Archive for February, 2018

Quiet Blessings

February 25, 2018

Exhausted, coming home from several hours spent on a family intervention, being a mediator for parents, their older-teen daughter, and the couple who have taken the daughter in since she ran away from home and reported her parents to youth services. So much anger, so much pain, so much misunderstanding, a microcosm of the macrocosm of mistrust, fear and hatred reflected in the barrage of daily news thrown at us.

I couldn’t decide what would best restore me. Were my husband at home, talking with him would rapidly help re regain balance. But he is not only not at home, he is not in the country and not in a place where the “wonders of modern technology” are sufficient to ensure communication. Had I an “inside dog” companion, I know from past experience a Scottie or Shih Tzu cuddle would also restore me. But I only have an assertive excellent outside guard Akita who does not do cuddle. Jump up on me, demand treats, fiercely protect me and our herd from predators, horses, neighbors working in their fields – all those she barks away with determination. I appreciate her for her skills. They do not easily restore me to a place of rightness in my world.

It as become apparent that one of the best benefits I derive from my marriage is the easy, quiet togetherness of evenings spent with my husband, he studying and me reading or writing. Not many words exchanged, just a restful companionship. With most everyone else in my vicinity, whether clients or acquaintances, I have to be “on” in some fashion, engaged, accommodating to their level of energy, finding topics of conversation when I would prefer to not have to think.

Why do we make it so hard on each other, to just “be”?

What finally brought me ease was an Andrew Wyeth painting posted on Facebook by Leslie Mason. Copied from I Require Art, the picture entitled Off at Sea is of an empty bench before a window with a view of distant clouds, mostly shades of white. I saw in it the welcoming silence of a Quaker Meeting about to begin, and immediately settled into an inner contemplation focused on all the quiet blessings in my personal life.

No, I’m not going to enumerate them here. Instead I encourage you to seek out your own. They are often tucked into corners, small and easily overlooked. Many different prescriptions have been offered in recent days for the ugly violence that permeates not just our culture in the US, but too many others in the world. My background is Jewish and members of my extended family perished in the Holocaust. I do not think it right to criticize an Olympic  skater for using the Schindler’s List score to perform to, just because she is German. Did anyone inquire if perhaps she is also Jewish? Or wanted to honor those who did what they could to oppose the horror unleashed by Nazism? Have we become so conditioned to intolerance and rejection that we are unable to allow a dancer to interpret a beautiful piece of music, only because of her nationality?

None of the prescriptions for preventing recurrence of types of violence featured idaily n the headlines seem to me to be directed toward reducing tensions. Instead they fall  mostly in the “meet violence with violence” category, or they cast blame on all adherents of a differing viewpoint regardless of the moderated, mediated, seeking to meet in the middle tone with which those viewpoints are offered.

Which brings me back to the unhappy family mediation effort I engaged in today. No one wanted to, seemed willing to, consider finding common ground. Each participant was totally vested in being right, and justifying their every outrageous action by some equally outrageous behavior on “the other side.” I was only able to suggest a mild disengagement, a cooling off period, with severely limited interaction, in hopes that the high emotion level could thus be brought down to a more manageable level.

Scientists are discovering that our brains are permanently altered by extensive amounts of “screen time”, most of that spent on social media. I haven’t yet read through the details of the studies, but I will not be surprised to learn that the alteration pushes us toward requiring ever greater levels of drama and stimulation, in order to feel engaged. The unavoidable result is that what was once outrageous is now commonplace, catching our attention for a few days, at most a week, and then fading away, needing to be replaced by something yet more fear or anger inducing. We seem to have forgotten, as a species, how to value calmness, serenity, satisfaction, balance, centeredness, peace.

I am very aware that, were I younger, living in only slightly different circumstances, more engaged with social media, I might well have gone from the mediation to a bar, seeking noise and loud music, alcohol and high energy to replenish the depletion I felt. I can envision how that sort of ‘cranking it up’ could seem appealing. But I do not see how that response can be beneficial in a larger sense, since it seems only to tilt the emotional turmoil meter ever farther to an extreme.

I know I am not the only one to feel that pushing to the extreme in so many dimensions of life is dangerous, threatening an entire spectrum from individual well-being to the functioning of our national democracy. I am also not the only voice speaking out for moderation, balance, a cooling off period, some healthy silence. A recent post by Neodivergent Rebel discusses several aspects of modern office space/work conditions that are difficult for those with unique neurological functioning to manage. All these “innovations” strike me as quite intolerable. Open office space – i.e. cubbies in a huge tank of a room – super bright neons instead of natural light, frequent reassignment of desk space, pop meetings rather than scheduled ones… A la Snoopy, my response is Arrrrrgh!

Just as generations of younger people require ever louder volume at the movies to compensate for their hearing lost to blasting music, apparently generations of over-stimulated brains require more and more arousal to  feel at ease, and hyper-emotionalism is the new norm.

World wide? Or just in the West, and in those countries (so many of them now) subjected to the constant stress of warring factions, religious persecution, ethnic cleansing? Why is the trend toward agitation, unrest, dis-ease, noise and disruption spreading so widely?

What will it take for Bhutan to lead the way to more places monitoring gross national happiness?

I have no answers for anyone but myself. For me, now, it is to sit in contemplation of Off at Sea, while I review the quiet blessings of my life.

(I tried to get a copy of the picture uploaded here but can’t seem to manage it, due to my unfamiliarity with the functioning of the Chromebook I’m still learning to use. You’ll have to Google it. Sorry!)

 

In the Small Hours

February 18, 2018

What is it about the small hours of the night (somewhere between 2:30 and 4:30) that allows our deepest fears to surface and torment us? My acupuncturist has spoken of how energy patterns shift through the various body meridians at different times in the 24 hour cycle, identifying for me which pathways are activated around 3 AM. Certain emotions are associated with each of the organs for which these meridians are named, including the emotion of fear. I will not be surprised to learn that the meridian and organ linked to fear is energized in the wee small hours. A healing system that has been effective for many more centuries than Western medicine has existed is certain to continue to give good answers to silly but nonetheless life altering questions.

( A check after I wrote the bulk of this essay confirmed that the meridians engaged at that time are lungs, associated with grief and loss, and kidneys which are indeed associated with fear.)

Life altering, because the course of a life can be determined by the way in which one handles the sleeplessness, the stark terror, or the merely nagging discomfort of the fears that arise. Tough it out until it passes? Make Plans C through F for how to deal with what one fears may happen? Pray for escape from the threat? Or for understanding of how to transform the fear into acceptance? Look for the spiritual lesson hidden in the fear? Identify the origins of the fear and how one’s circumstances have changed such that the fear is no longer relevant?

Intellect can interpret, redirect, calm, reason away irrational emotions. It is not very effective at reasoning away rational feelings, like the fear experienced by a military spouse left behind when the partner goes into a war zone. It is eminently rational to fear the loved one will come to harm in a dangerous environment. No matter how well armed, trained, clever the spouse may be, there is always the chance of the proverbial “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Reason also does not seem to work well, for me, against fears that are ultimately rooted in inner experiences, whether or not they express themselves as projections into our common outer reality. I have come to understand that my early conditioning by a mentally ill and abusive mother set me up to expect that good things would not be granted to me, and that happiness is not a state of being that I would be allowed to enjoy for more than snatched and brief moments in a life otherwise fated to be a harsh struggle against negative forces determined to block and overwhelm me.

Writing that last thought out, I recognize it as exactly what my mother believed and felt, and made into the truth of her own life. Sometime after she died, when I was already approaching my own middle age, I read a diary my mother had written at the age of fourteen, as she traveled to a boarding school in what was then Palestine, now Israel. It showed me a girl already lost to reality, living in a fantasy world filled with both a gallant Prince Charming and horrific ogres doing battle for her attention. She appeared to have been more convinced of the reality of the ogres than of the existence of the princes in those writings. She certainly manifested that orientation to the negative as I knew her. And she apparently instilled that expectation of the negative more deeply into me than I had realized until a very recent 4 AM awakening.

I have been reasoning away the discomfort of not receiving an expected call over the past 46 hours, with sufficient success that I was able to complete a productive day of work, relax and go to sleep at the usual time – but not to stay asleep through the meridian shift that occurred about 3:30. Awake in the dark, I allowed myself to feel the despair of loss in order to trace back its cause, and then started writing to externalize the feelings, a technique I’ve found most helpful in the past. And there, on the page, is the statement about my mother and the realization – not just an intellectual knowing but a deep-seated understanding – of how I have been affected/infected by that same expectation that the ogres will win.

Scant minutes after writing the lines about ogres and princes, the awaited phone call came in. And I learned that the sequence of events I had rationalized to explain its delay had indeed taken place. More importantly, I was shown yet again that realizing the truth of a situation is transformative. My spiritual Teacher frequently reminds us that we do not have to “fix” what we perceive to be out of balance. “Recognition is enough” he tells us. Once the elements of an issue have been recognized (re-cognized, seen from a different point of view) we are directed to take our attention off the subject matter and place it back where it belongs, on our spiritual purpose in this life. “Attention is food, what you give attention to grows, what you deprive of attention withers and vanishes.”

I was initially distraught at least partially because I couldn’t tell if my fear arose from a prescient foreboding of an impending calamity, or instead from a deeply ingrained and unconscious pattern of expectation (what on the MasterPath is called a sanskara). As indicated above, my experience of the emotions and subsequent contemplation of the experience put it squarely into the sanskara category. Releasing the sanskara’s hold on my attention and imagination came (is still coming) next. New insights arise daily, as I do my normal chores and also those that have fallen to me during my husband’s unexpected absence. I see that I am being gifted with opportunities to completely reassess my experience of being unsupported and, of necessity, totally self-reliant throughout virtually all of my life, until four years ago.

Knowing now what it feels like to be in a loving, mutually supportive and caring relationship, I begin to realize that – should my worst fear be realized – I would not be cast back into the unfulfilled void of my earlier years. I am not that same person, or perhaps more accurately I do not see that person through the same eyes as before.

For that change, as for so many other new insights connected to my initial 3 AM panic, I am most deeply grateful.


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