Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Telephone-itis

April 14, 2020

I am discovering a curious disadvantage to what generally would be considered an advantaged upbringing. Or maybe the disadvantage is only the result of still working at an old enough age to have grown without phones? When I was small, in D.C. before we went overseas, there was a phone in the house – a 4 party line that my parents instructed me was never to be used except for a true crisis, like the house was on fire (and I the child was alone) so lady bug, lady bug, fly away home. I don’t remember which sort of ring meant the call was for my parents, only that our phone number was a Woodley followed by 5 numbers. I have no recollection of ever doing anything with the phone but answering it when my mother called out to me to do so because she was too far away to get to it in time. I was taught to say “hello, please wait until my mother comes” and then to be still.

By the time I was twelve, we went overseas to Vietnam, and again there was no phone for general use, only a connection to my father’s office at the Embassy, so he could be reached urgently if necessary. My parents did occasionally receive or issue an invitation by phone, but I was again constrained not to consider the instrument as available to me. Moving on to Paris when I turned 15, the rules changed only slightly.  The phone in our apartment could be used to arrange to meet a friend, or to pass along a message from my mother to my father at work, but calls were charged by the minute so brevity was essential. 

College meant dorm life, one pay phone at the end of the hall shared by 35 girls. Again brevity was mandated. So it wasn’t until after graduation and marriage that I actually had access to a phone, in my home, for every day communication. Needless to say, by that point, “hanging on the phone talking endlessly with friends” was absolutely NOT my pattern. Throughout my life and to this day I think of the phone as a basic tool for brief, essential communication, period.

I carry a cell phone, I have learned to text and in fact prefer texting to talking much of the time. Not sure why – something to do with having come to think of myself as a writer?

Anyway, that is the background against which the changes to my already-work-from-home-job have brought me up against a hard truth. No longer able to visit my clients for their many mandated assessments, having instead to complete two hour evaluations by phone, has turned what was the most enjoyable aspect of my work into the most onerous of tasks. Further, it has pushed me so far away from any other phone conversation that I find I am avoiding talking with friends whom I normally do connect with on the phone. 

Sad.

And troubling, in that I am left feeling like a failure as a friend, in these stressful and isolating times. I know some of the people with whom I was accustomed to having a reasonably long phone chat every couple of weeks need that interaction now more than before. I want to be a caring friend, not one who disappears when times get hard. Yet after a long work day spent largely on the phone, I so crave silence and freedom from the disembodied voice, that I don’t even listen to video clips embedded in the news. If I can’t read it, the information will not reach me.

Needless to say I don’t bother with podcasts. I have on a few occasions of long solo car trips listened to a talking book to keep me attentive. Otherwise I do not use that form of entertainment. At the end of my work days now, I mostly crave and seek silence, which I can fortunately have at home. Reading a novel, playing solitaire, cooking, going for a walk across our property, these are my activities.

They do not require talking, most especially not talking on a phone.

If you, reading this, are one of the people who is missing calls from me, please accept my apology for my incapacity. Know that you are in my thoughts. Email me, or text me, and I will reply. And know also, that once I can do my work as face to face visits with my clients, reducing my use of the work phone back to its pre-Covid level, I will once more enjoy chatting with you.

The New Reality

March 29, 2020

Being already a “work from home” employee, the stay at home order keeping us safe in New Mexico is not as severe a change for me as it is for those used to clustering in an office. The most engaging part of my job – visiting clients in their homes to complete assessments of their needs – has been altered to over-the-phone sessions which are challenging and, from my perspective and the feedback I’ve received, notably less satisfying to both parties. Not comfortable for me, a person who never learned to “hang on the phone” as a teenager, but a small price to pay for the general increase in health safety for me and my clients.

What is considerably less easy to accommodate is the withdrawal of almost all the support system that I rely on to keep my energy up and my own health assured. 

Last month, due to three successive weeks of snow storms on my scheduled appointment day, I repeatedly missed an acupuncture treatment and my overall health dipped noticeably. My provider wasn’t happy that I seem unable to maintain function without a weekly treatment. I can understand his view – but I hope I helped him feel better when I likened the weekly treatments, that I seem to be dependent on, to a person reliant on an oxygen concentrator. Without it they lose energy and fade, with it they can maintain a normal active life.

Under New Mexico’s fairly strict stay-at-home guidelines, I no longer have access to acupuncture. At the same time, the pressures of my work have doubled, as I not only have the normal load of assessments and contacts with my caseload to complete, but also have to help frail and dependent people meet their non-medical, every day needs despite the general shut down of almost all businesses and transportation.

Reading about the run on hair dye because beauty salons have closed, or the ongoing discussions of how to entertain and/or educate children at home from school, I am well aware of how many adjustments everyone (almost everyone – unbelievably there are still some who persist in disregarding the threat we all face) is having to make, and how difficult most of us find it to make major adjustments of any kind on short notice.

I was scheduled for a haircut two days after my state shut us all indoors. Many many years ago, I cut my own hair. If need be, I suppose I will do so again. Looking shaggy and slightly unkempt is perhaps not good for my emotional well being, but it is not on a par with adapting to going without acupuncture treatments. 

I have, like everyone, a list of the negatives of being limited to home except for accessing “vital” functions like groceries. But I am also listing the positives of living how and where I do – easy access to safe outdoor exercise, for example. I merely have to step outside my house and walk to the mailbox (a quarter mile by the time I go there and back), feed the chickens, hunt for where one aggravating hen has decided to lay hers hidden away from the usual places the rest favor, or follow my dog across our several acres as she chases cottontails.

Living comparatively remotely, in an area where electrical failures are not uncommon, I am habituated to keeping stocked with nonperishables. Working in health care, I keep a supply of cleansers that I routinely use after member visits. Thus I have not been caught short in the face of suddenly empty store shelves. My diet is perhaps not as varied as I would prefer, but I will not go hungry. 

After living the proverbial paycheck to paycheck for almost all my working life I am, better late than never, a little more comfortable. Enough so as not to worry about meeting my bills even if my spouse should be furloughed for some portion of the economic pause the nation is now experiencing. My plans to retire by mid-late summer are probably going to be scrapped, but they were not yet firmly in place. For now, although it is stressful and fatiguing, having the work to do is also rewarding. With so many usual outlets closed off, it is good to be able to still feel useful.

Pertinent to usual outlets – I am aware of wanting to help my favorite local restaurants to survive by supporting their take-out order processes now in place, but realize that my enjoyment of an occasional meal there has rarely been about the food. What I value is the “going out to eat”, being served in an atmosphere different from home. Bringing take out home does not satisfy that desire for change – and I enjoy cooking enough that replacing my own meal with a brought in one is of little benefit. If I can help the restaurant survive, though, I am doing something positive for my neighbors and community.

The reality of voluntary seclusion (or mandated seclusion in an increasing number of locations) is bringing out a new awareness of variations in level of trust in relationships that, at least for me, would not likely have come to mind otherwise. I tend to take people as they present themselves unless or until something significant exposes that they are not what they seem. This quality of not judging has been beneficial in my employment, enabling me to obtain cooperation from diverse clients whom others have found too difficult to work with.  Now however, circumstances have led me to reconsider even relatively close relationships, as I assess if I trust someone else enough to have them into my home, or me to go into theirs. Do they have an appropriate level of conscientiousness about hygiene to assure my safety? How do I balance the importance to mental health of occasional social contact with the equally important need to protect physical health?

That latter question is not so unlike the national challenge of balancing health of the population and health of the nation’s economy. Trade offs of all sorts are bringing to the fore our very varied senses of morality, ethics, and individual versus communal well-being. The only certainty is that we, both as individuals and as a society, will not come out unscathed nor unchanged.

May we all come out and have the opportunity to see what is altered, and in what ways!

Cultural Divide

August 2, 2019

I recently attended a wedding celebration that was notable not just for the radiance of both bride and groom (he is known for his smiles and was positively overflowing with joy) but also for its uniting of an Hispanic and a Cameroonian, who have known each other for six years already and have (hopefully) ironed out the cultural kinks in their relationship. I was seated with my husband at a table mostly of Cameroonian guests, one of whom brought his Hispanic girlfriend. While my husband talked in pidgin with his country-mates, I did my best to both follow their conversation and chat in English with the only other non-pidgin speaking guest at the table. She, unlike me, understands nothing of pidgin. We made the sort of small talk two strangers can be expected to begin with – where do you live, what is the current focus of your daily life, how do you know the wedding couple, etc.

Then she (I will refer to her as E) asked me how long my husband and I have been married and after I answered “five years” followed up with the question “what is the most difficult part of being in a cross cultural marriage?”

A good question. After a bit of thought, I gave her an answer but I’ not sure now it was the right answer. I told her it is especially easy to miss take how something is said and misinterpret intention when the nonverbal cues between the two cultures differ significantly. Communication between people is a miracle of overcoming different mindsets, background experiences and values. Add in different nonverbal cultures and it is amazing that people manage not to be constantly at war. The wedding dinner experience at our table was a perfect example. I knew that, seated with country-mates, my husband would mostly engage with them and expect me to fend for myself in conversation. I don’t think E expected to be left so much on her own and out of the loop. She may have felt neglected by her boyfriend, whereas I have learned not to interpret my husband’s engagement with his fellows as lack of concern for me. Rather it is a sign of his respect for me, his belief that I am quite able to make my own way in a group of Africans.

I told E that different cross-culture relationships require extra effort to bridge the unspoken communication subtleties, but that knowing this one can succeed, by always stopping to ask “is this what you intended?” before letting an emotional reaction take over. Not always easy to do, and not really any different than what one is advised to do in any relationship. 

As I’ve thought over E’s questions subsequently, I find I have a slightly different answer. The challenges still lie in the nonverbal arena but have less to do with direct communication and more to do with the intangibles of what “feels comfortable” to each partner. The most salient aspect of difference in my home has to do with what I would call noise level, but my husband most probably would just describe as ambient volume (noise having a negative connotation).

A good number of years ago, I offered housing to two new graduates of the United World College located near me, when they were stranded and unable to get home in a timely manner. The girls were friends, one from Senegal and the other from Nigeria. I worked full time while they spent the days in the house. I became accustomed to arriving home from work and, as I pulled into the garage, hearing what had been loud music suddenly shut off. The girls knew that at the end of a hectic work day I craved the country quiet of my home. They explained that the same silence that comforted me frightened them. All their lives they had lived in what I might call boisterous cultures, what I would inevitably experience as much too much noise. 

One need not go outside the U.S. to know this sort of cultural distinction though here we are more inclined to view it as simply a difference of personal preference. Some families are expressive, others restrained, even within the same sub-cultural group. But there is also, within a culture, an underlying, unspoken assumption regarding what is a proper and appropriate level of … I can’t think of a good alternative word for noise, though I would like one that is more value neutral. Oh, I can use sound.

As I have reflected on E’s question, I’ve recalled complaints from some of my prisoner students, when I taught classes in the New Mexico penitentiary, that the black inmates were “always too loud.” I’ve also recalled visiting with my college roommate and her family at their summer home in northern Minnesota. They are Finnish and spoke so quietly that their conversation blended easily into the soft background sounds of fish jumping in the nearby lake. In that environment my normal speaking voice was loud, even to my ears, and I consciously toned it down.

Now, I have begun to wonder to what extent the larger political upheaval we are experiencing in the U.S. is rooted in not just a difference in values, and a fear-based antagonism for what is different, but in a subtle, fundamental and unnamed discomfort with, intolerance for, cultural differences in sound. And not just sound, but other equally subconscious non-verbal behaviors, like social spacing, or the meaning of time.

Our African friends issue two types of invitations – for a party at 8 PM, or for a party at 8 “white man’s time.” The former means arrive whenever it suits you, the latter means get there at most a half hour after the start. There is no expectation that any invitation means to actually get there at the stated start time. What a contrast to my German father’s indoctrination to always allow for the unexpected which might prevent me from being present exactly “on time.” That training is so ingrained that I am usually early, and wait in my car until it is appropriate to show up where I am expected.

Might the tensions expressing themselves in our present national political debates be seen as complex reactions to two fundamentally different concepts of how to deal with underlying cultural differences? One one side is the approach embodied in my response to E, to become aware of these nonverbal differences and be prepared to make allowances for them, to accommodate differences, reach across the barriers they may pose, communicate, learn and share, and thereby both show respect and grow closer. On the other is reaction, mistrust, rejection, withdrawal into separateness and an eventual unbridgeable divide.

My choice of words makes it obvious which approach I practice, and recommend in relationships, and also which I believe we as a nation should be embracing.

Talk to Me

March 21, 2018

I’ve long thought, and counselors generally agree, that good communication between partners is one of the most essential elements of a solid and lasting relationship. Love may be the motivation to engage, but silent loving will not sustain a marriage. My recent uncomfortable experience of an extended period of limited, fractured or non-existent communication proved to me just how accurately I had previously perceived the importance of open, honest, considered, thoughtful sharing.

Might the documented health benefits of pet ownership in older people living alone be connected to the fact that most such individuals talk to their pets? And many are certain the pets answer them with meaningful albeit non-verbal communication.

I’ve come away from the past six weeks wiser about my own inner dynamics: my deepest fears, my ability to face those fears, the places where my ego “sticks” and doesn’t want to let go, let God, forgive and forget. Over the course of my life I’ve mostly been flexible in my interactions with people, accommodating to idiosyncratic behavior. Many of my clients have said they never expected to feel so comfortable with someone demonstrably different than they, but that I have made them forget those differences. Some few behaviors, I have now earned, I am not easily able to disregard or forgive.

And I learned a lot about the limits of using reasoning to override, direct, or temper emotions. In so doing, I think I have come away with an improved perception of my seriously emotionally disturbed mother. Her fears were so profound and pervasive, and flipped into anger so readily, that there was no opportunity for reason to affect her feelings and behavior. Undiagnosed, untreated, she navigated her way through a flood of emotions for which she had no words, so she erupted into brutal anger “over nothing.”

My father’s response was to withdraw – duck and cover – until her eruption subsided. Which left me to bear the brunt of her anger, whether some action of mine was the trigger, or I was just the handy scapegoat for anger she couldn’t otherwise express at her employer, at my father, at the repairman who arrived two hours later than expected, at the pot that burned supper, at the neighbor’s barking dog… You can see the picture without my drawing it out further.

Inability to communicate. Interruptions to communication. Fear of communication. It doesn’t matter what creates the barrier – if that barrier is real, it is highly destructive of relationship.

I am, therefore immensely grateful that willingness to share and to listen and to explain and to understand are now proven core qualities in my marriage. The misunderstanding that arose inevitably from the circumstances of our separation took less than 24 hours of being back together to resolve. The resolution brought new understanding, altered perspectives, new goals and what feels, on my side, like a more realistic appraisal of where I still have some work to do involving trust in myself and in my right to be happy, without having to prove or earn or guard or control the circumstances of that produce my happiness.

I am grateful for the lessons learned – with just a tiny voice whispering that it would have been nice if those lessons could have been taught a tad less harshly. I must conclude that my ego is most stubbornly determined to remain in charge and needed to be “hit upside the head with a 2×4” as the saying goes. Okay, my attention has been brought around to where it needs to be, I am listening to what my partner has learned and communicating my own learning. We are both re-balancing ourselves within our spiritual center, placing ego away to the side where it belongs.

It does feel good to be moving forward in harmony once more!

Building a Better Habit

March 4, 2018

Both Musings from a Tangled Mind and Time Goes By writers occasionally start a post by announcing they are going to rant, the latter under the heading of Crabby Old Lady as the writer. I don’t recall having posted a rant before, and I don’t have an “alter” to credit as being the complainer. It’s just me, out of reflective mode and full force into objecting to conditions imposed by a combination of circumstances and thoughtless behavior.

I recognize that, in the larger view, what I find objectionable is minor, especially when compared to:

  • ongoing abuse by ICE
  • hideously frequent massacres of school children in the U.S.
  • kidnapping, rape  and enslavement of children and teenage girls in many locations around the world
  • dire poverty and lack of health care that is pervasive.

So many ills one cannot begin to encompass them all, let alone respond.

Maybe that’s why I feel able to post this rant – it is one that can be responded to by individuals, one here and one there, accumulating into a movement toward greater civility from which we will all benefit.

I already know that my feelings are shared by some of my age-mates, and I have read of the “expert” advice to parents to impose discipline on their children with regard to … banning cell phones at the dinner table, but that is only a small piece of the problem. Cell phones have, to my mind, magnified both positive and negative behaviors and are, mistakenly, made the target of praise and blame that belongs more properly to the users of those cell phones.

Hmm – I hear how that statement could be thought to echo ones by NRA supporters, about guns not being the problem when people are killed. I need to state clearly that my position is that, where human behavior is not well controlled, the tools for expressing that behavior – when it is harmful – MUST be controlled. Guns MUST NOT BE AVAILABLE to people who have not been proven to be able to handle them responsibly.

And cell phones should not be always available to people who misuse them. We then need to define what misuse means, which gets back to the underlying values and conduct which are the true target of my rant. Governments wishing to control and suppress freedom of citizens define misuse as any action that shows the government in an unflattering way. In those circumstances, using a phone to show the world pictures of torture and abuse makes the phone a tool supporting human rights. Uploading and posting a snuff video makes the phone a tool of pornography and human degradation. Cutting off ability to access the Internet and post pictures becomes either a step towards suppression of rights (as in Cameroon where the English-speaking regions are being systematically cut off from the world by a government in denial of the legitimacy of the regions’ grievances), or a step towards increased respect for human dignity (when sites regulate and bar degrading or abusive posts).

Hmm, I didn’t intend to get so much into a “big picture” analysis of the issue that is bothering me. But I guess it’s unavoidable, since my small issue is ultimately also a question of competing values, and what actions do or do not support dignity and respect for individuals.

Circumstances have forced me to tolerate a degree of uncertainty, of hanging around and waiting, and of being constantly interrupted that I am unable to experience as anything other than profound disrespect. Understanding the reasons for the experience has slightly mitigated my anger, and helped me to minimize directing it at an inappropriate target – but I remain angry. I suspect precisely because my little issue is not , as writing this essay is revealing to me, readily separated from the big picture abuses of individual, group and government actions that show  disdain for basic human rights.

If you say you will call me in an hour, call me in an hour. If you aren’t sure you’ll be able to call, tell me you aren’t sure you’ll be able to call. If you reach me, keep your attention on me, talk to me, listen to me – and if something comes up on your end of the call that requires your attention, either postpone it until we’re done, or take a moment to tell me you have to end the call and say goodbye. DO NOT just turn away and deal with the other issue without any explanation, leaving me talking to empty air, or hanging on the line not knowing what has occurred or how long you’ll be distracted. And if, as has been the case for me lately, making a connection is difficult then when one is finally achieved, give it priority. Otherwise you must want me to believe you really don’t much care whether we are in touch or not.

Okay, ego, you’ve had your say. Now recognize that you are not all that important. If I, the true I that is Soul, am in charge and living fully in the present moment, then whatever anyone else is or is not doing is irrelevant. You are not keeping me hanging, waiting – I am allowing you to do so. I can hang up the phone, keep the connection open and spend the time in contemplation, or choose to get angry at what feels like disrespect.

What I don’t have an answer for, is why that last emotional response is so powerful and hard to set aside in favor of one of the other more pleasant and healthful responses. Or more truthfully, I do know why – long habit and indoctrinated learning. I do not know as clearly why I continue to persist with a habit I don’t like, and wish to be rid of.

My spiritual teacher instructs that if you want a habit to fade, take your attention off it. Attention is food, and giving something attention encourages it to grow. I see that readily enough in others, and I recognize it in myself in this instance. I do hope that writing out the irritation will prove to be a means of separating myself from it and not a form of enhancing my attention to this grievance. The fact that I have already set it into the context of a broader values issue encourages me to think the separation is beneficial.

And in the way that shows me that I am graced, no sooner had I completed this analysis than a call I had been waiting for arrived.

Now, as to the troubles of the world filling that bigger picture with so much ugly news, it would seem a similar answer is available, and has been touted here and there but never adequately implemented. Give attention to the good, kind, caring things people do instead of the vicious and ugly ones. Find the Schindlers in today’s troubled world and broadcast their positive efforts. Do as one parent of a murdered school child requested – never again mention the name of the shooter. Instead speak often of those who rescued or saved their classmates and students, making those names known world wide.

Just as negative emotions grab my attention from a habit that has been hard for me to break, negative actions grab world attention in an equally rigid habit pattern. But as I, and others, one individual and one habit at a time, break the patterns by shifting our attention, so too we should be able to cumulatively shift attention on the broader issues, “accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative” and moving ourselves away from violence and hatred, towards mutual respect and greater harmony.

Baraka Bashad, may these blessings be.

 

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!)

 

No Drama Please

December 28, 2017

Of the many adjustments required as we age, one I did not anticipate has emerged as a result of coworkers taking time off for the seasonal holidays. In particular, a behavioral health care coordinator (BHCC) with whom I work closely has been on vacation since before Christmas, and won’t return until after New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, one of the clients we coordinate to assist has been in crisis, suicidal and starting to misuse drugs. I have done what I can to support his immediate family members who are the ones actively intervening to divert his self harm. He seems to be headed for inpatient assistance, and I did find another contact person for his family to call if they need further help while I in my turn take the next few days off.

In years past I have had a counseling license, and supported myself at times with a private clientele about evenly divided between couples unable to communicate about their incompatibilities, and men with anger issues. From the feedback I received, I was an effective practitioner, and I found the work rewarding. I learned much that has been useful to me in my subsequent years working in home health, and now as a care coordinator for a managed care organization. I even thought about applying to work for the behavioral health component of the organization. Something held me back – and now I think I know what that something is.

Age.

Not that I’m too old to do the job, which is no more demanding than my own. In fact the  BHCCs have smaller caseloads, more paid vacation, and the same working hours as I do, so the capacity of my older body to see the work week through might well be less stressed by a BH caseload. That’s not the issue.

While I don’t agree that getting older means getting more conservative, I do see in myself a subtle shift in values that can perhaps best be described as less engaged with the drama of others’ lives. For those who seek help, I am ready to provide supports, encouragement, instruction, empowerment and accompaniment if that is needed. I don’t expect immediate success nor do I limit the number of repeats necessary or the amount of time allowed to achieve progress, however minimal, toward the client’s stated goals. What I used to also offer was intervention when misunderstandings escalated into high drama, persistent redirection when drug use became a burden, and a generally more receptive involvement with the ups and downs of my clients.

No more.

In one of several descriptions of the stages of life, the later years are said to be dominated by contemplation. Whether reviewing one’s own life, or reflecting on the state of society, older people are perceived to be thinkers more than doers. Pragmatically, we’ve learned the often negative consequences of impulsive, reactive behavior. We see benefit in giving reasoned responses and we know that few important decisions need to be made “right here, right now.” Which is not to say that we procrastinate (though some of us may do so), nor that we resist acting promptly, in a timely manner, to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. But we do so with forethought, and at least in my case, with a degree of detachment from the decision.

Perhaps what I’m trying to express is simply that few things that arise strike me as dire and in need of immediate action. Few things, equally, are apt to cause my world to collapse around me, if my decision turns out to be faulty. As a consequence, I apparently also prefer not to be unduly engaged , at this point in my life, with people for whom every decision is fraught with high drama. I care about, but do not fear, outcomes. I am confident that if things don’t work out as I hoped, I will not only survive but appreciate the different direction my life goes as a result of the unexpected outcome.

This preference definitely carries over into my work; I don’t wish to engage much with people in the midst of high drama, panicking over decisions that may seem, but seldom are, life threatening. Ergo, I would not do well with a caseload of clients with such mental instability that they need care coordination to get through the basics of their daily lives. My own clients need care coordination as well, but primarily to help them access supports for their physical shortcomings. I am occasionally called on for counseling on how to accept new physical limitations, plan for end of life, or adapt to new and frightening diagnoses. That is a type of mental/emotional support I still feel easily able to provide.

Without this past week’s experience, I might not have recognized my shift in perspective. I do know that I don’t want emotional tension in my life now. I used to live with a degree of dramatic stress which I would now find totally exhausting. Loss of energy with age? Loss of patience with false intensity of feeling? Or gain in understanding and perspective, with an accompanying gain in ability to express and manifest my preferences?

Whatever the underlying reason for my shift in preferences, I’m glad to recognize them and know that I have the capacity to implement them in both my personal and my work life.

Now, I wonder what previously unconscious inclinations, habits, tendencies and preferences will be revealed to me in the new year? I look forward to finding out.

big-billed-bird.jpg

Standing Proudly

Giving Oneself Permission

December 23, 2017

Today was nothing out of the ordinary by way of work demands, but somehow the juxtaposition of those demands and the expectation of three days off for the Christmas holiday made the emotional drain of the day salient in a way I have not previously recognized. Yes I know that my work pulls hard on my energy. It also gives energy rewards in the form of appreciation and thanks for the help I am at least occasionally able to offer. I’ve not sat down to try to put the outflow and the inflow onto any sort of balance scale. I rather doubt I am capable of such an assessment, and not sure that there is any real benefit to be had from the effort. I won’t be changing my employment any time soon and I have no control over, and no way to predict the arrival of, expressions of appreciation for what I do. Those are simply givens of my daily life.

What I do have some control over is my ability to recognize when an energy drain is more severe than usual. I can also, usually, identify what makes the drain more severe or more noticeable. And I can, if I practice what I know to be effective, consistently make an effort to re-balance myself. The “catch” lies in those seemingly simple few words, “consistently making the effort.”

Nothing seems harder, when I feel drained, than making an effort of any sort. Sporadic, halfhearted, minimal are as much a challenge as consistent or purposeful.

Moment of clarity! This problem needs redefinition. Activities to recharge my energies must not be categorized as achieved through effort, but rather as the result of desire. I must not be telling myself I should do what I know I will find refreshing. Instead I wish to hear the voice in my head saying “go on and enjoy … “ (whatever the activity may be), “you need and deserve this time for yourself.”

How is it that we so easily slip into making have to’s of what began as want to’s? I enjoy stringing beads into jewelry, yet I seem to only sit down to create when I have a gift to give someone, and a limited timeline for completion of the project. I equally rather enjoy writing these blog essays, but rarely do so simply to relax and focus my attention. For awhile now, I’ve thought that I’d like to return to piano lessons, and see how much I’ve retained from my childhood instruction. What stops me is the voice in my head saying that I will then “have to” make time to practice, and I already drown in too many have to’s. Why isn’t that voice saying “If you think you’ll enjoy the activity, try it” since, if it doesn’t provide me a pleasurable relaxation, I can always stop?

Some twenty years ago I wrote a long letter to my spiritual teacher that included a discussion of my understanding of responsibility and how that quality developed in me, as well as how deeply embedded it had become. I identified how limited, by contrast, was my experience with spontaneity, with love and with simple pleasure. Over the decades since I have learned to be much more present in the moment, and to enjoy many of those moments purely for what they are: this morning’s colorful sunrise, for example. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to love and be loved, and have become overall a much happier person. I apparently have not, however, yet freed myself from that deeply ingrained orientation of being responsible, as though to do so would turn me into someone less worthy.

The most loving people I know are also the most responsible to others in their lives. The most responsible people I know are (were) among the most difficult to live with, for others in their lives. As frequently as we are exhorted to think more of others than of ourselves, one could believe that selfishness rules the world and sadly, seeing the actions of government in the U.S of late, one would be correct. But I do not think the appropriate response to the sort of greed dominating political life is to be angrily, stridently demanding change. Yes I am concerned for the loss of integrity being manifested, for the furtherance of what to me are ugly values best buried in history. And yes I will do my part in speaking up in protest, but mostly I need to do my part by living my day to day life as best I can from an expansive place of happiness rather than from within the restrictive atmosphere of responsibility and “must do” that drains energy and leaves me snappish and deeply dissatisfied.

In the language of my Teacher, I am saying simply that I will continue to move toward living my life as pure Soul, unclouded by dualist mental considerations of right/wrong, selfish/generous, open/closed, responsible/careless, etc. Since Soul is a happy entity and happiness spreads naturally and effortlessly from one to another, there is no more effective way to re-balance both my own energy and that of everyone/thing in quite a wide sphere, than for me to keep my attention firmly focused on Being. That focus is both necessary and sufficient for responsibilities to be met, energy to be in balance, joy to replace exhaustion, and all that is meant to occur taking place as it is meant to do.

Baraka Bashad – May these Blessings Be.

 

People Are Crazy

October 29, 2017

Why is the gap between knowing what to do, and doing it, at times the widest chasm in the world?

Keep your attention on that which you wish to see enlarge in your life, and it will materialize.

If something upsets or displeases you, take your attention off it and it will fade away.

Maybe not grow or fade as fast as one might wish. There may be an appearance of events meeting expectations, but it is only an appearance. A bit of time passing is sufficient to expose the compliant facade.

The poisonous state of public discourse (or lack thereof, replaced by lies, outraged resistance, screaming headlines and moral indignation) has lately infected my inner space, leaving me restless, angry, impatient and stressed to contain those negative feelings and not dump them out inappropriately on those around me. At the same time, I have been actively seeking to shed a lifelong dependence on anger as a motivator, and to replace that useful but difficult emotion with something less hard on my health.

This morning, I woke with a country music refrain echoing in my head. “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.” In my contemplation, I filled in alternatives to the middle option, not being much of a beer drinker. Wine is good, tea is good, walking is good, friends are good, having an interesting job is good . Essentially the middle option became a counting of my blessings, followed consistently with the completing phrase “and people are crazy” so why should I expect life to go forward the way I would wish it to do?

Lately there have been comparisons to Watergate and the unraveling of the Nixon administration behind too many lies. I think a better comparison with present times lies in the 1950s and this nation’s hysterical fear of the bogeyman COMMUNISM which so infected society that it ruined careers, lives, public discourse and American foreign policy, leading the nation into the state of endless war that continues today. We are supposedly fighting a different foe now (Taliban, radical Islam, Boko Haram) but still basically having our fears exploited and our lives ended, for the profit of a few, and to enable that small group to delude themselves into believing they are powerful.

Santa Fe New Mexico Quakers recently held a gathering to explore feelings about race relations, and how the Meeting might make a positive contribution to the dialog about cultural sensitivity. Four questions were posed, and attendees gathered in groups to discuss their answers. I was not able to participate, but did write out my response to the questions.

1) As a child do you recall your family discussing how the world would treat you differently from your home environment?

2)  What was your first memory of being conscious of race. What happened?

3)  Has there been or what would have been the reaction of your family to an interracial partnership?

4)  How has a relationship or friendship with someone (of either the same race or of a different race) given you a different perspective on race?

My long essay can best be summarized as an exposition of the value of meeting others from a place of curiosity and respect, open to learning and thinking more about “what can I give” than “what can I get” from the encounter. Knowing how best to approach those whom one perceives as “different” does not, however, mean being able to implement that approach. Once again, there is that chasm between know what to do, and doing it.

God it great, mutually respectful dialog is good, and people will nonetheless seem to be crazy.

Across the Lines

July 16, 2017

Over the years I’ve heard complaints from different people about other different people, that the Italians are so noisy, or the Greeks are loud, that Blacks are impossible when they get together in groups because of their noise level and lately, particularly, that Africans congregating make a constant racket. The speakers are, obviously, not Italians or Greeks or Black Americans nor Africans. The speakers are more likely of northern European or Asian backgrounds, from cultures where restraint, quiet voices, and minimizing confrontation are deeply embedded values.

I’m not out to compare the benefits of restraint versus airing one’s mind, not to suggest that one way of interacting is better than another; all are equally effective for the members of the defined groups. My interest is in a more personal appreciation of how the same action can feel very different when experienced by members of different cultures.

Specifically, I engaged with my spouse in a process of clarifying an assignment. Together we successfully sorted out what was required and he completed his work well before the deadline. The sorting out process went rather more by his cultural norms than my own, feeling to me like an argument with raised voices, almost shouting and bordering on anger, whereas he thought our volume was merely that of a beneficial discussion.

In a similar vein, as I’m making new friends among the Africans attending school near my home, I find I’m having to explain my quietness as “just my nature” and not the result of feeling ill or ill at ease. I speak up when I have something to say, but have never learned to put energy into debate for its own sake, nor to chat casually about non-essentials. I used to think this a failing on my part, this inability to make “social chitchat” as my mother scornfully called it. I used to wish I had acquired that skill, and tried to do so but without success. My efforts were perceived for what they were, a stilted pretense of interest. Only when I had/have a role, like hostess at a party, or instructor, or guide, am I able to talk easily to or in a group. Thankfully, I’ve finally reached a point where I can accept this way that I am, and not feel badly about it.

With that acceptance has come the ability to observe different cultural patterns of communication and even to learn how to participate in unfamiliar ones without too much stress. Not so very long ago, the assignment discussion with my husband would very possibly have turned into a genuine argument, not because we disagreed but because the feeling tone of the way we expressed our understanding of it was so very different. I would have gotten hung up on the sense that he wasn’t listening to me, or giving consideration to my opinion, and he might have given up trying to convince me that I didn’t understand the assignment. Instead of a successful solution, we would have been left with frustration.

In a larger social context it seems to me that our nation is expressing constant frustration these days, arising from lack of ability to communicate across a deep cultural divide. The intolerance on both sides of that divide gets translated into a false belief that trying to understand “the opposition” is a sign of weakness and a betrayal of values. I’m far from the first to point out that “my way or the highway” has replaced finding grounds for “meeting in the middle” to the detriment of civility and increasingly to the detriment of our civil institutions.

I’m old enough to remember my parents glued to the radio listening to the Army-McCarthy hearings that brought about the end of the ugly extremism of the early 1950s. I therefore have a degree of confidence, based on past history, that the present accusatory public debate will also resolve itself and allow us to move forward in a more civil and civilized manner as a society. We won’t get there by each side trying to out-shout the other. Rather, both sides need to find the bases for having sufficient confidence in themselves and their values that they can tolerate listening to a different opinion without feeling attacked.

If we each start with a one on one encounter with someone from another part of the political spectrum, what progress we as a whole might achieve!

 


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