Inner and Outer Cultures

June 1, 2018

No sooner do I comment that it would be nice if we could go a few months without major expenditure, to recoup the finances a bit, then the well pump quits. On a Saturday, with no possibility of knowing what is wrong or what it will cost in time and money to be repaired until Monday at the earliest. We lose electric power often enough that life without running water is familiar.  I lived two years of my early teens without running water also, and have that old knowledge to draw on. Making the transition from flowing taps to only water stored in large and heavy bottles nonetheless takes a bit of doing. Not exactly what I intended to spend my weekend energy engaged with. But then, we know what comes of intentions and plans.

Before learning of the pump failure I did enjoy a day of walking in Santa Fe, seeing creative new jewelry designs, unique treatments of photographs, and some very original free form pottery at an art fair adjacent to the Farmer’s Market where I purchased beautifully multi-colored heirloom tomatoes. In addition to completing routine errands (including refilling the aforementioned large water bottles) I savored the quiet reflection time of my hour drive each way.

Based on what thoughts, remarks, and experiences have caught my attention these past few weeks, I must conclude I am engaged in some part of the process of self-definition. Not the who I want to be if I ever grow up type of self definition, but rather the what am I and what values do I channel? What is important to share and what is best not just left unspoken but totally dismissed so that it vanishes completely from my awareness and thus from my life. My recent rant about cultural appreciation versus so-called cultural appropriation is some part of this larger question I am pondering, because as I wrote the lengthy but still far from comprehensive listing of identity elements in that rant, I was aware that I was merely listing external traits and experiences that have influenced me. That external listing may be the common means by which we share something of who we are – but even as I wrote the words I was aware I was not describing the essence of me.

During  a reported in-house meeting at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates participated in a discussion of whether the publication can achieve diversity while maintaining its long-standing tradition of political neutrality. Given the magazine’s recent difficult encounter with trying to add Kevin Williamson to its staff, a move Coates initially supported despite how different the two men’s values are, the question is particularly salient. It touches on other closely related questions such as how much of a range of opinion is acceptable under the mantle of encouraging diversity, and at what point does tolerance of diversity slip over the edge into tolerance of unacceptable extremism? Isn’t diversity as a positive value already a political statement and therefore a step away from political neutrality? Is it possible ever to legislate values and still claim to be politically neutral? Isn’t our current deeply divisive political environment largely due not to disagreements about politics, but disagreements about which values should be enshrined in legislation by our politicians?

A few days break since I wrote those last lines. Well pump has been replaced, water is flowing once more – and an analysis in The Week concluded that what used to be the political reminder “it’s the economy, stupid” has now morphed into “it’s the cultural clash, stupid.” Seeing in my own life just how challenging it can be to adapt to new and different values, blend different cultures, integrate new attitudes, I can readily understand how a nation as diverse as the U.S. can end up as fractured into tribal units as we seem to have become. Each of those external traits I listed in my last post could be considered a distinct tribal identity, to any one of which I might choose to adhere closely, abandoning the others as “not really me,” By not doing so, I place myself in the “multicultural” tribe and take on various implicit values that I admit I wish to see implemented in “my” society.

A theme running through many of the essays published on PlanetWaves, in conjunction with some very fine-tuned astrology, is the persistent narrative of our times, that “the personal is political and the political is personal.” I take that as meaning everything I do has repercussions in the wider society within which I live, and how that society is functioning affects how I think and feel. I can easily remember how affected I was by the last presidential election – the sense of very personal affront that so unqualified a male would be chosen over a perhaps tainted but still intelligent, vibrant and capable woman. My whole life of being put down, overlooked, ignored, insulted and scorned simply because I am a female more competent than many of my male coworkers felt summed up in those election results.

It is less easy to see how my actions affect society, beyond the one-on-one of my work and friendships. I suppose the fact that I post these reflections must be counted as me affecting a larger world in ways of which I am mostly unaware. I do consciously consider what I am “putting out there” and try to may it positive.

Hmmm… might some of the contentiousness of current public discourse come simply from the fact that we are all more aware of how society affects us then we are of how we affect society? Isn’t much of the frustration being expressed lately a form of attestation that too many people feel that they are not able to alter what is going on around them? No one does well when he/she feels helpless to change circumstances.

Which brings me once more back to the recognition, central to my spiritual training, that too much focus on the outer, whether for self definition or sense of achievement, leads to fading  energy, loss of joy, mistaken thinking and a degraded quality of life. Without a daily, disciplined practice of turning inwards and upwards, to the spirit/ Soul /Divine/ Master/ God-self by whatever name through contemplation/ meditation/ prayer (to each according to his/her Path) we are all less than we could/should be and the world is less in consequence.

Baraka Bashad

Cross-Cultural Respect

May 1, 2018

It looks like I can no longer avoid wading into the culture wars. Not that I couldn’t continue to ignore most aspects of the current, often ugly, social debate but that I find myself up against a personal limit, the same one that requires that on occasion, no matter the cost, I “speak truth to power.” Some actions cannot be let go without objection.

I just read an opinion piece  by Josh Campbell entitled “An FBI Director, Two Prosecutors and a Priest Walk into a Bar.” It links James Comey, Preet Bharara, Sally Yates, and Chaplain Patrick Conroy as casualties of, or in his view heroes of, ethical public service in the current era of self-serving lack of moral character. They each stood up to political pressure asking them to compromise principles and standards that have a long and respected history, and which are now under attack.

The issue that has pushed me to write is not political in this sense, but it is in its own way a matter that calls for “drawing a line in the sand” of what has become the desert of cross-cultural discourse. The other article I read this morning was the account of a Caucasian Utah high school teen who chose to wear a traditional Chinese dress to her senior prom, and posted pictures on Twitter that included one in which she posed with friends with their hands together in a traditional Asian gesture of respect. Keziah Daum is, from the photos, a lovely young woman who garnered many thousand followers on Twitter but also an onslaught of ugly accusations of “closet racism” and “cultural appropriation”. She defended herself well, and I am not writing to add to that defense, but to take on the – sorry I find no other word for it than “idiocy” of the concept of cultural appropriation.

I am Caucasian, of Jewish heritage, with a German-born father and a Russian-born maternal grandfather. I grew up living in Vietnam and France, have been married to a mixed Black and Native American man, a New Mexican Hispanic and am now married to an African from Cameroon. I speak several languages, cook cuisines from many more countries, and have enjoyed a lifetime of learning other cultures. I have taken comparative religion courses, attended ceremonies in many different churches, temples, synagogues and other places of worship. In homes around the world, and with students studying locally from dozens of different countries, I have shared  meals, conversation, traditions and customs that have helped us all to bridge the differences we were raised with. It has been a rich and enriching life experience.

How can anyone be so narrow-minded as to critique wearing a dress from a different culture, opening a restaurant that serves food not native to the upbringing of the owner, performing a gesture of respect that is not usually made by a Westerner, or any other honest expression of appreciation for an aspect of another culture? Would the protesters against the artificial concept of cultural appropriation want to see us all in our little isolated boxes, unknowing of and uncaring about the tastes and talents and costumes of any other group? Taken to its logical conclusion, if I cannot cook your food, speak your dialect, wear your clothes, to whom will you show them off, market them, or communicate?

Perhaps that is in fact what is desired – that we all cease to communicate and descend into anarchy? The loudest voices now seem to be declaring, “My way or the highway” and castigating anyone who tries to show appreciation for a blended approach to cultures.

I refuse to let any accusation of so called cultural appropriation pass unchallenged. In fact, I challenge the concept of cultural appropriation altogether, stating that it is a fallacy and an artificial, meaningless construct, a distortion of cultural appreciation that should not be given countenance in our society.

Happily I am not on Twitter and rarely look at Facebook, so if I now become subject to vitriol, I won’t know it. This is far from the first time I will have spoken up when I’ve felt it necessary. I rather doubt it will be the last. I also do not doubt that I will survive and continue to thrive. For certain, I am expressing Truth as I perceive it, and that is always a rewarding endeavor.

Three cheers for Keziah Daum and all who, like her, are able to appreciate, enjoy and share in aspects of cultures with which they were not raised!

Tolerance/Hate

April 28, 2018

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in our deal little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught
Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific nailed it nearly 70 years ago.
And yet, here we are still in need of Southern Poverty Law Center’s curriculum for schools, Teaching Tolerance.

“When will we ever learn? Oh, when will we ever learn?”

Different topic, same refrain. An epitaph for humanity?

Shape

April 21, 2018

Something I read recently got me thinking about how deeply embedded early self-concepts can become, and how amazingly difficult they are to reverse. I entered my teens while living abroad, amid Asian women who were generally both shorter and more petite, thin, wiry of build than I. My mother, afraid of my developing sexuality, critiqued my figure and urged that I hide my curves under loose-fitting dresses. One exact statement was that if I cinched my waist in, as was the mid-fifties fashion, it made made my hips look “so big” that I should never wear slacks. I still can feel the discomfort and embarrassment of being out-sized that pursued me through my teens and into my 20’s, although when I look at pictures taken of me in those years I see a very shapely young woman with the hourglass figure that I have since learned men find very desirable. Exactly what my mother was panicked about, undoubtedly.

With an odd sense of shock I was struck earlier today by the realization that I weigh very close to what I did in the last years of high school and through most of my college years. I’ve been significantly heavier between then and now, and take pleasure in the accomplishment of being at present much as I was then. What I am finding difficult to reconcile is my lingering awareness of how unacceptably big and unattractive I felt then, compared to the compliments I receive now on my figure and how I look in my clothes – especially on those still rare occasions that I wear pants rather than a skirt.

An analysis of the challenges associated with keeping lost weight off includes the necessity of becoming comfortable with a new body image. Many women, apparently, continue to see themselves heavy even after they have reached a desired weight goal. Taken to extreme this becomes the illness anorexia. I don’t think it is just one’s own body image that is misperceived, but an amalgam of images from fashion and films that blend with one’s sense of oneself in  a hodge-podge of sticky discomfort. It did not help my teen self to have Twiggy be the height of British fashion. Nor the tall, pencil thin models of French fashion houses. Marilyn Monroe’s curves were presented to me as implicitly “not okay” because of their “blatant sexuality.”

I know that all cultures have standards of beauty against which women are evaluated. Sloping shoulders were highly desirable at one time in Japan. In many African countries it is still considered preferable to be of a warm, light brown color rather than deep black, although that is changing. Ample hips and buttocks are believed to indicate fertility and are therefore positive attributes in many cultures – though not in my adult lifetime in the U.S.

Whatever the norms, sadly and consistently the primary victims of them have always been and still are female. Progress has been made toward acceptance of a wider standard of attractiveness, but from my conversations with young women, the body shaming continues.

My concern in reflecting on this pattern is not particularly about progress – or lack thereof – in the images our society holds up as desirable for girls. Rather I am interested in how tenacious are the often illusory images we hold of ourselves. How can I look at pictures of my young self and see an attractive and shapely woman, while simultaneously still vividly inhabiting the fat and unacceptable body self I experienced at that time? Reason is insufficient to erase emotions.

Hmm, this is the second time in recent weeks that I’ve encountered a situation in which reason and feeling collide – and feeling dominates. Advice given to any professional working with people who are upset or more seriously emotionally disturbed is consistently to not argue with their faulty conclusions but rather to focus on creating an atmosphere of safety and trust. The first step to doing so generally involves acknowledging their feelings. Therapists working with couples usually set parameters for communication during sessions that begin with instructions to listen to the feelings being expressed and refrain from saying any of these are wrong. Feelings are what they are. They tend to gain in power by being denied. To change someone’s feelings about a situation (or past self image) it is useless to reason that the feeling is wrong.

What does seem to have power to alter feelings is new experience perceived from a new framework which can be related back to the earlier events. In my case, the first new experience I recall occurred when I was visiting with relatives of my then husband in Cincinnati. Mel was what is now called “a person of color” with Native American, black and white genetics, whose extended family lived within the culture of Black Americans. As I left the room where we had all been sitting I heard Mel’s aunt remark that I had “big old fine pretty legs” in a tone of appreciative praise. Those “big” legs were then the primary source of my negative body image, in conjunction with the hips to which they were attached. The emotional impact of that statement was so strong that I can, still now, feel myself sitting in the bathroom to which I had headed, trying to connect what I heard with what I felt and totally unable to see myself as Mel’s aunt evidently saw me.

Over the years, feedback from people whom I trust has helped me evolve a rather more positive self image though it is still a work in process, as evidenced by the latest realization – that I am now very much as I was 55 years ago when I felt so unacceptably large. Most days now I can look in the mirror and feel good about myself. That I am a size and shape admired by my husband certainly helps.

So I presently feel good about the same outer physical condition (objective reality) that once made me feel uncomfortable and shamed. Nothing has changed, according to mind; everything has changed according to emotion.

Yet we wonder why, across a wide range of areas, belief based on feelings is so impossible to alter with rational argument!

Instead of “I think therefore I am”, we manifest “I feel therefore I know it to be true.”

So much for the illusion of rational humanity being – because we can reason – at the top of the evolutionary chain.

April 8, 2018

Into the silence of my contemplation this morning, one hen crowed persistently for a full minute, announcing with great pride her performance of a natural body function – producing an egg. She seemed the epitome of egoistic mind, trying to claim credit for the creativity that flows out from Soul in what is essentially a natural function, if only we remove the veils that blind us to the true source of our being.

Mind seeks to be credited with accomplishments. Soul is happy being. My contemplation practice helps me stop trying to accomplish, and start living in the moment. Experience is teaching me that if I fully embrace the present the future will unfold exactly as it should. Memory nags at me (in my father’s voice) to plan ahead, prepare for what may happen so that it can be managed well when the anticipated future arrives – or if it does not because some unanticipated event intervenes. Ego wants to crow its skill at preparing for all possible events. Soul prefers to rest in the certainty that what is meant to be will be, and will be precisely what is needed for my continued growth and learning.

My balancing act as I try to reconcile the pull of these contrasting approaches to my days in turn brings my attention to the importance of finding a middle space, a meeting place in the current broader political environment. It seems truly dire, that only extremism is now acceptable. I see and hear no voice speaking of meeting social needs through compromise, cooperation, or (attention, dirty words coming) pragmatic horse-trading. If a bill in Congress does not cover all 10 demands of one party, then we are harangued to chastise our representatives who voted for the final bill that did include 7 of those demands. We are becoming a society of all or nothing, and the near certain result will be nothing, since a fundamental principle of democracy is compromise – something for everyone, rather than everything for only one group.

I am Caucasian (Anglo in local parlance). I have lived in northern New Mexico for 45 years, more than 25 of those years married to a now deceased Hispanic native of the state. I cook many cuisines including New Mexico/Spanish dishes. I have thought at times that I would like to open a restaurant, offering an eclectic variety of dishes. Now I wonder if I would be “allowed” to do so in our current partisan society, after I read that an Anglo was attacked for “cultural appropriation” when he opened a Mexican restaurant in an East Coast city.

When did appreciation for cultures other than one’s own become a hostile act?

What new societal taboo am I violating, wearing the traditional African dress my  husband brought back for me from his recent trip home to Cameroon?

Where are the voices speaking up for cooperation, coordination, and that all but forgotten Quaker concept of consensus?

At times I feel like a lone voice crying in a wilderness of partisan rants, but I know that feeling comes from a mental assessment of the outer world around me. As soon as I return my attention inward, I hear the warm voice of Soul’s sharing and caring, and know this to be Truth.  My lesson brought from the contemplation is that while partisan egos may crow, I can ignore them as I did the hen, focusing instead on living Truth as fully as I am able.  What is meant to be will be. I just need to do my part here and now.

Changing Direction

April 7, 2018

With a frequency perhaps greater than experienced by some of my peers, I come to a point in whatever I am doing professionally that is not burnout, but close to boredom. When the challenge of mastering a line of work wears off, I find myself looking around for what to do next or differently. Over the years, that point has come in conjunction with other changes in my life circumstances, enabling me to shift from education research to paralegal, program manager in state government to college psychology teacher, home health manager to trainer to care coordinator with an MCO. Along the way i’ve had a private practice as a licensed mental health counselor, become a CPR instructor, written (but not published) three books, published 4 years of weekly columns in local newspapers and sold my jewelry designs at craft fairs. I’ve also plastered houses, laid flagstone floors, raised various animals for food, and at one point was making 40 loaves of bread a week by hand, for sale to an established list of customers.

The position I’ve held longest was as regional manager of a home health agency. I was simultaneously a case manager for one of the Medicaid programs the agency served. It still amazes me that I kept at it for more than 12 years, the second time around (I built the branch for 5 years, left for three, then accepted the urgent request to rejoin the agency.) That second twelve year period was a lesson in endurance, and set me a challenge of finding new ways to engage in order to keep my interest intact. It also exhausted my willingness to be “in charge” of anyone else’s performance.

My present employment meets virtually all my recognized requirements, enabling me to continue with full time work at an age where most of my peers have retired. I work from home, I am engaged one on one with clients, I am not subject to onerous supervision so long as I complete my work by the required deadlines, and I can set my own schedule within the broad guidelines of being “at work” the common Monday to Friday week. I’ve been able to participate in pilot studies of new technology and had my recommendations welcomed, for the new database support system being developed. I’ve been satisfied with the work for more than 4 years, and expect to continue with it for several more  – but I also recognize I’ve come to another of those “it’s getting to be same old same old” points.

I have read the many studies that stress the importance of pursuing a passion into one’s older years to support the retention of health and to encourage enjoyment of later life. From my early childhood, I have carried within me an awareness that I am fated to be long lived.  My relatively recent assumption of new family responsibilities gives added importance to being productive and engaged through those years.

Most of my choices of employment so far have been limited by my decision to respect requirements imposed by others in my life. When I would, for example, have sought work outside the U.S., I did not feel free to pick up and go. There are similar constraints now on my choices, though not anyone telling me I cannot do whatever it is I decide I want to pursue.

Instead, my challenge is to identify what might catch and keep my interest for a long enough period to see me through my remaining years. Several friends from whom I’ve solicited input have posed questions to help me.

a. “Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but the time wasn’t right?”

b. “What does your spiritual path tell you about how to move onward?”

c. “What floats your boat?”

I’ve also been gifted with observations from those who know me well.

d. “You come alive in the classroom, or any teaching setting.”

e. “For you I sense that the answer lies in one on one relationships.”

f. “You are uniquely skilled at channeling your spiritual awareness in ways that benefit others.”

My spiritual Teacher instructs that, to implement a new direction, I should not get too specific. Better to create a framework and then be patient and let the Master fill in the details. That is essentially how I landed in my present employment, after 18 months of searching and applying for whatever became available. So I am now seeking to identify the elements of the new framework. I already know they include at least the following:

  1. Something I can prepare for while still employed in my present job
  2. Something that in one way or another involves teaching
  3. Something that gives me the opportunity to travel, though not necessarily requiring that I live for an extended time elsewhere – I really do like living in northern New Mexico!
  4. Something that stretches my mind, requires me to learn a new skill, or significantly deepen my understanding of a topic I’ve studied
  5. Something that lies within my current physical capacities and can be continued if/as these slowly diminish with age

More than a hobby, but not such a new career as to require years of study to make the switch.

I’m mostly pleased that the question “what have you always wanted to do but not been able to?” doesn’t seem to have an answer. Pleased because I recognize that I have in fact done most of the things I really wanted to, slightly dismayed because I am not helped now with any nudges towards my next steps.

Whatever emerges as my eventual new passion, the process of seeking it has already brought benefits. Where I had been thinking that most of my choices have been constrained and limited by others, I now recognize that at the important points I have pushed through obstacles and gone for what I wanted. Just a few examples include: finding a way to continue horseback riding while living in the heart of Paris, making my way to New Mexico despite strong parental opposition, committing to relationships that have enabled my growth despite societal pressure to avoid them, and not letting lack of formal training in an area keep me from taking on work in that discipline.

Asked in a survey of alumni from my college what was the greatest benefit of my Swarthmore education, I answered immediately that it taught me how to learn anything I wished to. It taught me to think. It gave me the opportunity to experience accomplishment and to know that I have a good mind I can use to master any subject I wish to learn.

That mind will have its role implementing the details of whatever new direction my life takes. Mind will have to wait, however, until my heart, spirit, Soul perceives the direction the Master will prepare for me. And the ego-I must wait patiently for the frame outlined above to have its details filled in by a Soul much wiser than the most highly trained mind.

In the meantime, today was a sunny spring day and perfect for a trip to Santa Fe to do errands and to take a walk up Canyon Road. To everything its appointed time.

Baraka Bashad, may the Blessings Be.

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!

Stress-Hardening

March 10, 2018

I recently attended a two-day training on Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) which covered the processes for defusing and for debriefing groups of people who have been involved in or exposed to a traumatic event (school shooting, natural disaster, first responders to an accident). The majority of trainees were chaplains working for my employer, a large MCO with multiple hospital facilities and clinics around the state. Others of us were nurses employed in those hospitals, just a few like me “oddballs” from other employment roles. I had taken the two years ago, so this was a re-certification/refresher but it turned out to be a quite new experience nonetheless.

Not because the material has changed – it hasn’t. I am in a much different mental/emotional space than two years ago, partially because of the unexpected and somewhat stressful recent change in my personal circumstances. The instructor warned us at the start of the class that some of the exercises might bring up aspects of our past life experience. I did not anticipate that the training would take me back so far into my past – to 1980 and the New Mexico prison riot that occurred on February 2nd of that year.

For that trauma, I had no such thing as incident debriefing, no opportunity for defusing of the strong emotions generated by the events; whatever working through I accomplished was done on my own. The aspect of that experience which became salient during the training was my response of a strengthened commitment to speaking out on behalf of what I believe it is important to emphasize in our communal life. In my own case I think I settled on causes that show respect for all persons and implementation of fairness and justice in interpersonal and group interactions. I recognize, however, that a similar experience could push another individual to settle just as firmly into a commitment to a path of vengeance.

From the perspective of trauma-hardened reaction, might one better understand the deep divides within our society today? Is it possible that too many of us have experienced (possibly unrecognized) traumas, not had the benefit of any sort of defusing or debriefing, and moved on into strongly held positions regarding values and actions as a means of “getting past” the traumatic events?

Putting things behind us without examining them and understanding their effects is a common reaction, but evidence proves it is not a particularly healthy one. The unexamined or un-dealt-with issues have a way of recurring. Classic example being the person who gets through the death of a parent seemingly without problems and then falls apart a year later when a pet dies.

A number of my friends have chosen, of late, to try to understand people who hold opposing views on the social issues creating so much conflict in our society these days. They are attempting to reach across the divides, to find common ground, to offer understanding, to create a cognitive (thought) framework for how divergent belief systems can be reconciled. While I applaud the motivation behind the effort, I have reservations about their likelihood of success. Not success at grasping a divergent view, but serious question as to whether any reconciliation can be achieved.

Reconciliation requires not just a cognitive but also an emotional shift, and one strong lesson from the critical incident stress management training was that the cognitive and emotional realms are two very different levels of response to trauma. In counseling, one technique often used to help troubled individuals is a cognitive re-framing, which can lead to a shift in emotional response. If I have experienced non-communication as disrespect, but learn that the lack of communication was the result of a technical failure (Internet shut off by a controlling government), the expectation is that I will then be able to free myself from the hurt and anger associated with feeling disrespected.

That kind of framework shift does seem to work in a broad-brush way. Indeed, I just read an article today about the importance of words as framing perspective. An example was asking if you would rather be in a relationship that ends, or that breaks up? Another question pertained to how many people would gamble with $50 if they would lose $30, versus would gamble the money if they knew they could keep $20. Although the end result, a minimum of $20 in hand, was the same, far more people would gamble to “avoid losing $30” than would gamble when they knew they could keep $20.

What the CISM training brought out by contrast is that when dealing with traumatic events, there is frequently a very deep divide between cognitive and emotional domains. While the defusing and debriefing techniques do initiate a cognitive re-framing of the experiences, it is a given that processing reactions to trauma will take time, and may include a variety of feelings and behaviors that are totally unfamiliar to the individual experiencing them.

When the traumatized individual has the benefit of a debriefing or subsequent mental health counseling, the outcome can be both reassurance that the unfamiliar reactions are not abnormal, and a healthy resolution of the anger, fear and other harsh emotions the trauma has brought up. Too often though, we experience trauma without any, or adequate, support. Is it any wonder, then, that we end up locked into tightly held beliefs or behavior patterns that do not allow us to understand, let alone accept, others different from ourselves?

The timing of the CISM training has served me well, to expose within me the residue of an unresolved divide between cognitive understanding and emotional response to multiple earlier traumas that have cumulatively established me in a pattern of somewhat set beliefs. My spiritual path would label these sanskaras, lifelong patterns of thought, values, beliefs that are rarely if ever recognized or examined – the stuff of which self-concepts are made. To reach the goal of self and God-self realization one must recognize and detach oneself from the illusion that the Self is the same as that mental self-concept. Not an easy process. Who and what am I, if I am not the collection of values and beliefs that have directed my behavior throughout my life?

I don’t at this point have any answer to that question; I do know that the answer is not something of which I can have any idea. Ideas are mental elements, and the Self is not knowable through mentation.

Which refers me back to my recognition during the CISM training that the divide between cognition and emotion can be huge, sometimes unbridgeable, and a metaphor for the divide between a mental concept of self and our true Soul self. Just as we benefit from a facilitator to help us bring the two parts of our response to trauma into perspective and balance, we need a qualified teacher to help us clarify what we are  – and are not – as spiritual beings. Without the facilitator we risk getting trapped into rigid belief and behavior patterns that move us past, but do not resolve, trauma. Without a spiritual teacher we risk getting stuck on the karmic wheel of life , repeating the same lessons over and over because we do not learn from them.

Once again, I remind myself that my spiritual Master instructs his students that “recognition is enough”. We do not have to ‘fix’ what we see is wrong, indeed we cannot do so. We do need to see an issue clearly, recognize it as another of the mental illusions we wish to shed, and then detach, leaving the work of removal to be done on us, for us, through us but not by us.

Now why does something so easy so often seem so hard?

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!)

 


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