Archive for the 'conceptualizing' Category

The wisdom of Peaches

August 16, 2015

“Peaches” is capitalized in the title to this post because it refers to the nickname of a person who lived next door to me while we were growing up.  I referred to her in a news comment I made on the PBS NewsHour website, regarding the announced arrangements between HBO and Sesame Street.  She’s the person who told me that my family’s TV didn’t [receive the signal for] the Flintstones.  She wanted to discuss an episode she had recently seen, I hadn’t seen it, and my explanation that I just didn’t watch the show was not accepted.

I want to note that we were little kids at the time, I want to say 4 or 5 years old, we were washing our hands in my family’s upstairs bathroom sink at the time.  Part of why, I think, I remember the conversation so clearly was that I really puzzled over what she had said, because I considered that maybe she knew something I didn’t know, because her father worked for NBC.

This was in the 1960s, so Peaches’ explanation was factually incorrect.  My point in my news comment was what was then charmingly wrong might now actually be unfortunately true.

This post isn’t about Peaches’ remark being somehow prescient, though.

Thinking about the Flintstones remark reminded me of something else Peaches had once corrected me about.

We had been coloring, and I think we were using something other than our usual, and inexpensive, crayons.  It could have been cray-pas — I want to say it was magic markers, but I’m not sure they were common yet for kids to have.  As Peaches was using one of the colors to fill in the background to her picture, I mentioned something about not wasting the stick or marker, and Peaches replied, “It’s not wasting it unless you throw the picture out.”

I don’t think anyone in my family ever would have said that, and I really liked not only the specific idea but also the revelation that there were different points of view and that different families might subscribe to different perspectives.

(This sense of different family traditions was reinforced by the fact that her dad had a different method for teaching kids to tie shoes from what my family was using to try to teach me.  I had a terrible time trying to learn how to tie my shoes.  Mr. N. was so kindly, with his twinkly eyes.  He told me to make two rabbit ears out of the laces and then tie them together.  I didn’t know before that that was method for tying shoes, let alone a legitimate one.  I did know that my dad always tucked his shoelace bows into the side of his shoes and that my mother didn’t, so I was aware of some differences in technique, but both my parents used the loop, wrap around, and pull through method, which required some dexterity I apparently didn’t yet have.)

I liked the idea that one might actually use resources in the present and not just practice frugality, so long as one actually used them and did not just remove them from circulation without some sort of return on the use.  Having the right to enjoy something I think was an issue in our house, on account of the Holocaust, and frugality was also an issue, probably also on account of the Holocaust, as well as on account of having had to start over in this country as a result of it, and probably also on account of the general effect on my parents’ generation of the Depression.

I think Peaches’ remark also indicated to me that I as an individual might have a right to use a resource and not save it for someone else, which, again, I don’t think was an idea circulating in the air in my family’s home as I took it in.  And yet Peaches’ sense of the rules did not dispense with the idea of waste entirely, it just changed how it was conceptualized.  So I didn’t have to feel obliged to toss out her idea on the grounds it was a product of completely undisciplined thinking.

There used to be a popular book about how we learn all we need to know in kindergarten.  I’m not sure I’d go that far, but we do learn a lot as young children.  I grew up with my family of origin, was exposed to the customs of other people’s families, and I suspect that being presented with differences between the two was helpful, not just because it gave me more resources from which to draw in life but because it showed me how contingent our ideas may be.  I think as a result I see it as a goal to try not to be too doctrinaire in general.  That may explain, in part, my eclectic approach to religion and spiritual matters, as well as to other more mundane matters.

Different translations

June 30, 2015

I wrote a comment this morning, to a David Brooks column about how Christian social conservatives could change their mission from advocating about sexual mores to helping the poor, and noticed that someone else had made a similar point to mine in their comment posted about a minute before mine was posted.   They call themselves HDNY and they are “verified,” so their comments post immediately, without moderation, so it is likely that HDNY and I were writing at the same time.

I talked about “some other strand” in Christian socially conservative thinking, HDNY talked about “bigots” and “self-righteousness.”  We were both talking about how there seems to be something more going on than just a matter of choosing what part of a Christian message to emphasize.

I’ve seen overlap in comments before, my mother, long before the days of online commenting, used to say, when she had an idea for a letter to the editor, that she was confident that somebody else would write the same thing and she would read it in publication.  What interested me this time was the differing treatments two people gave the same basic theme.

Applying labels to this other thing apparently going on with Christian social conservatives I suspect gets the back up of the people so labeled, unless they like to wear such labels proudly.  Translating the same concept of something else going on into broader and less judgmental terms I think opens up the possibility of seeing some of the attitudes and behaviors as being rooted in self-protective maladaptive coping devices, and that, in turn, could allow people to deal with what ails them that lies behind this perceived need to protect the self.

I admit that my approach is the less popular one, outside of certain circles, but I think it has the virtue of getting us to stop playing a game in which we exchange damaging words with one another.  If it is the case that a lot of difficulty arises from self-protective but maladaptive coping devices, why would increasing the sense that self-protection is needed improve the situation?

I have no real conclusion, only the observation that it is interesting in own right to observe how different people express, or translate, the same basic concept.  I think how we express concepts has a lot to do with which of our own issues we have effectively addressed.  Maybe it also has to do with how deep our perceptions go, how much of the iceberg we can see with the apparatus we have developed, I don’t know.  I do know that one doesn’t buy a well-developed apparatus off the shelf, that the way of thinking it allows can’t be successfully imitated, and that it “costs” plenty.  So maybe it is not surprising that more people don’t use one.

Something confected, or just reality?

May 24, 2015

I confess that I have not been keeping up with reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditations, but today’s I read, and it reminded me of something I thought was an interesting shift in my own perspective.

It has to do with not seeing things as created for a purpose so much as perceiving them as just existing as they are, interlocking.

The issue comes up in the Daily Meditation with regard to “God … mak[ing] the problem itself part of the solution” (italics omitted).

I don’t see God devising such a plan, I see our recognition that the pieces fit together like that.  I think the reality of living in a dualistic world is that there is pain and there is beauty, and if there’s one, there is also the other.

We humans seem to spend most of our time trying to collect as much beauty as we can for ourselves and shift the pain part to someone else (including to other species, and by exploiting natural resources on the planet, as well).

God isn’t doing this for me in the audience, I am in my spot viewing the cosmos and thinking it is being done for me, because, let’s face it, I have an ego; once I get that ego out of the way sufficiently, what I am viewing just “is,” it just exists, and intention on the part of God is just an artifact of my processing of the situation.

Some of this difference in interpretation may be a difference in semantics or a difference in one’s taxonomy of the spiritual world, but I do see the ultimate force in the universe as impersonal.

On the other hand, I agree that “problems” should not be dismissed as not being an integral part of the whole.

Word choice

March 8, 2015

I’ll be reading along and happily agreeing with finding some exposition that clarifies my own understanding, and then I read the word “evil,” or, even worse, from my point of view, “Evil.”  I feel as if I am being stopped short, as if I have hit a wall.

I think a concept of abstract “evil” reifies something that is best kept in a looser state, that ought to be kept like molecules of water in their arrangement in steam rather than as molecules of water in their arrangement in ice.

I wish someone would begin a tradition of substituting a conceptualization that doesn’t lead us into the dead-end that I think “evil” leads us into, complete with a new label.

I think some people say, “We’re all in the light.”

I don’t say that we ignore what people label as “evil,” I just am saying that we should find a way of naming what it is without giving it power it doesn’t inherently possess.


February 7, 2015

While I was helping my mother unpack into her apartment in November, we came across some pieces of lava, probably souvenirs from a vacation trip abroad.  My mother didn’t want to keep them.

I was thinking about them this morning.  I was thinking about a spiritual practice Gita was encouraging me in some time ago, to connect deep within in the direction of the earth.  I think it’s harder to conceptualize infinity in that direction, but, analogous to the idea of physics on a level of particles and strings and such, I think it’s possible.  This is in contrast with prayer connecting me upwards and outwards to the cosmos.

When I connect inwards and in the direction of the earth and its molten core, I tend towards conceptualizing in imagery of soothing reddish-brown substances welling up within me.  When I pray up and out, I usually end up with light or water images.

Anyway, it occurred to me this morning that lava can be so porous and yet it is a rock of sorts.  Can I use this combination to help me feel well-dressed to deal with other people?  I am protected by something hard and yet it is a porous substance allowing for exchange of some sorts of things.

I don’t know, but I find a theme of my life is looking for a way to interact, as myself, with others and without becoming too damaged by the interaction.  I don’t see sealing myself off, I prefer not to withdraw from interaction, but I am as porous as the day is long and I don’t think I am supposed to change that or to incur crippling damage either.  So I am always open to figuring out a way to feel protected and porous at the same time.  And while I can “turn over” to the universe particular difficult situations and interactions, and I do, I feel that I need to improve my overall posture so that I have a more continuous, baseline sense of well-being.

One practice is to let incoming assaults pass through me instead of engaging with them.  I can feel them become diluted and dissipate through my connection upwards and outwards, as clean energy mixes with such incursions.  But that does not speak to my sense of being a sitting duck sometimes for material from others I don’t want to deal with, especially stuff they should be addressing to forces greater than ourselves, not to other human beings.  In this category lies huge anxiety and distress and a sense that everything is terrible — I have people who try to interact with me who have more of those than I can process comfortably, and my posture is that they should stop trying to get me to process it on their behalf.  But they continue, I suspect because we have an instinct to survive that does not always get channeled in constructive ways.  And so I look for what I can do at my end to maintain my equanimity while they do, because it takes a lot of time and energy of my own to clean myself up after being slimed by such incursions.

I think lava may be a helpful concept for me to do that.  I think it can help me feel strong and soothed and protected and porous.  Hardened it is brittle, molten it is suffocating (I think), but like light being both wave and particle in some way (again, my caution that I may be misunderstanding the science), I think it is possible in some way to think of lava as both protective and porous, flexible and brittle.  If lava can participate in all of these characteristics over time, then I am hopeful that on a spiritual plane, without the constraint of time, I can participate in those characteristics simultaneously.  Surely one of our human difficulties is holding paradoxical ideas in our limited heads — doesn’t mean that such paradoxes cannot be understood in other ways.


September 28, 2014

I mentioned Dis a couple of posts ago, working from memory of what I learned ages ago as a Classicist.

I then went to see what people would find if they Googled the word, and what they would find is not what I remember being taught.

I asked my mother, also a former Classicist, and she agreed there’s some text or texts, author or authors, we read that talk about Dis in terms we might understand as referring to “godhead.”  She couldn’t remember the text(s) or author(s) either, and The Oxford Classical Dictionary I have didn’t have an entry.  The Liddell & Scott Ancient Greek dictionaries I pulled out only referred to Zeus under Dis, but my Lewis and Short Latin dictionary gave the godhead meaning as the first meaning.  My Oxford Latin Dictionary gave the meaning I found when I Googled something like “Dis religion,” a reference to Pluto and the god of the underworld, which Lewis & Short gave as a secondary meaning used later.

The perils of internet learning, the perils of aging memories.

I leave it for real live Classicists with a good and current feel for the concepts that lurk behind the words (and better working memories of where to find what) to sort this out.

In any event, in my use of the term, I meant godhead.

Layers of divinity

September 26, 2014

My sense of the spiritual world is that there are what we could call layers and that the highest layer is what some people would call God or Dis or Source.  The essence of the highest layer I think permeates through all the succeeding layers, including into our own, into our material world and into ourselves.  I think it’s very difficult for a human to comprehend the highest level.  I think when we try to, we often resort to coloring it with imagery that brings it down to a lower level.

I may have written this before, but I want to say that what Jesus was trying to say could be taken to be about mistaking the “son” for the “father,” about mistaking one layer for another, about mistaking a “personal God” with anthropomorphic characteristics for the highest layer.  The father-son concept would then be a metaphor for how there is connection between the layers.  Encouraging people to fall in love with a being they could identify with even more than with a more abstract concept could be a way of trying to help people who have trouble achieving spiritual union find the emotional posture to do so.

But the “father layer,” in my view, is not the ultimate layer.  I think Christianity conceptualizes that it is the ultimate layer.  I think a “father layer” is also, and too much, dependent on the person’s need to relate to a being who can be related to in human terms.

I wonder if the teachings got misunderstood.  I would take the father-son idea and the idea of accessing the father through relationship with the son as ways to help achieve spiritual union, but which need to be replicated up the chain through the layers of the spiritual realm to the more abstract layers.

As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

I wrote this after reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today.

Contraction, incarnation, and fragmentation

September 8, 2014

I had put in the back of my mind the issue of what I thought of some competing conceptualizations David Brooks mentioned in his column about “The Body and the Spirit” last week.  The conceptualizations had to do with “the mixing of the finite and the infinite,” to quote from the column.  One was “contraction,” the other, “incarnation.”  I was wondering which one spoke to me more.

So I threw it out there as I was walking around the Res today.  And what came to me was “fragmentation,” “fragmentation without intention driving it.”  As in, fragments of the infinite embedded in the finite, fragments of the finite mixed in the vessel of the infinite.

Now I can contemplate that, too.

Dehumanizing those who dehumanize

August 30, 2014

I don’t like the current metaphor in vogue for characterizing the militant jihadist extremist group called ISIS or ISIL as a cancer.  Medical treatments for cancer include poisoning the body with chemicals to which the cancerous cells are slightly more vulnerable.  Do we want to encourage more of the sort of approach (to addressing the violence) that also harms society at large?  The use of the word cancer also, it seems to me, reflects fear and hostility on the part of its users.  I don’t think that helps us develop a constructive response to the actual problem.  And, finally, I think the metaphor of cancer dehumanizes the people we wish to defeat, and despite their terribly harmful behavior, I don’t see doing that  —  I don’t think it helps and I do think it hurts, including hurting us.

My preference, at least for now, is to think of the problem as a wave;  how do you push back a destructive wave?  Secretary John Kerry’s approach outlined in his NYTimes op-ed piece I thought showed how such a counter-wave might be formed through the work of many countries on many facets of the problem.

Harmony and distinction

July 27, 2014

In law school students are trained “to think like a lawyer.”  It involves the ability to make distinctions and it also involves a skill in finding a way to “harmonize” prior precedents seemingly at odds with each other.

It’s, to my way of thinking, a language.  And its relationship to spiritual insight is that it gives a person a way of putting into rational linear thought an insight perceived as a concept without words.  It is not itself, I don’t think, a path to non-dual thinking, but nor does it inhibit non-dual thinking — I think it supports it.  And it doesn’t just deal with splitting things from each other, it provides patterns for seeing compatibility among things that might superficially seem not to fit together.

Now, as for getting to the point of seeing things non-linearly, I am not sure intellectual training is relevant (except insofar, as I said, for providing a language for communicating to others about it), any kind of intellectual training — philosophical, theological, mathematical, etc.  Training in any of them may well provide a fluidity of thought that helps in translating, but how to break out of Kansas and into the Land of Oz, well, that, I think, takes something else and involves a different part of our mental processes.