Archive for the 'shame' Category

In for a penny

January 28, 2014

I have in mind the saying, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

I was thinking about it in connection with a story I heard about a genie who kept abusing his power with respect to the person who had uncorked him.

At first he may actually have been unaware of the true impact of his interaction with this person.

He may also have done what he did on purpose, when he realized the “wrong” person had opened the bottle;  that is, someone who couldn’t really help him in return.  Of course, he was flawed and somewhat deceitful himself;  why he expected to be paired with someone who did not mirror that back, the story doesn’t say.

Then, the story goes, at some point he became aware that he was doing something harmful and he became acutely embarrassed, even ashamed, thinking this indicated some fault in himself he could not erase.

So he began to embrace an image of himself that was, at its heart, a consequence of his feeling bad about what had happened.  He wore black, he cultivated a rogue/outlaw image.  And he kept repeating the damaging behavior.

This was the “in for a penny, in for a pound” part.  He believed he was irredeemable.  He believed the person would not forgive him at that point.

The person actually, more than anything, just wanted the harm to stop.  In fact, the person was so harmed, they couldn’t speak for themselves and ask.  They sent someone else to ask on their behalf.  The genie didn’t recognize them, since, of course, they were not the person with whom he had the relationship.  Eventually, though, the genie became open to hearing the plea.

When he realized that just stopping now was in itself a good thing (perhaps even a significant good thing), and that perhaps eventually the harmed person would let go of any resentment, once they were in better shape, he stopped.

I think the concept of being “damned for all time” is a self-generated one, I don’t think the universe thinks in those terms, thinks at all, for that matter.  Things happen, some do cause harm, each party must then figure out a path forward.  There is grace for when that isn’t enough and it serves their greater good and the greater good in general to add some “outside” help to the situation.  I think people need to feel that there is always the possibility of forgiveness, at least at some level, even if another person directly involved can’t find it in themselves at the moment.  Moments pass.  When we feel better, maybe we can locate that forgiveness after all, unless we have willfully decided not to.  The problematic behavior does need to stop, though, for most of us to feel better enough to do this.

So the genie reforms his behavior, the other person eventually feels better, and in the ensuing iterations of the story, something else happens between them instead of the harmful behavior.  Perhaps both of them become satisfied with these next iterations, perhaps not, but they are making progress.

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 25, 2011

I woke up this morning wanting to write about a parable in which somebody borrows a neighbor’s lawnmower and returns it broken and suggests a web link to a site that explains how to repair it.  Maybe I’ll get back to that — my first interpretation was to identify with a reaction of feeling riled at someone not cleaning up the damage that they cause, but maybe it’s more a lesson in accepting the challenge to learn to deal with damage in one’s life regardless of apparent source.

But then I got another thought, probably not original, about shame, and it seemed to make more sense to write about that first, directly after the post about shame.

What I thought is that the story of Adam and Eve is conventionally told as one in which they lose their innocence and experience shame.  If shame is a by-product of being cut off from that greater part of the self, from the inner office, from the vacuum motor (see previous post, please), if it occurs when the mahout falls off the elephant, so to speak, when the ego loses communication with the soul, to put it another way, then returning to the garden is the reconnection of our “I” identity with our more eternal part, with our souls.  It’s about that journey from a child’s connectedness with the universe through development of a sense of individual self, and then to a reunion with the universe but still maintaining the ability to see the self as distinct now.

If the key is to reconnect with the soul, I would say that we discover that connection through the love we finally hear when we call out from the heart, that cry that I think the Jewish Shema prayer embodies (it’s on my mind because I have this plan to attend this evening Friday night services at a shul for the first time in years — the invitation, which I am taking as a general and not personal one, from someone who has very good hosting skills, came through a guy — I have to ask myself why I am listening to him when I have never attended services where Gita attends, despite her having invited me years ago, and my answer is to laugh gently at my ego).  That calling of our soul to us can be difficult to hear amid all the noise of our lives, and sometimes I think we unfortunately hear it best in the relative quiet of loneliness and despair.  It’s one of those gifts of desperation people talk about.  But it really is one that keeps on giving, and in a good way.


November 25, 2011

I decided to try to write here about shame because I don’t understand it, or at least I don’t call by that name the feelings it is used to label.  Or so it seems to me.

I do embarrassment and guilt all too easily, regret, too.  I am aware at times with feeling upset with myself for having done something, or not having done something, and those feelings tend to feel like a need to be better than I am, if not perfect.  Sometimes I have a really hard time letting go about feeling bad about something.   So it’s not that I don’t have negative reactions to things I’ve done.  But I think I’m missing something about the component of feeling humiliated or disgraced, of some internal feeling of having failed in some way that says something about me generally as a person, as opposed to feeling that I failed in a particular task or role.

I don’t think of myself as having particularly high self-esteem or self-confidence, so I don’t think it’s probably because somehow I think pretty well of myself despite whatever it is I’m upset that I did that I don’t feel shame.  Maybe it has more to do with how I think about myself in a structural way, that my self who did the thing isn’t all of me but sort of the front office.  So, that front office may need some house cleaning, some improvement, some retraining, and it may need to apologize and make amends or try to rectify or retry a transaction, but at the same time the inner office remains distinct.  It’s not that this inner office has no role or connection to what happened, but it is not directly responsible, it is more of an observer, like a teacher, who then helps in directing the clean-up phase.  My point here is that I don’t think I separate my actions from what I identify as self completely, but I also don’t see them as coincident.  They are not of the same sort.  Maybe instead of front office, I should use the analogy of vacuum  attachment or something for the part of me that acts; yes, the vacuum motor powers the thing, but it isn’t directly involved when the attachment eats the rug fringe.  In any case, the parts are linked and connected and integrated with each other, but they are distinct in some way that allows me to locate my identity with something different from the sum of my actions or with the part of me that engaged in them.  Maybe this allows me to have a vantage point from which to remonstrate with the part of me that acts without getting consumed by it.  This sort of set-up might be consonant with my sense of being able to witness what I do —  good, bad, and indifferent — in order to learn the lesson, neutralize the emotion, and move out of the situation and into what’s next.

I’m not sure about this explication, this is kind of extemporaneous, but I have wondered about “shame” before, and I thought maybe now was as good a time as any to try to figure out why I draw such a blank when people use it as a point of reference.  Especially because I get the sense that people who do sometimes find it crippling.  I guess I’m hoping my exploration of the subject might be helpful by suggesting there are other ways to conceptualize the self that don’t lead to moral anarchy and may be more helpful in not getting unproductively stuck in self-punishment.