lie in the boat; look at the stars

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Last spring, after metaphorically spending some years building a safe enough boat, I set off from the familiar country of a 21.5 year relationship to destinations unknown. I just knew this land was no longer something I wanted, nor was it particularly good for me.

A year before, I’d begun examining all my relationships—family, friends, animals, plants, house—discerning what still worked and what did not. Every being gets to be who/what they are, I just don’t want to be around them much if I deem their actions/words demoralizing, unsafe, not inspiring or supporting, unkind, or just not ‘beautiful’ in all the ways that term manifests in my life: art, language, gentleness, food, joy, growth, sensuousness.

The thing about the unknown is that it’s unknown. Our culture is one that’s not fond of change. It craves novelty, but change not so much. The “leap of faith” that Kierkegaard wrote about is one that I experience each time I participate in any creative process, so it’s not unfamiliar to me. But just like lifting weights or certain asanas, it never really gets easier. A blank page is a blank page is a blank page. Trusting something ‘higher’ than myself—letting go—is what’s required. I must push off from my comfortable habitual shore.

Re-creating one’s life is a larger version of an artistic leap. It can be fearful, angst generating, thrilling—much like any other creative process—but your actual existence is on the line. Teenagers and burgeoning adults do this more often than age 27+. Most don’t choose to re-fashion themselves unless they believe they have to, and then it can feel so terrifying that they’ll fill that rushing hole of panic with whatever will stop it. Peccato, as it’ll just circle you back to a similar shoreline: same shit, different acreage.

This time, I choose to stay in the boat, to allow the space for my inherited injuries to heal. To be with instead of trying to fix the patterns, the pain, the sorrow, the grief of ancient stuff I’ve carried with me into every alliance. Those wounds didn’t comprise the bulk of of my relationships, by any means, but an infection in your toe affects the whole body.

Like anyone else, I don’t want to sit on this hot-seat of suffering. I don’t want to face what I once felt was inescapable. When we’re children, we’re vulnerable, dependent and needy. It’s the nature of childhood to be so; we must survive, and we do. Some of the ways we do is to place those impossible parts into exile. Later, we go to therapists/mystics/shamans to try to remember and recover these pieces in order to integrate them. There’s no way to become whole without embracing your banished pieces. And what I call suffering didn’t have to manifest only as physical horror. A sensitive soul is just that. A longtime friend calls me an “indicator species.”

Back to my symbolic boat. Simplistically, half of me gets weary of the mess, despair and sorrow. She wants to fall overboard into a new relationship, ‘fun,’ drink, drugs, even death. The other side says, “Give me those oars! I’ll find us dry land! TODAY! We’ll do more yoga, play guitar, write! I’ll save you!” That half is a douche-y chin-upper [see: chin up my ass], the ‘tell’ being her exclamation points!! These polarized, unrealistic sides are ‘valid’ and they both mean well, but neither is effective.

The first time I pushed off in a hand-built boat some 23-ish years ago, I held out for some months but jumped ship too early into a new romance, even with my mantra being: I want to heal more than I want to stop the pain. I was too young to realize I’d be jumping with an invisible backpack of ache that I’d just have to reopen and confront later.

Now my mantra is: Your job is to lie in the boat and look at the stars. Lie in the boat; look at the stars. Stay in the boat, dear one; look at the stars.

It’s paid off. Some stars are starting to shine for me—all of me—twinkling auspiciously of an untried regeneration. I suspect a powerful beach isn’t too far off. After all, my name means reborn.

 

~photo of Willem de Kooning’s studio. He once said something like: If I paint what I know, I’m bored. If I paint what you know, you’re bored. So I paint what I don’t know.

 

“when he got there, I talked to him about it.” huh?????

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Our culture villianizes teenagers for narcissistic incoherence in communicating but I witness it in many adults. Why is there such difficulty when speaking, in journalism, on-line? Here’s a few communication muddles:

  • Use of  pronouns. My quasi-spouse loves them: *”They had what I needed and I picked it up.” As if I know which ‘they’ he’s referring to and what ‘it’ he bought. Or, “He didn’t like what I’d said.” Who?? What had he said? At least I knew who the ‘I’ was. The Quasi starts in the middle of a story—one that he’s having alone in his head.
  • Stonewalling is a refusal to communicate fully (or at all)—think of the stereotypical teen or husband grunting one word “answers” to questions. More men than women regularly employ this non-action in stalled relationships. No resolution can be had using this “technique” as no one knows what the stonewaller wants because…they won’t tell you. Lots of rationalization is given for their disinclination, but the bottom line: they eliminate any possibility of getting what they need.
  • Evasiveness. Pretty self-explanatory but here’s a subtle example: “Has everyone paid you what they should have?” “I have been fairly compensated by all.” The answer suggests that everyone did pay but it’s equally possible that “fairly compensated” is an ambiguous cover. A direct “yes” would have left no ambiguity. Why obfuscate?
  • Illegible writing and SIRI-garbled texts go together. Sloppy writing, sloppy mumbling to SIRI. If you’re attempting to leave a note for someone or send a text, read over what you’ve written or dictated. Is it legible to you? Does the text make sense? The object is transmission, is it not?
  • Passive-aggressive is more complex [see: how to deal with pass-agg aggro] but suffice to say that this one often involves all of the above and more, like: agreeing to one thing then doing another, being sullen, surly, defensive. It’s awfully thorny finding accountability with these slippery people.

What would help?

  • Start communications with details, with nouns. Set the story up whether you’re talking or writing. If you don’t—unless you’re an actual child—you’re just revealing your solipsism. Most of us like a good story but more often than not we’re subjected to boring ones.
  • Speak up and ask for what you want regardless of your perceived hopelessness in being heard. It’s logical; it’s effective—whichever way it goes. Otherwise you’re apparently choosing to be a martyr.
  • Give a clear” yes” or “no” preamble in answers, especially if you don’t like to “process” much. There’s little sense in being vague. Expound if you wish but without defensiveness (smells of martyr, too).
  • Don’t blame SIRI for getting your dictation wrong. “She’s” not god.
  • Write so legibly that a beginning reader can interpret it.
  • Most importantly, communication isn’t just about you. Paint your ideas, stories, dreams, fears, loves with all the palette colors so another can almost see them as you do. Others may not agree but they just might understand.
  • Lastly, don’t be passive-aggressive. Sigh.

*actual true conversation starting points

help me, I think I’m falling…in “distraction” again

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Nowadays, we commonly denounce addiction to substances: drugs, alcohol, coffee, tobacco, pot, food and some compulsive activities: excessive gaming, gambling, sex addiction, FB, shopping, watching TV, texting, etc. Then some excessive behaviors are rewarded and considered virtuous: work, running, sports, religion, spiritual materialism or groups, for examples. But as my brother Ralph says: You can’t blame the weapon for the murder.

Research shows that substance abusers and compulsive behaviorists possess a similar dependency on the brain’s pleasure-center neurotransmitter, dopamine. We avoid uneasiness by seeking special states of mind. When we take refuge in any one of these things/activities—favored or not—we’re doomed to disappointment. I didn’t say ever participate in, but “take refuge in.”

The most hidden-in-plain-sight addiction, the most dopamine-filled action is falling in love. And it’s not just rewarded by our society, it’s held as the apex. I’m not against falling in love—I mean it’s the instinctual biological cocktail to ensure we keep our species going—I’m against the mania of it. Even the phrase, “fall in love,” reveals its lack of choice, intention, forethought.

Being in love may be our biggest mega-distraction and certainly the mega-delusion that kills many a potentially fine working human relationship. It distracts from the real work of partnering, which IMHO is why we’re attracted to certain people in the first place: we have esoteric, complex connective work to do on ourSelves. We come together for deeper reasons than just the biological imperative. I believe every relationship is a “spiritual” or profound one and that includes not only our mates but our kids, parents, siblings, friends and our cat or dog.

An old friend of mine has gone through many a delightful woman because he’s addicted to the feeling of being in love and carries the fallacy that the reason it doesn’t last is that he’s with the “wrong” woman. But after about 40 years, I’d say, Look deeper within, Bub. [see: why women don’t date nice (entitled) guys]. I also knew a woman who would hang out with a friend three times a week doing all sorts of fab things only to verbally dishonor this connection by remarking, “I need to find a relationship.” Really? Blind spot!

C.S. Lewis defines four loves:

  • affection/companion/familial
  • friendship/freely chosen
  • romantic/being in love
  • agape/charitable/divine

Romantic love is elevated beyond its superficial power. It differs very little from crack cocaine—and ultimately lasts about as long—before the fantasy starts destroying you and your mate prior to the discovery that you love their companionship as well as their kisses.

In my 35 years of work, I’ve often suggested to clients that if they want to find their raison d’être they should try to “overcome their biology.” William Blake suggested we’re half human, half angel. Time to focus more on the “divine” part of ourselves and generate our own bliss, joy, “love” within and stop exclusively thinking we can only find “it” in others, activities or substances. Let’s start elevating the relationships we do enjoy beyond the romantic sort and honor all our loves equally.

i’m not upset that you lied to me, i’m upset that from now on i can’t believe you ~ friedrich nietzsche

A half truth is a whole lie ~ Yiddish Proverb

Honest people are a rare refuge in a culture where we have to swim the sea of lies euphemistically called “social skills”: white lies, lies of omission, manipulations, passive aggression, denial, deliberate cons, ass-covering deceptions… [see: neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering ~ carl jung]

To lie is to intentionally mislead others—while they presume we’re giving them candor—so that they’ll form beliefs that are untrue. To some, the thrill of deception and manipulation is sexy; it’s also a pitiable way to shroud.

This constantly happens in politics, with sales people, military recruiters,  some journalists, lawyers, contractors. That’s precarious enough for us all but it’s downright lethal within relationships. [see: now we’re cooking with gas(lighting)] Especially with children. They look to us to reflect the world authentically so they can form realistic patterns of behavior. [For a “minor” version, see: the reason for the season is jesus and other lies]

Manipulators tend to be self-serving and tamper with the truth usually to get their immediate gratification “needs” met but they commonly confuse control with power as well. [See: more power!!!*] Conversely, in their repressed insecurity, liars care way too much what other people think of them, worrying neurotically about what impression they’re making. They often have more vanity and practice how to “be” in front of a mirror. Aaaand…we’re moving into the realm of sociopathic behavior.

Once you commit to speaking the truth, you begin to notice how rare it is to meet someone who shares this resolution, except for kids. And animals. No wonder many people in the States—our American philosophy being based on passive aggression or its flip side, machismo/individualism—opt for pets in lieu of forming long lasting human relationships. A simple breath of spring air in our polluted world of associations.

Honesty is an offering we can extend to others and a wellspring of power. It provides an opportunity for ease of interaction, not the complex muck of duplicity no matter how “benign.”

Studies have shown that responsible people are less likely to tell lies, especially the self-serving type, the ones we spin to make ourselves look better or to avoid unfavorable responses like blame, shame or discomfort. Lots of denial happens here. The more “altruistic” lies are told to make others feel better: “Nice haircut!” “You look great in those pants.” It’s been shown that men tend to do the former and women, the latter.

Am I lying as I write this? Maybe. It’s the written word; apparently words in print are given more credence, as are statements conveyed by a person in medical or other authoritative attire. I’m wearing a sweatshirt so I’d be suspect.

The bottom line is if you lie, you disturb the trust of another and those ramifications spread suspicion and wariness like undesirable pollen that contaminate our society’s underpinnings. Think hard before you glibly lob any sort of fabrication—unless you’re writing fiction. And even then, be wary, as all decent fiction should uncloak deeper truths.