Archive for the 'meetings' Category


April 5, 2014

When I went to hear Richard Shindell in concert last month in Harvard Square, I had a chance to have a brief conversation with him before the show — I was basically asking if there was any chance he could play “Abuelita,” because I had been listening to it a lot lately and it’s such a beautiful song.  He was very sweet about it, gave me some sort of encouraging answer, but didn’t actually play it.  It was a different sort of show, I think — great energy but a different mix of songs from the last couple of times I had seen him in concert.  I enjoyed the concert a lot, as I think everybody else in the room did, too — he gives a great show.

So I was tickled to see his Facebook posting with regard to his sitting at a table in a cafe in Ann Arbor as President Obama comes through.

The posting asks for a caption, and I submitted a few lines from “Abuelita”:  “I will wait at the fountain in the square / You can find me there / And I will tell you a story.”

Those lines are slightly different from their written incarnation here, on RS’s website, where “at the fountain” is “with the others”  —  folk singers and singer/songwriters do that, change or vary the lyrics slightly.

Someone “took” me to that concert, I am not sure who, but at the empty bus stop on the way in to Harvard Square, I found a $50.00 bill on the sidewalk.  That covered the price for the ticket.  It is also encouraged me to buy a couple of the CDs on sale at the concert at the front desk, as a form of sharing, even though I already owned them — I figured I’d give them as gifts or use them as extra copies for listening in the car.

I once found a $20.00 bill in the snow and ice I was shoveling at the bottom of my driveway, shortly after I had bought a small painting of an ice-covered window from an artist.*

I don’t have a great theory for pulling this all together, and, in fact, my suspicion is that while it’s not just a matter of completely random events (as I’m sure they come across to other people), it’s also not a coherent narrative — maybe it’s just a bunch of old connections and intermingled energy from the past (I think of it as “old karma”), trying to work their way out and dissipate.

I’ve always suspected we achieve that dissipation, or liberation, when we’ve figured out how to change or vary the encounter.  I think that once that’s done, some connection may even still remain, but it feels lighter and less vexed.


*I save such bills I find, I put them in an old Quimper teacup, and when I see my way clear as to what to do with them, I will do it.



January 5, 2014

For me, keeping my bearings is about remembering who I am and not getting sucked into being someone else, including someone another person thinks I should be.  How do I get some idea about who I am?  Through opening myself up to the universe and being in touch with my insides, going all the way down as deep as I can go inside myself.  And easy beginning exercise can be, “What do I feel like wearing today?”  or, “What do I feel like eating?”  It’s about “What am I in the mood for?” not in a superficial hedonistic way (although the answer may be that I am in the mood to indulge myself hedonistically), but in terms of discerning my true mood.

Eventually the answer in the case of clothing becomes, “Whatever is easiest and simple,” and so, too, with food, but in between beginners’ steps and getting beyond ego needs comes a lot of ups and downs, a lot of frustrations and a lot of choices that lead to difficulties we didn’t want, but from which we learn, including learn about who we are.  We don’t leap frog to wanting to put away these issues in the sense that they are no longer the focus of our lives and we want to put our energy elsewhere, we get there step by step.

I think a key is being open to listening to what a situation has to teach us.

For example, suppose we meet a person we want to make a good impression on, and our idea of what will make a good impression is being articulate.  The other person may actually not give a hoot about whether we are articulate or not, so, for starters, our sense that articulateness is key is not about some objective truth.  But if we are left with a sense of disappointment in ourselves when we have not been articulate, what can we learn from that?  Articulateness may be our way of navigating the world and using our muscle to achieve our goals.  Perhaps not being able to engage in it is a way of letting a person know that such tools are not always what is called for.  Trying to befriend a stray dog in order to get it to safety will not involve articulateness, it will involve making clear a friendly invitation.  Comforting a distraught child is likewise not about being articulate.

Even meeting a fellow grown-up may not be about being articulate.  It may be about being open to the moment, unforeseen, and that moment may be about something else, even if that moment occurs in the context of a heated conversation.  It may just be about getting to know the other person — or deciding that one does not wish to get to know them.  It could be about choosing to take a risk and make a change in one’s usual modus operandi, and do something not so obviously helpful to one’s career, instead of doing the same old, same old and chatting up the more powerful and higher status people in the room in the pursuit of material benefit.

It makes a difference what one is ready for on the inside.  If one has devoted oneself to articulateness, there may be little developed in terms of risk-taking or comfort with the less conventional.  And in the moment when articulateness fails, one probably can only decline the opportunity to take the risk or pursue a less-trodden path because one is just not ready.

So the moment passes, for both people.  Although one may process it as having been unfortunately inarticulate, it probably wasn’t the case that one should have been more articulate, the moment was probably more about experiencing the limits of the skill of being articulate, that it will only get you so far and may not be available or apt in some situations, and what do you have then, what will take its place?  Indeed, one may actually have been extremely articulate in communicating, although not with spoken words, “No thank you, I really don’t want to take this opportunity, I am here for something else, and you make me very uncomfortable.”  If one remains caught up in the articulateness issue, one is then not taking yet another opportunity presented, the opportunity to integrate the inner self with the self one presents to the world — and to one’s self.  Maybe one is just not ready to do what that would take, either.

The other person may not process the passed moment as having been about articulateness, they may have processed it as having been about readiness.  They may be just kind of surprised, and disappointed, by the reality of the other person’s state of readiness revealed in the moment and its contrast with other indicators of what it would be.

I didn’t want to take the time to write this post this morning.  I have a lot on my plate, I have a lot of stuff with deadlines that I need to take care of, I generally feel better about that kind of stuff when I am actually working on it — knowing it’s there and needs to be done, being aware of it and not working on it, have a negative impact on me.  But I wrote this anyway (even did some light editing, which I most surely did not want to take the time to do), because I had the sense that that was what this moment called for.

Wrong number

December 30, 2012

I was going to write, “Sorry, wrong number,” but that wouldn’t capture what happened.

Once, years ago, a medical provider to a family member called me, thinking I was another medical provider, and I got to hear how medical providers talk to each other when there’s a problem.  It was not flattering to either of them — to the one who called or to the one he thought he had called.   (It took awhile before he would hear that I wasn’t the person he thought he had called.)

There’s a spiritual story about a man who discovers he can “call” people through their subconscious and manipulate them, like a hypnotist with a self-serving agenda.  Eventually, his mother gets curious about how he comes to amass all kinds of wealth and benefits he clearly hasn’t earned the old-fashioned way, and goes undercover like a cop on a chat site. Or maybe she is recruited out of the old-age home to figure this out on behalf of others, who feel victimized and frustrated but don’t understand what’s going on.

In any event, she engages in an interaction and ends up intercepting one of these instances of manipulative hypnotic communication.  Only, at the time, she actually isn’t aware she’s his mother or that she’s on this mission, because if she were, he would know it, too, and evade her and it.  This ignorance leaves her vulnerable to his manipulative charms, but the beauty part is that he will have a very negative reaction to her if they meet, and that will puncture the manipulation for her and allow her to reconstruct the problem and her role in dismantling it, so all she has to do is engage with him, fall for it, and then meet him on the physical plane.

She does, the illusion is exposed, and she reports back to headquarters how it is that somebody who has no idea what they are doing has come to assume positions as if he does — he is like that impostor whom we hear some people claiming a particular religious or political leader to be.

What happens next?  I’m not sure.  My suspicion is that it’s the beginning of a long process, that what will improve the situation turns out not to be trying to persuade the impostor to climb down from his pedestal, or trying to embarrass him or shame him into getting down, but, rather, trying to dismantle the pedestal piece by piece while he’s on it.  Because it’s actually the pedestal that’s the problem.  And we thank him for his service for bringing that to everyone’s attention.

Maybe I should have called this, “You can’t fool (your) Mother.”



May 30, 2012

One of the themes of my recent visits to my parents is pruning vines out of trees, bushes, and household structures.  This last visit was ivy out of a lilac bush and the wisteria off the garden hose and downspout.  The previous visit was two vines, one grape, out of a tree.

I’ve got a couple of vines in the front of the house on the far side of the garage beneath a tree that I’m not sure about, in terms of what they are, and I’ve got what some people call bittersweet in the side hedge.  Then there’s the ivy in the compost heap, which I think is about to “flash over” like a fire and cover the entire thing if I don’t get at it.

Yesterday I came across a woman pruning vines out of the bushes and trees along the path around the reservoir.  She tried to explain she does it so her dog will root around near her (and the dog was digging very industriously below us down the bank towards the water).  Anyway, we got to talking about vines and I mentioned a place where we had vacationed a couple of times that was sort of creepy with too many vines in the trees; the interior of the island was not much used (I think because of ticks and Lyme disease), so the woods were sort of decaying and being taken over by whatever was hardiest (even the parts along the beach had few, and only very modest, houses, there were no restaurants, barely places to buy food, no public bathrooms).  I wondered at the time whether many forests died from being choked off by vines, because that’s where this one seemed to be heading.

It turns out she had vacationed there, too, and we were quite surprised someone else had ended up there whom we then met — seemed like a low probability event.  Except for the vine issue — maybe our respective affinities for vines is what steered us along similar paths.

Full circle

December 13, 2011

When I was at the potluck supper last Friday night (mentioned in this previous post), where I’ve been going to services for the past few weeks, I ran into someone I know from another group.  And it struck me that I had ended up at the services indirectly because of somebody in that other group, somebody who has no connection to the services or to the person I ran into there, so in a way, it felt as if I had come full circle:  from the first group one person had invited me to join a second group, and someone at the second group had suggested these Friday night services, and then at the potluck at the services, somebody from the first group shows up.

So, I started thinking about how to look at that.  None of the groups has an overlapping mission with the others.  And it felt initially like a series of causes-and-effects, like a concatenation of invitations.  But then I thought, no, it’s on account of the fact that we’re all part of a (larger) community, maybe a sort of nebulous one, that shares some common characteristics about conformity (or not) and geography (greater Cambridge, MA).

Which by itself might not be particularly worthy of note, but what I liked about my series of thoughts was that it reminded me of how we sometimes see causation where there really is (only) correlation (including in medical, scientific, and social science research studies).  Each invitation did cause the next link in the chain, but really what seems to be going on is that we are one larger group that subdivides from time to time and coalesces into smaller groups, maybe like the way the pieces regroup inside a kaleidoscope when it’s turned.  From a bird’s eye view, the chain and its links are not primary, although that’s the way it may be experienced on the ground.


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?”


October 20, 2011

I have a meeting this afternoon that I’m not sure how to handle, and in some ways it’s not mine to handle but my son’s, although I’ve been asked to participate.  It’s different from when he was younger, but some of my own meeting preparation routines remain the same.  Since I get the sense that some people live their lives in much different ways, I thought I’d share how I deal with a situation like this.

I pray.  Not “for rain” (which we are literally getting), not for particular outcomes.  Mainly for help in keeping my own stuff out of the way during the meeting, help not speaking out of defensiveness, help not saying things in a way or of a sort that makes other people feel inadequate, help recognizing compassionately the limitations of other people or limitations imposed by other concerns they are charged with managing, help not taking things personally, help leaving space in the conversational dynamic for others to come to their own understandings rather than trying to force mine on them, help letting things go.

It’s quite possible that others have much better meetings skills than I do, it’s also possible that people who don’t, prepare in other ways; I can imagine people might rehearse, think things through with their intellect, call a friend or colleague or family member.  It’s not that I have never done any of those things or at other times read books about what kinds of meeting behavior is preferable and efficacious, I have, but I find that prayer helps me in addition, because one of the things it does for me is to guide me in the middle of a difficult meeting, even if the part of my mind that is engaged in the conversation at the meeting is getting stuck in an unhelpful reaction — it’s kind of like having maybe a safety harness on when climbing something high — something kicks in, if I leave open a little channel for listening, and even if I don’t, sometimes the meeting is interrupted at an opportune moment by a phone call or a knock, and I have a moment to regroup — which I gratefully accept as an example of grace.  Prayer leaves me more flexible, friendlier, and less apprehensive, and I find its help is more durable than just preparation I make through planning and practice using my cognitive apparatus.  It has allowed me to deal with encounters that I found difficult in an unanticipated way by helping me minimize my contribution to their difficulty — sometimes I have felt almost the presence of someone wiser, more patient, and less reactive than my usual self suggesting better words to say or actions to take.  If I can walk away with the fewest regrets, sometimes that’s enough.

So, I just thought I’d put this up here in case it helps people who wonder how other people use prayer.

Addendum:  I thought maybe I should add that I always pray for help listening for guidance and for strength.