Archive for the 'compassion' Category

Subsequent conditions

March 13, 2015

I am in the process of transferring my mother’s accounts into accounts registered to her Estate.  This morning I had, in connection with that, an experience that I surely didn’t like, but which also allowed me to see other, past situations more clearly.

Last evening I was told that a second of my mother’s accounts at a bank was being transferred in to her Estate’s account and that I would see it, online, posted to the Estate’s account later that night.

This process has been an arduous one, because, despite what my mother was told when she moved, she really needed to have closed these accounts in the NJ branch and reopened them in a MA branch office of the same national bank.  She was advised that there was no reason to, that the only difference would be the deposit slips she would need to use if she left her accounts registered as they were.

It turns out it does make a difference to New Jersey and its taxing authority, in terms of demonstrating change of domicile and leaving NJ with a conduit for trying to tax assets upon death.

My mother moved to MA with the intention of living here permanently.  She sold her house, filed a permanent change of address card with the USPS, took a year’s lease on an apartment, found new doctors, etc., etc.  I know because I helped her with most of the heavy lifting involved.

When I didn’t see the money posted to my mother’s Estate’s new account last night, I thought that maybe it would show up after 8:00 a.m. this morning on the account.  It didn’t show up then either.

So this morning I called.  It turns out there is a note in the file that they need another document from me, a bill mailed to my mother showing where her residence was around the time of her death.  I faxed a copy of her January electricity bill for service at her apartment and sent to her apartment.

But I was most definitely not a happy camper (or happy Personal Representative).

I do understand the need for evidence showing my mother’s change of domicile, I don’t mind faxing copies of bills, leases, doctors, whatever.  But I found being told everything was all set when it wasn’t, not okay;  the imposition of a subsequent condition I found upsetting.  I had calibrated my expectations in relation to what I had been voluntarily told, I had worked my schedule and arranged my work on the Estate around things being as I had been told.  I probably wouldn’t have minded so much if this hadn’t been a big hump to have gotten over — I had been told we had gotten over it and now I was being told that we hadn’t.

I’ve had this sort of experience in personal relationships, where I find it upsetting, too, but in the midst of the he said/she said type of argument that usually ensues in such cases, it can be more difficult to see what has happened and the issues at the root.  The person does actually say one thing, it is relied on, not unreasonably, and relied on in a difficult situation that will be ameliorated by the assertion’s being true, and then later the person says something else, something that removes what has been relied on.  The root of the problem is probably that what was said means things of different importance to the the person saying them and person hearing them.

In the Estate banking situation, I have more detachment than I often do when this sort of dynamic comes up in other parts of my life.  I can more easily see that timing is an issue (they could have told me this last evening) but that so also is substance:  my mother did change her domicile, according to general legal principles (I don’t know whether NJ’s statutes replace those rules with something else — my lawyer, who thought everything was in order before she went on vacation this week, gets back next week), and the bank personnel did inform me the paperwork had been completed and the money was in the process of being transferred.  In personal relationships, on the other hand, for example, we are rarely so precise about things, and when we are, it is usually an indication that relationship is not working.

So what have I learned?  That some people really do mislead a person in a way that the person misled cannot see until the damage has been done.  Whether the situation can be cleaned up to an “all’s well that end’s well” conclusion probably depends on particular details of the situation.  Such a conclusion would probably heal the damage.  In its absence, there is always acceptance that people are limited, there is always the choice to take the experience as a challenge to find compassion for people when they behave in this way and to see people as they are, not as they tell us they are or as we wish them to be.


Post Script:  As I was editing this, I got a call from the bank that the rest of the funds are being transferred, and I can see online that they are.


New occasions for communication

March 7, 2015

There’s the Tower of Babel and there’s the blind men feeling the parts of the elephant, and with respect to both parables, I take it that we’re supposed to communicate with each other.  I’d go further and suggest that this communication leads to greater empathy, and hence compassion, through getting to know the other better and taking a look at things from their perspective.

This morning I got an email from the current accountant’s office letting me know that an email I had sent (with material from the prior accountant’s office — why the two offices, one in NYC and the other in MA, could not communicate directly with each other is beyond me) had not been received.  Said email was in my “sent” box, I had not received an “undeliverable” message indicating that the email would not be received, but I also wasn’t entirely surprised it hadn’t been received since I was aware that the file I had attached to the email was big.  I had marked a second email as transmitting Part 2 of 2 of the document, which the person in the accounting office had received, so they were able to realize that they were missing Part 1 of 2, which, apparently, had been too big.  And they really wanted the entire document, so they were motivated to figure things out and get back to me.

We were into “Part x of y [parts]” because the original file had produced undeliverable and failure messages at the outset when I tried to send it as one, unified attachment.

So this morning I subdivided Part 1 of the document into subsections (a) and (b) — and felt like I was getting experience in binary or dualistic thinking — and sent each of those in separate emails.  Those went through.  Bingo.

I have had the opposite experience, in fact with a professional who shares the same suite of offices with the accounting firm (although I don’t know that they share computer systems or service providers).  There, I had sent a large file (of something else) and gotten a failure notice, but the recipient told me they had in fact received it.  They went on further to say that they have learned not to assume a failure notice is accurate because it has happened to them so frequently that they get such a notice but their recipient actually receives the email.

So I am left with not being able to assume I know what has happened to an email — “undelivered” ones delivered, “sent” ones undelivered.

Tony-my-computer-guy happened to call this morning about something else, and when we got to discussing this, he confirmed the reality of what I experience and he offered some technical information to explain the gaps in the system(s).  We agreed that what’s needed, if something is important, is corroboration through a separate communication about whether the original message was received.

Later on, on my own, I reflected further on this need for further communication and it got me thinking that it could be seen as another version of the situation in which we humans are being prompted to communicate more closely with one another, like the Tower of Babel and the Blind Men and the Elephant.  We’ve developed email, and we can use it pretty impersonally and just send each other stuff, but this hasn’t meant that we don’t also have to check-in with each other if we want to make sure the message has been received and our intentions have been fulfilled.  This need for confirmation gives us another chance at communication that might lead to greater empathy and compassion.  We try to pull away and separate into respective silos of existence, but something pulls us back together and encourages us to interact, share, and engage in a flow.




How it feels to other people (and a little about free will)

October 23, 2013

I have wondered for a while whether some people perceive things with a different calibration system from mine.

For example, if I help them with their art project and let them take some of my supplies, are they going to feel put upon if I ask them for help on mine and the of use of some of their supplies?  Does it feel to them in that situation as it would feel to me if someone asked for my help and supplies out of the blue and without any idea of returning the favor in any way or having any on-going relationship to me?

I think some people actually feel indignant when they are asked to do unto others as the others have done unto them.  They seem to be very emotionally invested in an assumption that the system should be asymmetrical.  I don’t know why they feel a need for things to be that way.  I suspect that any change in outlook would have to come out of a change at a deeper level, such that they would no longer feel diminished by giving back.

I can find some compassion for a person who has such a hungry need, but I don’t have to try to feed it.  Eventually they usually explode or go away once I stand up for myself and insist on equality.  That wasn’t, apparently, what they had in mind, despite anything they may have said or despite social norms about relationships.  My contribution to the misunderstanding may seeing them as other than as they are (and accepting their own version of themselves for too long) and expecting them to do something they don’t do, or it may just be having been coerced by them to help them, that has happened, too.

Whether they could engage in reciprocity I don’t know, but it raises an interesting question about the existence of free will.  When I see things with compassion, I find myself folding “a will to not reciprocate” into “an inability to do better than having a will not to reciprocate” — in other words, I see them as not being able to do better than to assert their will in this way.  So from that approach I don’t see any free will.  In terms of what is actually going on when people think they are using free will, well, everything we tell ourselves is some kind of story.  We always have, in secular thought, the position of a participant on the field, we are never seeing the whole picture from the perspective of an outsider.


April 21, 2013

I understood the relief when the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings was taken into custody last night, but I was taken aback at the celebrating I saw pictures of afterwards.  To me the whole thing is sad, if not grim, and I think celebrating the apprehension of the suspect is a step towards dehumanizing people who commit such acts.  Down that path I think we ultimately lose our own humanity.  I’d rather keep mine than lose it over a brief jump into a puddle of misplaced emotional self-indulgence.  I think it’s a good idea to try to have compassion for people regardless of whether they have compassion for me — doesn’t necessarily mean I’m up to being in the same room with them in the moment, but it’s a long-term goal.


March 28, 2013

I deal with a lot of narcissists, at least according to the lay person’s use of the term.  I sometimes think of myself as a “narcissist whisperer.”  It’s a role with plenty of hazards.  One of the biggest is that the people I work with are characterized by mistaking me for them and them for me in their analysis of who is contributing what to the relationship — call it projection, call it denial, call it Narcissus not recognizing his own reflection, and the person does it all the more.  So I’ve come to think of it as the person being disoriented, in the sense of bewildered.  That helps me feel more compassion for them.  Whether I can help them any more with that conceptualization in mind, I have no idea.

Expecting too much

February 27, 2013

I have been thinking about how I fall into the pitfall of expecting more than a person’s level of emotional development allows them to give.  This is in connection with a pattern of how relationships often run aground in my experience.

It’s for me the equivalent to a man at a club realizing, before it’s too late but after he has already got his hopes up, that the young woman he’s got his eye on actually is underage, just all dressed-up, all made-up to look all grown-up.

For me, the key is how I can find an alternative way of getting my needs met if structurally in my life the person in question is the one who could meet my needs.  With minor children, we use foster care and adoption when their parents can’t meet their obvious needs.  What do we do when other people in our lives can’t meet our less obvious needs?

Insisting that they do I have never found to be effective.  Walking away at least gets me out of my expectation that they will and allows me not to be damaged further.  And walking away opens up the possibility that someone else will enter my life who might.

That somebody else might even be God.

The piece I can actively work on is seeing the person more clearly the way they are, and not having unrealistic expectations.

If I can go back to my club analogy, if the other person has the trappings of maturity — older than I am or materially successful or claiming to be smart or inter-personally astute, for example — I assume a level of emotional maturity that actually turns out not to be matched by the child that they actually are operating as.  This image is actually somewhat accurate — they are operating as a child under the make-up of success or age.

The helpful thing for me is that it is pretty easy for me to have compassion for a “child,” regardless of their age and success.  I can love that damaged child, feel compassion for them.  I may not stick around to enable them to remain a child or to damage me further, but I also wish them no harm and in fact I wish them all the best, including healing.

If they lash out at me if I “leave,” whether metaphorically or literally, or if they become angry with me or even retaliate if I indicate my damage, dissatisfaction, or negative experience of them, then I can have compassion for that, too.  I’m sure I have my own moments, too.

Who reaches out

December 17, 2012

I was going to write a post about “Fear, pain, and damage” and what seems to me to be going on when people perceive “evil.” I would have talked about how it’s all perfectly fine energy, it’s just that some of it is difficult to process if a person has not sanded down enough of their “flaws,” enough of their humanness.  I would have tried to show how we can get rid of the dualism of “good” and “evil” by realizing that evil is in the eye of the beholder and by subsuming both under “energy.”  I might have talked about destruction being part of the cycle of creation, and that we are better off seeing destruction as just that, and shy away from distinctions like accident, tort, and crime.  I was going to talk about including everybody in our community, and finding a way to mourn for Nancy Lanza and Adam Lanza, too.  (I think, almost paradoxically, that until we maintain a compassionate connection to everybody, we will not resolve the problem of our safety.)  I was going to talk about attachments getting in the way of our clearer perception, about my reaction to watching President Obama reflect his strong attachment to his children in his remarks in Newtown last night.  I was thinking of making the case for celibacy in leadership positions.

And then, as I was crossing the street, I was reminded (because I suspect I’ve had this understanding before) that we need to reach out to God affirmatively because that is the posture in which we are open to receiving God.  Without our having that posture, nothing terribly helpful will happen even if God reaches out to us.  And I thought, trying to communicate that message is probably a more constructive thing to do, rather than trying to get people to see what I see.

Because part of what I see is that we’re not going to reduce the problem of gun massacres by the “mentally ill” by demonizing them, their caretakers, the people who love them (who are able to love them because they connect with something not diseased within them).  We’re not going to resolve the problem by doubling down on our attachment to our children.  I think we need, rather, to spread out more evenly our love and caring to all.  Gun control is fine with me, but I think if we improve our mental hygiene, people’s desire for guns may decrease, so I would include coaching people in general to improved mental hygiene (through teaching coping skills and how to become more self-aware, for example), so I would include that in a broad effort to reduce the presence of guns in our society.

I think I see myself a little like a bleating sheep, or maybe like that cow in the Richard Shindell song “Stray Cow Blues”  — I keep repeating what I perceive and hope it helps.  If people don’t want to hear, I accept that, even if I’m disappointed or frustrated.  I can see my reaction as a form of impatience, maybe even with a little fear mixed in (fear that not enough people will ever perceive clearly), and those are things I can work on.  I think I’ve developed enough detachment to keep doing what I do regardless of its reception.

Connections and disconnections

December 15, 2012

I was interested to read an explanation of sort for why a person might shoot small children at a school:

Often in a haze of illness, the schoolhouse gunmen are usually aware of the taboo they are breaking by targeting children, said Dewey G. Cornell, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project. “They know it’s a tremendous statement that shocks people,” Dr. Cornell said, “and that is a reflection of their tremendous pain and their drive to communicate that pain.”

That’s quoted from

Nation’s Pain Is Renewed, and Difficult Questions Are Asked Once More

Published: December 14, 2012

in the NYTimes.

I had written a comment (to Gail Collins’ op-ed column; I wrote it before I read what Cornell said in the article, but after I had heard him on the PBS NewsHour), about how I have been taken aback by the crossing of a line in the shooting of small children.  I compared it to a similar reaction I had to the slamming of planes into sky scrapers.  I want to say, “We [humans] don’t do that.”  The apparent coldness, the disconnectedness from fellow feelings for others are what strike me.

So, being the person I am, I have the urge to harmonize in some way Cornell’s explanation with my own reaction.

When I myself have felt what I want to describe as unbearable pain, the kind when you can’t stand being in your own skin, in your own body, my response has been to try to escape up into the spiritual realm until I have enough distance to process the event.  (Watching my child being beaten is an example.)  It’s hard to do in the moment, at least for me it is, because the pain seems to close the heart and my heart needs to be open to receive the help.  I suspect that this is why prudent people pursue training, usually through religious practice, to keep the heart sufficiently open even in these situations.

I wonder if people who cross bright lines in their pain lack even more on-going connection to what I call the spiritual realm, but which can also be thought of in other terms, like Plato’s forms or forces in the universe or the collective unconscious or Source.  I wonder if they are, first, cut off from themselves, and then, cut off from others and from a sense of community probably most of us have without being fully aware of it.  And if a person is cut off from themselves, I think their awareness of the universe at large and of other people is not mediated through a conduit that includes compassion — I suspect they are using a mental process that includes information but lacks other components for understanding the world.  So when pain is overwhelming for them, I’m thinking that they don’t have a safe harbor to escape to and that they don’t have in place the internal equivalent of Jersey barriers on a highway — a strong (internalized) connection to identifying with others and with community —  to keep them from crossing bright lines.

For me, then, the issue turns into how to foster people’s feeling connected and how to coach them or encourage them to locate in themselves that part of our mental apparatus through which we connect.

Breaking the puzzle piece

September 2, 2012

The Republican National Convention was a lot about upwards striving — a certain pattern of immigration and small business development.  Not a lot about downwards falling.

Rather than accept that what goes up is supposed to come down, I think some group of people at some point either misunderstood or tried to avoid the second piece of the sequence.  Instead of continuing to be willing and to follow where that leads, they don’t.  Maybe it’s an exercise of free will, maybe it’s being paralyzed by fear, maybe it’s through an attempt to use the human cognitive ability to change the circumstances externally instead of learning to accept external circumstance through internal development.  (I think humans have tried very hard to move as many things as we can from the “things we cannot change” category to the category of things we can.)

Some people do take the fall, even publicly.  Sex scandals, plagiarism scandals, cover-ups are some of the mechanisms.

Upwards striving seems to produce a set of attitudes towards life, downwards falling I think produces another, including compassion for other human beings.  There’s some variety within each set, but the sets as wholes are characterized by very different perceptions of the human condition.  People who avoid falling don’t collect that item on the scavenger hunt that is the spiritual journey — their art project needs some variation of that component.

If a person doesn’t want to fall and break, they sometimes try to break or change their environment instead — through medicine, technology, using other people — I see it as almost a form of cheating.  In fact the recent cheating scandal at Harvard reminds me of this sort of spiritual pitfall, because it, too, includes the claim of having been following the guidance of superiors (of teaching fellows in the Harvard case) and indeed all the answers come out looking very similar and it is not clear whether a process of learning and improving skills has been improved by the manner in which the exercise was undertaken.

A lot of perception, in my experience, is about rearranging understandings as if one could remake the (art project) collage over and over again.  I think maybe this process stops being available once a component has been broken in order to avoid playing it out in one’s life; let’s say one needs to experience loss, and one tries to avoid it through manipulating others or manipulating the environment.  (To use another Harvard cheating scandal, Ted Kennedy’s, it’s like having someone else take your exam.)  What we learn from the experience of loss is not learned if loss is avoided.  When the upward strivers go on about the need for creative destruction in capitalism, I want to say that it’s needed in spiritual life, too.  One of the components we need for spiritual progress is compassion.  I think this is acquired through experiencing and processing loss without hiding from its import and with honestly and fearlessly looking at what it reveals about ourselves, others, and the world.

That’s what I see in fearful and strident talk about refusing decline at a national level and about treating people who have fallen on hard times harshly — I see people who have refused to take the fall themselves or have shrunk from its import (I’m thinking about somebody like Rick Santorum here — he seems to have gotten some of it but not all of it, having filtered the feedback through some self-protective maladaptive coping mechanism, it looks like to me.)

I suppose if human cognitive ability got us into this detour in evolutionary development through willful avoidance it will also lead us back on track in some way.  Or, at least it can.  Or it could lead to a third way of human society developing, something that comes out of a combination of our lives as animals and our permutation of it through species willfulness.

We’ve been calling out for extraterrestrial help for quite some time by now, whether from gods, God, ETs, whatever.  The thing of it is, from my point of view, is that we don’t listen when we actually get a response.  In some ways, I think we’re stubbornly insisting on staying lost in this detour, of doing this our way, even if it’s dead end.

Ani Dalit

August 30, 2012

I was going to write about my reaction to the speeches I’ve been watching or listening to on line through the PBS website at the Republican convention (about what came across to me as Condoleezza Rice’s fear, discipline, and brittleness, for example), but I decided to write about my reaction in a different way.

When I started writing comments to news items on line a few years ago, I think I was much less judgmental (and my expression in my writing was much more crabbed).  I used a screen name, Ani Dalit, in part for privacy.  The two pieces of the name come from people in the lineage I’ve been exploring.  “The Dalit” was a girl in India centuries ago who didn’t even know her given name — she was just referred to by the people who kept her as “the Dalit.”  Ani was somewhat older, her given name had been Ang, and she had not only a poise I admire but a strong spiritual discipline I would do well to emulate.  I think I was seeing the world more through their eyes.

As I was listening to Paul Ryan’s speech last night, I noticed my resistance to it.  That’s what got me thinking about my screen persona as Ani Dalit, and how differently I would have reacted to the speech and to Ryan through her lens.  I am mindful that sometimes it doesn’t serve to put out what we think of as our “best china” — paper plates or plasticware at a picnic or barbeque would probably be more appreciated by the guests, to use the analogy.  So I am not sure whether I should try to “go back” to seeing things through their eyes, and think of what I’ve done more recently as sort of a detour.

I think Ani Dalit would find a way to embrace someone like a Paul Ryan, with the sorts of limitations he apparently has, with compassion and with acceptance that he’s doing the best he can do, and without taking on his set of values and worldview or trying to meet him on his own terms, regardless of how provocative she might find what he says to be.  I don’t think she would become angry or agree to become provoked.

But what if I should be using my paper plates instead?  Or plasticware (if the food is likely to be too heavy or greasy for paper).  What would that look like?  How to accept the messenger and still respond to the message as a participant and not merely as a detached observer?  How to respond to the message in a way and in a language that will be understood by the person to whom I’m responding, without actually adopting their own language?

I am thinking there’s a way to take what Ani Dalit would see and then translate that back into a language useful to those who don’t.