Forgiveness?

August 6, 2017

This post may cost me followers, maybe even friends, but nonetheless I feel compelled to speak my mind on the subject of so-called Christian forgiveness.

A number of different situations have cropped up for me recently, to bring my attention to the topic of forgiveness, what it entails, and what preconditions may be necessary for it to occur.  As background, let me say that I was raised in an ethical Jewish tradition, but outside of a Jewish community, such that my classmates and friends were all Christian. This was back in the days when public school classes began not just with a Pledge of Allegiance, but also with prayers, which the teacher usually closed with “In Jesus’ Name” and I silently said “Cross that last line out, God.”

My maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Russia in the early 1900’s who became one of the founders of the Labor Zionist party in the U.S., friends with Golda Meir and Chaim Weizmann and other early supporters and leaders of what became the Israeli state. He sent my mother to school in what was then still called Palestine, and she was also an active voice for the creation of a Jewish homeland. During my elementary school years, she taught Hebrew in an after school program at a Jewish center, leaving me to come home from school to practice my piano lesson, do housework and prepare supper. My present skill with, and enjoyment of, cooking surely dates back to those meals.

My mother was highly and expressively critical of all religious extremism, Orthodox Jewish as much as Christian or Muslim. She saw the Jewish Orthodox community as actively harming the goals and functioning of secular Israel, as readily as she pointed to the hypocrisy of “Bible thumping Christians” who preached forgiveness but still unforgivingly blamed Jews as “Christ killers.”

From that early conditioning, I moved on to exposure to different Eastern religions, became comfortable with Quaker values and silent worship, and also with Zen Buddhism, finding myself finally, in 1993, a student of MasterPath and happily centered in an unfolding, ever expanding understanding of basic spiritual Truth. As my inner education has proceeded, layer after layer of mental conditioning has been peeled away, sometimes quickly and easily, at other times only after considerable turmoil.

My consideration of the meaning of forgiveness falls in the latter category. I have thought that I’d come to terms with where I stand in relation to “letting go and letting God” as the Quakers express it, but after some months or even years, a situation would crop up to show me I am not yet free of anger and resentment over the way some people have behaved toward me. One friend recently forwarded me one of those picture quotes that make their way around the Internet, this one stating “I’m not Jesus, so I don’t easily forgive, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s, so I don’t forget.” It struck a chord in me, and started me once more into an on-going contemplation of the meaning of forgiveness.

I’m far from conversant with the New Testament, although one cannot live in a nominally Christian country without coming to know bits and pieces of the Bible which get quoted in all sorts of context. I also had an English literature teacher in college who insisted one could not understand most American and European literature without having a familiarity with both Old and New Testament, and who therefore required that we all read substantial chunks of the Bible in order to pass his class. What stays in my memory, in the context of forgiveness, is the blessing (or is it an injunction?) to “go forth and sin no more.” I hear this as specifying that to be forgiven one must change.

“I’ve apologized so you must forgive me” doesn’t cut it. An apology, unaccompanied by meaningful change in conduct, is nothing more than empty words from an arrogant and demanding ego. That is probably why Twelve Step programs include making amends as a crucial step – not just apologizing but doing what one can to set things right – i.e. demonstrating changed behavior. If I am sorry for something I’ve done that hurt another I make certain not to repeat the hurtful behavior. I expect the same from others – and I dismiss as inappropriate, even offensive, those “good Christians” who preach that I “should” forgive just because someone apologizes.

There are profoundly good, caring and sensitive people of all faiths. Most of these, in my experience, have no need to promote themselves by their religious affiliation. Their quiet daily actions speak loudly on their behalf. The more forcefully a person insists that they are acting from Christian, or Muslim, or Zoroastrian or Hindu or any other religious teaching, the more certain I am that the speaker is likely to be disrespectful of others, unforgiving and self-righteous while demanding that their own actions be forgiven “in the name of” whichever form of God they worship.

I suspect this topic of forgiveness remains pertinent to me just now, not only because of a personal, family-related situation, but because of the recent exacerbation of offensive, intolerant, “my way or the highway” conduct by self proclaimed good Christians on the national political scene who mistakenly insist that they are merely returning the nation to its origins. Yes the founders of the United States were almost exclusively Christian men, but they were adamantly opposed to having any form of religion imposed by civil authority. The Puritans fled dictates of the Church of England. William Penn established a Quaker colony. Jewish immigrants created a center in earliest New York city. The Constitution clearly established the separation of church and state, giving everyone the right to worship as he (or she) pleases. Too many current politicians seem to have conveniently forgotten our founders’ emphasis on a secular state. They are instead critical, judgmental, demanding that law follow their particular interpretation of Christian values, and in the process totally betraying those values.

I readily admit that I shut down as soon as someone says “the Christian thing to do”, when they mean the caring thing, or the thoughtful thing, or the right thing to do is X, Y or Z. I make a sharp distinction between someone explaining a teaching of their religion and then showing how they implement it, and another person who says this or that is a religious requirement that everyone MUST be made to obey, often without manifesting the appropriate associated behavior.

Which brings me back to forgiveness, and my inescapable conclusion that it you want me to forgive you, change your conduct before you approach me, and when you approach me, ASK,  don’t demand or otherwise make it my responsibility to bring about a change in our relationship. You caused the rupture, you need to figure out how to repair the wounds. My role is to be open to be approached, and willing to engage in a cooperative effort to heal the relationship.

Not bad advice for the national political scene as well.

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!

 

Healing Wounds

July 13, 2017

I just bought some spoons on Ebay. No big deal, you might think. But to me it is a big deal. Not that the spoons were very expensive; they weren’t. Not that I’ve been looking for them for years and finally found them – I identified what I needed and found them in a matter of hours. The big deal is, really, why I didn’t do so years ago.

You see, I’ve done without those spoons for a good ten years now. Each time I wanted to set my table for company, I had to mix flatware patterns – my own Oneida Yankee Clipper and a very different design inherited from my father. Often, I would opt for consistency and use his flatware, always with a “noodge” of anger that I was not setting the table to my personal taste.

You may be wondering why my own set of flatware was missing spoons. Is my answer explicit enough when I say that well in the past I shared my living space with a heroin addict?

I didn’t know the name of my own flatware pattern. I did look on line at one time for current Oneida styles and didn’t see anything resembling my set. But more relevantly, I clearly wasn’t ready to let go of the anger and resentment that flared every time I needed a spoon and had to hunt through the drawer for “my”one remaining spoon to stir my coffee or to serve up my morning yogurt.

I’ve been processing my relationship with anger during morning walks. There are a couple other circumstances that also bring up a bitter resentment, if I let myself think about the ugly behavior of the individuals involved. So mostly I don’t dwell on them. Fortunately  – or not – the other two people who can trigger my anger do not have spoons or forks or clothing or any tangible item in my household to bring them to mind. I can successfully not think of them for days or weeks at a time.

My morning walking contemplation has centered around what aspect of my ego is so determined to hang onto anger? And what aspect of my better self is being suppressed by my ego? I don’t have answers I can put into words. I can only look at the answer that emerged as my actions this evening – Google Oneida flatware, patiently go through the 25 pages of options on the Find My Pattern website, give a quiet Eureka! when I came to Yankee Clipper, then Google that pattern and find several lots of spoons for sale quite reasonably on Ebay. They’re ordered and should arrive within a week. No more resentment when I want a spoon in the morning, nor when I next set the table for company. How simple – yet clearly not simple or it wouldn’t have taken me so very many years to do.

Now I need to open my mind and heart, to be shown what similar steps will allow me to let go of the other two nubs of resentment which are much more recent, and do not have tangible “fixes” to implement. Righteous anger has its place. Not all actions can or should be forgiven. Deciding what is and what is not forgivable is a very individual and personal task. Maybe the best one can expect of oneself is to set the irritant (and the person if that is the source of the irritation) aside and move on.

Looking out for the small cottontail rabbit who has been hanging out where I walk, enjoying the play of sun and cloud over the mountains, greeting the neighbors who drive past me in the mornings, being present with the moment are all preferable to dwelling on what an angry voice would say to those who have abused me, should we meet once more. I can’t do anything about them being who and what they are. I can choose what I give my attention and energy to. I’m happy to choose purchasing spoons and savoring my surroundings as I walk.

Note: I wanted to post a picture of my Yankee Clipper spoons but haven’t yet sorted out how to import and store a photo on Chromebook. So much to learn, so little time to learn it.

 

As One Luddite to Another

July 8, 2017

I took a survey on Quartz about my interactions with artificial intelligence – questions about my familiarity with its current role in various fields as well as what I would or would not want it to be doing for me in five years. The process made me both aware of how many ways AI is already affecting my life, and the ways that I very strongly object to it doing so. At the most simplistic level, I have always turned off “auto correct” in my word processing software – my knowledge of correct grammar is better than that of any language correction program I have yet encountered. I don’t mind suggestions, I abhor being summarily overruled.

All the supposedly-tailored-to-my-interests advertising and “read this” article suggestions that pop up when I’m using a search engine make it clear how pervasive AI already is; also making it clear how inadequate it is in matching my interests. Because you see, when I’m searching for something i’m only interested in that single item. All the suggestions are irritating distractions. If AI were in fact intelligent it would know I hate and ignore them.

Recently I was given a loaner car while mine had serious undercarriage repairs. The new VW provided to me as an enticement to consider an upgrade/purchase came equipped with lots of gadgets not offered when I bought my custom-ordered Golf TDI in 2004. The various improvements on seat adjustment were nice. The polite requests that I turn on trip director and let the GPS system tell me where to turn felt almost insulting. I mean please, if I need to be told how to drive from my motel to my workplace, I shouldn’t be behind the wheel at all! Perhaps I could learn to adjust to using the screen that comes on when the car is put into reverse, but the perspective was disorienting and I looked over my shoulder to back into a parking space, as I have all my life.

It’s already apparent, when there’s a power failure at the checkout counter, that business grinds to a halt, and not just because the under 30’s cashiers can’t do simple arithmetic to make change. Inventory control, all sorts of other functions are now tied to the computers inside the cash registers and without power they don’t work. Annoying when standing in a store, unable to complete my shopping. Impossible when it’s a matter of getting where I need to go.

I really don’t see the point of a device meant to move me from one place to another being designed to be totally dependent on a computer (artificial intelligence) and thereby unable to do its primary job whenever there’s a ‘glitch’ in that device. The cars (and pickups) I grew up with could be wired together, adjusted and kept running by a reasonably intelligent layman. Those vehicles kept doing their primary job year after year after year. The new vehicles being presented as superior require a whole garage of high tech equipment just to diagnose what’s not working right. That doesn’t seem to me to be particularly intelligent.

I like and appreciate computers – in their proper place. They are good at supporting communication, quickly organizing or sorting data, making huge libraries of information readily available, enabling me to have face to face visits with friends and family around the world. I suppose the AI personal assistants can be considered to be highly skilled data organizers, keeping track of appointments, reminding of laundry that is ready for pickup, providing lists of nearby restaurants that meet the … hmm, owner? master? boss? human’s preferences,

We’re already told we use only a small portion of our brains. Why are we being moved toward using ever less of them? Shouldn’t we be expanding our own mental capacities rather than giving our already limited thinking capacity over to an artificial brain?

Makes no sense to me, unless maybe that artificial brain can quickly teach me to understand how Chrome works. My brain has been so programmed by Microsoft, that it fights adapting to Chrome. I know there’s no delete key, for example, but my hand keeps reaching for one anyway. Come on, unused brain cells, kick in and take over and learn this new system. Isn’t that what you were created for? To be used?

 

New Technology

June 25, 2017

I’m learning how to use a new device, getting used to the touch and the different sort of storage process. One more step into the rapidly advancing digital age. This “book” is so light and thin it certainly doesn’t feel like a computer, and according to the salesperson, is more of an online streaming device. Everything is stored “in the cloud” rather than on the machine. Not quite sure what that will mean when I want to return to a document created and stored?

Well, I guess I’m finding out that it remains available somehow, because I’ve just opened it up again several days later, in a different physical location but one that has otherwise said I don’t have Internet access. So… I can write anywhere, which is what I was looking for (smile).

I rarely experience what I am in the midst of now – a waiting time gap between two appointments, not long enough to head home and back into town, rather long to fill by sitting over a beverage in a restaurant or coffee shop. There are a few places in town where it is acceptable to sit and write, and I’ve found one now to pass the remaining hour of my gap. I would probably not be so aware of this odd hole in my day under slightly different circumstances. If I had my cell phone with me, there would be newsletters to read, mail to check, even solitaire games to play. But my phone is with my husband, because his has crashed. We’re waiting for a new one to arrive. I have an old style slider phone given me by my employer, useful for being reached by clients, and to stay in touch with my husband, but lacking all the services of my usual cell phone menu.

Another piece of equipment that recently crashed is the portable, 800 hours on two AA batteries AlphaSmart writer that I’ve carried around with me for many years. I will replace it soon; meanwhile this new Chromebook is the only tool available to me. As I get to know the Chromebook better, and also to know where around town it can find the Internet, I’m hopeful I’ll find it satisfactory. Just now, I’m still adapting to the fact that it doesn’t have a delete key, nor the tabs at the top and bottom of the scroll bar I’m accustomed to using to move the page up or down.

Not so very long ago, I complained that makers of copy machines and of computer printers seemed united in their determination to frustrate users, with each machine requiring paper to be placed just a little bit differently, or fed in ever so slightly differently, to get a good quality well centered printed page output. The same sorts of differences, and some not so small ones, clearly pertain between operating systems. I get it that later arrivals believe they need to tweak the process to make themselves somehow distinct, but must they also fail to provide easily accessible explanations of how they differ? Yes, I’m being cranky. I’m entitled. I grew up using printed manuals to understand how to use machines. Now if I ask about such a thing I’m looked at askance, as if I’d asked for a free key to the bank vault and unfettered access to all of that vault’s contents.

Mostly I get impatient with myself, feeling blocked from accomplishing what I’m used to doing with my writing, because of “technical difficulties.” This will pass, I know, and before long there will be one more system I can comfortably use. It’s said when you stop learning is when you start dying. So long as computer technology continues being tweaked, and I have to keep learning new systems, I guess I can be assured that I’m very much alive!

Moving Forward

June 11, 2017

If I were required to give a theme to my present set of priorities, it would be what I’ve taken as the title of this post – moving forward. Not necessarily by conscious choice, and not without some rather bumpy road to traverse. Rather, recognizing that the bumps are jostling my state of equilibrium and pushing it towards a new place, way of perceiving/being.

Not coincidentally, this is my marriage anniversary period, and also the start of a new way, for me, of accessing the “larger world” of technology, Internet, etc. Coming from a weekend MasterPath seminar with my spiritual teacher into a dramatic challenge, on Monday, of the theft of my purse, with driver’s license, credit cards and phone necessitated an immediate implementation of the lessons reinforced on Sunday. Regaining the critical items – driver’s license and phone – by Wednesday, through the attentiveness and caring of three strangers, demonstrated to me how protected I am from any serious harm.  Experiencing also the thoughtless and even ugly corporate responses of Walmart, MVD and La Quinta has pointed me toward engagement with “speaking Truth to power” that I have avoided in recent years. Moving forward in this arena means being clear in my intention, such that there is no anger in my communication. I’m not out to force changes that somehow “put things right”, only to point out clearly the values which are being trashed by blind corporate policy. If changes result, find. If they do not, so be it. I’m not attached to the outcome, only to the truth.

Being without my phone for most of a week was enlightening. I was made tangibly aware of the extent to which I have come to rely on it for access to news, as well as for the distracting pastime of playing various solitaire game. I already knew that I needed better access to email and various internet sites – including this one – and that I would have to get some sort of replacement for the recently deceased laptop I had been using. Without really any research, I went to Best Buy and came out with a Chromebook. It fits my financial limitations, and seems to actually fit my needs well, if I can just figure out how it works! Being old school and accustomed to printed materials, I feel the lack of a manual to teach me how to use such a different device. It helps that I’ve decided it’s about half way between a smart phone and a laptop. At least I have a frame of reference for thinking my way through accomplishing necessary functions. I have not yet figured out how to print a web page, if that is even possible? Yes, I know I can access manual sections on line, and will have to do so for the time being. And I can also use my husband’s computer (when he’s not busy on it) to find and print the manual. So why do those options feel unsatisfactory? Obviously, because they represent yet another way in which I am being pushed to move forward, away from familiar methods of doing things and onward into the new world order.

Caring without being attached, trusting without fear of being misled, speaking out without anger or other negative emotions, communicating clearly but without engagement with results… all avenues for moving forward into yet another new way of being, implementing yet another level of the fascinating path of spiritual evolution.

Thanks be.

 

Taking it Easy

May 27, 2017

I’m starting on a ten-day vacation, after a seemingly unending, difficult, bleak and cold eight months that challenged my ability to continue manifesting my values. As recently as five days ago we still needed a fire in the wood stove at night. If I follow the political news, I am kept in a permanent state of aggravation, as much with those who espouse my own values as with those who do not. One side offends my concepts of what is simple decency, the other comes off as stridently demanding and belittling of everyone who does not follow a path of virulent resistance. While I agree that one cannot compromise with destructive energies and must stand firmly against them, I do not agree that the best way to resist is to refuse to be educated on the steps that negative other is taking. Not participating in a bipartisan committee, for example, makes absolutely no sense to me. Forcing government to a halt hurts everyone and, based on past experience, builds resentment against the entity that causes the work stoppage.

Yes I am appalled that a candidate can slug a reporter who asked a legitimate question, and still be elected. But I am equally appalled that an organization which bills itself as supportive of democratic action would try to shame someone into providing it with financial support, as though shaming is not also an assault.

So for my vacation I am not only taking time off from work. I will be taking time off from reading news headlines, and from the swamp that our national political life has become. Balancing home chores with days of travel, seeing some of the extraordinary beauty of the Southwest where I’m happy to live, and balancing that with a visit to the unique artificiality of the city which stole its name from the one near my home. Las Vegas has appropriate meaning in New Mexico, surrounded as it is by rolling prairie. The Meadows doesn’t describe the desert from which gambling has pulled a neon mecca for greed.

Achieving, maintaining, exhibiting, respecting balance in all aspects of living is what has been most challenging for me this past winter season. I’ve seen myself pushed to choosing an extreme action, without realizing until it has happened what concepts caused that intolerance. I’m prepared to stand by the choices my actions manifested, although I am also aware that no choice of how to live is irrevocable.

Having a fair amount of time for “being” rather than “doing” in this short vacation period assures me of the opportunity to examine the effects of some choices and alter them or not, as a calmer and more balanced perspective dictates.

I do wonder why it’s so challenging to retain a sense of balance, to look before leaping, and to act rather than react?

laidbackUndoubtedly Mr. Patience Kat has the answer.

I’m Not…

May 6, 2017

Whatever else is or is not right with the world, heavy snow and a high of 30F on the last days of April is most definitely not right. Maybe for Alaska, but not for New Mexico. Yes we get spring snows, even into May on rare occasions, but not wintry cold snow lasting more than two days and temperatures in the teens. Not later than March. But that is what we had last weekend, and now here it is looming again. Wind and damp and plummeting temperatures, icy rain on the way. Or maybe snow again? At least this weekend I did get a walk in the sun earlier this afternoon, before the weather turned.

I’m trying to put myself into a mood to be appreciative of the moisture which is always welcome in our high desert environment – but not succeeding very well, at least partly because we’ve had few pleasant weekend days to enjoy the outdoors. I feel stagnant, rusty, worn… I dare not say old, as several of my closest companions have forbidden me that word.

One benefit of living in a rural setting is ready access to the pleasures of nature, but the down side of living 15 miles from town is no easy access to indoor places for exercise. At least so I tell myself – that if I lived in town I’d get over to the indoor track and walk in winter as readily as I walk the rural lane near me in warmer weather. Maybe I delude myself? Would I really make the effort?

It’s regrettably easy to imagine how much differently – better – one would do things “if only”, rather than make the effort to do those things “despite”. Nothing prevents me from walking around and around in my house when I can’t get my walk outdoors – but I don’t do it. I don’t even give myself an excuse as to why I don’t do it. Nor do I question what it would take for me to develop a habit of in-the-house exercise. Obviously the activity just isn’t important enough to me at this time.

What is more important, but equally unresolved, is finding my way toward a change in how I relate to certain types of people. Specifically, how do I move past an emotionally based and negative attitude toward people whom I experience as dishonest, hypocritical users. They are what they are and that isn’t going to change. As often as possible, I have chosen to avoid engagement with such persons once it becomes apparent that no amount of tolerance and making allowances will produce a more honest and positive interaction. I know myself to be someone who leaves a good space for others to be as they choose to be but I do give myself permission to not engage with those whose conduct persistently offends me.

I also acknowledge that once they’ve crossed an ethical line, there’s no going back. I guess I embody the saying shared with me recently by my hairdresser. It’s something she found on line. “I’m not Jesus, and I don’t have Alzheimer’s, so don’t expect me to either forgive or forget.” My most common response is to avoid further contact, a tactic which has worked effectively until now.

For the first time in my life, I am faced with both a professional and a personal challenge to how I will deal with a person I cannot avoid but whom I also choose not to forgive. The work situation is the less difficult, in that I have relatively little direct contact with the upper level manager whose behavior is unacceptable. The personal situation is in-family and therefore much more difficult to avoid. Others whom I care about are involved so there’s not just my interaction with the person, but theirs also to consider.

So as I try to find some positives in the experience of winter on the last days of April, I find I must also reconsider what has felt like unforgivable behavior towards me. Needed moisture redeems the snow and cold. What might the equivalent be in regard to a relationship I have less than no desire to rekindle, after a long period of mutual avoidance?

My dilemma arises from the separate issues I have with this person’s behavior, above and beyond those that the others in my circle feel, and I feel on their behalf. How do I clear space for them to sort out their relationships with the problem person while I remain disengaged from the process?

“Won’t you accept an apology?” I was asked.

If I thought the person capable of offering a sincere one, and there was an accompanying change of actions, with a new and moderately respectful attitude toward me, then yes, I would accept the apology. Sadly, I know such a change is not forthcoming.

“If I’m shown a hypocritical face, I will show the same back” is the strategy to be used by one of the others involved. While that may in fact be an effective response, I know myself incapable of copying it. I’ve never been able to hide my emotions, to pretend something I don’t feel. As a good friend said to me recently, “When you are righteously angry, it is a powerful anger and everyone can feel it.”

So I will instead take myself out of the way, allowing those who choose to interact to do so, free of the added dimension of my presence. If it goes well, then maybe I’ll be willing to be present for the next interaction. If it does not go well, it will be clear that I did not have a role in the negative outcome.

And meanwhile, I will try to do what I know is right, but oh so hard – to let go of the entire issue, to “put it in the Master’s hands” and to accept whatever awaits. It is only ego, after all, that holds a grudge.

Out of the Depths

April 22, 2017

I’ve come to realize there’s a subtle dynamic at work behind my long absences from posting. I first thought it was just a function of the many other demands on my time: an often 50 hour a week job, keeping house in a still new marriage, guaranteeing my own needed “down” time, assuring enough together time with my husband, and looking after our growing collection of animals. I’d thought I was, as I put it once, “too busy living to reflect on that living.” That may be true, but it is now apparent to me that it is not the whole truth. And in this age of alternate facts, blatant lies, and outright perjury, it is vital to me to be unflinchingly and unfailingly truthful.

I follow, very much enjoy, and not coincidentally frequently agree with, the blog Musings From a Tangled Mind. But I cannot conceive of myself ever following that pattern, with daily posts (sometimes twice daily) about anything and everything that arises in the tangle. I have the thoughts, I just can’t imagine myself sharing them.

It’s not just a generational issue, although I’m aware that the age groups beginning, some 20 years younger than I, do have a different ethic around filtering – or rather not filtering – their thoughts. There’s another more subtle dynamic at work that has become clear to me as I live with and beside my husband, and observe both of us in social settings or on the phone. He talks easily, especially in groups of his country mates, and I sit silently except when I have something to offer that puts a different slant on the discussion. He chats freely by phone with friends across the globe, whereas I prefer to text hellos to those not near at hand.

A couple evenings ago I spent over an hour on the phone with an acquaintance, answering her questions about my employer and the way my job is done, to help her decide if she wanted to apply for a similar position in her corner of our large state. My husband was amazed that I was on the phone for so long, commenting that there is only one person, a special quasi-daughter, with whom he has known me to talk on the phone at length. “You must have really wanted her to join the company” was his observation. I do think she’d enjoy the work, but I also want her to have a realistic picture of what it entails.

Back to my point – I have only just begun to peel off layers in order to get to the nub (in the onion, the sweetest part) of why I fall into long blogging silences. Outermost layer is the obvious outer, daily life demands on my time. Next down is what I perceive to be a reluctance to air matters I’ve not thought/felt my way through completely. Below that is recognition of a personal style of reticence somewhat at odds with the “spill your guts and let it all hang out” expectations of social media.

But there are more layers, and I’m aware I have not yet identified them all.

I used to write – usually letters to one special friend – in order to clarify my mind on a topic, or to help me sort out my feelings. What would stay roiled internally could be perceived clearly in the act of explicating it to someone else. Not infrequently those essays were adapted into blog posts as well. I’ve not written, not needed to write, such clarifying documents since having the benefit of a caring and able listening partner in the house with me.

I also used to write to create a sense of connection with others – reaching out from my quiet sideline position to drop comments into the broader stream of national conversation. Now my job puts me into close, often highly personal, interaction with a wide range of other types of people, plus I’m still learning the ways of a spouse from a radically different cultural background. I have all the “connection” anyone could want, and then some.

But I do miss my exchanges with those distant readers who had become friends through our process of commenting on, and knowing something about each other’s lives through, our posts.

Back to the onion… Letters to clarify thinking or feelings meant using writing as a means to better understand my mental and emotional states of being. As I have proceeded deeper into my spiritual life, it has become less salient to me to give attention to those states. I do need to recognize their antics in order to let them go, but I don’t need to dwell on them, seeking understanding. Staying focused on a more purely spiritual state of being allows me to function effectively in my daily life without wasted energy. Insights arise, are recognized and usually shared with my spouse, and then let go rather than enlarged upon in a blog post.

So what has now changed? Perhaps a sort of “coming out the other side” of introspection, to feel at least occasionally like sharing the insights for no other purpose than just to put them “out there”. They may not be profound, nor necessarily of broad interest, certainly they won’t be “well thought out and reasoned”, but I suspect it is nonetheless important to share them. Because whatever arises from Soul and spirit to make its way through our mental and emotional barriers has a deeper meaning for someone, somewhere.

I seem to have a knack, dealing with my clients at work, for reframing or restating their issues in a way that helps them see themselves or their problems differently and more productively or positively. It seems to me to be time to use that same skill in this blog, reframing my occasional insights to have broader-than-just-my-life potential. I’m not sure how it will go – but rely on my readers to let me know. Thank you in advance for your comments.

And to start the new process… I just encouraged my husband to choose a topic for his “argumentative essay” assignment in his English Composition 2 class,  that is unique to his experience rather than one – like climate change – that has been widely discussed and reviewed. My reasons included that his proposed Africa-based topic would be more familiar to him and more easily argued, as well as having more accessible and concrete data points to use in constructing his argument. But I also admit to a mischievous interest in helping him demonstrate to his “new diploma clutched tightly in her hand” young teacher that there remains much in this world that she does not know. There is more to skilled writing than following a standard format, and there is vastly more to teaching than setting rigid standards and marking down for every small deviation from manuscript formatting.

Writing, whether an English class essay or a blog post, is communication and its import lies in communicating content: ideas, perspectives, insights, analyses or persuasive arguments.

So does that mean my long silences have indicated that I have nothing to communicate? No, I don’t think so. That I have not been willing to make the effort? Perhaps. That I’ve been resisting fulfilling my role as a channel for spirit? Probably.

If my resistence is the true core of the onion, I know just what to do now. Admit my stubbornness, give over the resistance and just get one with what’s expected from me. So be it. Amen. Baraka Bashad.

May these blessings be.

I Know What I Like

February 19, 2017

I sent an email to my (very understanding) supervisor recently, expressing my deep reservations about a proposed move to video visits being pushed by upper management. Not that I don’t know how to adapt my interviews to a video format, but I live in a region of limited Internet connectivity and the people with whom I am expected to conduct these visits have neither the technology nor the money to acquire the technology to participate. Most run out of minutes on flip phones before the end of each month.

More importantly, to my mind, is a concern for the disappearance of meaningful interpersonal connections. Too many of us now live in isolated bubbles, glued to smart phones and tablets, Googling for answers to test questions instead of reading and learning and thinking things through for ourselves. Too many of us can be seen sitting with others, everyone with his or her head down staring at a screen. Too many of us spend too much time “connected” only with those who visit the same websites, think the same thoughts, agree with whatever we say, and take righteous offense if anyone contradicts the group’s predetermined set of beliefs.

I’m not originating these thoughts – some of them I read in an analysis by Eric Francis, astrologer and writer and producer of PlanetWaves. Some I heard during an interview with a journalist scorned by his liberal peers for writing a biographical piece on Milo Yiannopoulos. The journalist’s original position was a sort of “know thine enemy” belief that one cannot effectively implement programs or persuade others who hold different views, if one hasn’t heard enough of those views to discover where there may be common ground upon which to build a successful compromise, or a persuasive argument for a different outcome.

I’m reminded of a speaker brought to my college campus in the early 1960s. Once a week the entire campus was gathered for Collection, to hear a presentation meant to give us food for reflection. Attendance was mandatory. One spring morning, the speaker was a South African government official who presented a defense of apartheid to an audience almost entirely composed of supporters of the civil rights movement then actively unfolding in the United States. Some students made an initial effort to block the speech, primarily because of the mandated attendance. The school administrators insisted that we hear the official’s viewpoint “in order to understand how best to argue against and counter it.” The speaker presented a closely reasoned and very persuasive argument in support of separation of races that could only be countered, I realized, by catching – and taking apart – his implicit assumption that people are more comfortable “with their own kind” and that race is a necessary and sufficient condition for dividing kinds of people. He only verbalized the comfortable with one’s own part of the premise; the racial implications corollary was never stated. In case you didn’t take logic in school, the speaker implied but never stated that in and of itself skin color creates an unbridgeable gap between people such that I as a Caucasian can never be the same kind of person as anyone with a Negroid complexion.

Had I not heard the South African speaker, I might never have been able to pinpoint the unstated assumptions on which so many people base their objections to the sort of social integration that has been experienced in the past 40 years in the US. And had I not heard that speaker, I probably would not have grown in my own ability to reach across very real differences, to find common ground with people whose views are significantly different from my own. I have friends, good and caring people, who support the newly elected Congress and President. I don’t agree with their political views, but I also cannot fault their day to day treatment of neighbors, nor their commitment to good education, appropriate care for the needy, and fair treatment for all.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and one of the details seems to be that we as a nation have lost the capacity to relate to anyone different from ourselves. How many people, now, would object to the statement that “people are more comfortable surrounded by those like themselves”? How many of us choose to go outside our “comfort zones” or our technologically reinforced personal bubbles to listen to, interact with, care about those whom we perceive as different from ourselves?

The journalist who was scorned for writing about Yiannopoulos had called himself a liberal, but reacted to their scorn by redefining himself as a “new conservative.” Not that he changed his own values, but that he perceives today’s “strident” liberals as unable to listen, unable to discuss, unable to tolerate different viewpoints from their own. They have become, he claims, just like the alt-right in that both sides are equally intolerant.

A Quaker friend (a Friend friend) of mine recently raised the question of how to reach out to those whose views differ from our own, in order to better understand steps to take to heal the growing divide which he sees as threatening to tear our democracy apart. I found myself wanting to answer “shut down the social media sites, turn off the Net, create an environment, at least for a week, that will force people to actually see and talk to and listen to one another. Don’t replace in person visits with video visits, don’t require doctors to focus on data entry into a computer when they should be listening to their patients. Don’t allow objectors to prevent a speech, however unpleasant the views of the speaker. And don’t let implicit assumptions about similarity and difference slip by unquestioned.

It may be true that we are generally most comfortable with those like ourselves. What matters is how we define the phrase, like ourselves. I remember that I used to say the only thing about which I am intolerant is intolerance. I suspect that is still true. Intolerance, to me, means lack of respect for the humanity of another. I need to ask myself whether I can respect the humanity of a bigot. Can I find that of God in a hater? I found it in killers who were my students when I taught in the NM Penitentiary. I have certainly found it in those friends referred to earlier, whose political views are so different from my own. If I can do so, it does NOT mean I accept anyone’s right to act on bigotry and hatred. But if I can do so, I think I’ll have a better chance of diverting the haters from implementing their bigoted agenda.

 


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