Archive for the 'acceptance' Category

A post about posting (or not)

July 14, 2015

Yesterday I had something to do that I was to some extent dreading and which did turn out to be difficult to do.  But I got through it, it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great.  On my way home, alone again in my car, I got to thinking about how I could write a blog post about it.  And I realized, as I was observing what I was doing, that that line of thinking was leading me to, to borrow a contemporary colloquial phrase, make it (the episode) a thing — to make it a thing instead of just letting it go.  I had anticipated the episode, I had engaged in it, I like to think that I had done something reasonable during the course of it, then it was over, and while I wasn’t all that happy from the experience, I didn’t really need to assess it, I could just let it be — just let it “have been” — in fact, it was probably better all around to just leave it as something that had occurred, like paint drying.  It had happened, but I didn’t need to reify it.

That got me wondering what impact writing more generally has on how people process their experiences and think about the world.  I know I never wanted to write the book about our experiences building a family that many people suggested I write.  That reaction came to me as a matter of not wanting to relive all those events.  Now my sense is that writing requires me to choose a particular way to present the material, that a particular voice be chosen and that the events be characterized and assessed to some degree and assigned some kind of significance — I don’t think most books are just flat recitation of what happened.

I don’t doubt that some people, perhaps even as a result of writing about them in a certain way, move on from events in their lives after writing about them, but it really hit me yesterday that the process of processing the events in order to write about them was going to impede me from just accepting them as things that had happened, that really did not need to be assigned greater significance than that, and that writing about them would turn them into permanent artifacts of a certain sort in my memories, like bringing home unwanted bargains from a yard sale.  To present the events might lead to positive reactions from others — the material certainly would lend itself to making something dramatic out of it — but I think it would actually result in trading a healthier frame of mind for some more immediate positive external feedback.  I don’t want to file the events away under particular emotional headings, I would rather leave them more fluid and let the memories give me different or more attenuated impressions over time, if that’s what happens.


Back-filling instead of overriding

April 27, 2015

I wrote about my reaction to David Brooks’s new book, The Road to Character, here, on the PBS NewsHour website.  I thought I would expand on what I meant when I wrote,

One thing in the book that bothered me enough to want to comment on: I have a real problem with holding up as an exemplar writing people’s names on pieces of paper and then trashing them. No, I am not saying this is effective voodoo, but it is not the same thing as learning to view the people (named on the slips) with charity. That latter point of view (charity for flawed and damaged people) I think processes like the 12 Steps are more helpful with learning to achieve: identify our own defect of character (the excessive anger, what led in the first place to the friction that has resulted in anger, etc.), become willing to let it go, and ask for some help with that. That, I believe, roots out the problem; the approach Eisenhower used (the paper routine for defusing the anger privately) is clearly an improvement over injudicious confrontation, but it is a temporary and superficial trimming back, I think — I don’t believe it will result in the anger not arising to unhelpful levels the next time around, for example — and I believe it also has some negative impact on the general environment, if not the targeted person. Writing the names on paper and trashing them may be a step forward, but I don’t think it’s the destination.

I see the idea of confronting our unhelpful reaction to a difficult situation in the moment, or in the moment after, by trying to override that unhelpful reaction as a stopgap measure.  Yes, it’s preferable not to express too much anger in the moment, it may help some people to let go of the excessive anger in private by going through a ritual.  Overriding an initial reaction has its place.

But I find it vastly more helpful and reliable, not to mention that it also contributes to my greater peace of mind more generally, if I can root out the source(s) of my overreaction before I encounter the particular situations and moments.  That’s what I am referring to as “back-filling.”  I strengthen my foundation before I sally forth.

So, for example, I may feel frustrated with an acquaintance or neighbor or friend or professional I am working with because, for example, from my point of view they have tried to shift too much responsibility for a problem onto me and not taken enough responsibility for the problem onto themselves.  The attempt to shift the onus around may have hurt my feelings and negatively impacted my self-confidence, it may have also created new problems in my life that I needed like a hole in the head.

If I deal on my own time with my dissatisfaction with how things are, when a new situation comes up involving the person and myself, I will not feel the same strong and negative emotions when patterns repeat.  In fact, sometimes, after noticing I’m not feeling the anger I used to feel, I poke around in my mental apparatus looking for it, and it just feels as though smooth rubber has replaced something brittle and pointy — it’s just not there anymore and what has replaced it is something kind of neutral and benign.

To deal with my dissatisfaction and improve my foundation, I may do some of the following.  First, I can remind myself not to take things personally.  I can separate what I want from the person from what I actually need from the person.  I can find other ways to get my needs met.  That often lowers the temperature.  I can see the person more accurately, I can remind myself that they are doing the best they can even when I feel a negative impact from what they do or have done.  I can change my expectations about them.  I can wish for them positive things, but I often try to send my good wishes to them through neutral forces which can be more effective and less vulnerable to misuse than anything I could send directly on my own.  I can find a way to see the person that results in my keeping my own needs out of the way when I interact with them, for example, by seeing them as a sympathetic figure (like a young child) just trying to get their own needs met.  I can remind myself that they may not understand my dissatisfaction and that if I react too extremely, they too will feel hurt and bewilderment — like a puppy who does not understand what they have done wrong.  I can see their behaviors and attitudes shaped by things that occurred much earlier and have nothing to do with me.  I can see them as providing me with an opportunity to learn something new myself, for example, to keep my equanimity, not become defensive and not develop bitterness despite however I am treated — I can feel gratitude towards them for providing the challenge, I can even forgive them for being something like an executioner.  I can view intentional personal rejection as a signal from the universe that this is not a good relationship for me and thank the person for busting the relationship up when I did not have the ability to see that or the strength to do that, and doing what was needed so that I can move on.  I can deal with my fears unilaterally and reduce them by turning things over to forces greater than myself.

On the other hand, I probably won’t see the person or particular situations in which we have been involved or continue to be involved in the way they see those things.

That I think is a fly in my ointment I am still working to remove, what to do when the person keeps coming to me with repeated insistence that I accede to them and their view and behavior.  My provisional answer is “boundaries” and just repeating, to myself, my own understanding.  Then they can do their thing, I can do my thing, but the two will not combine and combust.  I just have to have sufficiently dealt with my feelings about the past and adjusted my expectations about the future:  this person does this, I don’t like it, but, as they say, “How important is it?”  There’s always a vantage point from which detachment may be found.  And I have to let go of my preferred way of seeing the person — as being more ideal than they actually are and as being more capable of different points of view and behavior than they are — and I have to do this letting go with some sort of love (I would characterize it as charitable love).  My problem with it is that it can feel to me like giving up when I should be pushing on to find a better resolution.

The Road to Character actually indirectly helped me with that last piece;  it finally put into perspective an old relationship, and helped me see that I was looking to repeat that relationship with others, when I should be rejoicing that I had had such a relationship once.  Realizing that helps me let go — of relationships, or at least of the expectations that the relationships will be of the same sort as that old one.

And as I said, when I do this work on my own successfully, I do not react — overreact — to the subsequent interactions in the same unhelpful way.  I can let people be who they are and take it from there.


September 4, 2014

I was telling this story to someone last night and I thought I might as well mention it here, judging from the reaction I got.

A family member was having a medical emergency a couple of weeks ago on a Friday afternoon.  And I suggested they call a relevant clinician they had been seeing for quite some time, to get some help at least in finding some help, and they called — and were told “It will have to wait until Monday, he’s not in until then.”  And my family member explained it was more urgent than that and asked if there was someone else in the practice who could help, and the answer was no.

And then my family member called back another number, which they had cold-called earlier and been turned away from, and this time they were told they could come in.  Their ride to the ER turned into a ride elsewhere and they got some treatment and it helped.

No, it couldn’t wait.

It’s a pattern I’ve encountered before, in different variations and with different people in different roles — myself sometimes in the role of the patient — and with different outcomes, some pretty disastrous.

I think the point of the lesson for me has been to understand that people who seem to be supposed to help us may decline to do so as part of their exercise of human free will (and will in all likelihood not be troubled by it).

Forgiving them for this is a different issue from accepting a world in which people don’t have to do what seems obvious to us that they should.


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.

No, it’s not okay with me

March 2, 2014

I learned somewhere along the way that sometimes my best position in a set of circumstances is to communicate that no, it’s not okay with me what another person is doing.

I accept that I may not be able to do anything about it, I accept that at some point it will be appropriate for me to let go and move on, but no, I will not agree that the other person’s behavior was okay with me.  To the extent the other person is holding out for that, we are stuck.  I can even follow their thinking about what happened from their point of view, but that doesn’t mean I have to adopt it as my own, any more than they have to adopt my understanding about what happened.  There really can be what I think of as a “Sistine Chapel gap” between our points of view — that space between the finger tips of God and Adam.

When there is such a gap, I ask the universe for help.  And sometimes I have felt guided to wish the person well and move on.  That may not even be what my monkey mind wants in the situation — it probably wants resolution and for everybody to get on the same page and make nice.  But I also know that sometimes the best I can do may actually be to see the problem clearly, for what it is, and to rummage around for my compassion for all of us bumbling human beings, beam that out, and then leave it for others to move the baton further.

I have seen too many people with lots of spiritual development not know when their turn as principal dancer was over.  It is a group project, and when the energy has shifted to another person in a new pairing, it goes better when we all get on board with that.

But leaving the stage doesn’t have to mean coming to agreement.  It is possible that the best we can do is to agree that we disagree.  Or we don’t even have to do that.  The universe will deal with however we leave things, whether that has been done unilaterally or by mutual agreement.  Sometimes the way we have moved the project forward is to have clarified the issue.  That may be more than sufficient.

I don’t want to know

January 15, 2014

I think there are some social situations in which I don’t let someone know that what they are doing bothers me because I don’t want to find out that they will continue to do it anyway.

There’s a risk involved in bringing up a disagreement, and while I accept that I don’t control other people, I apparently still like to harbor illusions about them.  I think it’s like the concept of a parent telling young children in a poor family that there’s always the bank account that can be tapped if necessary — I want to believe people are other than as they are as a kind of a safety net, I have a need to feel that if I should ever really need to work something out with them, they are the sort of person who will be there for me.  I will go to some lengths to keep myself ignorant that they are not actually like that.

It’s a letting-go process — to let go of the need to keep the illusion in place, to keep that sense that there is this bank account I can draw on in an emergency, in the form of a person who will help.  To let go of the need to have any human play that role for me.

When I am ready to let that go, I see the person as they are.  I focus my reliance on the universe instead.

As I write this, the sunlight from the dining room illuminates the left side of my Buddha’s face, the right side is in shadow.

Forgiving those who disagree or don’t want to

October 29, 2013

Organized religion, including Christianity, may do this already, but I think forgiveness must be accepted as including forgiveness of the person’s not wanting to become enlightened or even believing it’s possible or a good idea.  I think it includes acceptance of people as a group, and individuals we know in particular, as they are.  And most of them aren’t interested in becoming enlightened or undertaking the process of becoming enlightened.  They won’t give it a try.  I think we need to accept that, and accept the apparent fact that they won’t, and maybe never will, no matter how often they are given the opportunity, and no matter how hard or well we try to teach them — or even no matter how much we encourage them, to do so, including with a foretaste of what it would be like.

We forgive them and we forgive the universe that the way things may play out may include that the potential we see in the world may never be realized, that the solution we see may not be implemented, that the way things could work out well won’t happen.  And that that is as “correct” a playing out of the human condition as anything else — if that’s the best we can do, humanity is still beloved of God, to use traditional language.  God is not angry or resentful about that, but neither can God change the consequences of all that, I don’t think.

I read Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation this morning and I wondered about all the preachers who forgive their audiences for not wanting to follow what they teach.  When they forgive that, do they go on teaching, or does that acceptance reveal to them it would serve the greater good if they did something else?

Innocent missteps

June 23, 2013

I’ve seen this happen in a couple of versions.

I had a roommate who forgot we were of different races when we were filling out law school applications, I once told an interlocutor that my kid’s hair was brown (like my own), when it’s actually black.  The situation can be more difficult when the oversight puts the other person in an awkward spot; an innocuous example might be when I take a walk with someone and expect them to keep up with my pace, or vice versa.

But the thing I think that is helpful to remember in navigating all these situations is that the oversight is an indirect compliment — the other person’s glossing over a difference between you reflects a kind of acceptance of you, of not seeing you as different, even if others might.  Doesn’t mean you can’t call to their attention that some adjustment is necessary in light of a real difference that needs to be taken into account, especially in light of how other people see things and react, but I would see such an oversight as a kind of an unwitting faux pas and try not to take offense.


June 14, 2013

I was reading Richard Rohr’s meditation on conversion and the re-acceptance of someone from the group who is deemed to have strayed.

I like what the meditation says, but in my opinion, if the world’s well-being depends on someone or some institution re-accepting the wayfarer in all cases, then we’re in big trouble.  I don’t think it’s going to happen.  I see instead some amount of tolerance or forbearance as the best the group can muster in some cases; if the returning wayfarer can make camp at the periphery and sustain themselves, fine, but there will be no substantial re-acceptance by the group.  That’s my observation, that’s what I name.  I would cite Socrates as an example.

Then I move on to contemplate how that may serve, regardless of how uncomfortable it is for the wayfarer.

Shutting down

January 26, 2013

I’m a little familiar with how a person approaching death may stop eating and drinking as the body goes through a process of shutting down.  My dad is going through that now, and home hospice nursing is supposed to begin for him this weekend, now that he’s agreed to it.

For him I saw the shutting down process begin earlier.  I had sent him a couple of books for his (88th) birthday, including one about Senator Mitch McConnell.  (He’s a fan, he thinks the senator is smart and clever and he agrees with at least some of his positions.)  He didn’t have time to read it between hospitalizations.  I had thought I was saving him a trip to his local library, because he’s been a regular there to check out books, but he had too many things to do to read the book.  And by the time I got there last week and he came home again from the hospital, he wasn’t up to it.

But he did read the newspapers on Saturday and Sunday.  By Monday or Tuesday he wasn’t even able to do that, and I knew he was reaching a point of fairly rapid decline.

He didn’t want me to leave and I wished I had some other way of handling all my responsibilities.  I had lobbied my parents to move closer after Willy’s death, but we were no competition for the New York Metropolitan Opera.

To be fair, I think my father gets out of opera performances what others get out of religious services.  So he would have been leaving his source of sustenance.

But I couldn’t, and can’t, pick up that slack, eliminate that 210 mile distance.

I’ll go back soon, I don’t know whether he will still be alive.  He wanted to know when I’d be back and I told him I wasn’t sure, that I would play it by ear.

For now I’m trying to listen, and to do what I need to do here before I can leave again.

In some ways I found listening while I was down there easier.  Things fell into place more easily than they had any right to.  Except for the day we spent obtaining a pain medication prescription for my dad.  But another day I knew somehow to bring with me the papers that needed a notarized signature when I took my mom to register with a pharmacy that makes home deliveries, even though it was the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and so many places (like banks) were closed.  And there on the pharmacy door it said “notary public.”  Stuff like that.

So now I’m here, he’s shutting down there.

Right before I left, I asked him if I could kiss him on the head, and he said, “No,”  with his usual dismissiveness.  So I stroked his nose, which was something I did as a child when I sat in his lap.  (He had thought it was because I thought he had a big nose, but it wasn’t — I just liked his nose.)  So he put up with the intimacy of my stroking his nose this time, too — I think he knew there was an element of teasing but also love in the gesture.

I ended up sleeping on the floor the last night I was there.  (The live-in help I had helped arrange for was in the guest room I had been using previously.)  It felt like what I call “old karma.”  I just play it out, like reading a music score and singing it at sight.  This not being there now feels like old karma, too.  At least there’s nursing and household help at this point.

For me there is clearly a challenge in figuring out what to do, what I can do, what I can’t do even though I would like to.  It’s a lesson to learn that I can’t always mitigate the consequences of other people’s decisions.