Archive for the 'ego' Category

Sword-swallowing

May 25, 2015

I was frustrated that T.M. Luhrmann’s column in today’s New York Times doesn’t have a comments section, so I thought I’d write what I might have written there here.

The column is called “How Places Let Us Feel the Past.”  The part that caught my attention was about the “Jerusalem syndrome,” which I don’t think I had ever heard of before.  I was aware of people thinking they are Jesus or on a mission, but I don’t think I had heard about it tied to having visited a holy place or even tied to a particular acute episode of some sort, as far as I understand the case histories I read about before eslewhere.  Professor Luhrmann writes about people visiting a holy place and becoming overwhelmed by a spiritual experience there and ending up in a psychotic state.

In the example Professor Luhrmann starts with, a rabbi advises a person who has gone through such an experience to, in effect, put it aside and keep studying.

It is my understanding that Judaism requires long study of the law before mysticism is attempted, and I take the rabbi’s advice as consonant with this and with my own sense that the problem described has to do with insufficient prior training and interior development:  if you’re going to engage in sword-swallowing, you really need, if you’re like most people, to have learned some technique first.

So with this Jerusalem syndrome, it seems to me it’s a result of people not having pared down their ego first;  so the holiness experience becomes about them, gets caught on their ego-self, instead of being something that passes through them cleanly, which they view from an outside perch.

In our culture, we don’t take mysticism seriously, I don’t think, so we don’t talk about what it entails.  Reminds me of not recognizing what stay-at-home moms do.  We may talk about God, or even angels and demons, but we have ruled off many other phenomena to the realm of pathology.  People didn’t used to believe that microorganisms existed, either, because they couldn’t see them.  Wind we cannot “see” but we see its effects.  If observing the Jerusalem syndrome is like observing the tree branches blowing or the devastation from a micro-burst, maybe we should rethink what we are willing and unwilling to discuss.

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How much?

April 15, 2014

I suppose it is not necessary to believe we have through reincarnation multiple opportunities to develop spiritually to believe that it may be preferable for people to do what they can in terms of what Father Rohr’s tradition calls “dying to the self” instead of aiming to do more than they can safely accomplish.  In the reincarnation model, we can think of it in terms of laying a strong foundation (for future layers), but even without multiple opportunities, we could think of it in terms of progress made — how far we have come from where we started — and see “delta” (change) as what we are looking for.

I have concerns about everybody feeling they should be able to achieve it all, and hence not trying at all or trying in a way that actually results in harm, such as regression or implosion.  I’m in favor of taking solid steps, however small, towards becoming aware of what about us is flawed and ephemeral and what about us is timeless and stable.  Rome was not built in a day.  Every stage of development is important and having people at different stages of development is important.  I would rather see people moving slowly in a helpful direction than not moving at all or incurring too much damage from tumbling backwards after trying to take too large a step on difficult terrain.

Where I do see privileging one stage of development above others is in being able to see a bigger picture and being able to encourage others not to get stuck in limited thinking, in mistaking a part for the whole, or in clinging to a stage as if it were a permanent resting place.  Being able to suggest an overview can be helpful, but the actual nitty-gritty of coaching individuals, in terms of where they are and what may be helpful to their progress, I think is something else.

Coloration

March 25, 2014

What does it mean to do something out of love for someone, whether that love is for God, neighbor, or stranger?  (I was reading this.)  How does it differ from doing it because one is willing to do what one is called upon by God to do?

I think the coloration of the doing probably does make a difference — doing out of love of God, doing out of willingness to serve.  Maybe they are like different diplomatic portfolios.

I have been aware of doing things out of love for God and I have been aware of doing things out of willingness.  I find the second more difficult to do — it requires more detachment, more ability not to be plugged into a feedback system of any sort and instead to navigate and travel on faith.

Of course, both of these postures for doing things are different from engaging in a loving relationship as the basis for going out into the world to accomplish something.  When that kind of love gets mirrored back, there is often no willingness from the original beneficiary to switch roles.  They may even be horrified at the thought of such utilitarianism.

If loving for the sake of anything produces a coloration of motive, then maybe willingness has its place as a simpler posture with less ego involved — I don’t know, but it’s a possibility, it seems to me.

Whose brother or sister?

February 23, 2014

“’This isn’t the drug user of the 1970s. It’s your brother, your sister. It crosses all socioeconomic strata.’”

This is a quotation from “Max Sandusky, prevention and screening director for the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod” and it comes from an article in The Boston Globe called “Opiates taking heavy toll on Cape,” by Brian MacQuarrie, dated February 22, 2014.

Years ago when a child in one of our sons’ nursery school class died from strep, and a few months later our son came down with scarlet fever, just two days after having been examined by his pediatrician, someone important in the public health sector in the state government told my husband that nothing would likely be done about what was going on in the nursery school until the child of somebody important died.

It was pretty clear that someone in the school was a carrier — there were many strep cases at the school in addition to Jillian’s and our son’s — but no testing could be undertaken, nor could the staff member who seemed to be the carrier be asked to take steps to protect the children.  As I recall it, she had a connection to the health sector, perhaps through a second job, and the hypothesis was that she picked up bacteria at the facility but didn’t become ill from them.  And if it wasn’t she, then some sort of testing of everybody might have revealed a different pathway through which there was such an on-going and severe presence of strep in the school, even after vacation breaks.

In other words, it wasn’t just a single event during which children passed strep germs to each other;  and the public health official knew that.

We withdrew our child and found a new school for the fall.

There’s that set of lines from Richard Shindell’s song “Transit” about how “car thieves and crack dealers, mobsters and murderers [are someone’s] husbands and sons, fathers and brothers.”

When we are still picking and choosing whose lives are more and less important, we cannot yet congratulate ourselves on being “superior.”  It’s a paradox, resolved, it seems to me, by withdrawing the ego and no longer seeing the world in terms of competing groups.  We become “superior” (in the sense of “more elevated,” not in the sense of comparative elevation to others) by realizing that we are not.

We may pay more attention to an important public health problem now that more “important” people’s lives are involved, but we will not be resolving a more fundamental problem, and its manifestations in our society, until we stop with this “four legs good, two legs better” (Animal Farm, by George Orwell) attitude.

Eating candy

January 23, 2014

Someone once asked me if having faith was like asking the universe to help you find an orange piece of candy in the candy dish without looking.  I wasn’t comfortable with that understanding of faith.  I thought that it was quite possible that the universe might help with that request if it served the greater good and the petitioner’s greater good, but it didn’t sit right with me.

So the other day, years later, I’m actively and consciously choosing an orange piece of candy and I’m about to unwrap it and I get this message — to unwrap it over the kitchen sink.  And sure enough, it’s a broken piece of candy and little pieces fall into the sink.  I had recently cleaned the kitchen floor and I would not have been a happy camper if the pieces had fallen on the floor.  That is the kind of help I receive when I have faith and I trust the universe the way a swimmer trusts the ocean to support them when they float.

Which gets me to my favorite part of the David Remnick piece on President Obama, in the current issue of The New Yorker.

It’s a quote from the president:

‘One of the things that I’ve learned to appreciate more as President is you are essentially a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids, and that river is history,’ he later told me. ‘You don’t start with a clean slate, and the things you start may not come to full fruition on your timetable. But you can move things forward.’

I very much resonate with the relay team conceptualization and I also resonate with the river imagery.  I don’t usually find them combined in my brain, though.  For me, the river part is peaceful and about me as an individual, about my relationship with the universe.  The relay part is about navigating the material world and doing my part in what’s going on here.

But I lead as private a life as the president’s is public, so maybe it looks different to him.  The issue of combining — here, images — I also think plays out differently in different people’s lives.  Some people’s ego self and greater self are well integrated, others very much tie the ego self off from the greater self.  I often relate more easily to the greater self of someone else, and I get upended when their ego self isn’t consistent with it.  I am trying to learn to be open to the possibility that the two selves will not be in sync.  So if President Obama has integrated the rapids of material life with the bigger picture of the universe, maybe that’s a more helpful way to view things.  I have to admit that one of the other things I have to work on in my own life is integrating my spiritual and material world lives better with each other.  If President Obama has, I should certainly not be criticizing that.

Hearing what is needed

September 16, 2013

Here’s another example of what I was saying is a little like coming up with different answers to a game of Charades.

People who go to support group meetings may talk about hearing what they need when they attend such a meeting, whether it is read from a text or is a bit of sharing from another member.  They may even attribute it to forces greater than themselves.   It, I think, is taken as an indication that they are open to finding the advice and tools they need to feel and function better.

Then there’s the phenomenon of people believing they are receiving special messages directed at them through television broadcasts.  That is categorized as a symptom of disease.

One difference between the two cases, I think, is the posture of the ego.  In the first case, the person is less focused on being special and more focused on finding help.  In the second, I think, from what I’ve read, it’s more about gathering feedback to further a drama in which they are in the lead role.

(Of course, there are self-help television broadcasts intended for members in the audience to, with their conscious selves, feel addressed as part of a general audience.)

So I can see the “hearing a message” motif in both contexts.  Outsiders may believe that in both cases, selective hearing and peculiar processing is going on, I don’t know.  (I’ve heard that some people think Al-Anon is a cult.)  But people in the first context actually find they feel and function better as the result of applying these “messages” to their lives.  They may say, “I heard what I needed to hear” — which maybe captures the point:  they did hear something, and regardless of why they heard it, it was helpful.  Therein may lie the grace, if one is inclined to see grace, but not see it in “messaging.”

Unfortunately, people who hear TV broadcasts directed at them personally tend to be distressed and not functioning well.  (At least that seems to be true of the ones who are written up.)  But I submit that they are in a way just “misunderstanding” a technique that is not inherently unhealthful, that they are like someone guessing incorrectly in a game of Charades.  Perhaps some damage to their ego structure is resulting in their misperception.

“God’s Plan”

July 13, 2013

I wrote a comment to Charles Blow’s column on the Zimmerman trial, in which I questioned the apparently selective way people attribute this or that that happens in this world to “God’s Plan.”  It comes up especially when people are justifying their own behavior or trying to make sense of damaging events.  They are often not open to something else that they don’t particularly like being “part of God’s Plan.”

I don’t think there is a “God” who has “a Plan.”  But I do think there is a force driving all this, only not micromanaging it with intentionality — I think many of the forces that shape action and reaction are far more impersonal in operation.  I think at higher levels of understanding, it’s just information that is relevant.  Accident, random confluence, intentional action — those sorts of considerations and distinctions fall away.

In terms of a human need for personal comfort from forces beyond ourselves, I think there are intermediate layers of beings, like angels and guides, who can help in some ways;  I think mainly, however, we are nudged to try to dissipate what produces the desire for comfort in ourselves, and resolving the need that way — by infusing ourselves with higher and cleaner energy.

It frustrates me to hear people apparently claiming that what they did should be accepted as “part of God’s Plan,” but consequences from it they don’t like, or other people’s particular reactions to what they did, could not possibly be “part of God’s Plan,” too.  It’s one thing to say that we don’t understand how what goes on in this world looks from the bleachers, how it looks at some remove and with a bird’s-eye view, it’s quite another to ascribe direction and purpose to those things going on, in which we participate and which most of us only view from that vantage point.

The “God’s Plan” notion is so often used as a rationalization to soothe the ego, rather than as a statement of humility.

“Our primary spiritual aim”

February 24, 2013

There’s a tradition in twelve-step work about not introducing other causes into the work, “lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary spiritual aim”  (that’s from the way it’s expressed in Al-Anon’s traditions, Al-Anon being the organization for the family and friends of alcoholics).

And that’s how I see human beings in general — being diverted from our primary spiritual aim, by problems of money, property, and prestige.  When the two are in conflict, our spiritual lives and our appetitive wants, we should at least take notice before we assume we know how to resolve the conflict.

There’s a huge tradition of giving it all away to pursue spiritual concerns.  There are examples of doing this in part, such as Father Henri Nouwen’s turn to pastoral care at communities caring for disabled persons.  He left activities like teaching at Harvard and Yale to do something at least outwardly less prestigious.

I think there must be a real difficulty in abandoning a pulpit, including a bully pulpit or media pulpit.  “I can reach a lot of people from here and teach them, influence them, affect them,” I’m imagining people are thinking.

Two problems:  what are you teaching and how ready is your audience to hear?

That work requires both speaker and people to make their own individual progress.  And, mirabile dictu, when they do, the public teaching for money, property, and prestige becomes much less critical.

I woke up this morning thinking about a song by Ralph McTell called “Tous les animaux sont tristes.”  I’m not sure it’s on YouTube or I would link to it.  But it’s what led me to the thoughts above:  no one wants to hear that repetitive plain bird’s chant.

In the song, the man shoots the bird through her heart.  She hadn’t flown away because he had fed her.  I don’t know whether the bird needed to have faith that she could find food elsewhere.  Maybe she was supposed to stay.  But when I feel tempted to stay when I am being fed but it’s not in my best interests, the lesson for me is often not capitulating to enabling the other person not to do something difficult by taking up the slack in the situation myself.  Growing up I was groomed to pick up the slack for other people, and it’s a habit I’m trying to put aside.  The hardest version of this for me is when I think the other person will feel abandoned if I go.  That probably comes from having felt (and been) abandoned myself.

The chant, for me, is self-awareness.  If the teaching is not rooted in self-awareness, I don’t think it will suffice.  And you can’t teach self-awareness without having enough yourself.

Post script:  I write with multiple audiences in mind.  Please “take what you like and leave the rest,” as they say.

Hearing

January 5, 2013

This is about a thought I’ve been aware of for a long time but never really registered with me in my, as mother might put it, gizitsky (gut) — wasn’t a visceral understanding until this morning.  (I take that to mean I wasn’t quite ready to deal with its implications until now.)

I met someone some time ago, very briefly, and it was pretty clear to me that he literally had difficulty thinking when I was in (arm’s length) proximity to him physically.  I dealt with that as best I could, because I really did have something I felt I needed to talk to him about and I didn’t get the chance either talk about it then or to arrange another opportunity to discuss it — I just tried to get across the main idea (I thought): you’re barking up the wrong tree, I could help you find the right one, and I could use your help with something else.  I had thought he had indicated that he was interested in all that.

Leaving aside the content of the conversation I anticipated, I am at this point thinking the real significance of the attempt at conversation was to experience this drowning-out of a mental process.  Because it’s quite analogous to what happens when the ego gets in the way during meditation or some other means of accessing the divine, the forces greater than ourselves, the universe.  I can’t hear my guidance or feel my support when there’s ego-chatter and fear, doubt, and insecurity rattling around inside my mental apparatus.  I need willingness and surrender, great openness to the encounter, a clear channel.

I suspect that I needed to show to this person, and to myself, what it’s like when ego interferes with my interaction with the divine, whether it’s my ego interfering or theirs or even somebody else’s.

Just as they seemed to me to make clear when I met them that they did not want to hear what I had to say then or subsequently, I think I needed to see that I need to be free of their ego-chatter and point of view.

I think a different balance could be struck between us, but I don’t detect any willingness to do that.  So in that case, I need to do the “God is husband to the widow,” or a “woman religious,” approach to the issues in my life, and to do that, I need to interact with God without ego-chatter.

I think this approach has a lot to do with how I was drawn to use the name “Ani” (as in, nun) as a screen name.  When I stopped using it and started using my given name online, I felt I would try to make a go of being more oriented towards social interactions and less with my head up in the clouds, so to speak.  Clearly, what I’m looking for is the balance between the two that works for me, whatever that balance turns out to be.

But what I think this encounter and my experience of not being able to hear was presenting as a lesson to me was that if I am going to have to be on my own, I need to hear without interference, just as this other person wants to hear without interference.  I think it was a way of showing me the source of some of the chatter I need to set aside.  Of course, if I am with someone who has less ego-chatter, I can hear better how to relate to them — which may not be cutting a tie that seems to bind.

In this situation, I can’t hear well and I am also not receiving the resources I need some other way.

I am trying to resolve that untenable position, whether dramatically, by going all-in with one method or the other, or by rearranging the balance between the two some other way, perhaps even by receiving the gift of the chatter’s becoming muted, through something my would-be interlocutor learns to do.

 

Changing the narrative one person at a time

December 7, 2012

I wrote a response to Paul Krugman’s column in the NYTimes today about part of what I think lies behind the classism he sees in the (callous) attitude towards the jobless, especially the long-term jobless, evidenced by politicians’ apparent disinterest in keeping their focus on reducing unemployment.  I said that I think there’s a self-serving narrative that some successful people tell themselves about how they achieved their success, and I said something to the effect that I think this narrative has to be corrected before their narrative about others and others’ achievements (or lack of achievements) will change.

Someone (walker, from Boston) replied to my comment making a point about how changing the narrative through [communism] failed.

So I thought, since the opportunity for me to reply to the reply on the website is not available, I might as well launch my explanation into ether here.

I think self-serving narratives are corrected one person at a time through an individual’s developing increasing self-awareness, I don’t think there is a short-cut (through developing intellectual doctrines, for instance) to correcting even a collectively-held pattern of self-serving narrative.  I think once there is a critical mass of people seeing themselves more clearly, consequences to the group as a whole may become more apparent.

People complain that not enough people want to devote themselves to teaching school.  I would say the same about people wanting to do the plain-spoken work of coaching people to become more self-aware.