Archive for the 'witnessing' Category


October 13, 2014

I’ve had people tell me that I am working on learning discernment, and I have kept that in mind, while having trouble seeing where it applies.  But this afternoon I had an example that may be about where I need to work on it.

I was reading NYTimes articles and opinion pieces, and I found myself feeling very tired and thinking about taking a nap.  And I was a little surprised to be feeling as though I needed a nap.  I reviewed when I got up (a little after six), how much walking I had done (into the center of town and back), how much tea I had had (enough that it wasn’t lack of caffeine).  I didn’t think any of that explained why I felt so tired.

And then my mother, who is staying with us for a few weeks, walked into the kitchen and told me she was going to take a nap.  I accompanied her up to the room she is using, she started her nap, and I found I didn’t feel tired anymore.

So for me, it is a lesson is learning what’s mine and what’s somebody else’s.  That, in turn, teaches me to perceive a mood or a feeling as just a mood or a feeling  —  when it’s clear it’s somebody else’s, it is also clearer it is just a mood or a feeling or whatever, something more like an item of clothing one can put on or take off, since it may not be the mood or feeling I actually have myself, left to my own devices.  Then I can, after that, think about how my moods and feelings are just as much ephemeral, contingent, and changeable as those I pick up from others; and that, then, helps me see that they are not such a big deal as they may feel from the inside of the person experiencing them.

The other half of sleep-talking

May 23, 2012

I’ve been trying to think of a familiar image to convey a sense of what could be going on behind our backs in our spiritual lives.

It’s pretty clear to me that when people talk in their sleep, in a state somewhere between being fully asleep and fully awake, they don’t remember the conversation when they do become fully awake.  Having a conversation with someone in that half-waking/half-sleeping state isn’t really a big deal, although it’s content can be a bit unusual.

It occurred to me, though, that that’s only really half the story.  If we (or some of us) are unwittingly conversing in our spiritual lives with other spirits (and who knows who else), who knows what we are agreeing to, facilitating, subventing.  I’m thinking it’s a little like the situation a vintage-clothing store owner in NJ shared with me recently; she was trying to get reimbursed for charges from a third-party vendor (a website) on her telephone bill.  She had had no idea she was being charged and she readily admitted she hadn’t read the bill carefully enough.  Somebody was using her account, so to speak, for their own profit, drawing money out of her coffers, through the phone company, and into their own.  I suspect we could be doing something similar through the parts of us that we are not sufficiently in touch with, whatever we choose to call these parts.  For the skeptical, I would suggest thinking about the part of the self that perceives the dream during sleep.  For artists and writers and poets and even theoretical physicists and mathematicians, I would suggest this involves something like where they go when they are inspired, when they get so caught up in their work or activity that they lose their sense of place and time.

I remember reading a bunch of stuff about how some people within the Catholic Church were (maybe still are) concerned about meditation because of the possibility of opening ourselves up to random and not well-intentioned spiritual entities and their influence.  I think what I’m saying is that maybe we do that anyway, even without meditating.

But I’m not worried that this sort of thing can’t be dealt with — I think it can be.  I think it’s rooted in not listening to the self, with a need for greater self-awareness.  I think that just as many people don’t hear their guidance clearly, they don’t hear other things going on on planes other than the physical and they, most importantly, don’t hear themselves.  And just because they don’t hear themselves, it doesn’t mean nobody else hears them.  My suggestion is that we all learn to hear ourselves (and whatever else we need to hear), through greater self-awareness.  I think we need to pay more attention to our spiritual lives and to clean them up.  I think this is done by starting with getting to know ourselves better and developing our “inner witness” to ourselves.

Reading tea leaves

February 20, 2012

I don’t actually know how to read tea leaves, although I once came across an instruction booklet in an antique store about how to do it.  But I can read bits and pieces of things deep within me when I come across them depicted outside of myself, for example, in news stories or poems or songs — they come across as “highlighted” in some way.  I usually then gain an understanding of how they fit with other pieces I’ve learned before, and with patterns of experiences and relationships in my life.

At other times the pieces seem to come out as things I write about if I let myself write.  Sometimes those don’t seem to be part of “my” story at all —  someone will later disclose that the event happened to their grandmother.

I don’t take it that I am assembling an accurate factual history of things that I can prove took place.  I have the sense instead that I am revisiting emotional states with the help of detailed plausible scenarios that would support such an emotion.  If I can feel the emotion and have enough distance from it not to be engulfed in it and instead examine the emotion, as it were, as an outside witness to it, I find I gain a story with some kind of explanatory power and I also gain release from the need to repeat visiting that emotional state.  Sometimes I do actually go through the process in increments — I can do part of the feeling and distancing and witnessing, but not all of it, and I do repeat the visiting of that emotional state — but the next time is not nearly as intense, and eventually there is release.

I don’t know how I learned to do this or what help I may be drawing on when I do do it (I don’t have a sense of acting alone, of being a self-sufficient rugged spiritual individualist, I have the sense of being part of a network), I don’t know where or how I learned a lot of what I know.

Human garbage pail

December 2, 2011

I’ve thought about the problematic consequences of acting like a human garbage pail with respect to eating, say, too many leftovers before they go bad, so they won’t have to be thrown out, or too many leftover children’s snacks, etc. when they don’t finish at the table or lose interest in what used to be a favorite food, so the food won’t go stale and unserved:  it’s one way people more generally and parents gain weight.

It’s kind of noticeable when the jeans no longer fit comfortably.   But at least we have that feedback loop.  What about emotional leftovers?  Maybe we do something similar with taking on the leftover emotions of an interaction with someone else or with the world at large, maybe we take on emotional baggage that we should really toss or recycle, but in this context don’t notice the feedback as easily.  Eventually, though, we find ourselves navigating our lives with too much difficulty (road rage as a symptom, for example).

I think this is on my mind because I am thinking that in addition to “whispering” as I mentioned in my last post, I’m aware of trying to pull into our world some “fresh spiritual air,” so to speak, like opening a window, through prayer.  People create a lot of emotional leftovers from their interactions, and then many of them inflate these emotional leftovers, maybe by a form of ruminating on them.  While the general category of ruminating on emotions may include witnessing emotions, that particular technique (the witnessing of an emotional state from outside of it) diminishes it.  The form of ruminating that increases emotions or emotional states involves less objectivity than is brought to bear by witnessing, I think; maybe this other kind of ruminating includes self-justification (out of defensiveness and guilt), maybe it’s the sort of thing we do when we don’t quite accept that we felt what we felt so we keep re-living the reaction and it doesn’t go away and even gets bigger, I’m not sure.  My point here is more about how when we are left with negative emotions after an interaction and don’t clean them up, or in fact increase them, they stink up the joint.  Really, they do.

So, our emotional detritus makes it more difficult for us as individuals to move around, like wearing jeans that are too tight, but it also is kind of like noxious gases that make it more difficult for everyone to breathe.  It may be a “natural” process, but we do need to open a window to dissipate the fumes.  There’s where I think even fewer people are aware that there’s an issue there; I think people nowadays are somewhat aware of the individual baggage they carry, but I think they are less aware that spending six months fuming about having been “wronged” by someone or something, for example, has an impact on the general emotional environment.  It’s another reason we should try more not to consume emotional leftovers from an interaction and to clean them up afterwards if we find we have.

The way I’m aware of trying to pull in some clean emotional air is through prayer, kind of general, “Here I am, here we are, please be with us” addressed to the highest and purest reaches of the universe.  I think it’s harder to pull in some refreshing breezes the stinkier it gets down here, and I think part of that is that it becomes harder for people more weighed down by emotional baggage to remember how to reach for that refreshment; so we get a negative self-perpetuating cycle.  But like cleaning up a dirty house, it can be done, one step at a time, and if we have trouble washing the windows or reaching something, we can call for help.