Archive for June, 2014


June 29, 2014

I recently heard a story about a situation in which restitution that was supposed to be going to one person was actually being misaddressed to someone else.  That “someone else” was happily keeping it, either as a windfall or as misgotten goods (not to mention taunting the person who was owed the restitution), and the person making restitution could not figure out why the person they owed was still so frustrated with them.

Don’t know whether it suggests a plot of grand opera or of soap opera.


Squares, too

June 27, 2014

I went back upstairs to my study to finish something up, and also did some more admiring of the circles of light on the walls (previous post).  I also looked to see whether the mirror mosaics are squares or just rectangles, and while I was noticing that they are squares, I also noticed that on the window screen, the projections of light are indeed squares, too.  Still don’t get it, but I’m enjoying it.

Squares into circles

June 27, 2014

Some years ago I bought a (used) mirrored ball for about five bucks.  I think of it fondly as my disco ball.  I did type my senior essay in college while listening to Donna Summer, so a little disco nostalgia is not misplaced, I don’t think.

The other day I was getting something down from the attic and putting something else away and the rearranging produced the question of where to put the mirror ball.

It ended up, at least temporarily, on a windowsill (facing east) in my study in the attic, with a hanging ribbon streaming from it — a veritable comet.

This morning I went up there to get something I need to run an errand.  I re-opened the windows I had closed on account of a chilly night, and when I put the ball back and stepped back from the window, I went, “Wow!”  Because there were round dots of light projected all over the eave walls and ceiling from the mirror ball.

The mirrors on the ball are small rectangles, the light bouncing off of them comes out as round.  I don’t understand it, I assume it has something to do with the roundness of the mirror ball itself.

Willy would have been able to explain it to me.

It’s beautiful, whatever the explanation.  A veritable private light show, holes of light against a background, reminiscent of seeing stars against the sky at night, only in my attic the background is white, not darkness.


Shame and humiliation, embarrassment, guilt, and hurt

June 22, 2014

This is a just a brief addendum to my previous post, before I head out to take on digging out invasive flowering plants from one of my gardens.

It’s about what I think is correlated with people falling prey to addiction, or not falling prey to addiction.

I am wondering whether people who are prone to addiction feel shame where other people might feel embarrassment or guilt, and feel humiliation where other people might feel hurt.  My sense is that a primary emotion is transformed into another sort of emotion because a tint of a negative view of the self is added.  So instead of, “I messed up, I am so embarrassed and want to put things right,” we get “I screwed up, I am so ashamed, I think I’ll just deny and/or hide.”  Or, “That experience was really painful and I feel hurt and I am not sure how to make myself feel better” turns into “I feel humiliated and it confirms my worst thoughts about myself.”

Because I suspect that a key difference in the two outlooks is how the person views themselves — lovable but flawed, or unworthy and in need of perfection.  The problem, as I see it, that people who view themselves too harshly actually “mess up” more than people who find a way to manage their flaws and deal with their secondary consequences more constructively.  Harshness I think digs a hole where a more gentle approach encourages improvement.

I am not advocating that people not take responsibility for their mistakes and misdeeds, but that we use a framework that actually leads to constructive action instead of to paralysis and corrosion.

Letting it pass through you

June 22, 2014

Sometimes during an argument, the other person hurls an insult.  I don’t know how it is for biological parents, but adoptive parents sometimes get from their children during the heat of an argument, “You’re not even my real mother.”  And you take it for what it is, part clumsy expression of fact (that I am not their first mother), part expression of pain and frustration (maybe even powerlessness), part attempt to penetrate their opponent’s defenses.  And you let it pass through you.

The relationship, as I see it, between addiction and spiritual connection is that some people are open in some ways and not in others, and they prematurely encounter a spiritual equivalent to “You’re not even my real mother.”  It may well be that “boundaries, strong identity, impulse control, and deep God experience” were lacking (that’s from today’s Daily Meditation from Father Rohr), but I think those are secondary to the problem of encountering a difficult wave of spiritual energy while, on the one hand, not being simple and  innocent enough (to allow it to pass through naturally), and, on the other hand, not being spiritually (re-)developed enough (to allow it to pass through consciously), either.  I think the addiction comes from the dynamic of the energy encountered — it is an energy that offers a rush of pleasure but at a very high long-term cost.  Very innocent people I think never get caught up in the energy because they are oblivious to it, but people with a little less innocence may stop to take a look, to see what it is, maybe they even try to resist the energy or tussle with it, or maybe they become frightened by it.  In any case, they interact with it instead of letting it pass through them.  Without a really well developed capacity for removing the ego from that encounter, the person becomes sucked into a cycle of succumbing to short-term pleasure and long-term pain.  To get out of that dynamic, one has to remove one’s “hang-ups” and learn detachment, and those are helpful things in their own right.  That’s why in Al-Anon, the program for relatives and friends of alcoholics, one sometimes hears gratitude expressed for having gone on the journey of growth that the alcoholism of another has impelled them to go on — it can be a painful means to a very helpful result.

My point is that I think addiction may actually be the result of a spiritual encounter that went awry, not because there was anything wrong with what was encountered, but because of the person’s state of mind.  In that respect, I agree with the Daily Meditation, it’s just that I think there is no surprise that people who fall into addiction have a keen spiritual sense — it’s what got them into the situation in the first place — it was keen but not keen enough.  I also don’t think it was “aimed in the wrong direction” so much as it was unable to process safely what it encountered.  I have the impression that the strand of belief that Jesus dealt with something spiritually on the behalf of others may arise out of some notion of protecting people from this pitfall.  But I think in the end we all need to develop all the tools, including those that would allow us to extricate ourselves on our own (with spiritual help) from this particular pitfall.  Trying to deal with how people do get seriously stuck in this pitfall should not be confused conceptually with roping off the pitfall and putting up permanent detour signs.  Otherwise we end up with the bogeyman under the bed, with the part of the map labeled “There be monsters here,” when in fact there is no bogeyman or monster, only an energy difficult to process.  And then we have the very real problem of having created the idea that there is a bogeyman.

A window into other people

June 21, 2014

I was reading Father Rohr’s meditation for yesterday, and I was quite surprised by the last line, equating surrender and contemplation.

I don’t equate them.  But I don’t dismiss Father Rohr’s understanding either, and I wonder whether for him and for some group of people, surrender is about contemplation, that one gets a particular kind of spiritual experience, and life, if one understands surrender in that way — maybe “serenity” and a serene life?

The kind of surrender I am more personally familiar with is a kind in which one is reminded that one could strive for serenity directly and at one’s own pace, but perhaps what is actually needed to serve the greater good in one’s own life is something else.  Perhaps it is to understand what is going wrong in the life or lives of people who are stuck — to empathically experience how they interface with the world, with themselves, and with others, and to try to join them and perhaps lead them in adjusting that.  One sticks with that development, or reclamation, project, one does not skip ahead of the group one is immersed with, because to do so would lose the point of the project.  But one would also lose the point of the project if one lost sight of the point of the project and of the understanding that the project indeed has a point.

Now, of course, one could get a swelled head and identify oneself in this role as an enlightened teacher, but I think most of us who are willing to do this sort of work recognize that it is true of all human beings that we have the capacity for serenity, the capacity for its opposite (self-exile?), and the capacity for everything else inbetween;  what “level” we live our lives at is a function of a lot of factors — and if we stop thinking of it in terms of levels, and use a concept more like notes on a scale instead, maybe we can understand that sometimes the note that serves the greater good for us to sing is not the tonic.  And sometimes that note turns out to be one that is very difficult to hold, but is necessary for the music to sound full.  One is just another person in the orchestra, functioning as some kind of pitch pipe, perhaps.

To agree to sing  — to be willing to sing — whatever note is needed is my idea of surrender.

City Hall Plaza

June 16, 2014

I didn’t know Boston’s City Hall Plaza had once included a fountain.  I learned that recently from the newspaper, and that the fountain had been discontinued because of water leaking into the subway tunnels.

At least the historical information made some sense out of the topography of the plaza, which I, like many, have found puzzling.

Forced visitation

June 8, 2014

Years ago we encountered this notion among social workers charged with the care and protection of children:  if one had molested another, the social workers might still insist on visitation between the perpetrator and victim, if the workers had any reason to believe the children might be biologically related, even if the victim and their parents did not want the contact.  It was an eye-opener for me, the idea of forced social intercourse.

There’s another context in which I’ve seen this:  someone who insists on contact with another even though it’s pretty clear to the other that the person who wants the contact doesn’t like them;  why would I want to have social intercourse with someone who doesn’t like me?  I wouldn’t.  That situation I can simply leave behind and move on.  What makes it tricky, in my experience, is when the other person insists that they like you when they clearly don’t.  Then it’s more difficult, especially because when this happens, it seems to happen with a person who is so disconnected from their true self that they may not even perceive that they don’t like the other person.  And if they’re structured within themselves in a way that we commonly label as narcissistic, they may even see the other person as not liking them instead.

It’s tough, because people who are incapable of treating others reasonably may themselves incur great hurt from the responses they get from the people they unreasonably treat.

In any event, in these cases, I react to my sense from the behavior and underlying self, not the person’s words, about whether they like me, and I don’t want forced social intercourse in those contexts either.  Whether the person doesn’t like me because they feel intimidated by me or because they see me as intolerable competition or they just don’t happen to like the person I happen to be, or for any other reason, I don’t want an interaction that is predicated on pretending that something is the case when it isn’t.

In the context of social intercourse with people who claim to but don’t actually like me, they are usually wanting something from me (and too much from me, as it turns out), whether or not they are aware of it, and what comes across to me is that I am being asked to enter into their distorted view in order for them to draw a benefit to themselves from me, at my expense.  In a word, as my younger son puts it, they are needy, and they want me to meet their extremely large needs.  And the fact of the matter is that I can’t, whether or not I want to try, and I would harm myself if I did what they want.  And I’ve learned that by having tried.


June 7, 2014

I spent a lot of time with another family while I was growing up, and after we adopted children, that relationship fell apart.

Years later, one of family members got in touch with me on the occasion of their marriage.  It seemed as if nothing had really changed, so I wished them well, declined the invitation (which I don’t think included our children), and sent a gift.

I included a family photo with the personal note I sent.

I got a note back sometime after the wedding that mentioned how they had used the photo in a presentation they had made during the festivities.

My kids are adopted, one through a closed domestic adoption, they were young when this use of the photo occurred, and I was accustomed to schools and extracurricular organizations asking permission to use photos of children.

I was taken aback by the use of the photo at the wedding.

I felt that my privacy had been invaded and I felt that the prevailing cultural norms had not been followed.  I felt that while our relationship had changed for the worse over our children (at the outset, when the children were newly adopted infants and toddlers), the wedding person was happy to use a photo of them, even against the children’s best interests, if it helped the wedding person with what they wanted to do.

On the other hand, I could see that the person probably had no clue about how it would feel to me, and that that was part and parcel of why there is no longer a close relationship.

For me, a big challenge in life is letting go of my apparently airbrushed versions of people, and to see them as they are.  It’s not that I condemn them for how they turn out to be, but on the other hand, I don’t owe people a relationship if I find it doesn’t work for me, especially if it causes me harm.

In this case, the issue falls under the heading, “I don’t know how to accept you in my life if you don’t accept my relationship with my children, if not the children themselves.”  In many cases it has felt as if I were being asked to collude with the relative or person I was friends with or teacher or neighbor against my child, to gang up with someone else against my child.  The answer is no.

I found myself discussing this issue with my internist at my annual check-up this spring, and he said he couldn’t do it either.  He’s a brisk and upbeat person, and had never experienced this himself, but he allowed himself to enter into what I was saying my world can be, and he could see why I handle things as I do.  That kind of acknowledgment I find helpful, not only because then the person isn’t asking me to do something I feel is harmful (and would require me to try to twist myself into some kind of emotional pretzel), but also because it allows me to move on more easily.  It’s not that I haven’t shared this experience before, and learned from others that it has happened to them, over adoption, interracial issues, etc., but somehow getting a little understanding from someone on the outside felt noteworthy.

Of course, it doesn’t provide a road map for going forward, but I try not to expect that from other human beings at this point in my life.

Partisan bullying

June 5, 2014

Here’s a little venting on my part:

Liberals do it, too, but with a slightly different style:  criticizing people who disagree with them, using slightly ad hominem arguments that don’t really address the point raised by the person they’re disagreeing with but rather focuses on a different (single) aspect of the controversy (and not the bigger picture, the totality of situation being addressed).

Skins and shirts;  everybody’s playing the same game.  And nobody wins until we play a different game.