer.  (I wish I got more of it — I find it is too often accompanied by other stuff, stuff which I don’t want.)

But prayer is supposed to serve the greater good, and in a public meeting not about things spiritual, insisting on “prayer” when some people find it unwelcome sounds to me at best ineffective and at worst a reflection that it isn’t a prayer that is being invoked.

So now we’ve put the matter of such behavior before the Supreme Court, and have precipitated a judicial imprimatur for prayer of the foisted variety.

In my opinion, we have veered off and lost the trail.  To me, though, it started with the notion of what a prayer is and isn’t — I think that’s where we first misstepped.