Archive for the 'serenity' Category

A window into other people

June 21, 2014

I was reading Father Rohr’s meditation for yesterday, and I was quite surprised by the last line, equating surrender and contemplation.

I don’t equate them.  But I don’t dismiss Father Rohr’s understanding either, and I wonder whether for him and for some group of people, surrender is about contemplation, that one gets a particular kind of spiritual experience, and life, if one understands surrender in that way — maybe “serenity” and a serene life?

The kind of surrender I am more personally familiar with is a kind in which one is reminded that one could strive for serenity directly and at one’s own pace, but perhaps what is actually needed to serve the greater good in one’s own life is something else.  Perhaps it is to understand what is going wrong in the life or lives of people who are stuck — to empathically experience how they interface with the world, with themselves, and with others, and to try to join them and perhaps lead them in adjusting that.  One sticks with that development, or reclamation, project, one does not skip ahead of the group one is immersed with, because to do so would lose the point of the project.  But one would also lose the point of the project if one lost sight of the point of the project and of the understanding that the project indeed has a point.

Now, of course, one could get a swelled head and identify oneself in this role as an enlightened teacher, but I think most of us who are willing to do this sort of work recognize that it is true of all human beings that we have the capacity for serenity, the capacity for its opposite (self-exile?), and the capacity for everything else inbetween;  what “level” we live our lives at is a function of a lot of factors — and if we stop thinking of it in terms of levels, and use a concept more like notes on a scale instead, maybe we can understand that sometimes the note that serves the greater good for us to sing is not the tonic.  And sometimes that note turns out to be one that is very difficult to hold, but is necessary for the music to sound full.  One is just another person in the orchestra, functioning as some kind of pitch pipe, perhaps.

To agree to sing  — to be willing to sing — whatever note is needed is my idea of surrender.


New Year’s resolution

December 28, 2013

About a week ago it occurred to me to make a New Year’s resolution, and to resolve to work on trying to be more pleasant and less reactive under stress (in situations I find stressful, that is).

The universe gave me an opportunity to work on this the other day, even before the New Year begins, when I got my telephone bill and it contained a price increase.

My phone/internet service arrangement had come up for renewal and renegotiation this past August, and the matter had been a protracted mess, in part because somebody working for the company had made an unauthorized change to my services.  It took a lot of lengthy phone calls to get things sorted out.

I had not thought I would have to revisit my relationship to my carrier until next August, but they raised the price for my internet service, apparently, in this latest bill.

This blog post is going to be about reactivity and pleasantness, but let me first sketch out that, long story short, the phone/internet service provider actually had given me a price guarantee for a year, back in August, and now they are saying they will honor it (although I won’t see that they are following through on this claim until my next bill — in the meantime, they did give me a credit on this bill for the difference in prices, though).  The guarantee was for a slightly higher price than what they had been charging me, because they had also given me promotional coupons for a year, but I was willing to budge on that issue because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure why I had ended up with that lower price.  The guaranteed price is below what they were billing with the new, increased price on the bill I most recently received.

Anyway, back to my reaction.  I was indignant and upset that I would have to spend time on this issue again so soon, I wanted to push it off my plate and I resented that someone had plopped it on my plate.  So when I encountered the first scripted response of “We can do this, you don’t have a contract,” I felt frustrated. And I felt the asymmetry of the relationship, I felt I was being “done to,” and I felt victimized.  When that happens, I think I tend to express anger in my tone of voice and I tend to interrupt.  I think I did all that.

I suspect it’s sort of to compensate for feeling I have a lack of effective tools at my disposal to fight back with.  I was indignant about a mid-year-ish price increase, and my argument was about how I had not been aware that my price could go up and had understood that it wouldn’t for a year from the deal we had agreed on.  I think I tried for a bit to argue from general principles about why I didn’t think I should be subject to this increase, but all I got was scripted responses and a list of new options, none of which I liked.  I did subside and said I would need some time to think over my options, and the conversation ended pleasantly enough, but I had gotten testy in the middle of it, I believe.

Later that day I went back to look at my notes from the August negotiations and I saw that because I had been “put into my bundle by a manager,” the price was guaranteed for a year even though there was not contract.

When I called back at that point, I got a representative who was even more scripted, but I had the right lines;  her script allowed her to respond to my manager’s guarantee by going to her supervisor, and we got back to my guaranteed  price and to “yes” — in part because their file notes showed the guarantee and in part, apparently, because of what my deal had been before August, information they actually had to ask me to supply them with.

I learned from this that had I not reacted with such emotion to the fact of having to deal with this at all, I could have gotten all my ducks lined up before I made the first call and possibly gotten the matter settled to my satisfaction with one call and without getting testy.  That I didn’t has something to do with getting too drained by my work on behalf of my dad’s estate and on behalf of my mother, and on behalf of my children.  In all those cases, I seem to be the only one available to help, and while I don’t take on every aspect of the tasks — I avail myself of professionals and I insist these other family members do, too, like financial managers, social workers, academic advisers, etc. — it leaves me too drained to take things, like straightening out the telephone bill, with equanimity.

So, part of the solution, in theory, is to take better care of myself so I am not on the verge of being too frazzled when a new issue comes along for my attention.  Part of it is to at least train myself to put in a pause and take time to observe that yes, I am reacting and not taking the time to address the issue methodically and calmly, in my hurry to just push it away.  Part of it is to train myself to use tools other than my tone of voice — I think I resort to tone when the content of my words does not get through the first two or three times I try.  Part of it is faith — to have some faith that the issue will not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of making my workload impossible, that I have some support even if I have no spouse or relatives to provide respite help to me with what’s on my plate.

The bill is, as I said, supposedly being revised to meet my price guarantee, Jonas has lined up a new place to live in the spring, Jordan has chosen new spring semester courses, my mother has accomplished her transaction before the end of the calendar year, the estate has been largely settled.  I don’t have nothing to show for my efforts (in these and other current matters), but my “serenity” has taken a hit.  And that is what I want to figure out, how to accomplish this stuff with less “drag” on the system.

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.

At the cemetery

July 25, 2012

I suspect from the dedication marker they’ve been there for some time (it says 2007, I think) but I noticed this morning that some ashes from Auschwitz are buried at the cemetery where Willy is buried.  (What actually caught my attention, in this cemetery with only flat markers, was the sight of some stone benches — I went over to take a look and saw the marker at the curve in their parabola when I did.)

The ashes are apparently buried near the tree growing seemingly out of a large rock protruding from the earth, just in front of a marker to war veterans, I think.  Both are on the other side of that rock from the tree; on that side, the rock is partly covered with earth and grass.

I heard, as I stood there, repeated a couple of times, “We are at peace.  You have redeemed us.”  The “you” may have been the people who brought the ashes over from Auschwitz, or the “you” may have been the congregation and its members who helped with their interment and the marker and benches — it may even have encompassed all of the living.  The “you” certainly wasn’t addressed to me — I felt I was hearing an echo of something that already had been said.

It wasn’t just the words, though, that I noticed, it was a wonderful feeling of serenity that came up through me.  It was a terrific feeling, and while I knew it would fade for me, I was so grateful to share it all the way home.

Gnosis, love, and serenity

July 18, 2012

It isn’t clear to me how these three things are related to each other.  I suspect that when we truly learn to get our ego out of the way, we have all three.  Perhaps things like pride impede gnosis,  bitterness love, and anxiety serenity, I don’t know.  I kind of think that when we have all three we are “enlightened.”

Maybe it’s like a tennis or golf player looking to pick up wins in certain different tournaments, or race horse owners looking to have a Triple Crown winner — I think it’s difficult to have all three, especially if possession of one or two of them without the others leads to further damage that increases the pride, bitterness, or anxiety.  In other words, suppose, for example, someone gains gnosis but loses a beloved and they become more bitter that their insight did not protect them from loss.  Opening their heart and locating their capacity for love I think would become more remote under those circumstances.

I have also wondered what happens when a person experiences someone else’s gnosis, love, or serenity through an empathetic experience with a person who has developed it internally and therefore possesses it more stably.  If the second person does not have the basis in themselves for the attribute then I suspect the possession of it through this borrowing of someone else’s will be fleeting.  What worries me is what happens if the fleeting experience is enough to allow the borrower to make use of the attribute in a way a person who actually developed it on their own would never do — like writing down gnostic insights and publishing them in a book.  To my mind, gnosis is an internal practice and teaching a spiritual practice should involve a spiritual teacher of some sort.  A book can allow a reader to try to apprehend a multidimensional idea through their intellect and come up with a damaging misunderstanding.  In addition, if gnosis is not thoroughly achieved, that next person may try to pass along to a subsequent person an understanding that is even more distorted from what would be understood through an internal development of the attribute.

I have an example of this in mind, “creative destruction.”  I’m going to put it in a separate post.

My point here is merely that perhaps we can, to the detriment of ourselves and others, create difficulties to spiritual development through the interplay of personal private development with social interrelationships with others.


More adventures with bird droppings

June 18, 2012

I was drying my wash out in the backyard today and I decided not to take any of it in, even some things that were already dry, until I came back from my walk.

When I returned and started gathering up the clothing, I discovered that a bird had left its calling card on one of the items (on the collar of a man’s shirt I was using as a nightshirt), an item that was dry, and untainted, when I had left for my walk.

Well, that certainly effectively prevents me from using the shirt, at least until I wash it again (I sprayed it with a stain lifter, who knows whether the stain will come out).

I am thinking about the concept of not cloaking myself in a man’s garment and I am also thinking about what the stained shirt could mean in light of the bird droppings on the Buddha.

The statue doesn’t mind the droppings on the body itself, and with the shirt, the droppings are on a covering (a piece of clothing) I can remove.  But there is a contrast, and it makes the situation with the shirt remind me of witnessing my experiences and my reactions to them — the witnessed version is much easier to remove than my participatory reaction in the moment while I am engaged in the interaction.  Until, perhaps, I become as equanimous as the Buddha.

Buddha and the bird droppings

June 8, 2012

I’ve got this black seated Buddha statue sitting on the pear tree stump, not in the middle of the backyard exactly, but at least in its midst, out in the wide open.  I think that’s part of why the birds like to alight on his head.  There’s a robin who makes a habit of it (this robin has a distinctive marred breast, so I know it’s the same one).  Not surprisingly, there are bird droppings on the Buddha.  Occasionally I try hosing them off, but they sort of blend in with the effacing, from the elements, of the black coloring on the statue to reveal a lighter color underneath (which I take to be an indication of his inner glow).

I think the Buddha’s equanimity despite the droppings is a helpful image, whether as a reminder to be humble myself, that I am probably leaving my own crap on other people, or as a way of witnessing, and hence detaching a little from, the possibility that they are depositing theirs on me.  Whatever the case, we can meet it with equanimity, like the stone Buddha.

Serenity, enlightenment, and gnosis

September 14, 2011

I would like to have serenity.  I don’t.  I even have trouble feeling I could.  I sometimes think about “calmness” instead, that seems closer at hand.

Enlightenment I think I’ve assumed to be an outgrowth of serenity.

Gnosis, or spiritual understandings, is something else, I think, and that I seem to have stumbled into.  How gnosis relates to enlightenment I don’t know — maybe it’s enlightenment minus the serenity part.

I spend some amount of time wondering how it serves my greater good, or a more general greater good, for me to have stumbled into gnosis.  Perhaps if I work on that calmness and serenity piece, I’ll eventually find out, is what has occurred to me over time.