Archive for May, 2015

Making a point — or not

May 31, 2015

I wrote a comment about Ross Douthat’s concerns (in his NYTimes column for today), about a rise in the acceptance of polygamy, that asked whether polygamy isn’t an old practice and a return to it would be consistent with the conservative desire to return to past practices and attitudes.

But I do realize that the polygamy argument is usually used to try to push people back from supporting same-sex marriage:  “Aren’t you afraid of opening the floodgates by using a wide definition of marriage?  Won’t that lead to having to accept practices you don’t like?”

So why did I write what I wrote?

Part of it is that I just don’t share Douthat’s worry about a resurgence of acceptance of polygamy in our culture.  I have observed many marital relationships I would not want to be a part of (as one partner in a union of two — I am not talking about polygamy here).  It doesn’t provoke in me concern that someone will rope me into a relationship with a similar dynamic.  It’s not on my list of things I worry about — neither are natural gas explosions, although I have known people who worried about them a lot.  What we worry about, if we worry at all, says a lot about ourselves, I think.

Part of it is that I do see an inconsistency in a conservative raising concern about reviving an old practice;  it points up, in my opinion, how conservatives tend to pick and choose what about the past they like, which in turn seems to me related to how they seem to choose what they like regardless of how it would impact others:  “Let’s go back to X, even though X in the past had a negative impact on certain groups of people” (where, for instance, X can equal letting American retirees fend for themselves without Social Security).

Part of it is that as I’ve read Douthat over time, he seems to me to have become more wrapped up in particular ways of thinking and writing that remind me of being encased in a Gordian knot — maybe I was hoping to pierce through some of that.

Part of it was that I wondered if the argument was being made tongue in cheek, and so I wanted to respond in a way that could be appropriate to either possibility.

And, of course, part of it was that that was what I felt drawn to write, through whatever my own process is of arriving at what I submit.


May 25, 2015

I was frustrated that T.M. Luhrmann’s column in today’s New York Times doesn’t have a comments section, so I thought I’d write what I might have written there here.

The column is called “How Places Let Us Feel the Past.”  The part that caught my attention was about the “Jerusalem syndrome,” which I don’t think I had ever heard of before.  I was aware of people thinking they are Jesus or on a mission, but I don’t think I had heard about it tied to having visited a holy place or even tied to a particular acute episode of some sort, as far as I understand the case histories I read about before eslewhere.  Professor Luhrmann writes about people visiting a holy place and becoming overwhelmed by a spiritual experience there and ending up in a psychotic state.

In the example Professor Luhrmann starts with, a rabbi advises a person who has gone through such an experience to, in effect, put it aside and keep studying.

It is my understanding that Judaism requires long study of the law before mysticism is attempted, and I take the rabbi’s advice as consonant with this and with my own sense that the problem described has to do with insufficient prior training and interior development:  if you’re going to engage in sword-swallowing, you really need, if you’re like most people, to have learned some technique first.

So with this Jerusalem syndrome, it seems to me it’s a result of people not having pared down their ego first;  so the holiness experience becomes about them, gets caught on their ego-self, instead of being something that passes through them cleanly, which they view from an outside perch.

In our culture, we don’t take mysticism seriously, I don’t think, so we don’t talk about what it entails.  Reminds me of not recognizing what stay-at-home moms do.  We may talk about God, or even angels and demons, but we have ruled off many other phenomena to the realm of pathology.  People didn’t used to believe that microorganisms existed, either, because they couldn’t see them.  Wind we cannot “see” but we see its effects.  If observing the Jerusalem syndrome is like observing the tree branches blowing or the devastation from a micro-burst, maybe we should rethink what we are willing and unwilling to discuss.

Something confected, or just reality?

May 24, 2015

I confess that I have not been keeping up with reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditations, but today’s I read, and it reminded me of something I thought was an interesting shift in my own perspective.

It has to do with not seeing things as created for a purpose so much as perceiving them as just existing as they are, interlocking.

The issue comes up in the Daily Meditation with regard to “God … mak[ing] the problem itself part of the solution” (italics omitted).

I don’t see God devising such a plan, I see our recognition that the pieces fit together like that.  I think the reality of living in a dualistic world is that there is pain and there is beauty, and if there’s one, there is also the other.

We humans seem to spend most of our time trying to collect as much beauty as we can for ourselves and shift the pain part to someone else (including to other species, and by exploiting natural resources on the planet, as well).

God isn’t doing this for me in the audience, I am in my spot viewing the cosmos and thinking it is being done for me, because, let’s face it, I have an ego; once I get that ego out of the way sufficiently, what I am viewing just “is,” it just exists, and intention on the part of God is just an artifact of my processing of the situation.

Some of this difference in interpretation may be a difference in semantics or a difference in one’s taxonomy of the spiritual world, but I do see the ultimate force in the universe as impersonal.

On the other hand, I agree that “problems” should not be dismissed as not being an integral part of the whole.

Goose, goose, turtle

May 18, 2015

A couple of times now, at least, I’ve seen a delightful little scene in a marshy corner of the Res.  I think there must be a capsized tree beneath the surface of the water there, with bits of trunk and branches poking up through the water’s surface.  There have been three or four Canada geese perched on the wood, and among them, also on the wood, has been a turtle, a rather large turtle.  I’ve seen this scene on multiple days, which has surprised me, but I can’t tell if it’s the same geese and the same turtle.

In any event, it impresses me that the turtle seems very comfortable to be out there among the geese, and the geese remain perched up on the wood — sometimes on one leg — rather than floating along on the water.

It’s a nice grouping to come across, both picturesque and full of life.


May 16, 2015

I was walking in a colonial-era graveyard the other day, and I was visiting a great big maple tree there I like.  And I noticed on the ground a piece of a limb that had apparently fallen off — there was a jagged stump up in the tree from which it probably had broken.

It hadn’t happened all that recently — the wood was exposed without bark.  And that made it easier to see the small holes that I am guessing reflect the activity of critters — insects that bore into trees.

I think I started reviewing other objects that fall from trees, like fruit, like Newton’s apple, like enlightenment.  And that got me wondering, in keeping with the Adam and Eve story, whether with knowledge come less benign influxes, too — there could be critters still abiding in the piece of wood that fell, ready to branch out if one were to take the wood home, say as firewood or to use as fencing material or out of which to create a sculpture.  Do we increase our knowledge but also import with it into the world greater capacity to do with it something unhelpful, for example?  We have the internet, we have hacking and identity theft, for example.

I am not sure how we would measure the things I am trying to compare over time — the seemingly positive increases with losses elsewhere in our collective lives.  How has our quality of life improved and how has it deteriorated?  We would need a large group to survey, so as to filter out idiosyncratic anomalies and so as to take into account lots of differently situated demographic groups.

Anyway, things fall — apples, branches, pine cones, flowers.  (Rain, too.)  Some provide a vector for other things to come into our lives, too.

Rocks in the roots

May 13, 2015

A lot of trees fell down this winter.  In the various patches of woods I often walk in, I sometimes go up to uprooted lower portions of the trees and examine them, and I am fascinated when I find rocks embedded in the roots.  Seeing tree branches grow around fence pieces or telephone wires fascinates me too, especially once the majority of the tree is gone but these chunks encasing the wires remain because they could not be removed.

I tend to think of trees as independent, rooted in soil but not intertwined with rocks and wires.  Vines may grow around their trunks and entangle their branches, we may build houses in their limbs for kids to play in, but I still think of trees as basically solo entities.

But maybe I shouldn’t.  Maybe trees are more interactive than I give them credit for.

Fire containment

May 10, 2015

I took a walk in some woods this afternoon and was surprised to find a substantial circle of charred ground in the middle of the place.  The fire was clearly pretty recent — I could smell it still.  And a fellow walking his dog, whom I had seen exiting a nearby home on my way to the woods, said he thought it had occurred this past Wednesday.

What I can’t figure out is why it was in the shape of a circle and why it was that particular size — maybe the size of a 2-car garage?  Had it been set in some way, had it been contained in some way?  It was in the woods in a place you couldn’t drive a fire truck to and not near enough to houses to run a garden hose to, either.

I have no idea how to interpret it, why it was that big, why it didn’t spread further.

Compassion, love, and “the ties that bind”

May 10, 2015

I was talking to Gita a couple of weeks ago, and she observed that I clearly have an abundance of compassion for a certain person to whom I am related but that my compassion is for that person as a human being and not as a consequence of the relationship.  Her observation was based on the content of what I had said, the emotion with which I had said it, and my tears on their behalf.

That kind of broadly-based compassion is kind of like the smile that fashion experts tell us is always in style, I think.

This distinction Gita and I articulated explains a source of friction between this relative and myself, who seems to want to claim that I do not love them.  The way I see it, this relative wants something different from me from what I am giving, and wants to claim that the difference between what I am giving and what they want from me is love.  I don’t think it is, I think I do have a vast amount of love for them, but, as Gita and I agreed, it’s love for them as a human being, not as a relative.  I think what the relative is looking for is some sort of add-on to love that they associate with the relationship.  I’m not sure how I would characterize that add-on except to say that it seems to me, from past experience, to be that which lets the bear in the backdoor, if the person happens to be a bear — something that can be used to attempt to derive something else they want for themselves from me.  I don’t say an add-on can’t have positive aspects with some people, just that it is a gateway to more than love.

I think if more people tapped into compassion and love for others as human beings and not on the basis of their structural relationship with the person, “the world would be a better place.”  I think there would be less exploitation and inequality at the level of individuals and also less at the level of groups.

I think many people like the add-ons, however, especially when they can derive some benefit from them, and especially when they have figured out how to do so in a way in which they derive the benefit and the other person incurs the cost and the roles are never reversed — where flow is only in one direction.  An analogy from past times, I think, would be the husband whose wife supports him through medical school and who then divorces her.

I can say at this point in my life that I am, unfortunately, drawn to people like that, I can see the repetition of the pattern.  I suspect I am drawn to people like that because it is a familiar pattern for me, and one I was brought up to accept as, well, acceptable.  What I think I am trying to learn is to just say no without feeling guilty about it, to not fall for the bait-and-switch and then for the guilt-trip or retaliation campaign that follows when I protest;  my love is there, just not that other thing the person wants.  That other thing is not necessary for me to contribute in order for me to be a loving and compassionate person.

Of course, if I don’t actually locate that love and compassion within me for the other person, that would be a different scenario — it’s not, to be clear, just a cerebral idea I am talking about, it’s an actual outpouring of positive energy in the direction of the other person.  I do not expect it, or feel a need for it, to be returned.