Archive for the 'processing' Category


April 24, 2014

I very much appreciated Richard Rohr’s reminder this morning that “Without all the inner voices of resistance and control, it is amazing how much you can get done and not get tired.”  That’s in today’s Daily Meditation.

Gita and I have talked about this, too — couldn’t do it without “letting go” and “turning it over.”

Now, I am perfectly prepared to believe that I could do this better.  I put up resistance (like a kid pushing the spinach to the side of their plate), I fret, I get ahead of myself, I try to get other people to act in a way to prevent a future problem (like trying to get them to correct, before it is filed, a tax return that has mistakes in it).

I think I see two additional issues, in addition to “letting go” and “turning it over,” but, as I said, I am prepared to discover the issue lies with me.

One is volume.

I just end up with too many things on my plate as a result of being open to and able to do caretaking.  The inflow can feel as if it exceeds my processor’s capacity.

The second is society’s (unreasonable) demands.

The two kind of intertwine.

I once heard someone say that she thought of the nursing home in which her mother lived as being like “one big alcoholic.”  She meant that the institution could be as difficult to deal with as a human alcoholic, and with similar patterns of behavior.  I’ve felt similarly about other institutions, including schools, hospitals, social services, the justice system.  Whether it’s damaging behavior by the institution to a loved one or demands from the institution on me (as a caretaker), it can feel as if what I am called upon to do exceeds the amount of energy I can give it without too much damage to myself.

It’s no secret that patients in hospitals and nursing homes who have caretakers of their own weighing in as case managers do better, get better care, etc.

So where to draw the line between detachment and involvement?

It’s not just the wisdom of knowing the difference between what we can change and what we can’t, it’s also putting a boundary on how much of ourselves we can deploy without too much depletion.  Inflow from prayer and meditation certainly helps, but I think outflow can exceed inflow if care is not taken.  On the other hand, there is an instinct or desire to try to prevent or ameliorate suffering of others.  Part of that is wrapped up in trying to avoid pain — something we are encouraged to do by our norms and our survival instinct.  I think there is also a part of helping others in some situations that is from pressure from social norms more directly, regardless of where we think we should be drawing lines and regardless of inner guidance about where to observe boundaries, of what’s ours to do and what’s not.

My sense is that we have with our current social organization shifted around responsibility like a hot potato or like a shell in a game in which something is being hidden beneath one of a number of inverted cups.  Some techniques we seem to me to use to do this include, for example, narrowly defining our piece of the project and expecting others to do more;  littering, on the justification that one little piece won’t hurt;  setting systems up in such a way that requires a person without authority or control to have responsibility.

I don’t know if human free will can “clog up the plumbing” of the system of human interaction and society, or whether it’s the case that any system we devise can work, so long as those who have to use it interface adequately with divine help.  But I admit that sometimes I think we have developed a system that doesn’t work, especially for the long run.

For me, the questions are relevant to the issue of how much better a situation can be expected to go — because I am often hearing from others that things could be better if I just _______.  I have run through a fair number of _______, and I am here to say they do not necessarily work as advertized.  Maybe this is why 12-step programs refrain from advice and why the most general helpful source I found after Willy died was actually Al-Anon, the program for family and friends of alcoholics, although Willy was not a qualifier of mine.

At any rate, I conclude for now that working on my part of the equation, so long as I do it gently, can’t hurt, but that I should also be wary of assuming that optimizing my own part will result in things going better in other ways.


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.


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.


January 7, 2013

One of the ingredients for processing difficult emotions, like hurt, is a diluting solution (solution, as in, liquid).

I can dilute mine through prayer and meditation, through asking for an exchange (of energy) and using a visualization (such as exchanging my old laundry for clean) to facilitate it, and through walking.  It’s like the molecules of the difficult stuff get spaced out more widely through these means, they diminish in importance and impact with the addition of more positive material.

It’s not that I can make all my difficult emotions disappear, but I can reduce them to manageable proportions in my system, by using tools or techniques.  If my body gets dirty, I take a shower.  If my mind is filled up with yuck, I need to cleanse it as well.  Sometimes I do actually visualize a sort of shower going down through my spiritual fontanel, but for some reason I find other visualizations more effective, so I don’t usually use the shower image.

Processing is one of the reasons I walk a lot.  Gita once looked at me and cocked her head and said, “I believe walking is a part of your spiritual practice,” and she’s probably right.  I know I tell people that it helps me air out my brain.

I’m going to head out now.

Tensing up

January 7, 2013

Faced with an unknown dog or a bee on the arm, if we remain quiet and relaxed, we don’t escalate the likelihood of harm.  When we want to float in the water, relaxing our muscles and ourselves allows us to.  When we encounter hurt within a human relationship, if we stay with the initial emotion of hurt and don’t transform it into a defensive (tense) posture, we can also remain in an open (here, emotional) posture.  It’s about, I think, being able to tolerate feeling the hurt.  And that, paradoxically, both allows us to pass through the situation (and to let it pass through us) and also not to become more (and more permanently) damaged.

There are times when we cannot tolerate the hurt, and when that happens, I think we use a coping device to attenuate it.  The coping device has its own cost.  Here’s an extreme example:  my boyfriend breaks up with me and I swear off dating altogether.  Maybe for some people this is a stage they have to go through, putting up an impermeable protective wall to assure themselves they won’t be hurt again.  But that impermeable barrier also, obviously, cuts them off from the possibility of a (healthy) new relationship that does work out.

Some people don’t, to use the example above, actually foreswear the dating market, but rather re-enter it using a detached persona, a self separated from their heart.  This looks like a strategy that allows for both relationship and protection, but I think it is actually much worse than withdrawing.  For one thing, without having one’s heart in the game, one is hugely likely to do real damage to other people, because the ability to generalize empathetic feeling I think resides in the heart; if a person is trying to understand other people’s perspective through the intellect and not the heart, I think that understanding will be piecemeal, like particles instead of waves.  It will likely fail to be accurate in a new situation it has not yet encountered, and hence will not be a helpful guide for what to do and will instead be more likely to give rise to behavior that damages.

But walled-off people do conduct relationships that endure, and what about them?  I think they wobble, less so when the other partner knows how to compensate for the missteps taken by the protagonist.  There are some people who are emotionally willing and limber enough to try to compensate in their part of the partner dance for extreme missteps by the protagonist.  Not only are these dances and relationships painful for others to watch, but they often end in the collapse of the compensating partner.  Here’s an example:  primary person doesn’t want partner to have outside secondary relationships (of the platonic sort) and/or makes it difficult for them to have them, and then the primary person complains that the partner has become too emotionally dependent on them.

My main point here, though, is about trying to stay with the initial feeling of hurt and not transform it into something else.  In its original form it can be completely processed, I think, whereas in a transformed state, there will be a residue that clogs up the heart and weighs us down.   If we stay with the original hurt with an open emotional stance, the feeling will pass through us and we through that stage of feeling.  It may take time, but I think it is far preferable to do than to wrap the hurt up in anger and bitterness, for example, and be left with a foreign object within us, or rather, with an outer shell walling us off.

Ideas and retrieval

July 4, 2012

There’s a place on the path along the reservoir I often walk around at which I often get a break in my clouds and a clearer understanding, sometimes even an answer to a particular question that’s been on my mind.  It’s where the path turns and follows along, I think, a boundary line with Busa Farm.

Once I had been wondering about how to deal with the idea  that kept intruding that some sort of Cinderella story was about to befall me, which made no sense to me but was accompanied by a sense I wasn’t supposed to abandon the idea as ridiculous and unlikely either.  What came to me as I rounded that curve in April of 2011, I think it was, was “forewarned is forearmed,” that I wouldn’t crash as hard if I had recognized at some point the unlikeliness that the events would come to pass, and in the meantime, if it served some good to think they might come to pass, I could continue with that thought.

Today as I rounded that curve, an idea came to me that I wanted to explore in a post here, and by the time I got close to home about forty-five minutes later, I couldn’t remember what it was, only that I had had such an idea and noticed that I had had it.

In that situation I start thinking, “Okay, maybe it was one of those momentary experiences that I remember having had but can’t actually recall.”  I figured if it served some good for me to write about it, it would come back to me, if not not, and I let the whole thing go.  Before I got to the end of the block, it came back to me.

It’s so often about me getting myself out of the way.

Reading tea leaves

February 20, 2012

I don’t actually know how to read tea leaves, although I once came across an instruction booklet in an antique store about how to do it.  But I can read bits and pieces of things deep within me when I come across them depicted outside of myself, for example, in news stories or poems or songs — they come across as “highlighted” in some way.  I usually then gain an understanding of how they fit with other pieces I’ve learned before, and with patterns of experiences and relationships in my life.

At other times the pieces seem to come out as things I write about if I let myself write.  Sometimes those don’t seem to be part of “my” story at all —  someone will later disclose that the event happened to their grandmother.

I don’t take it that I am assembling an accurate factual history of things that I can prove took place.  I have the sense instead that I am revisiting emotional states with the help of detailed plausible scenarios that would support such an emotion.  If I can feel the emotion and have enough distance from it not to be engulfed in it and instead examine the emotion, as it were, as an outside witness to it, I find I gain a story with some kind of explanatory power and I also gain release from the need to repeat visiting that emotional state.  Sometimes I do actually go through the process in increments — I can do part of the feeling and distancing and witnessing, but not all of it, and I do repeat the visiting of that emotional state — but the next time is not nearly as intense, and eventually there is release.

I don’t know how I learned to do this or what help I may be drawing on when I do do it (I don’t have a sense of acting alone, of being a self-sufficient rugged spiritual individualist, I have the sense of being part of a network), I don’t know where or how I learned a lot of what I know.