Archive for the 'asymmetry' Category


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.


Joy of reconciliation

March 20, 2014

I get a real charge out of certain styles of conversation, when the exchange really flies and it feels exhilarating.  It’s the process as much as whatever content we’re discussing that I get a thrill out of.  (I suspect the experience arises out of a flow back and forth between myself and the person I’m talking to.  Of course, the downside is that while I pick up the ideas and good feelings, I also tend to pick up other things from the person, at least temporarily.)

Then there’s another process that can feel real good, too, the process of reconciliation through both people checking in with their guidance (the sort of guidance accessible through prayer and contemplation) and not just mixing it up as social beings.  If I listen for my guidance and they listen for theirs, and we each follow it, we end up, as it were, in the same place — through a process that involves less friction than even following the helpful rules of how to have difficult conversations.  And speaking strictly for myself, I can find the same idea much easier to accept coming from the Universe than coming from the other person — I think because most people coat their ideas with emotional overlays, and as my body does to the base in a vaccine, I react to the emotional coating (sometimes negatively).

There is, of course, something to be said for working out a disagreement face to face or email to email — it can be more satisfying if it works.  But depending on God as an intermediary is very helpful when the social part of the relationship is stuck, especially in what I see as asymmetrical relationships.  The other person just doesn’t want to interact socially with me as equals, and thankfully, there’s a way for me to deal with that without buying into that point of view or insisting that they accept social symmetry.  God provides a fluid interface and a way we can reconcile, if we have willingness.

Sometimes I wonder if the internet is a sort of medium and middle way through which the reconciliation through the spiritual part of us and the reconciliation through our social aspect can meet.  People can write their piece, others can react, and through links and comments and blogs and all kinds of less than personal communication online, things can be worked out.  While I am confident this method can serve a need, I do remain concerned that it leaves a lot of room for confusion and misunderstanding;  but maybe that’s a smaller difficulty than the difficulties that would ensue from pursuing a different method.  I don’t know, I just know my own difficulties with the method — and my own gratefulness for its allowing some sort of communication where, without it, there might not be any, or enough to move forward at all.  And I can always ask the Universe for guidance about how to think about and deal with the method and my reaction to it.

New Year’s resolution

December 28, 2013

About a week ago it occurred to me to make a New Year’s resolution, and to resolve to work on trying to be more pleasant and less reactive under stress (in situations I find stressful, that is).

The universe gave me an opportunity to work on this the other day, even before the New Year begins, when I got my telephone bill and it contained a price increase.

My phone/internet service arrangement had come up for renewal and renegotiation this past August, and the matter had been a protracted mess, in part because somebody working for the company had made an unauthorized change to my services.  It took a lot of lengthy phone calls to get things sorted out.

I had not thought I would have to revisit my relationship to my carrier until next August, but they raised the price for my internet service, apparently, in this latest bill.

This blog post is going to be about reactivity and pleasantness, but let me first sketch out that, long story short, the phone/internet service provider actually had given me a price guarantee for a year, back in August, and now they are saying they will honor it (although I won’t see that they are following through on this claim until my next bill — in the meantime, they did give me a credit on this bill for the difference in prices, though).  The guarantee was for a slightly higher price than what they had been charging me, because they had also given me promotional coupons for a year, but I was willing to budge on that issue because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure why I had ended up with that lower price.  The guaranteed price is below what they were billing with the new, increased price on the bill I most recently received.

Anyway, back to my reaction.  I was indignant and upset that I would have to spend time on this issue again so soon, I wanted to push it off my plate and I resented that someone had plopped it on my plate.  So when I encountered the first scripted response of “We can do this, you don’t have a contract,” I felt frustrated. And I felt the asymmetry of the relationship, I felt I was being “done to,” and I felt victimized.  When that happens, I think I tend to express anger in my tone of voice and I tend to interrupt.  I think I did all that.

I suspect it’s sort of to compensate for feeling I have a lack of effective tools at my disposal to fight back with.  I was indignant about a mid-year-ish price increase, and my argument was about how I had not been aware that my price could go up and had understood that it wouldn’t for a year from the deal we had agreed on.  I think I tried for a bit to argue from general principles about why I didn’t think I should be subject to this increase, but all I got was scripted responses and a list of new options, none of which I liked.  I did subside and said I would need some time to think over my options, and the conversation ended pleasantly enough, but I had gotten testy in the middle of it, I believe.

Later that day I went back to look at my notes from the August negotiations and I saw that because I had been “put into my bundle by a manager,” the price was guaranteed for a year even though there was not contract.

When I called back at that point, I got a representative who was even more scripted, but I had the right lines;  her script allowed her to respond to my manager’s guarantee by going to her supervisor, and we got back to my guaranteed  price and to “yes” — in part because their file notes showed the guarantee and in part, apparently, because of what my deal had been before August, information they actually had to ask me to supply them with.

I learned from this that had I not reacted with such emotion to the fact of having to deal with this at all, I could have gotten all my ducks lined up before I made the first call and possibly gotten the matter settled to my satisfaction with one call and without getting testy.  That I didn’t has something to do with getting too drained by my work on behalf of my dad’s estate and on behalf of my mother, and on behalf of my children.  In all those cases, I seem to be the only one available to help, and while I don’t take on every aspect of the tasks — I avail myself of professionals and I insist these other family members do, too, like financial managers, social workers, academic advisers, etc. — it leaves me too drained to take things, like straightening out the telephone bill, with equanimity.

So, part of the solution, in theory, is to take better care of myself so I am not on the verge of being too frazzled when a new issue comes along for my attention.  Part of it is to at least train myself to put in a pause and take time to observe that yes, I am reacting and not taking the time to address the issue methodically and calmly, in my hurry to just push it away.  Part of it is to train myself to use tools other than my tone of voice — I think I resort to tone when the content of my words does not get through the first two or three times I try.  Part of it is faith — to have some faith that the issue will not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of making my workload impossible, that I have some support even if I have no spouse or relatives to provide respite help to me with what’s on my plate.

The bill is, as I said, supposedly being revised to meet my price guarantee, Jonas has lined up a new place to live in the spring, Jordan has chosen new spring semester courses, my mother has accomplished her transaction before the end of the calendar year, the estate has been largely settled.  I don’t have nothing to show for my efforts (in these and other current matters), but my “serenity” has taken a hit.  And that is what I want to figure out, how to accomplish this stuff with less “drag” on the system.

Horace Mann

April 2, 2013

I read the article by Marc Fisher in a recent issue of The New Yorker about a teacher named Robert Berman who taught at Horace Mann, and the issues of teacher-student sexual relations in the context of high school.

To me it was more illuminating about a whole dynamic than being about “he said/he said” controversies about sexual abuse.

Here’s a quotation from near the end of the article that sums up what I found so interesting:  “According to the studies, abusers are disproportionately teachers who have won awards for excellence; they groom their targets, often selecting students who are estranged from their parents and unsure of themselves, then inviting them to get extra help in private sessions. This means, of course, that it can be very difficult to distinguish a superlative teacher from an abuser. ”

I wondered how often the pattern occurs in slightly different contexts, with or without overt sexual behavior, including those involving mentors and their young adult protégés, and whether it could explain some of the seemingly blind loyalty of acolytes to charismatic leaders in their field, even after the younger partners move out into careers of their own.

I guess my assumption had been that even with participating in this sort of incubation period, a person will eventually burst out of the cocoon and become an independent thinker and their own person.  But maybe some people can’t and never do.


March 2, 2013

There’s a spiritual story about a couple in which one is a spiritual adept and the other makes their way successfully in the material world.  They have trouble with trust in their relationship, I think because they view the world so differently:  it’s like one of those pictures which looks like it’s picturing one thing if we look at it one way and another thing if we shift our gaze and focus just a little bit.   Seeing the world with an open and naive focus may allow the mystic to entertain realities not completely congruent with our consensus reality that produces the material world.  A more closed and realistic approach to that material world and consensus reality may allow for greater success in navigating it.

But what was really impeding this odd couple from sustaining intimacy, I think, was not so much intellectual recognition or agreement on that they have different worldviews, or why they have different worldviews, or the respective helpfulness of their differing worldviews, but something else, something arising out of the accessibility of so much of the divine in the mystic.  To put it bluntly, I think one member of the couple is having trouble trusting God as much as the other member is having trouble trusting other human beings.  Of course, the mystic is mirroring the successful partner, which points to needing the successful partner to cultivate their faith;  that, I think, would lead to the spiritually adept partner trusting human beings, including their partner, as much as they trust God.  In terms of reciprocity, it’s like one of those inverse reciprocal relationships, like I remember from an astronomy course I took in college.

Angry comments

February 27, 2013

I comment regularly on the NYTimes website, and I have become concerned that one of the styles of comment that seems to garner popularity is the style that involves anger — the anger of the author, it would seem, and the passions of the readers, I am presuming.

What concerns me is that I associate this dynamic with conservative talk radio and such (and with negative consequences to its audience and to governing, social interactions, and the economy), and yet here it is apparently put in service to liberal or progressive or Democratic causes.

There is a school of thought that sometimes fighting fire with fire is appropriate or necessary.  I think even some religious leaders with tremendous insight and wisdom teach that sometimes a situation calls for some sort of hissing from us.

But here’s where I think the issue to be improved may lie:  does the return fire come out of reactivity — out of neediness and damage — or out of a place of calmness — with wisdom and compassion and sense for the big picture and the greater good?

Just as giving service will drain us if it comes out of the wrong place within us, but will be self-sustaining and even leave us feeling stronger in return if it comes from elsewhere within us and through us, so too, I think, the process through which we return fire makes a difference.

Either that or the religious leaders are wrong and we should never return fire.  For me, the jury really is out on that one.

The only justification I can understand for returning fire is mirroring:  sometimes we do our part by reflecting back to our partner, including an adversary, their own behavior.  If it’s spouting fire, then maybe returning fire is apt.

But it does make me uncomfortable.  I don’t know whence that comes, damage in me or strength and willingness.

Tensing up

January 7, 2013

Faced with an unknown dog or a bee on the arm, if we remain quiet and relaxed, we don’t escalate the likelihood of harm.  When we want to float in the water, relaxing our muscles and ourselves allows us to.  When we encounter hurt within a human relationship, if we stay with the initial emotion of hurt and don’t transform it into a defensive (tense) posture, we can also remain in an open (here, emotional) posture.  It’s about, I think, being able to tolerate feeling the hurt.  And that, paradoxically, both allows us to pass through the situation (and to let it pass through us) and also not to become more (and more permanently) damaged.

There are times when we cannot tolerate the hurt, and when that happens, I think we use a coping device to attenuate it.  The coping device has its own cost.  Here’s an extreme example:  my boyfriend breaks up with me and I swear off dating altogether.  Maybe for some people this is a stage they have to go through, putting up an impermeable protective wall to assure themselves they won’t be hurt again.  But that impermeable barrier also, obviously, cuts them off from the possibility of a (healthy) new relationship that does work out.

Some people don’t, to use the example above, actually foreswear the dating market, but rather re-enter it using a detached persona, a self separated from their heart.  This looks like a strategy that allows for both relationship and protection, but I think it is actually much worse than withdrawing.  For one thing, without having one’s heart in the game, one is hugely likely to do real damage to other people, because the ability to generalize empathetic feeling I think resides in the heart; if a person is trying to understand other people’s perspective through the intellect and not the heart, I think that understanding will be piecemeal, like particles instead of waves.  It will likely fail to be accurate in a new situation it has not yet encountered, and hence will not be a helpful guide for what to do and will instead be more likely to give rise to behavior that damages.

But walled-off people do conduct relationships that endure, and what about them?  I think they wobble, less so when the other partner knows how to compensate for the missteps taken by the protagonist.  There are some people who are emotionally willing and limber enough to try to compensate in their part of the partner dance for extreme missteps by the protagonist.  Not only are these dances and relationships painful for others to watch, but they often end in the collapse of the compensating partner.  Here’s an example:  primary person doesn’t want partner to have outside secondary relationships (of the platonic sort) and/or makes it difficult for them to have them, and then the primary person complains that the partner has become too emotionally dependent on them.

My main point here, though, is about trying to stay with the initial feeling of hurt and not transform it into something else.  In its original form it can be completely processed, I think, whereas in a transformed state, there will be a residue that clogs up the heart and weighs us down.   If we stay with the original hurt with an open emotional stance, the feeling will pass through us and we through that stage of feeling.  It may take time, but I think it is far preferable to do than to wrap the hurt up in anger and bitterness, for example, and be left with a foreign object within us, or rather, with an outer shell walling us off.

Blue Jay feather symmetry

July 2, 2012

I took a walk yesterday evening, up the hill and over and around.  Along Park Ave., I found a Blue Jay feather.  In itself, that’s not too unusual this time of year, but it was a type of feather I’m not sure I’ve ever picked up before:  the spine is off-center, the ribs on the narrow side are blue, on the wider side mostly black but with a white patch at the bottom.

This morning, I went early to the Post Office to mail off this weekend’s raft of paperwork, and when I returned, at the foot of my steps on the side walk was a similar feather, but the mirror image: same coloration and asymmetry but with the narrow side on the right instead of the left and wider side on the left instead of the right.

It struck me that a spiritual partner could reflect the asymmetry of the other partner in reverse, and that that unorthodox arrangement could actually produce an orthodox equilibrium.


July 1, 2012

I think I’ve known this for a long time, but in my mind, things rise and fall like tea leaves in a pot of gently boiling water.

There’s a deal between two people, one provides initial support, the other is to use that to accomplish something and then somehow return the favor, either by giving the partner the same opportunity or just sharing in what was gained through the accomplishment (there used to be the stereotype of the young wife putting her husband through med school, either to have her turn later or to have a certain life style — that would be an analogous kind of situation).

Only, the person who got the support never follows through on providing the turn or the sharing, they just take and then seemingly forget the deal (there used to be a pattern of the doctor running off with their nurse, for instance, and divorcing their wife).

But there is a resolution when this happens with spiritual partners: the one who provided resources on the physical plane winds up with the development within to understand the “deal” from the outside as unimportant (there’s no need for a divorce settlement).

The catch is that the other partner will never see it this way, they will revel in their accomplishments and not recognize the learning of the person who can now see through the whole situation (they may even expect the other partner to now accomplish on their own what they have accomplished with support).  The other person just has to maintain their own understanding — that’s actually enough for resolution: the tension disappears when they focus on how the benefits of the other’s accomplishments are apples to their oranges of what they have been able to accomplish themselves already but in the spiritual realm.

The normal course of action, I think, is for the partners to go their separate ways at this point.  When the partner who got the support wants to continue the arrangement, there’s a new issue.  I think the answer has to be no, not no to any ongoing relationship but no to the same one.  This is largely because the partner who gave the support no longer is participating in that kind of exchange, having gotten from it what they need to, namely a worldview that includes the perspective of an observer on this arrangement (including this asymmetrical implementation of it) that it is just stuff, a phenomenon, a turn of the kaleidoscope, not some ultimate competitive contest.  The other partner doesn’t see the world this way, it is not their reality, and as long as the partner who does recognizes this and doesn’t expect the other to see the world as they do, any tension dissolves.

What’s the relationship like afterwards?  I’m not sure.  I think there can be one, I think there doesn’t have to be, I think if there is, it will be different, and I think it has to serve the good of both.

Keeping difficult situations unresolved

June 11, 2012

I’m not sure it’s terribly original to notice that a situation that is difficult to handle or bear is not necessarily “wrong,” in the sense I should be looking for a way to change it or I should be critiquing it.  After all, I do always have the option of accepting the situation as it is and naming that I find it difficult, even very or too difficult (I’d like to use the superlative in the way some other languages do, to use the same form of the adjective to communicate both “very [adjective]” and “too [adjective]”).  That would leave me open to the liberating possibility that nothing is wrong, that I’m just experiencing something difficult and painful, or rather, as difficult and painful.

Sometimes I think my experience of a situation is more difficult and painful than it would be if I were experiencing it purely from my own point of view and with my own tools.  I think if I am interpenetrating with people who have other ways of parsing the world and I use their tools to interpret my life, it keeps me from re-framing situations so they are okay, because the other person doesn’t do this.  And of course, they don’t have to.  I think awareness by itself that this may be going on is helpful to me.

Like a melody that wants to resolve to the tonic, I have this desire to try to resolve situations I find difficult and painful.  But maybe I should just let them be, accept that I find them difficult and painful, and not try to “fix” them.  Maybe just observing them dispassionately will be a way for me to make progress.  Maybe somehow allowing the situation to remain unresolved serves the greater good.  I can see that if I just accept it then I don’t have to keep trying to get anyone else to do something different from what they’re doing, and I’m beginning to think that that’s actually a path that’s more draining to me than this other I’m considering.  “Working it out” with another person may for me actually involve not working it out.