Archive for the 're-framing' Category

People as puppies

August 26, 2015

I was watching the PBS NewsHour last night on TV.  I couldn’t stream, because the box in the basement from the internet/phone service provider did not survive a neighborhood power outage and recovery, so I was watching the NewsHour on a TV screen (cum antenna) and it looked different.

(Side note:  apparently there is no longer a feeling of urgency to restore landline telephone connections, I guess because we are all presumed to have fully charged cell phones with sufficient minutes to use instead.  I was less surprised they would be pokey about restoring internet capability, but nowadays the two services are often bound together in the hardware, I think, through the same cable — no more copper wire for phones.  I see this is as a big vulnerability in the system.  They treated it as a routine service call in scheduling the appointment, did not seem concerned that I had no landline to access 911 if necessary from Saturday through Wednesday.)

At one point in the NewsHour opening there’s a horse, and I am thinking, “Boy, I am glad to see that horse among all those pictures of people!”  And I thought about why, and what came to me is that I love animals, and while I can and do love people, it’s easier for me to connect with the essence of the animal because there is much less nonsense to distract me from that essence and I don’t find myself tempted towards resentment and such with animals in the way I do with humans (on account of their behavior).  I accept a puppy’s limitations far more easily than a person’s, and while those limitations, to be sure, are different, I realized that there’s no real reason I can’t say to myself, “Oh, that person is just reflecting the limitations I know full well they have, expecting them to behave otherwise is on me, they are just being their usual ‘puppy’ self.”  Then I am free to problem-solve, if necessary, but I don’t get so bogged down with emotional reaction.

So I was glad to see an animal on screen, it made me relax and remember how easy it is to relate to an animal’s core and how at our cores we are actually not the petty difficult selves we may dress ourselves up as.  It gave me a sense of a way out from feeling I have no good way of relating to people behaving in ways I find difficult.

I made someone laugh as I was trying to explain this way of thinking about people as puppies earlier this evening, when I used customer service stonewalling as an example:  “Oh, that customer service rep is just being their usual [company name]-animal self, that’s just what they do, that’s how they behave.”  I repeated the sentence using the names of the other companies I have been struggling with lately.  As I said, the person I was telling this to laughed, I think at the phrasing that turned the companies into animal species.

I suspect I have written something in this vein before, so re-discovering it last night as if it’s something new indicates to me that I haven’t yet incorporated this point of view into my usual way of interacting.  I am sure I will have ample future opportunities to try implementing this approach again.

I am serious, though, about trying to use how I relate to animals as a template for how I might relate to human beings whose behavior I find difficult.  I think it’s a major challenge in my life to figure out ways of dealing with my disappointment and frustration (and sometimes hurt) with how many of my fellow human beings behave.  I am glad to have the template from how I relate to animals, just as I am glad to have a connection to the spiritual world to help me dilute the intensity of my human reactions — when I get a sense of how some people don’t seem to have these “escapes” from the emotional storminess, I wonder how they live with such an internally tumultuous environment.



August 1, 2015

I generally have a negative reaction when I am treated in a way that makes me feel I am invisible to other people.  This happens regularly at the deli counter, when I answer to my number being called or to a “Who’s next?” and get passed over nonetheless.  It happened at a meeting about a week ago, when the chairperson kept flinging his arm across my face as he called on other people.

I mentioned my invisibility problem to Gita yesterday, after she had told me that she thought a recent positive change in me was the result of my finally having been heard — I said that that was interesting idea in light of my having felt so invisible at this meeting so recently, and she recounted for me a teaching of Patanjali that frames being treated as invisible as a positive benefit from certain attainments from spiritual development.  This made me feel loads better about feeling as if I am being treated as invisible, regardless of whether my invisibility stems from that — at least invisibility can be seen as a positive thing (I think she used the word “fruit”), rather than as a putdown or dismissal.

The positive change, by the way, I am thrilled with — it feels like something shifted, and my energy level and outlook feel much more like my usual ones.  While I can see what I contributed to this happening, the “having been heard” part of the transaction I had no control over — someone else had to hear me.  I think I had been waiting for four years for this.

Tangle of trees

April 25, 2015

We had a lots of big snowstorms this winters, some of which included a lot of wind, and then this spring it we’ve had some very windy days (and nights).  So it’s not surprising that a lot of trees have come down in the various patches of woods I walk through on various routes that I take when I walk, but today, by the Res, I noticed this huge bunch of tree trunks and upper branches and maybe some vines all in a tangle on the ground — it was striking.

I worry that the older trees that fall are not being replaced adequately by new trees, that the underbrush is cleaned out too thoroughly by the town or by “Friends of …” groups.  So when I see a bunch of fallen trees, I wonder how they will be replaced.

Despite the sight of the trees, I got a helpful way of re-framing a situation that has been bothering me for some weeks now, shortly after I passed the tangle.  I was comparing how another difficult situation had recently worked out more easily than I had expected, and how in the time before it had, I had had less trouble “turning it over” after we did all the tasks that were ours to do.  In the earlier situation, I knew I had no control over the rest of the process and I also knew that there was nothing more I could actually do once we filled out the paperwork and sent it in.  In the current situation, what I’m supposed to do is less clear, and whether there’s more I could do is less clear — so there’s more room for me to wonder if by act or omission I am messing something up and making it less likely the result I hope for will occur.  I was trying to figure out what “turning it over” looks like in such a context.  And it came to me that the universe can take whatever it is I do and find a way to get from there to wherever it serves for us to go, and that in the meantime I can just be kind of curious about what will happen, how that will look and play out, and not worry so much about my contribution.  Because for me a big ongoing challenge is to do what’s mine to do and then get out of the way so that those other forces have room to work and so that the other people involved in the situation have room to do what’s theirs to do.

Of course, none of this means things will turn out in this second situation as I would like, but since it will probably go on for months before it is resolved, I needed a better way of thinking about it — a way of being able to lay that burden down or at least carry it more comfortably.

There’s (always) something wrong

February 13, 2015

I’ve probably written about this before, but I have been thinking about it recently, in part because of the challenges our weather in the Boston area has been bringing.

The difficulties are real, from finding parking at the supermarket because of the snow piles to water damage in the house from ice dams to delays in transportation and communication and to just being able to get stuff done.

So I try to see these difficulties objectively, and when I find part of my mind wanting to see them as more existentially threatening than they are, I start wondering what lies behind that.

For me, it’s the legacy of the Holocaust as my family of origin seemed to process (or not process) it.  “There is always something terribly wrong, threatening, and dangerous, perhaps it is obvious, perhaps it is lurking in the shadows,” was the message.  I think that fundamental attitude results in that part of me trying to tie any new challenge to existential issues.

I didn’t see things this way until I heard of a similar issue in another context.  It was about families struggling with a member’s alcoholism who are pressured to subscribe to the idea that no one can be happy until the alcoholic is happy.  Something like that.  Anyway, it got me thinking about family habits of mind about how to handle the very real suffering of some members.  Putting everyone in an emotional prison does not seem to be a helpful answer to the suffering or to the needs of the others.

The Holocaust issue in my family included the more obvious factors, but it also included a sense of betrayal, and not just by gentiles.  My dad never got over his sense that the rabbis, at the very least, let down their communities, by not adequately reading the writing on the wall and guiding their congregants to plan and take steps while there was still time.  So I grew up with a sense that it could be around the next corner again, something that we are not prepared for and is an existential threat.

I’ve had many personal losses that came quickly and as a shock to me, that were surprising and devastating on that account as well as in their own right.  Some of them also involved people who in the structure of the situation would be thought to know better but dismissed my concerns.  Ultimately what I took from this is that the universe will guide me through these experiences, I may get dinged up, or worse, but if I open myself to the universe, I get through (and I learn, as a consequence, how to mesh with the universe in a way I probably wouldn’t otherwise).  A lot of it for me is learning compassionate detachment and a lot of it is learning to reframe.

On the reframing front, since I wrote my fairly recent post about lava, it occurred to me that my struggle with feeling slimed by others dumping their stuff on me and my having to process it (kind of like cleaning up somebody else’s mess) could be reframed so that I take such episodes as indications that I am doing my job and things are going well — if water ends up in my “sump hole,” so to speak and my pump is working, maybe this is evidence that things are in order, not that something is amiss.  If I take it that way, that I am just doing my part, and being given opportunities to do so, my resistance diminishes; it has seemed to me that resistance usually is a large part of the problem, even if the underlying situation is painful and unpleasant and I don’t like it in some way.

I don’t see who it serves, even the innocent who have been slaughtered, if the living are paralyzed and miserable, or angry and belligerent, or bitter and ego-centric, or anything else that cuts us off from the universe and each other — I don’t think that can be the response to which we are called.

Shame and humiliation, embarrassment, guilt, and hurt

June 22, 2014

This is a just a brief addendum to my previous post, before I head out to take on digging out invasive flowering plants from one of my gardens.

It’s about what I think is correlated with people falling prey to addiction, or not falling prey to addiction.

I am wondering whether people who are prone to addiction feel shame where other people might feel embarrassment or guilt, and feel humiliation where other people might feel hurt.  My sense is that a primary emotion is transformed into another sort of emotion because a tint of a negative view of the self is added.  So instead of, “I messed up, I am so embarrassed and want to put things right,” we get “I screwed up, I am so ashamed, I think I’ll just deny and/or hide.”  Or, “That experience was really painful and I feel hurt and I am not sure how to make myself feel better” turns into “I feel humiliated and it confirms my worst thoughts about myself.”

Because I suspect that a key difference in the two outlooks is how the person views themselves — lovable but flawed, or unworthy and in need of perfection.  The problem, as I see it, that people who view themselves too harshly actually “mess up” more than people who find a way to manage their flaws and deal with their secondary consequences more constructively.  Harshness I think digs a hole where a more gentle approach encourages improvement.

I am not advocating that people not take responsibility for their mistakes and misdeeds, but that we use a framework that actually leads to constructive action instead of to paralysis and corrosion.


November 26, 2013

I don’t get it.  I’m reading Father Rohr on discerning good from evil, and vice versa, and yet he’s also talking about becoming liberated from dualistic thinking.

I tend to see “evil” in terms of damaging behavior.  Behavior has impact.  Damage is just one kind of impact.

Betrayal and revisiting the past

October 7, 2013

I came across the piece in the NYTimes on betrayals and lying late in the game yesterday, after the comments had closed.  (It’s called “Great Betrayals” and is written by Anna Fels.)  Which maybe is a good thing, because my experience of having to consider a revisit to the past, in order to revise it in light of later information, was not really about lying.  It was about an abrupt change in a very close relationship on account of our having adopted children with African heritage — a close relative of the person in question insisted that they break with me and my family because of them.

In addition to having feelings of incredulity and hurt to process, I found myself wondering how to look at the twenty-five years of history I had had with this person (from the time I was a child, until well into my thirties).  Did I know them?  Had I ever really known them?  All those long conversations over so many years, over so many cups of tea, I think I thought I did know them and had known them.   But clearly there were other aspects to them which I hadn’t known.  Had I known about them, I don’t think we would have been so close, and certainly I would have been more prepared for the relationship to end over the adoptions, and would have tried for it not to have been so abrupt.

Intimacy premised on incomplete or inaccurate understanding — the flaw in the understanding certainly explains why the intimacy ends.  Does it somehow invalidate the intimacy as it happened?  No, I think the intimacy was real, it was just that the person was an illusion.  Kind of like the concept of “Mama’s Bank Account” (by Kathryn Forbes), you rely on something that is not really there but it benefits you to think it is.

(I know, some people think this is what God is, too, but I actually find God a whole lot more reliable than human beings — if we’re going to use reliability as a measure of existence, for me, humans wouldn’t “exist” first.)

Anyway, I do think the intimacy is real, and in the case in question, that the relationship allowed me to experience a love which I am sure helped me grow into a healthier person than I otherwise would have been.  That, in turn, allowed me to handle my life more easily, including when this relationship ended.

To me, the hard part are the transitions, the beginnings of “moving on,” when there is no obvious next such relationship.  I think I’ve actually tried to replicate this past relationship a number of times since it ended.  They all end similarly, with the person’s commitment to me being much more vulnerable to being sacrificed to other needs than either the person or I realize.

What’s the lesson I’m not learning?  Maybe, as my friend Kelley from high school used to say, “Take what you can when you can and be grateful,”  maybe not to expect relationships to last indefinitely, and maybe to try not to give more than I can comfortably give as a gift.

As to what people might learn from reevaluating a relationship after a lie has been revealed, maybe it’s similar to what I’ve described for this other pattern of surprise and hurt.  And maybe both such kinds of experiences serve as ways of breaking the ties that bind, so that we can move on to new relationships or move on to a life oriented towards something else.

Pearls before swine

April 27, 2013

Sometimes in frustration a teacher, let’s say, feels hurt and indignant that their students aren’t paying attention or open to the lesson.  Maybe the teacher is even fearful that without the learning, something painful will occur.  Maybe the teacher feels inadequate or disappointed that they will not be the one to witness that break-through moment of understanding by the students.

Some teachers become frustrated, even if it’s only in the teachers’ lounge or to their family at home.  “Pearls before swine” I think is a phrase that might reflect one, fairly bitter, version of this.

But the error is in thinking of the teaching as pearls or the audience as swine.  The teachings are insights we have from our own perspective; our real mission is to help the audience get to the point where they have them, too, on their own, for real — not merely agree with them on faith — really take them in as a part of their reality.

And, more obviously, perhaps, the people in the audience are not swine.  If they have difficulty learning, then perhaps we are being invited to learn to become more effective teachers.

Otherwise we’re all going to get stuck in some kind of interaction that doesn’t go anywhere and devolves into teacher and audience disconnecting completely.


March 8, 2013

I was amused that a number of people replied to a comment I posted to David Brooks’s column about orthodox Jewish community.  I had questioned why, if the law is found to be so helpful and is so welcomed, as the column celebrates, work-arounds to particular provisions are developed, as the column also celebrates.

Most of the replies explaining to me the lack of contradiction assume I am concerned about whether the work-arounds are consistent with the law and the idea of adhering to one.  That assumption to me is evidence of the problem:  legalism.  That’s what I think is actually being celebrated (legalism), not the embracing of a particular set of rules.  There’s a difference between loving a set of rules and having a relationship with them that requires their adjustment.  That was my point.

And I think it’s a difference that makes a difference.  The attitude with which a person relates to a set of rules makes a difference to the internal development of the person, regardless of whether it makes a difference to their behavior.

I worry that the focus on adherence to Jewish law distances too many people from the main events of spiritual life.  In Judaism, those main events, I think, are to be found in Jewish mysticism, which I am also under the impression is off-limits until people have mastered the law business.

I’m all for making sure people don’t take on more spiritual challenge than they are ready for at the time, but keeping people at bay from mysticism through keeping them occupied with laws and codes reminds me of insisting on mediation through others to access one’s spiritual life — an obstacle and a barrier.

I think learning to think legalistically is interesting.  It allows for a certain lens through which to filter and translate inchoate ideas that I might understand through other forms of mental activity.  But I don’t think it’s the main event, and I think getting caught up in it as if it is keeps us from realizing our potential.

In this life I’ve certainly learned to think legalistically, so I can’t dismiss it as irrelevant to my own perspective, but if it was necessary for my spiritual development, it certainly wasn’t sufficient.

Another response (other than legalism) to coming up against a law that one wishes to gloss is to think about why one wishes the gloss and then to adjust the self, not the externalities of law or facts (milk-free “cheese” products, for example).  That would, I think result in a different development in thinking, a kind shift in perspective towards acceptance, perhaps.

But I am thrilled that in responding to my reply, which was in its own way dualistic, people used the kind of mental process that finds harmony in seemingly opposing concepts — that, I think, is good practice for spiritual growth.

“Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel”

February 20, 2013

I’ve wondered about this, and actually about what looks like the phenomenon in reverse.  What do you do when distinctive pieces of your life wind up as prominent parts of the art of someone you don’t know directly?

The “Be careful …” line suggests the person whose life gets publicized has some control over the situation:  behave in such a way as to preclude this from happening.  That ignores the fact of free will and that we don’t control other people.

But it contains, I think, the germ of what makes such a usage okay according to human convention:  a relationship.

In fact, when the person finds herself getting to know (there was an indirect connection through a neighbor who was a relative) a person who has written, say, a song that talks about a woman who works in an antique store and drives a used Mercedes, he will tell her, accurately from his point of view, that it’s just a song, not about her.  Her friends will tell her that he’s “getting into her stuff” (not necessarily consciously) and advise some equivalent of a “cease and desist” order.  But what would really resolve the tension is a relationship, on the physical plane, of some sort, that would make the usage seem not an experience of being used for another’s benefit.

In the case above, the connection that might have turned into a relationship seemed to be between the songwriter and the woman’s younger son, and had he (the songwriter) taken the boy under his wing in some way, of which he was sorely in need, that would have been enough.  Turned out the man had enough trouble being there for his own children (by the first of his two ex-wives).

So what’s the lesson?  Same as I’ve written before, that it’s analogous to trying to explain microscopic germs to someone who doesn’t believe that’s why they’re getting sick.

They don’t have to see it that way.  In this case, they don’t have to compromise the “wrong” through a social bond of some sort.

At some point, I think, the lesson is to let go anyway, without the resolution that would have eased the negative feelings that arise from a sense of having felt used, to forgive the person for not experiencing the issue in a way that allows them to perceive the damage that the person feels they have incurred.  Getting stuck in requiring that request be fulfilled becomes worse than finding some other way forward.  The bottom line is that the other person just won’t see it, and no amount of pursuing them or arguing about it, if they will give you the chance, will change that, and the helpful thing, it seems to me, is to figure out unilaterally a new way to perceive the situation that allows it to be resolved.