|Friday, August 3rd, 2007|
10:55 am - Talking straight
Last weekend I went to training seminar on Nonviolent Communication. A friend lent me set of four CDs by Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of the process and head of the Center for Nonviolent Communication. |
At the time, I wondered if it was some little message about the way I talk. I've gotten brutally candid in the last few years. Partially by choice, but partially because there just isn't any distance anymore between my thinking and my mouth. I also had some vague notion that it had something to do with the peace movement, but it was like one of those answers that pops out at a Trivia question and you don't know where it came from.
I listened to the CDs, each of them two or three times before I went on to the next one. It wasn't that they were so much fun, or inspiring. It was that they were so hard. Logical. Humane. But it was the first time I've listened to anything in a long time that I didn't just grok instantaneously.
Rosenberg is a psychotherapist who developed the technique to open up communication between people who can't resolve their differences. He gives examples of dealing with married couples, a couple of African tribes who have been slaughtering each other for generations, Black students trying to get fairness from school administrators, and more.
In the course of the CDs, he says several times that the technique goes against our cultural training at a lot of levels. And as I've been sharing it with other people, trying to practice it, and doing some coaching, I can see the hurdles in myself and others.
It requires listening without judging, including criticizing yourself. That, alone, is huge. And in working with myself and other people, I find we want to hold onto our anger and our judgments. "Don't I deserve to be angry?" is the common question. And the answer is, you don't have to deserve it. Your feelings are always right. But they're your feelings, something that is about you, some message from your nervous system about taking care of yourself, or some script running in your head about what you need and you're not getting. The other person isn't "making" these feelings in you. And they have their own feelings going on inside of them.
The premise of NVC is that, if it's possible to get to the real needs behind the feelings and get those needs on the table, it's also possible to get to a shared environment where people naturally look for common solutions. Solutions that don't have to involve surrender or even compromise. And the "discipline" of NVC, if I can call it that, is learning how to talk that way.
I had to wangle my way into this training on judging and self-talk. The prerequisites were basic training in NVC and 40 hours of practice in practice groups. I didn't have any training, except listening to the CDs, and the trainer thought about it, and then agreed to let me in, thinking he could arrange a working group for break-out sessions that would be able to work with me.
Then work got in the way and I couldn't show up on Thursday or Friday of the four-day event. He agreed to let me come on Saturday. I got endlessly lost trying to get there, and showed up 20 minutes late. When I walked in, he looked surprised. It turned out that he had sent me an e-mail, asking me not to come, because he felt like it would interrupt the process of the group.
What happened next was fascinating. I offered to leave (because I'd always felt unsure about being able to participate with people who already had experience). But he had me sit down, and with the other 14 people in the room, began to discuss how they felt about my being there and what needs were or were not being met by my entering the group at this late date and with no background.
The process went on for over an hour. As one person after another talked, it was easy to see how their reactions reflected their personal hopes and fears about the weekend, about themselves and life in general. But then I was still thinking at that point as I usually think, like an analyst. I could see that most of what was said wasn't about me at all. And though initially, I didn't mind the process, thinking that it was about them deciding whether they wanted me there, it eventually began to exhaust me. Because it wasn't about me, though I was the catalyst. I began to feel like an object in the room, something that stimulated discussion but wasn't a participant.
I finally asked to speak. I said that though I initially was willing to go through this, because I really was quite open to the idea that I didn't belong at this weekend, I felt that I really wanted to leave now. Tears started flowing though I wasn't sobbing. I said it was uncomfortable to feel like I had no part in this discussion, and I feared that I would not be able to really participate in the rest of the program. And I was volunteering to cut this discussion short, and just wait until I could get some basic training before I attempted to join a group doing this work. Because I was hear to learn, and I didn't think I could learn as much as I wanted unless I could participate fully.
The trainer asked me if I would wait just a few more moments, and I agreed. He asked if everyone felt they had been heard. And then he asked for a vote on whether people wanted me to stay. Everyone in the room, except one person, raised their hands.
It was a very interesting moment for me. You might think that I felt like I had "won." But it wasn't like that. It was more like realizing that I was already inside some larger process. And that's what the rest of the weekend was like. Being inside some group process that was broken up into exercises, all of which were designed to make us more honest with each other, better at articulating feelings and recognizing the needs behind them, and better at establishing connections that really worked.
In the days I missed, they had done some exercises on self-empathy. I was sorry to have missed that, because it turns out that self-criticism and second-guessing are big blocks to connecting. But there was one exercise in the time I was there that really stood out for me.
We wrote down our most damaging belief about ourselves, and then a few subsidiary beliefs that branch off it. Mine was "there is something really wrong with me." My subsidiary beliefs were that people know it and don't like me, that I'll never accomplish anything, that I can't fix it, and that it's so overwhelming to me that it's easier to find a piece of chocolate, a cigarette or take a nap so I can avoid thinking about it.
Then we split up in twos, and worked like this. The other person took my list and read my statements as though they were hers. My job was to empathize with her and try to understand the feelings and needs behind these statements. We were sitting on her bed in the conference center, and my first reaction when she read them was to fall down on the bed laughing. I pulled myself together and we tried it again, and again I just started to giggle. She asked what that was about, and I said, it looked like stand-up comedy to me, like Roseanne or Richard Pryor. And then I thought, hell, it was easier to make it comedy than own this shit. And then I took a deep breath and settled down.
And once I started paying attention, and not judging my partner for what she was saying but just listening for the emotional content, I could hear the despair, and behind that the sadness and grief. And behind that the anger and frustration and more despair that had just made me give up. On what? On my need for trust.
And when that word appeared, it was the weirdest thing. It felt like I was pulling it out of the depths of my subconscious, and my subconscious wasn't really sure it wanted to give it up. Like it was too dangerous a concept to put on the table, even with myself. At the same time, I got a kind of deathbed review of my life, and how trust issues -- with the world, other people and myself -- was a hidden and recurrent theme with everything. Not trusting because I was afraid, or trusting where I shouldn't be trusting, because I'd made a default decision to just trust everything, rather than trust nothing. Hard to explain but it was clearly a core dilemma in my life that had colored a lot of my experience.
The end of the exercise was to look into ourselves to see if we had any requests. This is a part of the NVC process, asking for what we want or even just asking for help. And the only thing I could think to ask for was to ask my own subconscious not to drag it back down again, but to let it stay floating on the top of my mind so I could see what how that new idea might percolate through my life.
The group was really different when we came back together after that one. I don't think everyone was a successful as I was at getting to some core, self-blocking belief. But most of them were, I believe. And the only way I can think to describe the atmosphere was something like I used to remember at the tail end of acid trips. When we used to call "acid-washed brains." There was a kind of clarity and settled-down feeling that was almost like light in the air.
One of the people in the group asked me if I went to a lot of "transformational" workshops. The question sort of set me back on my heels. I don't think of things that way. I want to learn how to be better at being myself, and more effective at accomplishing the things I want to do. "Transformational" sounds like looking for some kind of peak experience, something I might have done when I was younger, but now I'm just trudging down this path, trying to find my best self and set it in motion on the world.
But, for me, this weekend was transformational. By time we broke up, the group was so open with each other and so able to work together, that it was like being on another planet, a better planet. It felt like an entirely new realm of being human, connected, accepting, able to move forward in ways that never seemed possible before. And yes, though I wasn't looking for it, it qualified as a peak experience.
One of us mentioned at the end about her fears about leaving this group and having to go back to a world where people were not like this. But I had already found, in dealing with business e-mail that morning before I drove in to the conference center, that I was able to put it to work immediately. I talked differently. It affected the way I interpreted my own work, and the changes I made to press releases and a speech I was editing. I shared information in a different way, and the information itself was different.
The people on the other side of these interactions didn't have to do anything different. What was between us was better.
In the days since then, a lot of things have happened in my life. I shut down a plan I shared with someone, because I didn't feel safe in it, and couldn't get any response to my concerns. I explained to a person that I was dating that his denigration and cynicism of my "latest big thing" felt disrespectful to me, and unless we could at least accept that each other were doing the right thing for ourselves, I didn't feel comfortable about taking this any further.
I think that sounds like I'm just cleaning house again, and maybe so. But I think that I could have done better with these things if I understood how to let people know that I was equally interested in hearing about what was going on with them. I'm not so good at that part yet, but I hope to learn more about it in a basic training. There will be one in October at the same place where I did this one.
I don't know where all this is leading, but there's no question in my mind it's leading somewhere. Just before I left, the man who owns the center showed me some of their other training facilities. I had told him that I was thinking about teaching some courses, and looking for a place to do that. He was telling me how intuitive I am, how well I stepped right into the NVC environment. One of the things about NVC is that we don't analyze other people, and I didn't really absorb what he was saying. But he is an ex-Jesuit priest, and I told him that I'd always made jokes about starting my own religion.
He looked at me and said, "Why don't you say it like something you want?" I paused and said, "I want to start my own religion." On the way home, I thought about it. Trying out different "I want to" statements.
The one that felt closest to truth was that I want to teach people what is possible in their lives. And maybe in such as way that they can learn how to remove the obstacles to exercising their own potential.
That's as far as that goes so far. But it feels like a step forward.
If anyone has gotten all the way through this posting, you might want to visit www.cnvc.org. The list of "feelings" there is a good tool to get more precise about how you feel. But the list of "needs" is mind-blowing. There are things there that I never imagined I could consider a need. Not even anything I would imagine hoping for. Imagining them as a need, something that I or you could shape our lives around, make decisions that support them instead of mutely suffering for the lack of them, it might change our lives.
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|Wednesday, March 7th, 2007|
7:15 pm - The other side of the mountain
So how did it all work out? After that big thing I wrote about here. Was it just another process? To be followed by another process and another one?|
Well, actually not. It seems to be, at least for the moment, the end of the story.
April 1 will be the three year anniversary of my commitment to figure out what was wrong with me and fix it. I'm thinking about coming down to New York and getting together with friends for dinner. If anyone reading this would be interested, let me know.
It's a totally unexpected and kind of weird thing when you get to the end of something like this. I knew there was an end of it. But I didn't know how it would work (or obviously I would have gotten there a lot faster). These days, though I still get anxious and still wonder about the future, I don't slide into pain the same way. That last bit changed things, as I thought it might. There's just nothing so important, no piece of my history or current irritation/frustration/worry, that I can't just go back to that part of myself I found. I've calmed down.
Since I wrote last, I was turned down for the MFA program at Bard. Not unexpected. I really don't think I'm ready for that yet. But still a disappointment. It would have changed my life. So now I'm looking for some writing classes to get myself readier for the next application process.
The tenants at the cottage are a pleasure. Two really nice young people. He turned 21 lately. They invite me into their lives a lot, which is a nice surprise. They come down here to talk. Invite me up for dinner. I found a cheap futon for them, because they didn't have anything to sit on. It's sort of like having kids on the property, and I'm a mom again. I like it.
Jesse, the dog, has been slightly deranged by a dead deer on the rail trail behind my property. When we found it, it was mostly eaten, probably by coyotes. But one day he brought home a leg. He kept it in the yard, and sat at the window when he was inside, mooning over it. Then one day, I let him bring it inside. I initially was resistant because it seemed part of a dead body. But then, when I thought about it, the whole house is full of bones and meat in the freezer. What's one more dead body?
So I found out what he really wanted it for, which was to crunch the bones for the creamy marrow inside. I finally took it away from him when he was getting close to the hoof. Then, a couple of days ago, near sunset, he ran into the wood. I think he was trying to try to get another leg. I suspect he saw something in the woods and got lost when he ran after it. He doesn't have a great sense of direction. He never came home.
It was the night the temperatures went down into the low teens. I called him and drove around, but no luck. Willie died on a similar night about a year ago, hit by a car and I found him frozen in the woods in the morning. I barely slept, thinking of Jesse having slipped on the icy path and perhaps been injured in the fall or having fallen and drowned in one of the freezing creeks. But it was also weird, because I was only worried, not sad. I knew exactly when Willie died. I felt it, and the terrible worrying I felt just lifted. I knew, wherever he was, he was gone. And I didn't feel that with Jesse.
In the morning, an old lady called me. She lives in an old stone house just two properties away, but I don't know her. She told me Jesse had spent the night huddled outside against her front door. She was afraid of him and didn't let him inside but in the morning she finally read his tag, and found my phone number. So he survived a night out, dinnerless, in the deep cold.
Did he learn his lesson? Well he slept for a day, and then this morning, he went out to try again. The last time I saw the deer, when we walked the trail over the weekend, there was nothing to see but a totally clean skull, spine and pelvis, like an S-curve, lying a few feet away from where it had fallen. I suspected there might be more legs hidden under the snow that has melted and iced a few times, and is now hard as a rock everywhere. Well, he must have managed to break through it, because he trotted home with another leg today. Like the first one, three bones, two long and totally cleaned of meat, and the last one, where the hoof is, still furry.
When he brought it back, the thermometer still read 12 degrees, so it was totally frozen. But he's been working on it all day. It's so peculiar to walk around the house and run into this thing, the leg and hoof. I feel like the deer is in the house.
Meanwhile, I've finally gotten a second client. Which means that I'll be able to support myself again. Pay some long overdue bills. Stop worrying about money all the time. Get the credit cards paid off. I've missed so many payments that my interest rates are through the roof.
Funny thing about that. I managed the anxiety by just keeping on living and not thinking too much about it, beyond just trying to economize and keeping on reaching out for work, trying to make peace with the idea that I might lose the house. But now, when it looks like I can begin to recover economically, all the fear just exploded after I signed that second contract. I had the worst nightmare of my life. I got totally manic in a scared way. I guess it was just backed up, waiting until it was safe to feel it.
I'm writing tonight just to take a break from too many deadlines. I'm doing things I've never done before. I'm working on a letter to the SEC, among other things. Both the clients are really interesting. Both support investors with research and information. Good stuff for me to learn. A whole new realm, not technology this time, but information. And a new realm of press: the Wall Street Journal, CNN/FN, Barron's.
So, back to work.
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|Saturday, January 27th, 2007|
6:37 pm - A little night music
The dishwasher is loaded and running. After nearly three years of living alone, with no one to clean up after me and no one for me to clean up after, I'm developing a sort of wave-form methodology. When I have no more bowls and ladles (from my basic diet of soup and berries), and no more big coffee mugs and teaspoons, and all the wooden handled pancake turners have been used up (because I use them to mix the fresh-cooked dog food with the kibble, which is the only food in the house with wheat in it, so they have to immediately go into the sink before they poison me), it all gets airlifted to the dishwasher. Maybe once a week. |
Same with the laundry, when I run out of heavy wool socks to protect my frostbitten toes from flaring up. Same with the bathroom floor, which gets cleaned up when the dog hair that accumulates at the baseboards starts to edge toward the carpets. I've never been any good around the house, except for cooking and making baskets and arranging furniture. I used to call my old housekeeping method "throwing it closer to where it belongs" which worked when the messes tended to be made by other people. Now, since my messes tend to follow my usual pattern of vertical filing (the pile of mail on the kitchen table, the pile of clothes at the foot of the bed, the piles of half-read books on my desk or the chair in the bathroom), the wave-form airlifting approach words better. Pick a pile. Dump it somewhere that at least gives the illusion it's gone.
So, every once in a while, I talk to someone who understands what I'm doing with myself. Really understands. And that happened yesterday. I walked through my latest mental process with someone, and she said, "My god, you're doing this alone? You have an incredible intellect, and real balls. I've never heard of anyone doing this level of work by herself." And I just exhaled. I appreciate the complements, of course. Anyone as solitary as me can use all the positive feedback I can get. But more important was that she recognized what I was actually trying to do. It is is easy to think I'm out of mind. In fact, I'm really just getting over being out of my mind my whole life.
Night music. As in fugue states, and the dark night of the soul. Fugue states are chronic and repetitive emotional states, but they are also have a disassociative quality. That means you lose touch with outside reality, even though something in outside reality set off the fugue state, and you drift into a well-worn emotional rut. In my experience with fugue states, they seem to be full of words. The words may be some kind of self-talk, like how stupid you are. Or the words may be a long, involved retelling of a story that tends to circle around, like they were so bad to me and maybe it was my own fault because I did something wrong and they are not responsible because they're so screwed up but it really hurt my feelings and on and on.
Which is why, very early on in this process, a very smart Buddhist friend said to me, "Try to shut off the words. Feel the feelings, but shut off the words. See what that does."
That's about the hardest thing in the world for me. What I do instead is write. I write the words and write them and write them, until I can see that they are just a kind of noisy crust on top of something else. Eventually that crust breaks up, because I'm paying so much attention to it that its fundamental illogic becomes clear, and I get down a level.
I've done this so much now that I tend to forget how scary it was at first. Most of the fugue states are guilty secrets. We hardly admit these feelings to ourselves, and would certainly not admit to anyone else, though they tend to "leak out" in our behaviors and words. They're full of anxiety. Or bitterness. Or grief. So to actually focus in on one of them, to indulge it with writing about or consciously experiencing all this stupid baby stuff (how I generally feel about it) takes a lot of courage. Because it feels like there's a real risk of getting stuck there. Like when my mother used to tell me my eyes would get stuck when I went cross-eyed at her. And in the beginning, when I started this, I sometimes felt like I was never going to stop being stupid and nasty and selfish and obnoxious, all these things I wasn't allowed to be.
But I know for sure now that "sitting with" one of these feelings eventually opens a doorway to another deeper level, where the real reasons for the fugue state exist. And where that deeper part of me keeps generating that same damned feeling, because there is some unfinished business waiting for me to sort it out.
Like we keep reproducing the same kind of relationships, with the same damned relationship issues, because we're trying to make some old drama come out differently.
Which brings us back to the cogitation of the day: why I stayed with the little monster. I've put a lot of this processing round on LJ, so if you've been reading, you know that I've gone through the question of how or why he could hurt me without caring about it, and secondarily how he could live with me and my pain being oblivious to it. And ultimately decided the why of it wasn't important. What was more important was how well I protected myself. And the answer was, I didn't. So I went off looking for the why of that.
All these inquiries and the research associated with them is interesting, but I think that the most important thing they do is help me understand what's important and what isn't. And ultimately, I realized that it wasn't actually the most useful thing to be trying to figure out why I did that. I have enough information about that syndrome, and it's very interesting, but it doesn't really solve anything. A description of symptoms isn't the same thing as understanding why they occur.
So I went back to something a little more concrete. When in doubt, figure out what you're sure is real. I hurt. I still hurt. My life has been damaged financially and materially. But more than that, I still feel all the things he said about me, how worthless and unlovable I am. It's like a toxin in my system that is hard to clear away. The other concrete thing is that he knew he was hurting me -- and not just with words, though the words, as usual, seem to rise around the fugue state -- and it didn't matter to him. It was just the cost of getting what he came for, which was money and the things money could buy.
So let's make a new map of those years. Not looking at how cute and charming and funny and smart he was sometimes. Not looking at how insanely in love with him I was. Let's just look at those two things. Him being there for money and not caring if I was hurt. Me getting hurt, materially and emotionally.
Very interesting. Here's what it looks like. A series of episodes. He was seductive and full of promises on the incoming phase. He was psychologically abusive when he was there, except for what was necessary to keep me from falling out of the deal. Each time he got what he came for, he left me in massive emotional pain and usually with some big material or financial mess on my hands because of changes I'd made in my life for his benefit. Episode by episode, I became more emotionally broken and less able to even pretend I was okay, and my life equity diminished, as did my personal options. By the time I finally told him to get out of my life, I was suicidal. I could see I was going to die, and my survival instinct finally kicked in. This whole subsequent recovery process was based on my belief that my only chance to live was to "find what was wrong with me and fix it," the words that have kept me moving through it.
For family or friends of family, this is going to be a big yawn. Everyone told me I was being targeted when it started. People kept trying to extricate me while it was going on. And since it ended, they've told me that he isn't worth what I'm going through to get over it. But at least on that last bit, I disagreed. Because I believed that his presence in my life and my response to it wasn't just about him. Yes, I think he qualifies as a sociopath, but I volunteered for the whole thing. I got lost in it. And I'm an incest survivor, and I know that it's affected me, no matter how well I did at accomplishing things in my life. Yes, it's about how smart and manipulative he was. But it's also about me, and why I said yes to someone who was creating pain and damage in my life from the very beginning.
The really notable thing in those last few paragraphs is something that might not be notable to other people. But it is for me. It's that I finally looked at the history from the perspective of my own survival. I finally saw how it was a kind of long, slow murder, by someone whose interest in my survival didn't going much beyond keeping the carcass alive and functioning for as long as possible before I wasn't useful to him anymore. And it doesn't even matter if this is a fair assessment of him or what happened. What matters is that I've found a place in myself where I am looking at things in terms of my own survival. Where what happens outside of myself is judged in those terms, and is not about whether I'm being ethical or appropriate, or whether the other person needs to be considered compassionately as a flawed human being. It's just about me, and whether this experience was a catalyst for good or harm in my life.
I am incredibly good at apologizing for myself. I could probably write a book about groveling as an art form. Not long ago, I was apologizing to a new acquaintance about how I can't settle down to a formal meditative discipline. And he responded that there were a lot of forms of meditation, and he suspected that I was deep into my own practice.
Well, perhaps so, because this exercise of simply looking at that six-year story in terms of whether that man was a force for good or harm in my life, whether he improved or diminished my chances for survival, put me on an entirely different planet. I felt myself, as myself, not as some function of what I was doing, or how well I was doing, or what I was supposed to be doing, or anything to do with anything outside myself at all, but just as me. In the simplest and least complicated terms. As thought I had popped out of some complicated tapestry of life, or found some separate identity as a single star in the Milky Way, or just unstuck myself from some big spider web, walked away and then turned around to look back at it to see that it wasn't me. At most it was somewhere I was stuck for a long time, something that may have been something like a home or context, but it was never me.
And so I took the exercise one step further. I took all the things in my life that were evidence of what was wrong with me, and I pushed them aside too. I pushed aside my messes, all the things that were waiting for me to get them and yammering at me constantly, all the excess of possessions, and the house I can't afford, and the confusions and feelings of failure about my history of careers and relationships, and everything that had the slightest negative drag on my thoughts about myself. I pushed it all aside. And I felt myself without all that noise.
It was a very quiet and undramatic place. I listened to hear if I might learn anything about who I am. And this will give you an idea of just where I got stuck in my history, how young I was. But I remembered thinking how much could be solved if people were just kind to one another. I thought about how much of my life had been spent seeking that kindness outside myself. And trying to be kind to other people. But that somehow I'd been living with rules that didn't leave a lot of kindness for me. All that noise that I'd just shut off, all that yammering about how useless and incompetent I am, how very far I'd have to go in changing before I'd be worth caring about. I got the idea that, if I wanted to live in that kind of world, where people were kind to each other, I could afford to extend some to myself.
At this point, I'm afraid I'm beginning to sounds like a New Age bumper sticker, or I'm spouting psychobabble that just has an all-too-convenient happy ending. I also know that I'm exposing myself again at a level that may be considered tasteless or naive or, god help me, lugubrious. I can hear my inner editor or inner Aunt Stacia saying, "That's quite enough now, young lady."
But I'm going to blunder forward just a little bit more. Because I don't just write all this just because I think it's a cool story, or because I'm a psychological exhibitionist. I hope it might be meaningful to someone else.
My boundaries didn't get blown by this man I was involved with. My boundaries got blown by living with my family, and the years of being raped by my father. That may seem like an aggressively in-your-face way to talk about it, I know, but it's my life. It happened to me and it's not my fault. Having to act like there's something wrong with me and I'm supposed to be ashamed of it just makes it worse. That's why childhood sexual abuse is called the gift that keeps on giving, because the victims become so screwed up with shame and misplaced guilt that they go one to become perpetrators themselves. I don't want to collaborate in this by my silence.
The level of identity I reached in this exercise was something I'd seen only fleetingly in my life before. It wasn't lost to me because I was born without it. I lost it because understanding myself at that level, in terms of whether something helped me or harmed me, became just too painful or scary to bear. It wasn't just that my boundaries were blown, whatever that means. It was that I lost any understanding of how trust or love worked or what my position in the world was. I could only try to make everything as okay as it could be, when the people who took care of me didn't care whether I lived or died. No matter what they said, no matter how nice or charming they might be sometimes. From a victim's perspective there isn't a lot of difference between someone who wants to kill you, and someone who uses you for their own purposes and doesn't care whether you're hurt.
I grew up without the ability to recognize threats to my survival and how deal with them. And a short circuit anytime I tried to envision, plan or manage my life. And the peculiar idea that I wasn't really living my life, but some lesser version that was the best I could do until I could find my way back to who I was really supposed to be. All of which I used my good brain to work around, and did a pretty good job of it until this guy showed up and tore the lid off it.
What was going on in my family was a kind of slow murder. It was passed along, generation to generation. If you find my writing interesting, I recommend again, you go back to read the article on Nietzsche's concept of ressentiment, and how this "moral perversion" becomes a creative force. I swore I would stop this thing in my lifetime. I wish I'd found a way to do it earlier. I thought I was doing well, because I did so much better than the other kids in my family. Only lately I'm coming to understand what it actually means to take my life back. Even now, having learned to use my worst emotional states as tools for understanding and undoing damage, rather than freefalling into depressive states, and maybe finally getting back to some fundamental knowledge of myself as worth taking care of, I have no idea of how much further I have to go.
Things have looked a bit different in the last few days. I'm just letting it percolate down, and seeing what develops. Still, it feels like this might be an important piece of work, like it might turn out to be reason to cheer.
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|Wednesday, January 24th, 2007|
11:25 am - Paradoxical responses: Why I stayed
I seem to be back to working full-time on sorting out some of the lingering questions in the story. |
So the question of the day is why would an apparently sensible woman, smart enough to own her own business, sufficiently comfortable with her own power to manage employees and clients, with enough money to do or buy anything she wants, become obsessively attached to a petulant and abusive man 20 years her junior, who says in so many words that he is strictly there for the money he can extract from the relationship?
What was going on with me?
Why did I behave in exactly the opposite way than I should have? Instead of kicking him out of my life or using my financial power over him to demand different behavior, I not only surrendered to the situation, but proceeded to agree to just about anything he wanted and volunteer anything I could imagine he'd want.
I've been trying to find more information about something my therapist mentioned once. A paradoxical response to abuse.
The way this works is that if someone hurts you, the paradoxical response is to feel love and concern for them. The associated action is do something nice for them, contribute to their wellbeing. (You will note there is no direct or normal response -- not an ouch, not anger, not revenge -- to the pain caused by the abuse. It's all transformed into this other response.)
I don't know if I wrote about it here, but I've already been through researching Stockholm Syndrome, which is an intense attachment, something like an infatuation, to someone who controls a survival-threatening situation. SS is often defined as a brain chemical issue, the way the neurochemicals of terror and hope interplay when the controlling person alternately gives reassuring kindnesses and then withholds reassurances or threatens. The "good" stuff becomes increasingly important to the dependent person, causing a fixation that is experienced as love. And it often goes both ways between the controller and the dependent, both feeling as though they are in love.
I thought my situation might have something to do with that, because the relationship started at a time of huge stress. But some of my recent thinking got me on another round of research. This wasn't quite the set-up for SS. I had too much inherent power. And though he got comfortable sometimes or found it enjoyable, I don't think he ever imagined he was in love. Rather, my situation was more like I was destabilized from the beginning by actions and statements so brutally denigrating and accompanied by absolutely no concern for my feelings that I was stunned. I couldn't understand how one person could treat another person like that.
So why was I so attached to him? What happened to my normal responses to pain? What I was NOT doing was the usual learning process, that the hot stove would burn my hand. I just kept going back over and over to burn my hand on the stove, like I imagined it was going to come out differently. And the result, for me, was a kind of internal failure, a breakdown in my relationship with myself. If I couldn't trust myself to learn to stay away from this guy, I couldn't trust myself to survive. And so, I went on a long emotional nosedive that took years to climb out of.
Looking for more information on this paradoxical response, I found an article today. Here's the URL: http://www.pbsp.com/books&articles/abuse.htm. It's written by a man named Albert Pesso, who along with his wife developed a "psychomotor" therapeutic system, which basically playacts out repressed responses to abuse -- whether physical violence, sexual or psychological. The approach is interesting, I think, but that's not the real value to me of the article. That value is, instead, his descriptions of the different layers of response.
First, here's an extract from his definition of abuse:
" Finally, there is psychological abuse which comes from unwanted reduction of the victim's self esteem and value through imposed degradation, humiliation, ridicule, derision, and/or other psychological blows, demeaning to the self image, and damaging to the identity and functioning of the victim. Another form of psychological abuse results from forced submission to the commands and will of the abuser with no possibility of resistance or escape, where the victim must only show obedience.
"Clearly, abuse is an abnormal use of a person, whereby a person is treated as a thing, an object or a commodity and not as a living soul and ego."
That's close enough to what I was dealing with, in terms of the damage to identity and functioning. And the total hopelessness of trying to convince this guy to stop doing things that were hurting me.
So onto the responses. He lists a series of them, but I'm just going to include a few bits here. The first is just interesting, not necessarily relevant to this whole thread of thought. It describes the "first response" to abuse. (The way he sees the mind is the primitive "soul" which provides life force and core identity at the center, surrounded by the ego which holds all our life knowledge about the world and the identity we've acquired since birth.)
"Most victims tend to become quiet and fearful. The outer world has presented them with great danger. Their own souls have reacted in ways that are beyond their consciousness and comprehension. The first response is to shut down. The ego shrinks and grows rigid - letting little in or out - everything is regarded as suspect, foreign and dangerous."
I like that description, because it matches my sense of astonishment at someone mistreating me. It's the first thing that happens. I go still and withdrawn, while I try to understand what's happening. It's like going into physical shock after a bad injury.
Okay, here's his list of responses.
1. THE EXPERIENCE OF LOSS OF CONTROL.
2. THE EXPERIENCE OF FEAR AND TERROR.
3. THE EXPERIENCE OF PAIN, HURT AND SADNESS
4. THE IMPULSE AND EXPRESSION OF REVENGE.
5. THE EXPRESSION OF EROTICISM AND RECEPTIVITY.
6. THE IMPULSE AND EXPRESSION OF MURDER
7. THE INCREASE OF GUILT, SHAME AND THE DESIRE FOR PUNISHMENT
8. THE DESIRE TO EXPRESS LOVE FOR THE ABUSER.
His explanations of all these states in interesting, but it's number 5, eroticism and receptivity, that seemed like a potential description and explanation for this thing I'm trying to figure out. Here's an extract:
"One of the most unexpected and surprising findings in our work has been that abuse of any kind produces a reflexive increase in vulnerability that includes an erotic element. ... This level of vulnerability feels like a kind of infinite and omnipotent openness. It includes a kind of chaotic excitement and willingness that would appear ready to take in and absorb everything and anything.
"The more regularly one has been a victim ... It is as if the repeated attacks demonstrate to the victim that they "draw" the attacker to them and that the attacker cannot resist attacking them. They may feel that they have become irresistible in their attractiveness as victims. For the attack is attention, even if negative, and is a highly charged form of recognition with much emotional heat attached to it on the side of both the aggressor and the victim."
Whew, how's that for interesting stuff. It totally matches my feeling with this guy that my heart was blown open in some way that was wonderful, but also terrible because I had no control over it. It doesn't just seem to relate to what I was going through, this craziness, but maybe some other things too, like the attraction to S&M or B&D.
Which makes me think I should also drop an excerpt from number 7, the one about shame and guilt.
"The victim, thrown out of balance and out of control by abuse, is ashamed and guilty about how open they are, and, by the law of opposites becomes rigidly closed. Ashamed and guilty about how angry they are, they become rigidly "nice".
"Guilt, operating on the law of opposites, inclines victims to punish themselves for their out of control impulses. The murderous energies directed outward are turned inward as a way to reduce the discomfort.
"The non-interactive solution of self-punishment leads to isolation, and in an odd way, omnipotence. ... when one's receptivity is not reality-tested by an outside force, one can come to the conclusion that one is the most open person in the world and the very model or paradigm for openness in the universe.
"So, while the victim feels awful, shamed, guilty and wishing to destroy him/herself, there is a significant secondary gain of specialness and uniqueness. Even though this is unconscious it isn't given up easily."
So, to me, that part is a little less clear, but it's still interesting. Especially the part about being so special or unique. Because that's exactly the way I have felt in abusive situations. Like there is something special about me and my situation, a strange feeling of being "chosen" for this particular drama.
Both of these two items stand in contrast to the more defensive and angry responses that I would have considered more "normal." But I think that the division between these two kinds of responses might almost be considered a right- and left-brain thing. The left brain, rational side, would also be more geared to the "me," pure self-interest that responds with anger or some equivalent violence (revenge) to a boundary violation. The right brain, the more intuitive and emotional side, would be looking for a perception that was more environmental, what it means about my place in the world. And my place in the world is to have my boundaries shredded and be wide open and be vulnerable/dependent in relation to what is around me.
Though that sounds gender related, one masculine and one feminine, it's more yin and yang. The writer said both genders have these responses.
For me, one of the challenges of researching this stuff is that I have to synthesize a lot of different intellectual paradigms. For example how does this therapist's model of psychological processing match to neuropsychiatric research, and then to recovery-based theories of addiction and codependency, then theories of developmental causes and treatment of personality disorders, etc.
In this case of this article, the model of consciousness -- based on the soul and the ego -- is pretty simple, compared to others. But I like it. It's close to my own topography of inner landscape, which views unresolved psychological damage as big wiry knots -- sort of like Pigpen's aura of flying dust -- that keep the inner self from either seeing objectively or acting effectively on the outside world, because perception is blocked by dominating needs for resolution. So the point of therapy or self-work, to untangle the knots and open that path. So soul acts more directly on the world, through a "clean" and functional ego.
Anyway, I recommend the article. The descriptions of experience in it are really interesting, whether or not you buy into the therapeutic technique.
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|Monday, January 22nd, 2007|
4:00 pm - Slave morality
Yesterday I was on nerve.com, and decided to do a search for men in my general neighborhood. I found a man who referenced Rouge et le Noir, a Stendhal novel I've never read. It's about a young man who is an arriviste, a self-taught intellectual from the working class who tries to break into high society in 17th century France. Cool, I thought. It might help me better understand D, and I went looking for the best translation. |
That led me to a book called, Le Arriviste, which was the study of the type appearing in French literature. Cool, I thought. Maybe I'll learn more, and I went looking for that. It's out of print and I couldn't find it, but the search led me to an essay.
The essay is about something called "Ressentiment," which I imagine is French for resentment. It discusses this "moral perversion," which apparently was initially brought up Nietzsche and later followed up by Scheler. As you might guess, it is created when a person sees that others have what he does not, and that he cannot do anything to correct the inequality. What results from that is a host of emotional responses -- like envy, anger and vengefulness -- and intellectual strategies like devaluing the thing that he cannot have.
Nietzsche's original premise that was Christianity resulted from ressentiment. In classical times, the Romans conquered Palestine. Previously the Palestinian rabbis held the highest social position, based on their position as spiritual intermediaries with God. However the Romans usurped that position with a completely different set of values -- military might, wealth and personal courage.
So after fuming a while, the rabbis created a new set of values, Christianity, which served to denigrate the Romans' values and make them no longer prestigious. A nose-thumbing that continues to conflict with values of wealth and power, except of course for certain TV evangelists. (Apologies to anyone who knows history, religion or philosophy in more detail than me. This is just my quick-and-dirty analysis.)
Christianity was, Nietzsche said, a creation of "slave morality" that derived directly from the resentment of the rabbis toward their conquerors.
Well, gosh, doesn't this sound like an effective public relations campaign? Obviously the profession has been around for a long time.
I love the term slave morality. It could be a whole book or series of poems in itself.
If anyone is interested in the essay, here's the URL: http://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Anth/AnthMore.htm
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|Saturday, January 20th, 2007|
4:40 pm - E.T. 101
In gathering up books for half.com from the bathroom shelf, I stumbled on one of my old favorites, E.T. 101. |
There were a few gems from my years helping Diane running DreamStreet, the New Age bookstore, that continue to travel with me. Michael Raspberry's Good Business shaped my philosophy as an entrepreneur. Paul Winter's Canyon CD. Susan Osborne's Susan CD, which is long out of print, but she sent me a copy a few years ago. Unbelievable voice and music. There are more, but E.T. 101 is something special. Here's an except from the Intergalactic New Collegiate Diction written, of course, by Mission Control.
"This is a difficult word to define because there really isn't any such thing. What we mean by that is that there is no single reality, here or anywhere else.
"The reality you live in is nothing more than an audio-visual demonstration of where your attention is. The universe presumes your attention is on what you want and graciously provides you with more of the same. If this dynamic were understood, you would never do anything so foolish as declare a war on drugs -- unless, of course, your objective were to create more of them. ...
"Because you have yet to understand your power of creation and who you really are, you perpetually put your attention on denial instead of affirmation. This results in the universe serving up an extra helping of what you thought you didn't want."
I couldn't have said it better myself. Now, if I can just remember it.
Putting together a portfolio is always a startling experience for me. I forget how good I am until I start looking at samples of work. And more than that, I forget how much better I've become as a writer over the years. I can barely stand to read the articles and position papers I wrote ten years ago. Awkward, pretentious, wordy, full of redundancies and sloppy logic. If there is one thing I've gotten out of this great adventure in the commercial world, it's a long step toward incisive thinking and elegant writing. I guess that's two things. Anyway, practice does pay off.
Meanwhile, in trying to find a bit of information for a client, I searched search through my old e-mail files. And surprisingly stumbled over the complete "sent" file from 1998-9, the years in which I hired D and then he became whatever the hell he was. Reading it was at first a tough journey into those old feelings of emotional displacement. But afterwards, in thinking about it, I think I finally got a different perspective on what happened. Or a different perspective on his perspective.
For those of you who witnessed it, try this on. I had everything. He had nothing. And therefore he couldn't really hurt me. I had all the power over everything he wanted. He only had the power of being able to manipulate me. So for him, it was kind of a long chess game. And everything was in the game. There were no boundaries, no limits, except what either of us could declare limits and make stick. He drew his lines -- no fidelity, no commitment, except as long as it took to do the deal. I drew mine -- my business to run as I chose, my money because it was my money. But everything else was fair game.
As you know, if you've been reading me, I think that it all worked out for me in the end. Mostly because it clarified what was ultimately wrong with my basic strategy for living -- find a savior, save him or her in exchange for being saved. I didn't take care of my own life, but paid someone else to do it by taking care of theirs. His strategy of taking care of himself trumped mine big time. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life, but it was also a major event in terms of illustrating to me exactly why that strategy was not only inefficient (no, no, no, I would always be telling my partners, do it this way not that way), but it kept me from ever really getting grounded in who I am, what I want to do for myself, and figuring out to do it. As he put it, I was always in this black hole of commitments to people I was responsible for. It exhausted him just to try to help me sort it out. I couldn't argue with him. I could never get clear.
But the interesting part of imagining him thinking that he couldn't really hurt me, because I was so powerful and he was so powerless, is that it makes sense of the whole thing as a game, in which we were each playing constantly for our own advantage. My big objective was to get him to love me. His big objective was to get what he came for and get on with his life. As I said, he had the real advantage in strategies. He was always telling me I was responsible for myself. He was not going to take care of me, beyond what he was being paid for. I read it as betrayal. I was taking care of him; how could he not be taking care of me? These were the rules of the universe. But you know, these were rules that lost the game. Not that people don't fall in love. Not that people don't care about and for each other. But you can't really do that until you're competent at taking care of yourself first.
One of the rules for getting over codependency (and handling the oxygen masks on airplanes): you can't take care of anyone else if you're running on empty. Take care of yourself first.
I think that looking at this as a kind of board game, played with only one rule, might work as a way to approach this book with some kind of objectivity that doesn't make him a monster. The rule? Everyone is responsible for himself or herself. After that it comes down to how well you negotiate.
Sometimes I think I'll never love again. Not because he broke my heart. But because I don't know what love is, as a person who is responsible for herself. But when I think about him in these terms, it makes me realize why I loved him and why it was so hard to let him go. He made things real. He looked at the whole world as raw material for his life. He didn't lie. He was manipulative as hell, but he was also transparent about it. He'd wait a beat to see if he was getting away with it, and when it was clear he was, he'd zoom off to the next thing. Part of me was gasping in pain all the time, but part of me was in total awe. How did he do that? And why couldn't I?
Wake up to who you are. That's the core message in E.T. 101. Stop agreeing to all the things that make you less. Stop focusing on what you don't want, and spend the energy to figure out what you really do want and make that who you are.
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|Friday, January 19th, 2007|
2:31 pm - money, money, angst,, money, angst
Woke up yesterday in a total panic about money. There is no reason why I shouldn't be in a total panic about money 24/7, but fortunately my brain conspires to spare me, except in these periodic episodes.|
So after checking my diminishing bank balances, paying the minimum on on all my credit cards, and opening a few bills to make myself face the worst (oddly my current best stress management technique), I started looking for where an old client is today. His company folded after 9/11, and that event was, more or less, the cause of my having to come back to New York from California. He'd been on my mind for weeks, so I decided that maybe the cosmic telegraph system was trying to tell me something.
I found him right away on Google. CEO of another company for the past few years. It took me another couple of hours to get my brain in the right state to write him a note. No e-mail address on their website, or any e-mail address that offered a hint on their naming convention. So, I picked up the phone to see if anyone would give me the address.
The person who answered was squeamish about handing out this information, but she offered to connect me directly with him. Okay, I said, thinking about how I describe the last few years of my life. Took some time off to write a book? Actually, not for him. We'd had a mutually sympathetic correspondence going while he was looking for a new job post 9/11. Of all people, he'd understand that I needed to go to ground for a while.
But then I got another person on the phone, who announced he was head of marketing and that he was pleased I called, since they'd been discussing me and their need for PR. Turns out the CEO had said they should talk to me. What followed was the usual set of questions you get from someone who's never dealt with an agency before. Could I send a proposal? Well, no, not until someone tells me about the company, its problems and objectives. But I can send you a portfolio. Okay, that will do.
That's my job today, putting it together. Along with learning everything about hedge funds for another client.
When I got off the phone last night, I pulled 20 books off the shelf and went to list them on half.com. A small step forward in clearing out the possessions and making a little money. Half got listed. Eight went into the box for the Salvation Army, because they were selling for $1 or less, and not worth the time of listing and mailing. The other two were too interesting to let go, and I'm reading them.
Bought in some period in New York when I imagined it would be a simple matter to switch D for some better model. But both surprisingly well-written, amusing and inspiring. Secrets of Seduction for Woman by Brenda Venus. The Technique of the Love Affair by A Gentlewoman.
Maybe they'll make me open my mind to falling in love again. I can hardly imagine it, but anything's possible. Maybe they'll just give me some good ideas for writing a love story. That would be good.
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|Tuesday, January 16th, 2007|
7:22 pm - Headbanging
Last night I watched a few country music videos. They have the strangest effect on me. I want to go out and dance with cowboys, get drunk and do thing that I swear I'll never do again the next morning.|
Today, I discovered McSweeney's. www.mcsweeneys.net. It made me want to crack open my skull, jump out and be happy. I'm so tired of being my old self. I'm ready to be my new self.
What does that mean? I don't know, but I went out tonight to take out the garbage and sneak a cigarette out of the mailbox, and laughed out loud.
Today I smoked three cigarettes. Is this quitting? Well, it's less than my usual pack and a half. I went down the hill to the mailbox at 9:30 a.m. I went down the hill about 2 p.m. And then again tonight.
It's sooooo cold. But it's kind of fun. I ran down the hill this afternoon. And then ran halfway back up again.
If anyone else is reading this, go look at McSweeney's. If you think Salon is sort of going in the right direction. McSweeney's is way, way farther.
It reminds me of when I used to drop acid, take a copy to Esquire to the woods, and laugh my head off.
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|Thursday, January 11th, 2007|
9:04 pm - How many maybes
I have to talk fast. The dogs are chewing at my ankles for dinner.|
Yesterday I delivered my application for the MFA in creative writing program to Bard. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. I couldn't sleep through a night for two weeks. I kept waking up with some idea of how I could do it better. I wrote 19 versions of the Personal Statement, everyone of them completely different. Whew.
I mean what how can you explain that all you want to write about is the last decade of your life. Which has been basically about a relationship that made you crazy (or clarified that you were always crazy and just didn't know it) and a couple of years getting uncrazy? That what I have to write about, and use as a springboard for other stuff. But the wonderful part is that I am finally ready to do this. Writing the other document, my creative history, it was grim seeing all the opportunities I've turned down because whoever I was involved with didn't want to support it. I just never fought back, or just went off without them. I was afraid, but things couldn't have been crazier than they turned out to be.
Well, now my life is mine. And I know what I want to write about. If I'm not accepted into the program, it was still a great experience to write the application.
Still, the program would be just incredible. It's cross-disciplinary -- artists, musicians, photographers and writer cross-pollinating. It would be guidance, feedback and community. But they only accept about ten percent of the applicants. So I'm not really expecting anything, but it would be cool.
I did that at the same time I'm quitting smoking, because I got a really bad head-and-chest cold that was clearly going to pneumonia. So it's been nine days today of smoking mullein and coltsfoot. Oh and there has been some scouring the house for old butts. (It's so embarrassing to discover that you're a total addict who would smoke an old sock if it had nicotine in it.) But they're gone now. And hopefully in another week, I won't be smoking anything. I haven't used patches since the second day.
And meanwhile, I'm going down the tubes financially again. For some reason,I can't get too crazed about it. The worst thing that will happen is that I lose the house and have to sell everything. And then have to go live in some little hovel and write. Instead of driving myself crazy to clear enough money keep paying for all this.
The hard part is just getting rid of stuff. If that were easy, I would have done it a long time ago. Maybe I just have to pour gasoline over my life and throw a match at it. It seems to be my usual style. I wish I were better at these things.
They're nippin' and yippin', so I'm off the the kitchen...
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|Friday, December 8th, 2006|
I keep trying to post. I keep not having time. The news just keeps backing up. Oh, what's important...|
I'm reading "Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception" by Daniel Goleman (author of "Emotional Intelligence" and "Social Intelligence").
Wildly interesting. What do we not think about, and how do we know we're not thinking about it if we're not thinking about it?
It's something like denial, but more based on neurochemistry. How's this for a factoid? The same chemical package that carries the source of the flight-or-fight response (ACTH) carries endorphins that calm you and soften your focus. Why? Because sometimes it's better for your survival not to be anxious and afraid.
The example he gives is of a man being attacked by a lion. If he were worried about his wounds, he wouldn't be able to think about the larger picture of how he's going to get away. So the endorphins kick in, blunting pain and fear, and allowing him to think more globally. Cool, no?
Then he goes on to talk about how constant anxiety gradually teaches us to turn our attention away from its source. So we "blind" ourselves, create categories of thought we're not going to think about. I'm only about 50 pages into it, but he promises that the book will help us begin to see through our own self-deceptions. I can't wait.
Meanwhile, I'm over the Lyme disease. Caught it early. The antibiotics were mind-altering. I was spacey for three weeks, and so got very little work done last month. And made very little money. So December is tough. Beyond tough. But fortunately a few potential clients have shown up, and we're talking.
I've made some amazing new friends. I don't know if the universe is just throwing some friendly lobs my way, or if I've set something new in motion. But I'm uncovering a whole world of people around here who are integrating high spiritual values with activism. My brain can hardly absorb what I'm learning.
Tonight I go to a beautiful retreat called Lifebridge to discuss the objectives of the UN's millennium report, and how they can be implemented on a local level. I wrote an article about the business piece of this report a few years ago, and then the whole thing seemed to fade away. Which was too bad, because it was a tremendous report -- integrating all the scientific research to date on global changes.
It's so cold. I'm trying to save money by keeping the thermostat down. So I'm in sweaters, wool socks and leaving the computer occasionally to do a few laps around the livingroom-kitchen track. There are some benefits to having a big house. Expensive to heat but you can actually do laps.
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|Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006|
4:53 pm - Being a catalyst
Well, the adventures in the non-profit world continue. All along, as I've dealt with these organizations that have high-minded goals, I've been struck by how unlike the business world they are in one key characteristic. |
They're not business-like. They're driven by ideals. Often by compassionate ideals, wanting to help people who are poor or otherwise in need. Sometimes visionary ideals, related to ecology or spirituality. But their financial books tend to be a mess. They have no grasp on some of the basic energy principles of sustaining an operation, like you have to focus not just on getting money, but on being about to explain and defend your use of it. So you can attract people who have confidence in you, and want to get involved in your good work.
And more puzzling to me, they actually regard these business-like things as venal or worldly or distasteful. And then they go around whining that everything is so difficult, or the community just doesn't appreciate their good work, or that no one wants to help. A lot of it is just poverty-consciousness, people who are all caught up in being victims, and who are more comfortable dramatizing that, rather than putting part of their energy into building something that is healthy and lasting.
But now, I've discovered a so-called non-profit that is something entirely different. It is clearly the creation of a couple of people who have just used it as a kind of boondoggle to create a community and lifestyle for themselves, built on volunteer energy. And I've been invited in, because the volunteers are starting to wise up and drift away.
There are lots of complications and history, and everyone wants me to listen to their endless stories of what they think is going on, and how important it all is, and all their ideas of what it would take to fix it. But no matter what anyone says, the end of the monolog comes down to the facts that there is no money, or not enough volunteer energy, or there are 14 things that have to be done before something else can be done. The assets of this group are in the chaotic and degenerating condition that has resulted from years of neglect. Their books show endless co-mingling of personal and non-profit activities and moneys. And all the solutions come down to finding either more volunteers or big donors who will fund long-needed repairs or enable them to transform themselves into some glossy, modern operation.
As for me, they have decided that the best way to use my original offer to help them create some functional communication materials (before I understood what I was dealing with) is to arrange a series of a half-dozen briefings before I go to a board meeting, where I will listen to the board's litany of what needs to be done. I conservatively estimate this to require at least ten hours of my time, not to mention the inevitable endless, gossipy conversations on the phone or by e-mail as I begin to serve as a facilitator among all the different people's ideas and thought processes.
And despite the fact that I've been trying to extricate myself, telling them that I will not participate in anything unless certain legal and financial messes are sorted out first, I am clearly viewed as the next volunteer victim of this quagmire. And they keep calling to talk about this and that, and suggest another way to arrange the growing series of meetings that will truly enlighten me about what's so important, so I can use my superpowers and see through it all for them.
So, everything is interesting in some way. And this one, as usual, throws me back on myself to look for definitions of what I'm really doing, now with the non-profits, and in my life in general. And I start with why these people anger me so much. Because they do. The more I'm involved with them, the more furious I become. About their assumptions. About their intrusion into my life.
Early in our conversations, when I was still trying to help them create communications, I tried to get them to define what good they were doing in the world. If they were change agents, what exactly was different, in the before-and-after sense, because they had exerted some energy on it?
They started blathering about their principles and what they did. And in my usual marketing guru fashion, I said that I didn't give a shit about who they are and what they did, and neither would donors. I wanted to know what kind of material change for the good they created in the world. How the world profited from their existance. What good it did for me, the donors or anyone else.
I've been through this basic interview so many times with so many clients I could do it now in my sleep. For my software-company clients, it usually requires them to do a little rearranging of their thoughts but we always get down, relatively quickly, to what problems they are solving for their customers. People don't buy their products because they're nice guys or because the products have lots of nice features. People buy their products because those people have a problem, and the product solves it.
But these people in the non-profit just couldn't get their brains around the concept. They could not get off the topic of who they were. Their education. Their background. Their good ideas. Their wonderful events. Their resources. What they had to teach. What they had to share. Blah, blah, blah. And of course, then it inevitably came down to needing more people and more money to make it all more wonderful. And that, of course, was why I was there. To help them attract all those people and money.
But in thinking about all this, I realized that's not why I was there. Not in my mind. Why I was there was to tell them the truth. Which was that their operation simply didn't generate sustaining energy. They weren't just in trouble, as they thought, they were dead and had been for some time, though the corpse was still twitching. And the reason they were dead is because they had been gobbling up the resources they had and creating what they wanted to create. But what they created didn't do enough good to attract sustaining support. And they had been so involved with themselves that they hadn't bothered to check and adjust their course to be something that anyone cared about.
As a professional catalyst, I can't really say this is exactly the kind of role I enjoy. But when I face something like this, I have a mental mechanism that clicks into action. And I just go on auto-pilot. I can't find any way to be courteous about it. I don't have any mental resources at all except a kind of brutal incisiveness. I walk away from these conversatons, wondering if I was right, if there was soemthing I missed. If I should have considered the people and their issues, their weaknesses, their dreams and needs. But I can't.
And usually what comes back to me just confirms what I see. And in this case, it has. There have been two responses. The volunteers who heard me, the people on the board and those who have been trying to run programs with no resources, have been drifting up to thank me for verbalizing the causes of their discomfort and resentment. And the "leaders," those folk who have been enjoying the co-mingling of funds and activities and the lifestyle it offered them, want to eat more of my time to explain more about themselves and how important it all is. As they've eaten everyone else's time.
I am tempted to inquire who they think I am to them, and why they think I would want to be in that position. But I think it's pointless. And really, just me wanking on my own stuff. My unwillingness to be drawn into a bottomless-pit situation. My resistance to being seduced by oh-pity-me artists.
Is just telling the truth, even if it's only my truth, something that creates change? Well, it can do. I know that from my PR work, when I go into a client and mirror back to them what they told me about themselves. Oh, no, no, no, they say. We didn't really mean that. And then they start to get a little more realistic about what their projecting. Maybe it will work that way here.
But the other meaningful takeaway here is the concept of sustaining energy. Their programs do not attract sustaining energy. And I've suggested that they eliminate anything that doesn't. Just throw it away, and see what they have left. I think about my own life, all the clutter that surrounds me of souvenirs of my life, projects I might do, things I might use, clothes I might wear. If I look at them all the same way, it becomes a lot easier to get rid of stuff.
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|Monday, November 13th, 2006|
8:40 pm - Forgiveness Training
I said I would post this when it went out. It was released today. You are welcome to repost it anywhere you think it belongs. |
Forgiveness: Have a Happier Holiday Season
With Free Training from Mindful Living Programs
Online School Offers Holiday Gift of Classes
In Letting Go of Painful Old Feelings
Vero Beach FL– November 13, 2006 – Freely offering an opportunity to gain the healing powers of forgiveness, Mindful Living Programs is waiving the $150 cost of its holiday-season forgiveness training. Beginning the week after Thanksgiving, “The Process of Forgiveness” will be taught online in a “virtual classroom” environment on three Tuesday evenings, Nov. 28, Dec. 5 and 12 at 7 p.m. EST (4 p.m. PST).
The classes will be taught by Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, an expert in forgiveness who has successfully helped family survivors of 9/11 move on with their lives, as well assisting many other people to deal with personal trauma and tragedies. He is nationally known researcher, teacher, therapist and author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness.
“For many people, the holidays are less than happy, because the season triggers old feelings of loss or resentment. This is also a year when we, as a nation, are discussing our response to 9/11, and possibly evaluating the costs of action based on retaliatory spirit. It seemed like the right time to simply open our door wide to anyone who wants to learn about forgiveness,” says Kelley McCabe, partner in Mindful Living Programs, an online training firm.
She adds, “There is some misunderstanding about what forgiveness means. It’s not about putting on a happy face when life is painful, or about forgetting what happened. It’s about resolving old feelings that have nothing to do with today. Learning to forgive offers a lot of benefits. We reduce stress, enjoy life more, and make better decisions.”
Dr. Luskin’s class emphasizes skills for letting go of hurt, helplessness and anger while increasing confidence, hope and happiness. The method was developed in conjunction with extensive research at the Stanford Forgiveness Project, which Dr. Luskin co-founded.
“I’m pleased to join Kelley in this project, and we welcome participants who want to let go of painful old feelings,” says Dr. Luskin. “Forgiveness often begins with a decision to feel better. We’ve all seen people go through painful events, and some get over it and others continue to suffer. Often, suffering breeds more suffering as we pass bad feelings on to others. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to hold onto these feelings, if we can learn to resolve them and move on. That is what this class is about.”
Technical requirements to participate are a Windows-based PC with a high-speed Internet connection and speakers.
To register for the class, go to www.mindfullivingprograms.com. Click the “Get Started” button to reach the list of courses. Scroll down to “The Process of Forgiveness” and click to register.
Enter the discount code, FORGIVENESS, on the payment page. This will change the price from $150 to $0.
Also sponsoring this project is RegOnline (www.regonline.com), the online event registration firm, which is waiving all fees for registrations for this course.
About Mindful Living Programs
Mindful Living Programs (www.mindfullivingprograms.com) offers virtual classroom training on stress management and improved life skills. These techniques, which were pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, were developed and tested through extensive research in medical environments. The expanding list of offerings includes Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and 12-Weeks to Mindful Eating. In addition, Forgive for Good, an emotional healing technique developed at Stanford University is offered. CEU and CME credits are available for professional certification requirements. College credits are also available. Online yoga and mindfulness practice classes support the techniques learned in class. The company is privately held and headquartered in Vero Beach, FL.
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|Wednesday, November 1st, 2006|
12:10 pm - The internal critic
One of the first things writing teachers tell you is to shut up your internal critic. Just tell it to take a hike. Or promise it that it can have its say later, if it will just take a snooze now. Or just keep a mental cancel stamp handy to eliminate its influence.|
Not that it's not a useful party. But later, when you get to editing.
That hectoring internal monolog about what's banal or badly reasoned or painfully clumsy provides only one thing -- the reason to stop. To do nothing.
I woke up this morning thinking about my own expertise in reasons to do nothing. I long ago considered writing a handy compilation of reasons the assignment was late for other freelance writers.
Now, I thought about that lovely man who got the latest Nobel Prize for thinking up micro-capitalization of small businesses in impoverished third-world countries, and wondered if next year they might give the award for excellence in reasons to do nothing.
I could begin the book right away. I could put away all this convoluted and emotional business of trying to write the book I really want to write, and just get down to what's really real. The Art of Inertia: Conversations with My Superego.
"I'm writing this book."
"Well, I'm glad you're doing something. Busy is good. But a book? Very risky."
"What do you mean, risky? I'm a writer."
"Well, yes, you were a writer at some time, I recall."
"What do you mean? I've been a writer for, um, almost forty years now. Not counting a few breaks waiting tables in French restaurants or living in the woods when I was having nervous breakdowns."
"Yes, but you used to be paid for it. You used to get money for everything you wrote. This mess from the last two and half years. Don't you think it's just wanking?"
"Stop it. You're being rude. And unhelpful. It may not be the most efficient one in the world, but it is a creative process. Or it is, if it turns into something. If I just shove it in a drawer, it's wanking."
"If you don't shove it in a drawer, and God help us, someone publishes it, I can see the reviews. Wanker admits wankerhood to the entire world. New circular roadmap for the world of wanking. Wanker takes 150 pages to explain inability to give up wanking. It's not a pretty sight."
"Do you have anything helpful to say at all?"
"Absolutely. You know I'm only here to help you. I know you can do better than this. I know that you can produce something so flawlessly sructured and unanswerably smart that you will instantly be given house slaves, invitations to everything, and a full-body facelift. This is what you must aim for. And first, what you need to do is think about it some more. Conduct a survey of several hundred of your closest friends. Then I'll help you analyze it. A lot of them are wankers too. We must eliminate their opinions."
"Oh, stop being so PC. Think about those third-world people looking for something to do. Well, here's an alternative. You can play solitaire on the computer and wait for inspiration. That is probably a safe path. If you do this for long enough, maybe a couple of hours, maybe a couple of months, sometimes the Queen of Spades will send you a message."
"She's very incisive. Very skinny. One of those firm-jawed, laser-eyed women who can really see through other people's foolishness. She takes no prisoners. But she also does charitable work, so she might talk to you. I hear she grades third-grade grammar homework as a hobby."
"Hmm. Or I could just come to you?"
"It doesn't matter. Just think long and hard. Consider all the potential for disaster. Remember everything you ever heard about what's boring or non-productive or unattractive. Think about how unlikely it would that you have anything appropriate to wear. And how much more sensible it would be to get back to work on cleaning the soot off the ceiling. And how your real problem is that you're so distractable. And you're getting old. And no one loves you. Meditate on all this daily. That way you'll never fail."
"Cancel. Cancel. Cancel. Cancel. Cancel."
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|Tuesday, October 31st, 2006|
7:36 pm - Free stuff and request for help
I'm helping put together a free forgiveness training. The dates are set now. It will be online, three Tuesday evenings, beginning the week after Thanksgiving. When I've got a final on the press release, I'll post it here. |
You'll see when you read it, it's not a psychiatric process in any sense. It's really about managing the bad feelings, getting them under control, so you've got more perspective and confidence to deal with things.
The results are great; I can talk about my experience with anyone who's interested. But the one thing that really stood out for me is better judgement. When you're not engaged in some kind of internal firestorm, it's a lot easier to figure out the right thing to do.
Meanwhile, I need help. I know there are busy people reading me. But maybe this might be something that you can do in a few minutes.
I need to build a publication list to approach with this story. I've never worked in this realm before. So if you read or know any publications that cover the following areas, please let me know about them. A URL or some kind of contact info would be really helpful.
2. Alternative Medicine
3. Holistic ... whatever
Anything like that.
The actual technique is similar to the one developed by a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn, who wrote about it in a book called "Full Catastrophe Living." It was designed to help cancer patients manage their stress and pain. It went on from there to be used for cardiac patients. All of this was heavily researched and the impact on stress, pain and healing was well documented. Now it's being adopted by people who want to manage just the stess of everyday living.
It's based on meditation, but it's like someone with years of practice just handed you some key nuggets that you can use in a few minutes. It's not the same as meditating for years, but these nuggets are just incredible.
So, think about coming. And if you have any ideas for good publications, websites, radio programs, etc., please let me know.
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|Monday, October 30th, 2006|
Yesterday I had lunch with a woman songwriter, performer, teacher and writer who is trying to build a performance career. We talked about the problem of gathering all this activity under one projected image of herself. Something that people would remember.|
She doesn't think that way, so I went around and around it, and finally asked, "If you were a Barbie doll, which Barbie would you be?"
That, she got. You just never know.
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|Sunday, October 29th, 2006|
8:05 am - Character assassination
Last night, a friend hung up on me. I think she was drunk, but I'm not sure. She hung up on me, because I kept asking her to stop telling me her angry opinions about people I was about to meet. |
She is angry at a lot of people. I've been angry at people too. And I know that sometimes it just helps to get it out of your system. But in this case, I didn't want to hear it. I am going to be talking to these people about working with their non-profits or small businesses as part of my "change the world" experiment.
I said, "You're poisoning my perceptions of these people before I even get to know them."
She said, "Well, aren't I allowed to talk? There are my opinions."
I said, "You're entitled to your opinions. But you're not entitled to push them on me, if don't want to hear them. I want to gather my own information, see what I think first. After that, I probably will be interested in your comments. I just want to be able to choose when I hear them."
She said, "Well, I think you're just trying to censor me. To tell me what I can and can't talk about."
And then she started going on about how someone was inadequate as a man, sucked off women, had never accomplished anything in his life, and was lazy, a liar and associated with other people that were just like him.
I said, "Please, stop!"
And she hung up on me.
Whew. I'm having some difficulty sorting this out.
Was I really pushing away the information, trying to control when it arrived?
Or was it just too difficult to listen to her anger?
I mean, if she'd just said, "Be careful of this guy. He tends to be more talk than action, and he could waste your time," would it have bothered me so much?
Maybe it's this. I didn't want her anger -- however justified by facts and her own experiences -- injected into my process of gathering information and analyzing these opportunities. I don't trust opinions that are based on that kind of emotion. It seems to be more about her, than about the people she's talking about it.
If there is any truth in any of it (and there might be), I am forced to go through some probing inquiry with her to sort out fact from emotion. At that point, the whole focus shifts to her, and I don't want to have her at the center of this process. It's not about her.
I guess this comes down to a "boundary issue." Those hard lines drawn in the social fabric. Stop right there. I don't want it. It's my life, and I get to choose what I want in it.
Easy in concept, but hard in practice sometimes. Like this time. My boundary, according to my friend, violated her freedom to say whatever she wanted. I couldn't convince to stop giving me her angry opinions. So, frustrated at my continuing attempts to censor her (and she was right about that), she stopped talking to me.
It makes me think of how many of my conversations these days include "I don't want to hear it." Or "We've already discussed this." Or "If you don't like it, stop talking about it and do something to change it." Or "Enough! This is just wanking, and I've got other things to do."
Which is why I have a reputation for being almost too candid in business. And why I've been losing friends, or going through a lot of drama with them, when I don't want to talk about their "stuff" that seems endlessly the same, year or year.
It also makes me wonder how much character assassination I've done. Particularly with D, when I was so upset. I can see that my angry friend has unresolved issues with these people, and she doesn't have a lot of objective perspective on them. For years, in talking or thinking about him, I didn't either. Everything I knew or could say was about how he made me feel. And to try to understand that, I made a lot of judgements about his character, and shared them with a lot of people.
These days, rather than judging his character, I tend to remember how he handled opportunities. Things he did to manage his own feelings. What I heard from him about his view of the world. He was really different from me.
Today, a lot of what he brought into my life would get handled with a line drawn in the sand. No, I don't want it. This is my criteria for acceptable relationships. If you can't do that, go away. This is my life, and I get to chose. It's not an issue of right or wrong, unless someone has a gun at your head, metaphorically or otherwise. It's just exerting some personal power on what you can control.
A long time ago, the era when I first knew this friend, I lived in Spain surrounded by wealthy retirees, European aristocrats, successful writers and artists, their children, people who seemed to live in an entirely different reality than me. My husband, Bill, was a brilliant writer who could do anything. I was a lot younger, and after he died, I was thrown on my own devices. I didn't feel particularly confident about making my living as a writer. And a lot of what I did to support myself was helping out rich people in different ways -- organizing their libraries, cooking for their dinner parties, housesitting when they were elsewhere. They didn't treat me like a servant. I was a pretty and bright young woman, the widow of a legendary character.
I didn't come from money. It was a kind of miracle I was there at all. I lived on almost nothing. Dinners of a cauliflour and cheese sauce. Or a salad of greens and some slivered ham. I didn't feel like I was poor, because I was so grateful to be there, to be able to sit in the cafe and listen to the wonderful conversations, and to be included among those people. But I remember thinking that they expected more from life than me. They just assumed that they would have money and do well. My biggest hope was just to survive.
I wondered if I could cultivate that kind of assumption in myself. Expect more. Let my eyes slide over the options that perpetuated povery and professional nothingness, and keep looking until I found options that enabled me to grow and thrive professionally and as a person.
Maybe all this is just a riff on that same issue.
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|Saturday, October 28th, 2006|
9:57 pm - Free hugs
I hope you can open that. It's so cool. And it looks like KC to me. And like something I could imagine him doing. He's a world-class hugger.
I feel so lucky today. I'm sick as a dog. Fever. My stomach feels like a big truck has been running over it. Everything aches. (I guess it wasn't food poison, but stomach flu.) But I love the people I'm working with.
Next week, if all stays on track, I'm putting out a press release offering free forgiveness training to THE WHOLE WORLD. Far out. Can you dig it?
I have no idea what's going to happen. People may just yawn. Or we may get flattened by a total stampede.
I mean, how many people actually realize that their lingering feelings of hurt, helplessness and anger are making their lives less than they could be? How many people get it that these feelings lead to crappy decisions, like the war on Iraq? Or obsessive relationships or addictive behaviors, of which I am the Queen. (I know there is competition for the title, but fortunately, you get to be King or Queen too. There's lots to go around.)
So is this like a silver bullet? Sort of. It's a discipline. But it's really easy, sensible. The teacher conducts some experiential exercises that are just mind-blowing, or were to me. One shot took care of all the feelings I had about something that was driving me crazy.
It doesn't change all the habits of feeling. That actually occurs over time when you stop focussing on your resentments and anxiety. You have to do it again whenever this stuff comes up. But it's pretty damned easy. And compared to living with all that crap, it's worth the effort.
It reminds me of when I got really serious about eliminating gluten from my diet. (I'm celiac, and can't eat wheat, barley, rye and oats.) It was when I made the clear connection between eat-wheat and get-psycho-depressed. Would you take a pill to get psycho-depressed? Would you walk around the block to avoid it?
Well, this is sort of walking around the block.
Anyway, the great adventure waits.
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|Friday, October 27th, 2006|
2:03 pm - One ranter among many
I write something like that thing this morning, and pat myself on the head.|
Not for giving anyone who is still reading me yet another rushing torrent (or large stagnant pool) of verbiage to plow through. But because I'm still making progress in articulating the linkage of one thing to another.
All that reading and thinking and emotional process has left my brain looking like the top of my desk. And for you who have seen that, it's enough said.
But a rant is a rant.
And when I stop trying to reinvent whatever wheel I'm working on today, and pay attention to other ranters, I find lovely things. Like:
I’m finding, as a newly 28-year-old human being, that much of adult life consists of attempting to balance these two understandings. I’ll go for a period where I’ll find worldly concerns ridiculous, and then I’ll flip back to focusing on those more material parts of life. It is very difficult to develop in one direction (or to place much importance on anything worldly) when stuck on the idea of impermanence, but it is similarly difficult to build anything truly meaningful without understanding that it will not last forever. So, to me, this is clearly a necessary, perpetual conflict in anyone’s life, and one that’s not easy to manage.
My sense is that this conflict translates into the world of publishing fairly clearly, as it relates to the difference between print publications and internet publications. Part of the stigma of internet publications, aside from their perceived lack of editorial standards, is that they are not material and could suddenly disappear at any moment, much like life itself. They appear on a screen for a short while and then disappear with the click of a mouse or flip of a switch. Print publication carries more weight because, among other factors, books are part of the “real” world and will last generations beyond their final printing. Try as you might, you can’t just flip a switch and eliminate all traces of Ann Coulter’s “Godless.” But eventually, thankfully, the course of nature will erase all of Ann’s writings from the planet. Both print and online publications come from nothing and end in nothing, but print publishing at least seems more permanent—just like a person’s ever-changing sense of self seems permanent at the time. This mistaken sense of permanence is what makes the world function the way it does. Many people spend their lives building palaces, either mentally or physically, to ward off that uncomfortable sense of emptiness.
This comes from the latest newsletter from Matt Borondy, the editor and founder of Identity Theory (www.identitytheory.com). Full of reviews of books, poetry and film, as well as interesting rants.
I wish someone would invent an electric plant that runs on word, and dumps its waste of some kind of compassion drug into the waterways. So we could just drink it and swim in it and brush our teeth with it.
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10:29 am - Ticket to ride
A long time ago, when I was in my 20s and lived in a ramshackle beach cottage in Sarasota, I used to save my very scanty earnings as freelance writer to go to personal development seminars. There was a group that I loved, based on Ken Keyes' Handbook to Higher Consciousness. Which is still one of my all-time favorite guides to getting your head straight. |
Ken is the guy who wrote "Addiction is demanding the universe to be what it's not." A point I've mulled over through the years. I thought a more logical definition of addiction was action, not perception. All the things I did to make life be what I wanted it to be. Whether eating some chemical to prove that pain isn't real, or insisting that other people conform to my version of things, or trying to arrange my life so nothing ever hurts me again. Lately, however, after the forgiveness classes, I begin to see he had it right on the button. Addiction is about a big fight against accepting that the world is sometimes shit, and part of the human condition is to sometimes be hurt. And I don't get to control anything except what I do about it.
Be that as it may, there was one weekend program that I got "scholarshiped" into for free. But I had a job. My job was to disrupt it. To be as generally uncooperative as possible. They didn't tell me why. It didn't take a lot of brains to figure it out. One of the principles they tried to get people to understand is that we hate, disapprove of, criticize in other people what we don't allow in ourselves. And I was going to be the mirror for everyone else's stuff.
It was fine with me. More than fine. It was like ticket for a free vacation from being polite, helpful and acquiscent. The seminar was being held in a beautiful home, belonging to one of the wealthier participants. I remember noisily jumping off the diving board into the pool outside the huge glass wall of the living room while everyone else was sitting around in group meditation. Another time, when poeple were working hard on some soul-baring exercise, I was noisily munching raw carrots and announcing I'd already worked through all that and didn't need to bother.
Not world-class bad behavior, but stuff that broke through the solemnity and apparent rules of social contract that everyone was following. It did get tiring after a while to be such a pain in the ass. It takes a lot of creativity and energy. But I made the point, whatever it was.
Toward the end of the weekend, one of the last exercises was that each person pulled a bit of paper out of a bowl. The paper had a name on it. And each person had to write what they truly thought of the person who's name was on the paper. They were to try to be loving about it, but they were also expected to be honest. When it came time for them to read their opinions, one after the other, it turned out that every piece of paper had my name on it.
Whew. Talk about a moment of mixed emotions. I knew, intellectually knew, that they were talking about their own stuff, that however they saw me was more a mirror of what was inside their own heads than anything else. It was also a single moment of opportunity in my life to get that concentrated attention, to hear how I appeared to other people. But the context was a long, concerted effort on my part to be obnoxious and your basic social liability. On top of that, I was the youngest, the poorest person in that room. As I am today, I was recovering from a major emotional crisis, although that one was triggered by the death of my husband a few years before. I really had nothing except for the fact that I could write and I worked to keep myself alive.
What came at me was what you might expect from a group of older, financially comfortable, upper middle class people, who were investing their time in a consciousness expansion workshop. A lot of kindness. A lot of understanding about what a good person I was under a rough exterior. A lot of awareness that I was struggling with difficult circumstances. A lot of affection and tolerance.
Remembering it now, I remember how unbelievably annoying it was. Cloying and annoying. It felt like the kind of movie I hate, where the plot and the soundtrack and the acting are calculated to pull on your heartstrings until you sit in your seat sobbing about some moment of perfect love or when your dog died. It's not that I didn't want to be loved. But not like that. Not all that smug and smiley-faced denial that I was irritating and challenging and that my public display of my own contrary reality required a lot of energy to deal with.
For me, it was also a moment when I could see two competing forces in my own head. Everyone wants to be "seen" as a loving parent sees us, to be recognized as good and lovable no matter how we behave. And I felt that, the whole experience quenching that existantial thirst for recognition. At the same time, we want to feel that our actions have some impact on the world. And this was what was missing. It was like all that effort to play a contrarian role in the seminar had been homogenized and pasteurized into some internal demand with these people that they see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. It felt like I was surrounded by crazy people, or I was invisible. Or that they were perfectly capable of simply ignoring anything that didn't fit into their own pretty and orderly view of how things were going to be for them.
It was scary. Probably one of the first moments when I realized that who I was -- who I really was -- might be invisible because it was just so unacceptable to people. I began to understand how people become violent criminals, just to make a statement, to get noticed and heard. Because I felt, then as now, that in some way I was a kind of walking billboard for the personal impact of things that are too hard for one person to handle. Then, as now, I struggled with the competing impulses to talk about it, hoping to get it out of me and obtain me some relief from the emotional knots and isolation, and trying to hide it and manage it privately, so I could co-exist in the "normal" world. Although then, "talking about it" equated to telling my life story to some lover, and now there is too much life story to tell. And I've come to distilling it a more abstract fashion.
Everyone has their own story. One of the things about this anecdote is that it's all about me, me, me.
Which is partially explained by the fact I was in my mid-20s that age of still-new freedom and exploration, as well as the instability and insecurity of the first years of adulthood. There's a website, www.thehot100.com, that celebrates young women who are actively involved in changing the world. I am simply blown away by their choices in these early years to become involved with life as a system that can be changed for the better. The only system I was dealing with at that age was my own unstable emotional system. And I suspect that most people are somewhere in the middle of the two extremes -- the early world-changers and the people who can hardly see anything except their own confusion and desperation in a world they already know to be dangerous.
If there ever was a rationale to write this book, to tell my own story of damage and healing, this is it. This is the picture of lost potential that I've been trying to paint. The reason why it might be important to take that sense of myself as a walking billboard out into the world, however much courage it might take, because the damage was real. Not just to me and my life, but I passed it on as damaged people do. And the fundamental topic is now discussed, but not really recognized for what it is, an epidemic in this counntry, a mental disorder that is contagious as the flu, being passed down to one out of four girls and one out of six boys before the age of 18 by people who are themselves deeply wounded and scarred.
My therapist once told me that if I were a child today, and it had been discovered that I was being sexually abused, I would have been immediately placed into therapy and helped to heal. And by healing, I believe she meant recover my relationship with the world, take back my sense of power over my own life, learn to trust other people again, get this thing out of the center of my life and put into my history as just a very bad thing that had happened to me. Instead I lived my life as an "untreated" victim, managing it all on my own as best I could.
Her comment made me wonder if I were a kind of dinosaur, carrying around all this damage that other people didn't have anymore. That it was simply a generational thing, like I still carry some of the values of the 50s, when I was little, when there were good girls and bad girls and you had to be very, very careful with boys so you didn't get a "bad reputation" and no one would want you, except to use you and sneer about you behind your back. If there's a single belief that framed up all the coping I did with what happened to me, it was that.
Well, this is going far afield from where it started, but the real point of all this is something about dislocation, alienation, feelings of invisibility and unacceptability, and the ultimate dimishment of connection with other people and society as a whole. And how all of that adds up to a massive loss of human potential. To love or care about anything outside your own internal battles. To involve yourself in anything beyond your own survival. To trust yourself or anything else. To aim your energy at anything beyond sources of relief.
The human being as a social, connected, collaborative, expressive, committed, and even hopeful intelligence and physical force is reduced to an addictive knot of needs. Trying to maintaim some dignity, internally if not in the world. Remembering that there is a potential to do and be something largers. Even aware at some level, if not precisely and consciously, of the events or circumstances that shut the door on that potential and replaced it with an endless battle against feelings and a sense of reality that is all about threat, insecurity, and the need to either fight back or attach yourself to a protector.
And there in a nutshell is the whole business of personality disorders. And it's where this whole story starts to spiral out of control. Because, on the one hand, simply getting out of infancy to adulthood is a process that introduces a lot of hard reality by its nature. For everyone. And because, on the other hand, we live in a world in which mential illness is built into the collective consciousness. The hyper-stimulation of violence and sex in the media reflect our disassociation from our own feelings. The sociopathic nature of our economic system makes a virtue out of skimming personal profit from other people's work. Enforced dependency on values created by people who profit from our intellectual slavery is promoted by our religions, our politics and our work life.
Am I ranting? Have I gone over the line into some kind of adolescent rebellion? It's possible. I actually missed that phase, because I was so busy managing the lies of my life at the time. I may be just catching up now.
But here's the thing that makes me wonder. I see the young people in my son's generation working themselves to death in jobs that give them nothing, except a position in some profit machine, good minds and big hearts reduce to turning some big wheel in the system, any idea they may have had about a meaningful life being medicated out of existance by video games and chemically-induced good feeling and dressing up like rebels on the weekends. I see the friends of my recovery process all working on the same thing as me, just trying to figure out how to reclaim power over their own lives after experiences so brutalizing that their biggest problem is understanding that being a target is not their role in life. Or alternately, because there are some of us, who are not quite so profoundly damaged, just trying to maintain some semblance of dignity and choice in their workplaces or in their relationships with other people who are also fighting these same battles.
There's something wrong here that goes way beyond our private stories. It makes me understand how people become involved in passionately idealist, though mostly doomed attempts to fight the system. It makes me truly appreciate our form of government, vulnerable as it might be to the kind of meanness, greed and retaliation that seems to infuse it today. It still does work on principals of respect for human dignity and fairness that can be enforced, after however long a battle. And it confirms in my own mind, though I may change my mind at some point, that this is a problem of zeitgeist, consensus reality, that can be changed and is being changed today, however slowly, by the efforts of people who have come to value a reality that is somewhat more evolved.
No, we don't accept the idea that some poeple are just human garbage. No we don't agree that luck of the draw is enough justification to enable some people to thrive and others to dwindle and die off in poverty and despair. No, it's not okay, even given the idea of free will, to say that people are automatically responsible for figuring out how to deal with anything that's thrown at them. Survival of the fittest may be a rational response to a world of ignorance, lack of communication, and not enough resources to go around. But today? When we are all connected, all face to face with each other, when we have the technology and medicine and knowledge about the human experience and the natural world?
At this point, it seems like we are about ready to start climbing out of that last great human leap in consciousness that began with the ability to create civilization through consolidation of wealth and is currently at the ability to consolidate information as quickly as we can ask the right questions. Into something larger. Into a recovery of connectedness at a new level. Or perhaps an old level that was lost in this great flight into the left brain, the sociopathy of power acquisition and wealth accumulation for private gain. And to start recovering the sense that every life, including mine, contributes something to this shared garden of life. And that it is possible to make this world a place where people and other living things can grow and blossom, create beauty, experience joy in living, understand the cycles of life, and explore options that lead to a healthy balance of personal incentive and shared experience.
Am I out of my mind here? I feel like I'm writing some utopian science fiction tracts. I also know that all of this reflect my personal journey at this point, the cusp of finishing my own work on personal power and will and moving into a newly emerging sense of connection with the world and other people.
These ideas of individual human potential expanding into visions of society as a whole may sound too blue-sky to be taken seriously. But they can be taken seriously, if it's understood that it isn't going to be easy. That the challenges are about removing the obstacles to individual human potential. And they are huge. What does it take to create an environment in which children grow up believing that their lives will be about creating a better world? What kind of damage has to be undone? What kind of political and financial and therapeutic resources have to be applied?
This is the greatest argument against war. It's the not the cost and craziness of destruction and what it does to the poeple who participate in it. It's the aftermath. The post-traumatic stress that ripples on through crippled lives that become resource sinks or worse, violent and destructive. The parentless children whose lives are diminished by "enemies." The culture of fear and blame and anger that is reinforced and passed on through generations. The 9/11 attackers caused the death of many more of their own people than the Americans who died in the towers. And the attempts by our government to convince the Iraqis that we're really the good guys, there to help them out, are completely unbelievable to those who see us using guns and tanks to jam Western ideology, including capitalism as the dominant religion, down their throats. Which is, for them, as hate-filled and threatening a message as anything Al Quaeda did to us.
What does it take to unplug this cycle? Well, there are a lot of strategies that make sense today. And a lot of people who are investing their lives in making it happen. And I'm grateful for the fact that my own personal world seems to be increasingly about meeting them, helping them directly in some small way, and then trying to raise public consciousness about options available for anyone who wants to help too. Whether that involves giving money or a piece of their lives.
And now it's time to go back to work. I'm swamped with stuff to do. It seems like a million years ago when all I had to do was write and get well. And now, I wish I had more time to write. To quit musing aloud here on LJ, and get busy with something more substantive.
Maybe this weekend, I'll start outlining the book. What a thought.
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|Thursday, October 26th, 2006|
Okay, I'm back in the world of other human beings. The phone is ringing. I've got lots of appointments. My nervous system is starting to get that nice zingy feeling of almost too much work. |
And then comes along the challenge. The man who wants me to help him articulate new vision for a world-changing initiative. I tell him I am only looking for people who are currently involved in projects. He writes me back telling me my offer "spoke to him."
And in a long, rambling one-paragraph letter, he explains that he is combining art, therapy and his experience in astral travelling to create a solution that will ensure peace and save the world.
Of course this guy is in Woodstock.
What do you do with something like this? There's no sense being rude to him. He's sincere. He may actually be able to create world peace, for all I know.
But the thought of listening to him and trying to turn this mishmosh into a compelling business case just gives me a headache. Which is what I finally told him. Though I offered, if he and his wife wanted to invite me over to dinner some night, to listen to the whole thing and give him some feedback on marketing it.
Sometimes I wish my brain were bigger. If this guy can dream it up, there probably is someone else who would appreciate it. I mean, all this consciousness-based medicine and business theory would have seemed pretty out-there five yeares ago. Maybe astral travel is next, and I'm missing the bandwagon, like my ex-father-in-law did when he declined to invest $500 in the magazine being started by his buddy, Hugh Hefner.
But as I said, the whole thing just makes me want go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. Not astral travelling, just the idea of trying to make something out of it that works out here in the boring old material world.
My old friend Pam, an artist who lives in Woodstock, gave me a bumper sticker the other day. It said "Woodstock Penal Colony of the Arts."
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