Archive for the 'self-awareness' Category

Learning a lesson that isn’t about fairness

October 18, 2014

I was reading a piece in the NYTimes about how human beings see “purpose” in what happens in their lives.  It even mentioned looking for lessons, but, having pointed out this can turn into a moralistic pitfall about just deserts and assumptions about fairness, it stays with that version of “What’s the lesson?” and doesn’t explore what other sorts of lessons there might be.

It could have considered other sorts of lessons.  One can ask, “How can I handle that better next time?  What did I learn about myself?  What did I learn about other people?  What did I learn about how we interact?  What did I learn about what I fear and what my coping strategies are and whether they accomplish what I want to accomplish at this stage of my life?”

If we’ve misunderstand in the West how to find the lesson and what kinds of lessons we should be looking for, abandoning the search for lessons because we’ve gone down a dead end doesn’t seem to me to be the answer.

Compassion for others

October 5, 2014

I was thinking as I was writing a reply to a news comment — talking about how inadequate love, compassion, and support for somebody gravely wounded does not mean others with lesser hurts do not feel those hurts or need love, compassion, and support, too — that while we screen, somewhat, to make sure mental health professionals don’t visit their unresolved issues on patients and clients, we don’t do this with politicians and “thinkers.”  And they probably do.

Forced visitation

June 8, 2014

Years ago we encountered this notion among social workers charged with the care and protection of children:  if one had molested another, the social workers might still insist on visitation between the perpetrator and victim, if the workers had any reason to believe the children might be biologically related, even if the victim and their parents did not want the contact.  It was an eye-opener for me, the idea of forced social intercourse.

There’s another context in which I’ve seen this:  someone who insists on contact with another even though it’s pretty clear to the other that the person who wants the contact doesn’t like them;  why would I want to have social intercourse with someone who doesn’t like me?  I wouldn’t.  That situation I can simply leave behind and move on.  What makes it tricky, in my experience, is when the other person insists that they like you when they clearly don’t.  Then it’s more difficult, especially because when this happens, it seems to happen with a person who is so disconnected from their true self that they may not even perceive that they don’t like the other person.  And if they’re structured within themselves in a way that we commonly label as narcissistic, they may even see the other person as not liking them instead.

It’s tough, because people who are incapable of treating others reasonably may themselves incur great hurt from the responses they get from the people they unreasonably treat.

In any event, in these cases, I react to my sense from the behavior and underlying self, not the person’s words, about whether they like me, and I don’t want forced social intercourse in those contexts either.  Whether the person doesn’t like me because they feel intimidated by me or because they see me as intolerable competition or they just don’t happen to like the person I happen to be, or for any other reason, I don’t want an interaction that is predicated on pretending that something is the case when it isn’t.

In the context of social intercourse with people who claim to but don’t actually like me, they are usually wanting something from me (and too much from me, as it turns out), whether or not they are aware of it, and what comes across to me is that I am being asked to enter into their distorted view in order for them to draw a benefit to themselves from me, at my expense.  In a word, as my younger son puts it, they are needy, and they want me to meet their extremely large needs.  And the fact of the matter is that I can’t, whether or not I want to try, and I would harm myself if I did what they want.  And I’ve learned that by having tried.

Trying to help

April 7, 2014

How do we help people who feel miserable?  Many of them want us to hold their misery for them.  It’s too heavy for most of us, and it’s not a good idea for us to try to hold it;  if we receive the misery, we need to be able to pass it on to the universe for disposal.

Therapists, Reiki masters, clergy, all kinds of people know how to do something like this.

But if the miserable person still has no way of ceasing to produce feelings of misery, the situation has not been sufficiently addressed.  The person feeling misery needs to find a different way to intersect with the world, a different emotional posture.

Some people find such a posture through cognitive behavioral therapy, others through 12-step programs, others through religious creeds, and I’m sure some people pick up another attitude from other sources, even from individuals or from literature.

I think part of what happens when a person is developing an attitude in which misery is not being regenerated constantly is that the person becomes looser and more open.  This helps negative feelings, when they do arise, become diluted.  And eventually, I think, the person is able to more directly and efficiently dump their load of miserable feelings onto the universe — they figure out how to work the dump truck  so that the universe and not a human interlocutor receives the load.

I think that’s important.  Our misery should not be passed around like a hot potato or spewed out into the environment like greenhouse gases.  And people who just want to dump their loads onto me constantly, happily refilling their trucks and driving them over and over again to my place, well, to them I would try to communicate as gently as possible (and sometimes the gentleness I’m sure does not come through) that I can’t participate in that.  I wish they would also examine why they are not motivated to find an alternative to refilling their truck.


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.

Intentional or unintentional

October 20, 2013

I don’t like dualism, but here I am going to contrast intentional mirroring with unintentional mirroring, an issue that’s been on my mind for a long time.

The mirroring that has power occurs not through behavior we engage in with the intention of mirroring.  Effective mirroring takes place at a deeper level, the level revealed when we manage to pull away our personal concerns, desires, and fears — that other strand is what produces the mirroring effect, it is not something we consciously craft.

When someone mirrors another in this way, they may not be aware of it.

Just as it is difficult to distinguish the difference between badly-intended behavior and stupid behavior, it is difficult to tell when a person is conscious of what is going on in their actions, including writing, and when they are unaware of what they are doing (“It’s just a song,” for example).  People may consciously write versions of their friends and relatives into their novels, but people may also write pieces of other, real people into their books, too, whether they are aware of it or not.  Maybe it happens when they think they are communing with a muse, I don’t know.

Contrived mirroring (self-conscious acts of trying to mirror someone’s behavior or attitude back to them) doesn’t have the same impact, I don’t think, as mirroring done through a deeper level of the person.  Contrived mirroring may be a technique to modify behavior, it may be a way of calling attention to itself, kind of like a friendly wave or a not- so- friendly gesture — some sort of indication of response — but I don’t see it having a very significant function in the great scheme of things.

Here’s, for me, at least, the rub:  how do you talk about the part of this that occurs unwittingly, with people who don’t “believe in it?”

One participant in the interaction cannot even tell you “where it hurts,” what is going wrong, the other claims they are not doing anything to impact the other person negatively.

People disconnected from their inner selves may actually not be aware of what they are doing, other people may have some degree of knowledge of what they are doing, but employ a defense of “deniability” — they hide behind how socially unacceptable in our culture it is to talk about any of this and claim they ain’t doin’ nothin’.

An abusive pattern can continue over and over again if neither party has a clue what is going on, just as post partum infections spread so easily in hospitals before people realized they needed wash unseen germs off their hands between examining patients.

What I think is true, however, is that we only need one member of the interactive pair to understand what is, wittingly or unwittingly, going on, to end the dysfunctional dynamic.  That person just has to tolerate being regarded as a little daft.

Technological puzzles

October 20, 2013

So I just submitted a comment to a New York Times analysis of the current intra-party dynamics of the Republican Party between Tea Party conservatives and establishment conservatives.

Plink, I receive the email that the comment has been published, and since I’m a Verified commenter, this is plausible.  So I refresh the page and it’s not there.  I’ve noticed that before, that there can be a lag in actually putting the comment online.  That didn’t puzzle me.

But here’s what did:  when I went to my comment through the link in my email, the comment had already been recommended.  So I tried accessing the comments two other ways besides refreshing, and I still couldn’t see mine, which by then had a second recommend.

I don’t understand who can see the comment and how.

But it does remind me of when people don’t hear what they are putting out there even when other people can perceive it.

Postscript:  Someone just suggested to me it could be mirroring of that phenomenon of when I unwittingly pick up some language or imagery from a Times piece I have yet to actually read — people with earlier access to something others (here, me) cannot yet see.

God, the imagination, and books

September 4, 2013

Some people are open and some people aren’t.  Some people even make an art of not being open.  They always hold something back, behind fear, behind, vanity, behind pride.

Being open allows us to see ourselves from multiple perspectives, not just the way we would like to think we are.  We allow ourselves to see the secondary consequences of our attitudes and behaviors on others and we adjust our attitudes and behavior  accordingly.  If we refuse to look at the negative impacts we have on others, we close ourselves off from not only them but from ourselves.

I suspect meditation helps get around that by being a way to put aside the carapace, albeit only temporarily.  Some people do, in contrast, make their entire life a living prayer — they are always open.

When we are open, we can perceive through other than our monkey minds.  What we perceive includes what some people label “God.”  It is not perceived through our imaginations, which are part of our monkey minds.

Willy was a very open person, whether or not he believed in God.  He was kind and generous.  He also had that quality I associate with men of being ready, willing, and able to defend his turf, however.  But he knew that sometimes the most helpful technique is to allow the other person’s energy to become their own undoing, that deflecting that energy can be key.  To me he demonstrated that a person can be a conduit (for the forces of the universe) without being conscious of it.

A close friend of his shared with me that he considered Willy a mystic.  I liked hearing that.  It gave me a way of understanding his sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table to eat, for example.  Or drinking directly from sink faucets.  He was so fastidious about other manners that these behaviors called out for interpretation.

We can teach intellectual ideas through others.  We can disseminate them in books.  These may provide touchstones for others as they try to gain a sense of themselves and of life, analogous to consulting with a village elder, but they also present a hazard, namely encouraging people to believe that the development of the person is, or can be, had through the intellect.  The intellect is a helpful interface between experience and communication, but the significant things a person needs to go through in order to develop into the person they have the potential to be will not be experienced through reading or through learning in a classroom.

Willy had that sense, too, I think.  He was continually frustrated by new hires who thought of life as a problem set and he had little patience for academia.  He fled college (with his degree) in three years and went into the Peace Corps.  He finished his dissertation while working full time, in large part because he much preferred working and solving real problems;  even with the added demands of working, working at a job gave him more energy for his dissertation than remaining a full-time graduate student would have.  In primary school he had experimented with focusing on the niceties necessary to gain complete approval in academia, and he reported to me that he had found the rewards hollow.

I think this blog is my compromise.  I’ve got people in my life who want me to write, and I what I really want to do is to walk.  I think writing is in some way inherently misleading, but the snippets that are blog posts perhaps come closest to those momentary understandings we become privy to through interfacing with the universe through prayer and meditation.

Less involved is less involved

June 20, 2013

I was thinking about the dynamic of less involved is less involved because of frequent calls I’ve been getting from an investment broker — the more I respond, the more I’m responding.  I can’t reduce the interaction by participating in it.

The concept reminds me a little of people who claim they are really the sort of person who does X (say, gardens), but then finds an excuse not to time after time.  They apparently like the idea of doing X and of being the sort of person who does X and is known for doing X, but they don’t actually do it, so they aren’t, it seems, really that sort of person.

I was thinking yesterday about a comment someone posted on the NYTimes website that touched on the issue of believing other people’s versions of themselves and of us.  It’s so easy for me to go along with them, because I can get swept up in seeing things their way and I can forget that that’s all that I’m doing — seeing things their way.  I have to remind myself that what they’re seeing may not look that way from my point of view, that it’s just their version, that an more objective person might see things quite differently, and take into account frequency of a behavior, for example, instead of trying to rely on a single defining anecdote.

I tend to come to the conclusion that the only way out is to stop assessing and labeling and editorializing and just stick to the facts and express them as neutrally and descriptively as possible.  It’s a much more peaceful place to be.

Subduing the earth and the Republican war against women

March 31, 2013

They seem to me to come out of the same place, the urge to “subdue” the earth and to interfere with a woman’s self-determination.  When they gets enshrined in religion, or couched in terms of claims to divine support, well, then to me, it just looks like the reduction of religion to an expression of conflicted feelings towards parents.

Some people apparently have difficulty with the fact that they were once dependent on their mothers.  While I don’t think mothers experience this as a power relationship, maybe some adolescents don’t realize that, if they themselves are going through a stage of experiencing their relationship with their parents as a power struggle.  The mothers of some people die in childbirth, and I imagine that would complicate feelings towards one’s mother.  Attitudes such as these I think have crept into accounts of our world and our place in it in religious texts and political platforms.

What I speculate from my layperson’s armchair is that some of this “subdue the earth, restrict women” attitude comes from trying to destroy the thing itself the reaction to which is making the reactor uncomfortable.  “Kill the messenger” is a similar strategy.

A way to avoid doing this is to be more aware of the emotional roots of one’s behavior.

I had a friend who became a widow about three years before I did, and she, an intelligent, savvy, and wealthy businesswoman, used to tell me how she avoided opening envelopes that came in the mail, or even giving them to her financial adviser or accountant.  She was able to gently laugh at herself, and eventually. I think, when she was ready to deal with the tangled issues, she and her team did.  Some of the issues weren’t easy, and she had that widow experience during some of the untangling of feeling, for all the pieces of help one is given, she was still alone in a way she wasn’t before.

With looking into our more abstract envelopes, we may find tangled issues, too, but they are likewise amenable to being untangled.  I think the difficult emotional experience that people may be trying to avoid there is seeing the world as it is.  For all our human desire to have changed things so that we control what we want to control, we don’t and we won’t.  But that’s a good thing, I think, because, really, I think we have no idea what we’re doing because we perceive so little of the big picture.

One particular guide I would offer is to distinguish a painful experience from one that “shouldn’t happen” — the former is an all-too-large category, the latter I’m not sure even exists.  Like water encountering obstacles as it runs down to the sea, the issue is how we respond to things.  I think we’re here to learn, not to enjoy life as if it were some carnival ride, or to try to change the “ride.”  But that’s just my own sense of things.