Archive for the 'metaphor' Category

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.

Organ pipes

July 8, 2014

I was reading the quotation from the poet Hafiz at the end of Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation.  It reads,

I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath
moves through—listen to this music.

The image comes to me differently, or at least I perceive the image differently.

For me, we are more like pipes in a pipe organ, and we have different lengths.  The hole part of the image for me has to do with our each having different holes in different places, according to how much of our ego we have cleaned up, how many and much of our flaws we have sanded down and polished.  For example, I have a small green jade Buddha and a small uncut green stone, and for me, that’s representative of spiritual development.

When the breath of spirit moves through us, we make our own sound, but in concert with everybody else.

Putting the elephant together

April 9, 2014

I make reference to the Sufi tale about the blind men and the elephant fairly frequently.  It represents for me a shorthand way to refer to differing perspectives, to refer to our understanding of God and the mystery of the universe, to refer to the need for the human project of sharing.

So when I saw a tea-for-one set with an elephant, I decided to buy it.  It’s a gift for myself for a couple of occasions.

It arrived today with the cup in pieces.

Broken Item

Willy used to glue such things together, but I’m not sure even he could have repaired this one, as there are some very small fragments.

But it makes a great reification of a metaphor, actually it reifies a couple of metaphors and brings them together:  Henri Nouwen’s focus on us as broken vessels, his focus on that cup that we have trouble draining, and the Sufis’ separated parts of the elephant.

We had to send the nytimes store a picture, so that’s how I happen to have one.



February 1, 2014

I wrote somewhere in a comment to what I think was probably a piece in the “Opinionator” section of the NYTimes, that I can see the story of Abraham’s hearing a call to sacrifice his son Isaac as a story about surrender, about having a willingness to serve without reservation, no strings attached, not even a caveat of “Just don’t hurt my children.”  I don’t see it as a story about child sacrifice.

But even more than this, I can see the story as a misunderstanding, as a misperception by Abraham.

I think he was being asked to grow up himself, to “sacrifice” his inner twelve-year old in order to grow into the mature adult he could become if he could emerge from the orientation toward the self that children harbor.

I certainly am aware of multiple aspects of myself.  Sometimes I’m in a situation, and I can discern that part of me is annoyed but another part of me really doesn’t take it personally and can just let the situation slide off of me.  In other people I can notice great wells of wisdom and perspective while the person is acting in a limited way nonetheless is other regards.  It’s kind of like different flowers in our garden and we don’t always tend every species all the time.  We really like to grow those sunflowers but we don’t always bother watering and weeding those bee balm plants, or we let those black-eyed Susans run rampant and spread throughout the garden.

Some traditions tell us that we all have the wisdom inside us anyway, we just need to improve our access to it.  I think, as well, that some people have already done that in previous lifetimes in some regards (or in most regards) but have lost the knack for accessing parts of themselves since then and are working on that in their current lives.

The idea of sacrificing Isaac might be a story to flag one of those situations, where there is a need to grow out of a childish stage in some way.

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.

Stories we tell

December 25, 2013

I was talking to Gita about how sometimes recently I become so aware that something that occurs is just what happens when some energy happens to manifest in a certain way, like what happens when the wind meets a flag or a sail and we see the flag wave or the sail billow.  It’s just stuff that happens, the tail wagging on the dog that we happen to be able to perceive far more easily than we are able to perceive the rest of the dog.

Because so often we instead accord these tail-waggings (greater) significance.  We put them into narratives.  Illness occurred in this person because they ate the wrong foods (did the wrong thing), that person met their soul mate because they networked appropriately (did the right thing), this person found a treasure in their attic because they were industrious (were deserving), that person lost their business because they were not industrious (were not deserving).

This isn’t the “you didn’t build that” issue, it’s the “things happens as the result of long and complicated processes most of which we are not aware of.”

Some of us accord even more significance to things.  We see patterns, we see synchronicity, we see metaphor.  I got clobbered in a class once when I tried, with my best technique I had learned elsewhere, to analyze what the monsters in Cavafy’s poem about Odysseus might represent.  Different styles of literary interpretation or criticism use different techniques or assumptions — I think we accept that.  When we apply different techniques to the interpretation of life events, we sometimes get clobbered, too.  Exhibit A is the  label “conspiracy theorists.”  Some secular rationalists clobber people with religious faith, and vice versa.

But what I’ve observed is this.  Our accepted way of combining events into stories is just that, an accepted way of combining events in stories.  To see this, a person has to view what goes on in this world from “outside” of it.  If people do this in some ways, they fall into distress and dysfunction and we have mental illness.  If people do this in other ways, we have witnessing and detachment — which some people also consider pathological.  But once you go there, you can observe that consensus reality is just a group choice, it isn’t necessary or compelled by anything.  You just have to make sure you can toggle back and forth between consensus reality and witnessing it from without, if you want to be able to continue to navigate in society.

Once a person “bursts the bubble” of consensus reality, then they can see that “stuff happens” not in a fatalistic way, but in an observational way; it is that which happens.  It is that which happens that we are adapted to seeing.  Our attempts to make stories out of what happens that we see is more the aberration, more the foreign intrusion, than the occurrence of something that looks like an outlier, that doesn’t quite fit with our storytelling assumptions.

Maybe a person can get to the point of having a perch from which to perceive the world from the outside without first seeing the world through more intensive patterning.  But it is certainly one way to do it.  And once a person does it, then they can see that not just the intensive patterns are an artifact of perception, but that the more widely accepted patterns of most people are, too.  And then a person can process what happens, as simply what happens.  Gita called that “beginner’s mind.”

I sometimes say that I go to Gita when I need to hear what I don’t want to hear.  This time I could see the category is really “what I need an outsider to observe and relay back to me.”

Sometimes Gita  clarifies for me the name for a concept in a different way.  For example, I was using “unisex” where “androgynous” was the more accurate label for what I was referencing, and she corrected me.  We humans do pick one another’s nits, they just aren’t always material nits.

What I personally got out of what Gita observed back to me is not actually the point of this post, but I will end with it anyway.  For me, what she did was to tell me, in effect, that I had arrived on the outskirts of where I was headed, namely my beginnings but with an “I” aware or conscious in a way that I hadn’t had before.

Blogs and postings

December 10, 2013

I saw a reference, in a newsletter I received by snail mail, to a blog by a woman who has a child with disabilities.  I went to have a look, read half a dozen or so posts, and posted this myself as a comment:

I discovered this blog today, and there are so many things I could say, in addition to “Yes!” But what I wanted to mention is what I guess has been my version of “no points for style.” (My apologies if I should have put this comment elsewhere.)
I screamed my way through a premature labor — too early in the pregnancy to have taken the labor class and no pain meds allowed for a premature birth. (The baby died shortly after birth, and I have to say that at least I didn’t have to wonder if meds contributed to that.) As I have attempted to be a widowed parent to two (adopted) children who have struggled mightily since their father’s death, I have thought that I feel as though sometimes I get through it by metaphorically screaming my way through it, like that painful labor. Someone I go to occasionally for guidance uses the metaphor of birthing for why I am finding my situation so hard, and that acknowledgement that it is that painful, and that just getting through it is enough, helps me a lot.

And then I read the Daily Meditation by Richard Rohr for today:

The Freedom of Not Knowing

Meditation 32 of 52

Prayer is largely just being silent: holding the tension instead of even talking it through, offering the moment instead of fixing it by words and ideas, loving reality as it is instead of understanding it fully. Prayer is commonly a willingness to say “I don’t know.” We must not push the river, we must just trust that we are already in the river, and God is the certain flow and current.

That may be impractical, but the way of faith is not the way of efficiency. So much of life is just a matter of listening and waiting, and enjoying the expansiveness that comes from such willingness to hold. It is like carrying and growing a baby: women wait and trust and hopefully eat good food, and the baby is born.

I sometimes feel as if I am in an energy stream, kind of like being under a waterfall, and the energy flows through me and comes out one way;  and the people I come into contact with have the same energy flowing through them, too, and it comes out another way through them.

Wet newspapers

October 6, 2013

It’s raining, and I’m kind of glad, because it seems to me it hasn’t rained here for a long time.  I’ve been noticing that because we reseeded a couple of parts of the lawn and I’ve had to keep them moist by watering them with the hose.

But I realized when I heard the rain this morning that I was entering the “Will my newspaper be wet?” sweepstakes.

The bag to The Boston Globe was open, the bag to The New York Times knotted, so I brought them into the house thinking the Globe would be wet and the Times dry, but in fact the opposite proved to be the case.  (I think the tying of the bag for the Times may have ripped the bag in another place.)

I hate to let a good metaphor go to waste:  openness preserves our interiors better than trying to close ourselves off.

Cupid’s sting?

August 26, 2013

I got stung on Saturday morning, as I was walking, on the back of my left hand.  I felt something on my hand, and as I brushed it off, its stinger got left behind, although not much imbedded in my skin.

But it was enough.  The site hurt, it swelled, my hand swelled, got hot and red.  I got some first aid from  a shopkeeper friend, and I continued with self-help remedies at home.  Clearly I hadn’t gone into shock, but my track record for getting stings to resolve easily and quickly is not great.  It did seem to get better on Saturday, but, it turns out, the improvement was only temporary.

This morning the red hot swelling was beginning to spread down my wrist .  So I got a doctor’s appointment, and after hearing my history, the doctor concluded I have what is called a “delayed allergic reaction.”

I have been trying to see a positive metaphor in this experience, and I’m wondering if people ever experience falling in love this way.  For example, I’m supposed to alternate treating it with cold packs and hot wet compresses; maybe that’s how people in love sometimes behave towards each other?

I don’t know, maybe I’m stretching this metaphor possibility a bit, but the area burns, and I would like to get something positive out of putting up with this.

We are the bread?

August 18, 2013

Richard Rohr had some daily meditations (here’s one) recently about the Eucharist, and I have been wondering whether it could be seen as parallel to how some other religions view sugar (I tend refer to candy) — we taste the sugar and are transformed, no description of what it tastes like is adequate, we taste it as if someone had popped it into our mouths (during spiritual union), and then, eventually, we come to the realization that we are the sugar, too.

Is that similar with bread?  Sugar connotes an almost pure energy, to me at least, while bread has more of a comforting aspect to it.  So I don’t know if the two substances operate in these images, experiences, and rituals in the same way.

Here’s a possibly related point.  While visiting other people, I picked up on an attitude they were engaging in of dwelling on some very difficult times from years ago.  They wanted me to read material about them and focus on them, and, and this is what sort of tipped me off, walk around constantly as if everything is terrible and we ought to be gloomy, always.  Then they looked to me for comfort and cheering up.

I don’t think one human being can comfort or cheer another out of a deep depression.  I’ve tried.  I cannot reach the person — they have become inaccessible.  To the extent possible, I think people should not do that which is conducive to increasing depression, that ways of reducing it or its likelihood or severity are needed instead.  These people I visited also don’t believe in God.  Which is fine, except that seems to mean they have no effective way of off-loading or dissipating the cares they carry that they cannot handle.  So they turn to me for that, too.  They also engage in self-pity and bitterness.

In my experience it is necessary not to “go there,” into depression, if at all possible.  Some of these people have regained their footing through the use of modern medicine, and I am grateful for that.  But regardless of whether they come predisposed to such mood issues, this over-dwelling on gloom and helplessness and rejection of modes of help seems to me counterproductive.

So my concern about focusing on bread and not sugar is a concern about relying too much on “comfort” to pull us out of a nosedive.  I think the most effective posture is to nip in the bud going down a road that will end in our needing huge amounts of comfort to rescue us.  [How many metaphors did I manage to mix in that sentence?]  I dislike hearing the contemporary mantra that we have to “take care of ourselves,” because it is so vulnerable to (mis)use as a weapon or as an excuse for self-indulgence and lack of consideration for others, for example.  But I do think some version of it is what I’m talking about here:  we need to take care of ourselves as best we can so as not to foster depression.

To the extent that bread instead of sugar orients us towards comfort and not something more energetic, I prefer the sugar motif.  But in point of fact, I love both candy and bread.