Archive for the 'cleansing' Category

Trying to help

April 7, 2014

How do we help people who feel miserable?  Many of them want us to hold their misery for them.  It’s too heavy for most of us, and it’s not a good idea for us to try to hold it;  if we receive the misery, we need to be able to pass it on to the universe for disposal.

Therapists, Reiki masters, clergy, all kinds of people know how to do something like this.

But if the miserable person still has no way of ceasing to produce feelings of misery, the situation has not been sufficiently addressed.  The person feeling misery needs to find a different way to intersect with the world, a different emotional posture.

Some people find such a posture through cognitive behavioral therapy, others through 12-step programs, others through religious creeds, and I’m sure some people pick up another attitude from other sources, even from individuals or from literature.

I think part of what happens when a person is developing an attitude in which misery is not being regenerated constantly is that the person becomes looser and more open.  This helps negative feelings, when they do arise, become diluted.  And eventually, I think, the person is able to more directly and efficiently dump their load of miserable feelings onto the universe — they figure out how to work the dump truck  so that the universe and not a human interlocutor receives the load.

I think that’s important.  Our misery should not be passed around like a hot potato or spewed out into the environment like greenhouse gases.  And people who just want to dump their loads onto me constantly, happily refilling their trucks and driving them over and over again to my place, well, to them I would try to communicate as gently as possible (and sometimes the gentleness I’m sure does not come through) that I can’t participate in that.  I wish they would also examine why they are not motivated to find an alternative to refilling their truck.


January 7, 2013

One of the ingredients for processing difficult emotions, like hurt, is a diluting solution (solution, as in, liquid).

I can dilute mine through prayer and meditation, through asking for an exchange (of energy) and using a visualization (such as exchanging my old laundry for clean) to facilitate it, and through walking.  It’s like the molecules of the difficult stuff get spaced out more widely through these means, they diminish in importance and impact with the addition of more positive material.

It’s not that I can make all my difficult emotions disappear, but I can reduce them to manageable proportions in my system, by using tools or techniques.  If my body gets dirty, I take a shower.  If my mind is filled up with yuck, I need to cleanse it as well.  Sometimes I do actually visualize a sort of shower going down through my spiritual fontanel, but for some reason I find other visualizations more effective, so I don’t usually use the shower image.

Processing is one of the reasons I walk a lot.  Gita once looked at me and cocked her head and said, “I believe walking is a part of your spiritual practice,” and she’s probably right.  I know I tell people that it helps me air out my brain.

I’m going to head out now.

Achilles’ heel

November 26, 2012

I sometimes get the impression we have a blind spot in our spiritual life like the one we have in our vision from our optic nerve.  Maybe that’s what the notion of Achilles’ vulnerability through his heel is.

I wonder if we all have a flaw we can’t get rid of, beyond the generic limits of human mental processes.  Maybe our identity of self is what gives us our vulnerability, no matter how well-cleansed that self is.

I like imperfections in antiques, in rugs, in all kinds of things.  I like anomalies that add interest or texture or “character.”  Maybe that’s analogous to celebrating life as we live it in the material world.

Kidney failure

September 7, 2012

An extended-family member was hospitalized for kidney failure the other night.  The episode is turning out to contain resonances of so many past stories I know that I start thinking about what it represents for me metaphorically.

When the kidneys are not cleansing the blood, toxins build up, confusion is a symptom.  Makes me wonder what the equivalent of a kidney in our spiritual lives might be.

I think spiritually the cleansing mechanism is more like a charcoal filter in a water pitcher or the dilution of grape juice with water, as my mother used to serve it to us kids.

If we can’t process our emotions and discharge or dissipate or otherwise redress them, they build up, and we do become confused.  I think we dilute them and cleanse ourselves through mixing in cleaner, healthier energy.  I do that through working on being open through walking and praying;  sleeping is another way I think we interface more openly with the universe.

I only have one kidney (born that way) and it’s big.  The doctor who diagnosed it when I was about thirty joked with me that that means I can’t be a live donor.  Which is interesting, because some of my spiritual work has been helping others cleanse their spiritual systems through my own.  (Sometimes it seems to me that “on earth” is at least sometimes actually an inversion of “as it is in heaven,” — maybe this is an example of that, I don’t know.  In astronomy as I studied it in an elementary survey course, a mathematical inverted square relationship was a major theme.  Maybe that’s related to what I’m noticing here. )

I guess I like to think that in my spiritual work I can help someone have their own kidney without sacrificing mine.  Whether this is done through my helping them locate theirs, repair theirs, or develop a new one in much the same way Harold does in those Purple Crayon stories, I’m not sure.  I think it’s most hard for me when I’ve helped them start the process but won’t be able to enjoy the results myself in this lifetime — but that only underscores that I am only a conduit and that what I do contribute must be offered as a gift (regardless of how the recipient frames the interaction).  After all, I have my own lessons, too, to learn from the experience.

Raking (other people’s) leaves

March 31, 2012

I’ve probably mentioned before that I had a neighbor here for many years who firmly believed that leaves from a tree rooted on my property were my responsibility to rake, even if they fell onto her property, and even if she chose not to trim the branches of the tree back to the property line to reduce the volume of leaves.  She was from another country, older, arthritic, and we eventually became friendly and dealt with the leaves and pruning issues without friction.

She moved away four or five years ago, but that concept of raking other people’s leaves had stayed with me.  Getting out on the porch roof yesterday to measure baluster spacing is a version of the idea.  At least there, even though I had an initially negative reaction to the thought of doing the measuring, I kind of knew what might help.  In other situations, I might also have the sense of how to meet someone more than halfway (from my perspective), or where they are, and without judging them or becoming angry or resentful, but in some situations I just don’t know what to do even if I am in theory willing to do more at my end to resolve an impasse.  Sometimes someone else clues me in on what I might do differently, like not assuming someone is blowing me off when it’s really anxiety preventing the other person from seeking clarification from me about how to do the task they’ve agreed to do for me.  With my dad I’ve learned not to ask general open-ended questions about financial matters — I get higher quality advice, I think from his improved focusing, if I can figure out enough first to be able to ask him some pretty specific questions.

But there are still times when I am willing to do more to meet the other person where they are but I don’t know what I can do that would constitute that.  I’m thinking that maybe I need to make sure I’ve cleaned up my own frustration first and have become open to doing what would help without noticing whether it’s something I originally thought I should need to do, without noticing which tree the leaf came from anymore.  Maybe when I’ve done that, it will become clearer what I can do that would move things along.


March 20, 2012

I suspect I wasn’t all that clear in making my point this morning in response to the David Brooks column about our assumptions underlying our surprise when a “good” person suddenly engages in violence.  I was trying to take issue with his assumption, as he tried to debunk these other assumptions, that there exist internal forces that are intrinsically destructive.  I think it’s more like the smell of home-delivered natural gas — the smell (here, the destructiveness) is added from something else.

I guess I don’t disagree with the idea that the source of the violent act is something that wells up from within, but I think what produces the impetus and the behavior is the interplay between a (neutral) force and the person’s unresolved “stuff” (their fears, their desires, their attachments, their ego needs).  I get concerned when I hear about “destructive forces” or “evil,” because I think it’s like saying that corporations are people with personalities — it attributes to something inert a kind of drive I don’t think it has.  In the case of people who suddenly commit violent acts, there may well be a force perceived internally that is involved, but that very same force might well pass through another person without producing violence.  The issue is whether the force gets tangled in the person’s unresolved damage and hence doesn’t pass through but gets stuck and inflates.

To try to avoid such experiences, people try to clean themselves up, do “interior work,” work the 4th through 7th steps of a 12-step program, go to confession, fast and pray, go on a spiritual retreat, work with a therapist, read self-help books — there are many ways people try to clean themselves up.  I suppose in a way, this work is not all that different from David Brooks’s ideas on how people build character in that the person engages in some sort of program to arrive at a further stage of self-development, but my emphasis is not on willful insistence on hewing to an ideal or some rules but rather getting to the point where helpful behaviors flow voluntarily from the heart and the behaviors that don’t serve wither away.  I think the other approach may produce superficial compliance in some people, but that compliance is unreliable across many situations.

So, maybe I should have framed my comment as a difference in emphasis, but I get very frustrated when I seem to hear, yet again, that it’s all about character achieved through a strong exertion of will.  I want to say, “All right, David, you’re good at that, and it’s a wonderful skill; but other skills are needed that come from taking a different approach to developing the self.”  And maybe he’s done those, too, he certainly has a lot going on, but he comes across to me as missing some component — his ideas often strike me as getting at something profound but, from my point of view, are slightly off or at a tangent. My biggest concern is that he lacks thoroughgoing willingness, and that keeps him trapped in his own sense of what serves, rather than actually allowing him to follow his guidance step by step along a path of what actually does serve.  But, for all I know, he’s following his guidance and this is the result — it doesn’t have to make sense to me.

I know that for me it’s very difficult to hear (it’s why I can’t get myself to read the rest of things like The Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter or even all of books on religion and spirituality) stuff that is close but no cigar, from my point of view — it has the effect in me of my feeling a need to try to sort out where I differ from the other belief system.  In the case of a NYTimes op-ed column, I have the added frustration that it may be having an influence that isn’t helpful.  In the case of these “destructive forces,” my concern is that people will think there are these negative things out there or in us that we need to guard against, when in fact I think it’s the case that we need to clean ourselves up so these neutral forces don’t look negative or contribute to a negative outcome, and that we need to be more open, not less open.  We can clean up ourselves, but fighting with a truly negative force as if it were an actual entity produces more harm than good overall, I think.  And learning how very much of our suffering is the product of our perceptions, including their distortions by our “stuff,” I think is important — attributing it to even internal forces I think is problematic — it ain’t the forces, it’s us.


I realized after I wrote this that I didn’t include the part of my understanding that some forces are more likely to get caught on our stuff than others, and that if we’re not ready to encounter such forces, we would do well not to put ourselves in situations in which we will.  A very well cleaned-up person can encounter a force and not be fazed by it whereas the same force might mix with another person’s unresolved stuff to produce a lot of distress and a lot of dysfunctional behavior.

Human garbage pail

December 2, 2011

I’ve thought about the problematic consequences of acting like a human garbage pail with respect to eating, say, too many leftovers before they go bad, so they won’t have to be thrown out, or too many leftover children’s snacks, etc. when they don’t finish at the table or lose interest in what used to be a favorite food, so the food won’t go stale and unserved:  it’s one way people more generally and parents gain weight.

It’s kind of noticeable when the jeans no longer fit comfortably.   But at least we have that feedback loop.  What about emotional leftovers?  Maybe we do something similar with taking on the leftover emotions of an interaction with someone else or with the world at large, maybe we take on emotional baggage that we should really toss or recycle, but in this context don’t notice the feedback as easily.  Eventually, though, we find ourselves navigating our lives with too much difficulty (road rage as a symptom, for example).

I think this is on my mind because I am thinking that in addition to “whispering” as I mentioned in my last post, I’m aware of trying to pull into our world some “fresh spiritual air,” so to speak, like opening a window, through prayer.  People create a lot of emotional leftovers from their interactions, and then many of them inflate these emotional leftovers, maybe by a form of ruminating on them.  While the general category of ruminating on emotions may include witnessing emotions, that particular technique (the witnessing of an emotional state from outside of it) diminishes it.  The form of ruminating that increases emotions or emotional states involves less objectivity than is brought to bear by witnessing, I think; maybe this other kind of ruminating includes self-justification (out of defensiveness and guilt), maybe it’s the sort of thing we do when we don’t quite accept that we felt what we felt so we keep re-living the reaction and it doesn’t go away and even gets bigger, I’m not sure.  My point here is more about how when we are left with negative emotions after an interaction and don’t clean them up, or in fact increase them, they stink up the joint.  Really, they do.

So, our emotional detritus makes it more difficult for us as individuals to move around, like wearing jeans that are too tight, but it also is kind of like noxious gases that make it more difficult for everyone to breathe.  It may be a “natural” process, but we do need to open a window to dissipate the fumes.  There’s where I think even fewer people are aware that there’s an issue there; I think people nowadays are somewhat aware of the individual baggage they carry, but I think they are less aware that spending six months fuming about having been “wronged” by someone or something, for example, has an impact on the general emotional environment.  It’s another reason we should try more not to consume emotional leftovers from an interaction and to clean them up afterwards if we find we have.

The way I’m aware of trying to pull in some clean emotional air is through prayer, kind of general, “Here I am, here we are, please be with us” addressed to the highest and purest reaches of the universe.  I think it’s harder to pull in some refreshing breezes the stinkier it gets down here, and I think part of that is that it becomes harder for people more weighed down by emotional baggage to remember how to reach for that refreshment; so we get a negative self-perpetuating cycle.  But like cleaning up a dirty house, it can be done, one step at a time, and if we have trouble washing the windows or reaching something, we can call for help.