Archive for the 'challenges' Category

Scheherazade

February 5, 2016

This post picks up where the last one left off, with the issue of the willingness of students.

I suspect I’ve written about the following idea before, because I vaguely remember writing about my experience, as a babysitter decades ago, of a variation on this idea of endless storytelling — one of the children would ask me endless questions, apparently just to keep me seated at the end of her bed.  She actually fell asleep long before her parents got home and I left to go home to sleep myself, so it didn’t really matter too much.  But in other situations it does.  In those situations it’s not a matter of the storyteller averting her demise by storytelling, but the storyteller becoming drained of her life force through the incessant telling.

An unwilling student can be draining on the teacher.  It doesn’t have to be intentional for the demand for continued attention to be a problem.  The student may be unaware that they really aren’t open to following where the learning leads.

Sometimes the teacher sees the student in an unguarded moment and discovers that the student likes the idea of learning, and likes the idea of learning from particular teachers, but doesn’t actually like what the learning requires or has a negative reaction to the actual teacher who appeared when the student indicated they were ready (as in, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”).  For the type of learning the student indicated they wanted, this kind of reaction contradicts the superficial presentation of readiness.  For example, there are some kinds of spiritual learning in which any resistance, whether in the form of fear or anger or judgmentalness or anything else, will turn the enterprise into a catastrophe.

It is no high crime or misdemeanor not to be ready.  But even the most patient of teachers will be harmed by sticking around in a situation involving an unready student that is basically a dressed-up version of giving a servant a pointless and endless task.  Of course, the teacher could perform the otherwise pointless task as work being done for God, not for the student, and through that approach to the task not be consumed by it.  But part and parcel of situations involving unready students, in my experience, is that the student is claiming that they need more of the teacher’s personal involvement than the teacher’s detached approach offers.

It’s part of teacher’s challenge to maintain their own perspective and not become co-opted into the student’s perspective.  It’s also part of the teacher’s challenge to maintain compassionate detachment.  (It may not always be so obvious that the teacher is doing this second thing if the teacher is also mirroring back difficult behavior the student has engaged in.)  What the student’s challenge is is for the student to figure out — I suspect that doing so is a step towards the student’s actually becoming ready for the learning later on.

 

 

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When the bureaucratic tail tries to wag the medical dog

December 12, 2014

A bed could not be found for my mother at the case manager’s first choice for a nursing/rehabilitation facility, this Friday afternoon, and she suggested maybe they should just send my mother home instead and have her hire some services.

I did not take to this idea well.

Long story short, my mother will be discharged tomorrow to a bed at a different facility.

I knew from many perspectives that the attempt to change the discharge plan from rehab to home made no sense.  The medical team hadn’t changed their conclusion that my mother needs to regain her strength and mobility and such before she goes home.  The kind of services a patient can hire, especially on short notice, would not provide the type of care and therapies for improvement needed at this point.  On a weekend, there is even less access to supervisory help, and often the people who work weekends are new hires, so it would be even less likely the work offered by the in-home services would be adequate.  The out-patient specialist had told us that the rehab center would be familiar in their own right with the symptoms that need management, even without her instructions and prescriptions — in other words, the specialist was relying on my mother’s being discharged to a rehab center.

In addition, I did not take well to the idea that I would be the person on the spot to take up the slack, should the hired services be as inadequate to the situation as I expected them to be based on my prior experience with other ill family members.

I also made the point that without adequate discharge plans, my mother would ricochet back into the hospital.

As I said, the case manager abandoned her home discharge idea and found a bed at another rehab center.  All’s well that end’s well, but I was appalled at the process.  Having been around this block before, I knew enough to object and to be able to object effectively, but I was not a happy camper.  The hospitalist I spoke to later assured me my mother would never have been let out the hospital door with a discharge plan for home like this, that she (the in-hospital doctor) would never have approved the plan, and so newbie patient families are not put at risk of being taken in by and agreeing to this kind of case management behavior.

But it is unnecessary aggravation, in my opinion.

I can see that my challenge was to speak up and advocate on my mother’s behalf but keep an even keel.  I think I am getting better at it with all the practice I am (unfortunately) getting.

And I got nice phone calls this evening from the social worker on my mother’s team and from the hospitalist, after I got home.  They said they would provide feedback to the case manager.  That sort of resolution and such support are far better than what I’ve experienced in the past.

 

 

 

Pearls before swine

April 27, 2013

Sometimes in frustration a teacher, let’s say, feels hurt and indignant that their students aren’t paying attention or open to the lesson.  Maybe the teacher is even fearful that without the learning, something painful will occur.  Maybe the teacher feels inadequate or disappointed that they will not be the one to witness that break-through moment of understanding by the students.

Some teachers become frustrated, even if it’s only in the teachers’ lounge or to their family at home.  “Pearls before swine” I think is a phrase that might reflect one, fairly bitter, version of this.

But the error is in thinking of the teaching as pearls or the audience as swine.  The teachings are insights we have from our own perspective; our real mission is to help the audience get to the point where they have them, too, on their own, for real — not merely agree with them on faith — really take them in as a part of their reality.

And, more obviously, perhaps, the people in the audience are not swine.  If they have difficulty learning, then perhaps we are being invited to learn to become more effective teachers.

Otherwise we’re all going to get stuck in some kind of interaction that doesn’t go anywhere and devolves into teacher and audience disconnecting completely.

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.

 

 

Bodies

October 10, 2012

I wrote about appreciating human flawedness yesterday, in my last post, and this morning I was reading about accepting the body as “good, worthy, [and] holy” in Richard Rohr’s daily meditation.

It got me thinking about bodies, how they can be a source of pain and disappointment, how some people find a way during extreme difficulties experienced through their bodies (I’m thinking about rape and torture but also about illness and accident) to attenuate their relationship with their own.  I don’t doubt that Father Rohr is accurate that this leads to trouble in the long run.  Techniques like disassociation have drawbacks, too.  They’re coping strategies but they are only stopgap measures for people who were unprepared to deal with the difficulty in some other way without these costs, I think.

But, as a general proposition, old coping strategies can be transcended.  It’s much harder, I think, when the difficulties are on-going or there have been secondary consequences to the difficulties that led to a rejection of the body, consequences with their own difficult dynamic, but I don’t doubt that making peace with the body and bodily existence will result in new possibilities, even if it doesn’t lead to repair of old ones.

I wonder how much of addictive behavior, which Father Rohr relates to this issue of alienation or separation from the body, is really just a distraction to keep from dealing again with that which was so painful or which actually no longer works, or never worked, and for which an alternative (without the downsides of addiction) should be sought.  Maybe if we let go and wait for an understanding of where might lie an alternative to experiencing the situation as too difficult, and an alternative to using a maladaptive response, we find some progress.

Temptation

November 29, 2011

Someone in an email group I belong to included the following, which may be commonly known, but I had never heard it before: “‘A woman has to be in the mood; a man has to be in the room.'”  There has been much discussion, much in a jocular vein, about this ever since, among other members of the group.

But I actually found it helpful in a more pedantic way, because it said to me that maybe some men don’t trust themselves and that’s why they avoid certain kinds of relationships with women.  Which in turn got me thinking about “What Temptation Means to Me.”

For me, temptation is usually about signing on to someone else’s view not just of the world and how to be in it but of me and how I should be in it.  The (mis)step I take is something like, “Oh, they must know something I don’t” and I jump right into their idea of what I should be doing.  A good example was when my son was struggling in high school and I called all the right people for advice and they told me to convene a meeting and it turned out to bring things to a head in a way we were not prepared for (and not what was supposed to happen — many rules were broken, but as I learned, unless the student and family have the resources, including time, to go through a hearing process, there’s not much that can be done when the rules are not followed — more than one lawyer told me, “Yes, you’re right, there really is no accountability there, they are used to that, and that’s a large part of the problem.  Muddle on.”  We muddled until he graduated.).

So, one of my temptations is to take other people’s advice, and when it means adopting a worldview that actually doesn’t work in my context, if indeed it actually works for anybody — sometimes I think it just becomes more obvious in my life because the issues tend to get played out in heightened ways — I end up sitting on the ground inspecting my bruises and trying to accept that what may be appropriate for other people may actually not be what I should be doing, and that it’s part of my contribution to the situation that I asked for and took their advice.

Bruises are one thing.  I can get back up on the horse (elephant?) and keep going.  It’s when the advice tells me something akin to, “You shouldn’t be riding that horse,” or any horse, that I risk trouble.  My sense of what horse I should be riding I think has to come through me, I don’t think I can take most people’s word for it.  When I sense I’m on the wrong one, I do have some success asking someone like Gita, who does see other people’s stuff pretty neutrally, about why I feel confused.  It usually even then takes my actually seeing it for myself to accept it, although the suggestion about where to look is invaluable.

The temptation with which I am currently struggling involves the perennial favorite question, especially in middle age, “What should I be doing with my Life?”  I don’t feel like a failure, the way a relative recently reported to me she feels, but I do feel tired and that I still haven’t found a modus vivendi since Willy died that feels like it works for me.  I have opted for the “function and be responsible” part of the program, and hoped that eventually I would find the opportunity to regroup in a way that would feel more comfortable, especially since in the long term I need a way of living that is less exhausting.  I don’t know.  Maybe I am too loathe to abandon my responsibilities in favor of something else, or maybe the lesson is to find a way to meet those responsibilities without becoming so exhausted and with discovering a way to find contentment in my life as presently constituted.  I do somewhat better with answering the smaller question of, “What should I be doing right now in my life?  What is next?”

Eden

November 25, 2011

I woke up this morning wanting to write about a parable in which somebody borrows a neighbor’s lawnmower and returns it broken and suggests a web link to a site that explains how to repair it.  Maybe I’ll get back to that — my first interpretation was to identify with a reaction of feeling riled at someone not cleaning up the damage that they cause, but maybe it’s more a lesson in accepting the challenge to learn to deal with damage in one’s life regardless of apparent source.

But then I got another thought, probably not original, about shame, and it seemed to make more sense to write about that first, directly after the post about shame.

What I thought is that the story of Adam and Eve is conventionally told as one in which they lose their innocence and experience shame.  If shame is a by-product of being cut off from that greater part of the self, from the inner office, from the vacuum motor (see previous post, please), if it occurs when the mahout falls off the elephant, so to speak, when the ego loses communication with the soul, to put it another way, then returning to the garden is the reconnection of our “I” identity with our more eternal part, with our souls.  It’s about that journey from a child’s connectedness with the universe through development of a sense of individual self, and then to a reunion with the universe but still maintaining the ability to see the self as distinct now.

If the key is to reconnect with the soul, I would say that we discover that connection through the love we finally hear when we call out from the heart, that cry that I think the Jewish Shema prayer embodies (it’s on my mind because I have this plan to attend this evening Friday night services at a shul for the first time in years — the invitation, which I am taking as a general and not personal one, from someone who has very good hosting skills, came through a guy — I have to ask myself why I am listening to him when I have never attended services where Gita attends, despite her having invited me years ago, and my answer is to laugh gently at my ego).  That calling of our soul to us can be difficult to hear amid all the noise of our lives, and sometimes I think we unfortunately hear it best in the relative quiet of loneliness and despair.  It’s one of those gifts of desperation people talk about.  But it really is one that keeps on giving, and in a good way.