Archive for the 'readiness' Category


February 5, 2016

This post picks up where the last one left off, with the issue of the willingness of students.

I suspect I’ve written about the following idea before, because I vaguely remember writing about my experience, as a babysitter decades ago, of a variation on this idea of endless storytelling — one of the children would ask me endless questions, apparently just to keep me seated at the end of her bed.  She actually fell asleep long before her parents got home and I left to go home to sleep myself, so it didn’t really matter too much.  But in other situations it does.  In those situations it’s not a matter of the storyteller averting her demise by storytelling, but the storyteller becoming drained of her life force through the incessant telling.

An unwilling student can be draining on the teacher.  It doesn’t have to be intentional for the demand for continued attention to be a problem.  The student may be unaware that they really aren’t open to following where the learning leads.

Sometimes the teacher sees the student in an unguarded moment and discovers that the student likes the idea of learning, and likes the idea of learning from particular teachers, but doesn’t actually like what the learning requires or has a negative reaction to the actual teacher who appeared when the student indicated they were ready (as in, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”).  For the type of learning the student indicated they wanted, this kind of reaction contradicts the superficial presentation of readiness.  For example, there are some kinds of spiritual learning in which any resistance, whether in the form of fear or anger or judgmentalness or anything else, will turn the enterprise into a catastrophe.

It is no high crime or misdemeanor not to be ready.  But even the most patient of teachers will be harmed by sticking around in a situation involving an unready student that is basically a dressed-up version of giving a servant a pointless and endless task.  Of course, the teacher could perform the otherwise pointless task as work being done for God, not for the student, and through that approach to the task not be consumed by it.  But part and parcel of situations involving unready students, in my experience, is that the student is claiming that they need more of the teacher’s personal involvement than the teacher’s detached approach offers.

It’s part of teacher’s challenge to maintain their own perspective and not become co-opted into the student’s perspective.  It’s also part of the teacher’s challenge to maintain compassionate detachment.  (It may not always be so obvious that the teacher is doing this second thing if the teacher is also mirroring back difficult behavior the student has engaged in.)  What the student’s challenge is is for the student to figure out — I suspect that doing so is a step towards the student’s actually becoming ready for the learning later on.





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.

The teacher came and the student said, “Never mind.”

August 29, 2013

I was using, in a news comment online, the old aphorism about how when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Sometimes this happens, and instead of a learning experience, what occurs next is a dissolution:  the student realizes what is entailed and does not follow through.

It can look as if the student was lying about being ready, but I think the problem is that the teacher forgot about free will:  the student has the power to bail out at any time.

What can make a mess of an essentially simple situation is when the teacher has sacrificed on behalf of the student and predicated what they have done in preparation for the teaching on the student’s following through.  That leaves the teacher in an impossible situation.  The student won’t help.  It’s a lesson for the teacher not to go that far for a student.

What has gone wrong is that the teacher had a some personal investment in having the situation work out.  That, together with the student’s capacity to believe their own lies, is enough to have created what looks like a false promise.

The teacher may be left in a difficult situation, but the teacher is the one with the tools and the knowledge.  They know how to let go by simply observing what is going on.  It does not require that the student change what they are doing.  It does require more emotional health on the teacher’s part than the teacher had going into the situation.  But that is between them and God, it’s not about the student.

It’s much easier to see all this if one is a teacher who has been happily married.  Expecting bachelors to navigate this kind of unbalanced relationship is unrealistic.  Expecting bachelor teachers who have been upended by this scenario to ask for help immediately was also unrealistic, but eventually even they got tired of replaying this scene over and over again with the same dismal results.

I can see why they kept at it, though, because the resolution of the situation is very sad and very disappointing, and that’s on top of all the damage done.  It’s kind of like retiring a bad debt and not being seduced into pouring more money into subsequent loans on the hope that this will lead to the entire amount being repaid in the end.

Part of the situation is really what could be called “continuing education” for teachers.  Teachers can have flaws, too.  Teachers may need a tune-up and some gentle supervision, may need some help themselves to bang out a ding to their emotional apparatus.

The teacher can, in time, be grateful to the student for showing them how they have a flaw of wanting to help a student more than serves the greater good of student, teacher, or anything else.  But it’s tough all around.  Nobody walks away unscathed.  When everybody walks away at all, we see it as a success.

Falls and phoenices

March 1, 2013

Is that the plural for phoenix?

I’m thinking about public figures, especially politicians, who take a fall.  Some rise up again later, and I was wondering about why some do and some don’t.  Clearly behaviors that are used after the fall make a difference — the apology (or not), the PR firm hired, the length of withdrawal from the fray, the willingness to take whatever the next step turns out to be for reinvention.

What I’ve wondered recently is whether one variable could be how much the individual truly believed they deserved their (first) success in the first place.  If they harbored misgivings about how they came to be elected or land the nomination or whatever, and then they fall from grace in a scandal, do they have the wherewithal to think of their situation in terms of, “Well, this is interesting;  I wonder what will come out of it and how this all serves my greater good”?

I wonder whether people whose house has been built, not upon sand, but with a flaw in its foundation, implode when they fall.

Do we ask them to take the fall nonetheless?  I think we give them a raincheck until they can fall safely.

If they continue to repeat the pattern, eventually they will find themselves with new teachers and classmates, as the old cohort moves on.

I’ve been getting seemingly random wrong-number phone calls, on both my cell phone and my landline, in which there is a pause followed by an automated “Goodbye!”  I’ve wondered what it might represent metaphorically, and all I can come up with is what might happen when a soul is finishing up its final incarnation and makes good on a promise to bid one of those serial “I won’t jump because my parachute is defective” folks goodbye before she does.


November 20, 2012

I had Tony the Treeman over last week to inspect some swamp maples, one of which shed a large limb during the Sandy storm.  I wondered from something I saw if there was some indication of rot or weakness elsewhere in the tree.

I took the opportunity towards the end of the conversation with Tony and my neighbor (the trees straddle the property line, I was told by the previous owner of the neighbor’s house) to ask about something I had noticed and puzzled me about the large trees toppled completely in storms.  Where are their large roots?  The general teaching I remembered was to expect a sort of mirror image in the root system of the limbs, branches, and canopy above the ground.  The bottoms of these tree stumps, even when they’re lying in place, don’t seem to have large roots.

Tony said insects.  Critters (I suspect Tony meant “insects” in a broad sense) eat away at the roots, then when there’s a storm, there’s much less anchoring the large tree and it topples.

That’s us, too, I think.  We don’t realize our root system has atrophied until we’re in that metaphorical storm.

What I notice is a “three-little-pig” syndrome.  If someone has established and maintained a healthy root system (analogous to the brick house built by the third little piggy), in a crisis others lean on that person.  I’m talking emotional leaning, not logistical help, which is much less draining.  One of the most helpful things I heard in a grief group at a neighbor’s church years ago was from a young widow on a video tape talking about how some of our problems cannot be handled by our fellow human beings, and how we overburden our relationships if we ask these people to try.  In her general vocabulary, some problems we need to bring to God, to ask for our help from God.  The help is much better (more helpful), too.  Some people, in my experience, who don’t believe in God or in some more impersonal concept of forces greater than ourselves and beyond our control, are happy to try to draft along, or worse, on another person’s strength through faith.

I’m willing to believe that some people have a different root system, one that also works in a crisis and is not one that I’ve referred to directly here, but my point is we need some functioning root system.  The insect issue brings to mind how we may be unaware of the damaged state of our root system.

I think we need to pay more attention to helping people develop their mental hygiene, so that they are not overwhelmed in a storm.  And even people with a pretty good system can have the experience of finding out it has weaknesses, and where they lie, during a storm.


October 10, 2012

I wrote about appreciating human flawedness yesterday, in my last post, and this morning I was reading about accepting the body as “good, worthy, [and] holy” in Richard Rohr’s daily meditation.

It got me thinking about bodies, how they can be a source of pain and disappointment, how some people find a way during extreme difficulties experienced through their bodies (I’m thinking about rape and torture but also about illness and accident) to attenuate their relationship with their own.  I don’t doubt that Father Rohr is accurate that this leads to trouble in the long run.  Techniques like disassociation have drawbacks, too.  They’re coping strategies but they are only stopgap measures for people who were unprepared to deal with the difficulty in some other way without these costs, I think.

But, as a general proposition, old coping strategies can be transcended.  It’s much harder, I think, when the difficulties are on-going or there have been secondary consequences to the difficulties that led to a rejection of the body, consequences with their own difficult dynamic, but I don’t doubt that making peace with the body and bodily existence will result in new possibilities, even if it doesn’t lead to repair of old ones.

I wonder how much of addictive behavior, which Father Rohr relates to this issue of alienation or separation from the body, is really just a distraction to keep from dealing again with that which was so painful or which actually no longer works, or never worked, and for which an alternative (without the downsides of addiction) should be sought.  Maybe if we let go and wait for an understanding of where might lie an alternative to experiencing the situation as too difficult, and an alternative to using a maladaptive response, we find some progress.

Compound accidents

June 5, 2012

I found an interesting spiritual story about the sort of accident I was beginning to understand in my last post.

In this story, there’s a pair twins, boy and girl.  They share a consciousness.  The boy is sent to religious school but not the girl even though it is she who had those nascent skills.  He struggles there.  She has him bring home his learning and she understands it better than he and tutors him.

This arrangement works fine until it’s time for the student to do a particular exercise, and then the impediment of the boy causes him to have a negative experience of it.  The warning signs to his teacher that he was not ready for the exercise may have been obscured by the fact that he had learned the previous skills through the facilitation provided by his twin sister, through imitating her on the surface and having her performance of each skill interpenetrated within him providing the depth of the learning.

The teacher then tries to help the “boy” take flight spiritually, not realizing he is actually trying to help a pair of people who are intermingled.  The weight of the boy makes him crash, the lightness of the girl sends her way too far up into the spiritual realms.  The boy ends up with spiritual acrophobia, the girl ends up with great difficulty reentering her regular consciousness.

This accident leaves the twins unable to remain in each other’s company comfortably, but unfortunately, being in each other’s company actually contains the resolution to their situation.  Because now when the two are together, the boy hears all the spiritual transmissions of the universe, many of which he can no longer hear on his own.  His presence provides her with stability to stay happily anchored in the physical world.  But he pushes her away, because he doesn’t realize that the very thing he finds unnerving about her presence is the very thing that can help him, that his hearing all these spiritual transmissions in her presence overwhelms his capacity for thinking — he can’t think his way out of a paperbag when she’s near him.  He can’t stand that, in the aftermath of this accident they had together, he has become overly fond of thinking and not using other parts of his mind, especially the part he was using when they crashed.  When they are together he is forced not to think, he is forced to use that other part of his mind, and if he stayed in her presence, he would learn to sort out the signals and work his way out of his regression.  She is bringing him something he cannot do on his own.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to want to give it a try, at least that’s her impression.  And she knows enough to know it’s his choice to take an affirmative action, that she can only leave the entire situation but cannot actually dance this step in the interaction — taking the step to spend time in the same room together — because it involves his willingness.  He seems to think that some day the time will seem right to him, but she worries it’s just a story that he tells himself and that “in the meantime” may be too late.  I think she feels a lot like someone on stage trying to temporize while she waits for another actor to come on stage.  If he isn’t going to emerge from his dressing room or his cab or whatever in time, maybe he should allow his understudy to take the stage.

Bursting bubbles and breaking hearts

October 13, 2011

I’m writing about broken hearts and Blondie comes on the radio singing about hearts of glass — I’m encouraged that there is something here to “surf,” some artifact to dig out or even splinter to remove.

Michele Bachmann spoke the other night of having broken hearts for disadvantaged kids.  Henri Nouwen spoke, and wrote, a lot about brokenness, and I would connect broken hearts and brokenness to things falling and breaking.  I suspect it works best when we fall, our hearts break open, and that flower inside opens like one of those blossoming teas my friend Kathy used to brew — when that inner strand, that core we each possess, becomes more accessible to our conscious mind.  I suspect that falls for some people may actually consist of separate incidents over time that eventually, like the straw that breaks the camel’s back, breaks open the heart.

We learn that broken hearts can be healed, even broken souls, but in the meantime we learn compassion for others that is more easily applicable to others and their situations than a piecemeal approach of trying to assess situations according to a cipher.

When our hearts break, all that stuff we’ve accumulated for years spills out, and like our financial bubbles bursting, the clean-up can be lengthy and painful.

Here’s where I think some people get stuck:  that inner core that we gain access to from a fall is like a parachute.  What happens when someone jumps, the parachute seems to them not to open, and they are damaged in the landing?  They may not want to jump again, try jumping again.  First of all, because they are concerned the parachute is defective, but also now just out of understandable desire to avoid pain again.

One solution could be borrowing somebody else’s parachute, so to speak.  But here’s where a new issue arises: you still gotta take the fall, that part can’t be borrowed, I don’t think.  But when people are able to relate to each other in the way that would allow them to do this parachute-borrowing thing, there is a huge temptation to borrow the parachute without taking the fall, and the result is kind of like Phaeton — the borrower is in the position to drive but without an important component that is necessary for the drive to be accomplished safely.

I would characterize that component as that extreme willingness that we sometime call surrender.  I have learned from difficult experience not to lend under these circumstances, even under the influence of romantic love.

Why is it so difficult for the person borrowing to surrender?  My guess is that’s it’s a little like that line “Did she put on his knowledge with his power?” from “Leda and the Swan” — the borrower can see where this is going and balks.  I know I would not have had the courage to proceed had I known where my willingness would lead me — which is not to say I regret the entirety of the experience, but I doubt I could have undertaken it had I known then what it would entail.  But I had the gift of not knowing.  I also suspect the borrower doesn’t realize that the surrender is actually necessary.

I’m not sure what to tell someone who has to make the decision whether or not to take the fall with more information than I had.  I am wondering whether with enough willingness the heartbreak part will be accomplished in some other, some newly unexpected way.

Ways of knowing

August 10, 2011

When I was about four years old, I remember waking up one morning and thinking, “Okay, I’m here, but there’s another place I could wake up to and be in, some other kind of waking up, but I don’t remember how to do it.”  Various family members ridiculed me for my imaginary friend, and that went dormant, too.  My family was, to put it mildly, not religious.  Science and rational thinking were purported to have replaced all that, although my first serious boyfriend pointed out the inconsistencies in my family’s behavior with that standard.

I tried conventional religion(s) as a way back to God, so to speak, a way back to that realm I had yearned to wake up to as a child.  I didn’t get there through learning their belief systems or practicing their rules, although I have found some of these things helpful for interpreting what I apprehended later once I did find my way back.  I can’t say how I managed to find my way back again, it feels more like it eventually found me again, when I was in my early forties (and sufficiently open to it again).

I have the impression that some other people search for this connection through disciplines such as philosophy and theology.  As I’ve indicated before, from my current vantage point, those pursuits seem to use a part of our brains that won’t get us there — they seem to me to be like apples when you need oranges.  They are sophisticated exercises for the intellect, but they lack the bass line, the thread of connection that anchors the whole experience of “knowing.”  That, I think, comes when we have become receptive to it through openness, through willingness, through listening with another part of the self.  I want to say it requires a certain kind of innocence, which, with all due respect to some religious doctrines, can be regained by us flawed human beings  —  even after we’ve left its original version behind as we’ve grown out of childhood, embraced consensus reality, and developed a sense of individual self.  We can go home again, and this time with an intellectual apparatus that we’ve developed with which we can process our experiences in this other realm.  But to try to transmit them to one another purely through our intellectual ways of knowing will not result in their truly being shared and communicated — only the idea of them will be shared and communicated.  To actually help others experience these other ways of knowing, to foster the kind of situations in which such experiences can and will occur, we are better off fostering a society in which individuals can take that personal journey.

Searching for piety

August 9, 2011

I read a comment to Diane Ackerman’s column in today’s NYTimes that included an aside about experiencing, or not, people who are truly pious (it’s the first comment, by Gemli of Boston).  I was startled by this, especially because I live in the Boston area, too, and I have encountered here what looks to me like true piety.  Of course, the pious people I have met have low profiles, sometime unprepossessing exteriors and presentation, and perhaps would not be given by everyone a sufficient hearing to reveal their piety, but that’s part of the mystery as I see it: we encounter the people we are ready to learn from, kind of the flip side to “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”