November 29, 2016
So I am sitting with a group of younger friends when the topic inevitable turns to the perils of dating in the digital world. Wonder of wonders, apparently people on dating sites lie! Stop the press, write to your local M.P.
As if “in my day”, when people met face-to-face (as oppose to Facebook to Facebook), they were honest and upfront about their flaws? I wish. Dating has and always will involve conscious deceit: we all want to present ourselves in the best light so we bend the truth, exaggerate a little here and there, pad the resume as it were. Humility and modesty are admirable virtues but not, it seems, in the dating world. “If only I could find that special one my life would be so perfect,” sighed one young man.
Dude, are you serious?
Apparently he was. All his problems would magically evaporate in the magnificence of “The One”, who coincidentally should be a mirror image of himself.
Is this how he believes relationships actually work? I sealed my lips but my smirk gave me away.
“Why? Is that not how it works?” He asks. Big mistake, Bud. Never invite a curmudgeon to pontificate.
Okay kiddo, where do I start? First off, there is no such thing as “The One,” there are dozens, if not thousands of compatible people you could spend a lifetime with, providing if (and this a huge, gigantic IF), you have the skills to navigate relationships.
He looked deflated but still aroused, wanting to know what I meant.
“Do you believe once you meet your special someone you will just walk off into the sunset, finishing each other’s sentences?”I asked.
Well, Kid, Hollywood lied. Shocking, I know, but they peddle fiction, as do Romance novelists. Relationships don’t end with you ‘finding the One’, rather that is how they begin. And it is work, let me tell you, moment to moment. Sure, there is a honeymoon period when love is blind and all is peachy sunshine but slowly reality returns and the work begins of maintaining a healthy relationship. Despite having many things in common with your other half, this is still a union of two individuals and your moods, wishes, dreams and wants are never going to align perfectly every waking moment of your time together. For example, you may need quiet time for some personal reflection and deep breathing yoga while Love of Life needs to hear his/her favorite track Mental Banshees by the band Death Metal Steroids.
The art of Compromise is the first skill you will need to cultivate. Suggest for Love of Life to use headphones while you work on your heart chakra.
Despite nimble backroom deals, despite displaying a flexibility that a teenage gymnast would envy, said Love of Live will still retain a talent for driving you crazy. Know how to set limits: “Look, you can keep a pet alligator in the bathtub but I draw the line at you belting out Celine Dion in the shower. One more verse of My heart will go on and on and my ass will go on and on outta here.”
All of this maneuvering and contorting should be offset by the benefits of being in the relationship. Partners fulfill needs, often unspoken and deeply rooted psychological needs of which we ourself may not be aware. Needs such as a sense of security, a sense of being needed, companionship. Your partner should make you feel as though he or she has your back.
I hear so many reluctantly singles complain about their status, but what is more pathetic is that they blame the wrong things for their loneliness. You are not single because you don’t spend enough time at gym or don’t follow the latest fashion fad, if only pretty people found mates the world’s population would be no more than sixty-three. It has nothing to do your lack of wit or your inability to quote Proust in French either. Neither is it because you still live in your mother’s basement that you scare off suitors. Rather, finding a mate has everything to do with a person’s ability to listen to others, have empathy, negotiate, do things to please another even though it is personally abhorrent. These are skills worth investing in.
There was a potent silence in the room. One of the youngsters threw me a resentful glare. It was quick but I was not too old to have missed it. Then they went back to complaining about the problems with their latest dating app.
Ah well. I’ll just gather up my pearls and cast them elsewhere.
May 27, 2013
Greg Noack was an adolescent, out for a stroll on a park bridge one night when two thugs came up form behind and battered him with a baseball bat to within an inch of his life for no apparent reason. Greg survived this terrible assault but it left him with critical and chronic brain injury.
Today he is a therapist who helps others with acute brain injury. A deeply thoughtful and spiritual man, he is inspirational speaker and motivator.
When he had done telling us about his assault and subsequent journey into recovery, I asked him how he had managed to forgive the thugs who did this to him.
Greg was silent, at a loss for words.
It occurred to me that perhaps I had made a wrong assumption. Perhaps he had not forgiven the thugs. Maybe forgiveness from victims is asking too much?
I often wonder about other victims such as the three young Cleveland women recently rescued from years of brutal captivity. Can they ever well and truly forgive their perpetrators? Or does a piece of the criminal permanently reside within the victims?
“Forgive and forget” is almost a cliche. People say it to others without realizing the enormity of what they are expecting from the victims.
From a metaphysical perspective, all of our actions, even the smallest, affects others in someone way. You know, the old if a butterfly fluters its wings a star falls somewhere poetic idea. In daily life I know that we are all so intricately woven together that even a stranger’s remark can leave our mood altered for the rest of the day. Why is it then that we should expect acts of sustained and planned cruelty be erasable? Of course the criminals have changed the course of Greg’s life. Of course they have a left a legacy within him. Why wouldn’t he think about them from time to time?
I think that when we have been the victims of horrific crimes, our recovery is a process not dissimilar to grief. The classic stages of grief recovery are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Nowhere is the word forgiveness used.
I think that acceptance of what happened to you, and that it was undeserved and unasked is the best we can expect.
Greg was gracious enough to give me an answer. After some thought he recalled how much better his life was now because of the injury. He was in a much better place emotionally and spiritually. He said he took comfort from that, and it allowed him not be too bitter about those thugs who did this to him.
What he said sounded familiar to me. Greg has made the best of a bad situation which was no fault of his own. Perhaps forgiveness means exactly that.
I can think of dozens of victims of senseless violence who became bitter, vengeful and mean-spirited. Their lives close in around them instead of opening up. Can we say that such people have chosen not to forgive their perpetrators? I think so.
Making the best of the damage done to you is an act of forgiveness but does that mean there are no regrets, no blame? If Greg could turn back the clock with full hindsight, would he undergo the experience? Does he wish the thugs would have not done that to him?
Each person must answer that according to his own reflection. For me I am beginning to see within my own life that some of the worst tragedies have been turning points. Because of my grief over my mother’s death, I discovered spirituality and my guru. Despite that, would I rather have my mother alive today?
My near-death, as physical and emotional traumatic as it was, remains the most profound experience of my life. But if I could go back and change some things, would I now undo it? Absolutely not.
Traumas are always life-altering events. I have watched my sisters endure the trauma of childbirth and then grow into wiser and more mature human beings. When they are hugging their children, I am sure none of them regret the trauma of labor, nor the pain and worry of the children’s growing years. Because motherhood is so immediately rewarding, they quickly realize that in the grand scheme of things the pain of childbirth and subsequent sleepless nights are insignificant in the bigger picture.
But that same perspective is lost when we are assaulted, robbed, injured, or left for dead. Yes there is much, much pain, but these events also change the trajectory of our lives, often for the better (depending upon the choices we subsequently make). But it takes so much longer that we sometimes get mired by resentment and blame for the perpetrator.
To me perfect forgiveness means no resentment. Forgiveness is accepting what happened and leveraging it to your advantage. But I don’t think that it is possible to be free from regret about what happened. Not while we are functioning through the mind. Any process of the mind fluctuates. There are days we have no regrets, no blame, and other days we are soaking in regret. The only way to have no regrets is to live beyond the mind, in pure awareness.
And all traumas are great aids in getting there.
July 30, 2012
Treat others and you would wish to be treated yourself. Reasonable enough. Irrefutably logical. Every religion has it as part of its creed. Atheists, humanists, liberals all agree on it in principal. Then why is it that so few humans live up to it? What is missing?
John, a friend who is an avid bicyclist, related this story: he had locked his bicycle on a stand along the sidewalk. When he returned from his errand, someone had chained her bicycle to his. He was livid. When the woman did show up, he could see she had mental health issues, and his anger evaporated. He mentioned this incident on his Facebook page. A dozen of his friends immediately wrote comments insulting this woman’s behavior. The most vitriolic of which was from one of his friends who has HIV/AIDS. I found that surprising. Here was a man who expects unconditional compassions from others, he demands that he not be judged on why or how he acquired his virus. Yet he was quick to express contempt for the woman’s shortcomings. Of course, he is one of a billion examples. It seems that to blame is a reflex but applying the Golden Rule is just a philosophical ideal.
Perhaps that is the key. Can it be that blame is an emotion, a primitive reflex, whereas the Golden Rule is embedded in the rational brain? Critical thinking is slower, it takes time and energy and intention to summon. Emotions happen by instinct. Dogs, cats, monkeys have the same reflexes. We blame first, and if we are immature, we are content with that. If we are a little smarter, we blame first, then regret it, perhaps even apologize. Surely, the wisest eschew blame and apply the Golden Rule first and foremost. But how to get there?
It was my sister who first gave me a clue. In those days we still had door-to-door salesmen, which I found as annoying as telemarketers are today. My sister declined each one politely, without the slightest rudeness. I asked her why she did that. It turned out that our older brother had once worked as a door-to-door salesmen, when he first arrived in the UK, a fact I had not known. What she had done, inadvertently perhaps, was apply the Golden Rule by proxy. She treated each salesman as she would have wanted her brother to be treated. I thought that very smart.
One of the beautiful aspects of Hindu culture is that all elders are referred to as “Aunty” or “Uncle”. Sometimes, women of the same age are referred to as “sister” by the men. Even small girls are referred to as “Amma” or “Mother” by very cultured Brahmins. When such an epitaph is used, a shift happens in the consciousness. The baser, primitive emotional reflexes are supplanted by the deep feelings of love, respect that the words mother, sister, uncle symbolize for the speaker. While this tradition may be impossible to transplant in a Western social setting, the principle behind it can still be utilized, as my sister discovered. Remove the sense of ‘otherness’ by proxy. Any relationship where you have reverence will do. At school there was a boy who was a vocal racist, but he loved Jazz. Hence, he made an exception for African peoples within his racism. In a basic way, it seemed to me, this boy was seeing his Jazz idols in all African peoples. It’s a good start.
It actually takes very little effort to find a connectivity with most people you encounter. He is a male just like me. He is of my age group. She looks as stressed as I feel. Any excuse, no matter how flimsy, works. Even the love for a vapid celebrity (during the Michael Jackson crazy Eighties, many pretty white girls dated skinny black men sporting Gerri curls).
What is wonderful about applying the Golden Rule is that we lose the habit of assigning blame. By blame I do not mean the legal sense of responsibility, but the emotional sense of helplessness, coupled with a contempt for the other. Blame is not only illogical, it is most destructive for health and well-being. It is a shade of anger which, when left to fester, morphs into vengeance and violence. As far as I see, blame serves no useful purpose. I can’t think of an example in my life where blaming someone has helped the situation. And most importantly, I detest being blamed by others so much that why would I inflict that on another? That would be illogical.
April 20, 2012
Yet whenever there is the slightest irritation, a whiff of change, or an unfavorable condition, why is it that we hand over our peace of mind so easily? Isn’t peace of mind our most valuable possession?
The topic is anger. We all experience it, but do we really understand it?
Spewing up like a red-hot volcano, anger is a primitive, biological response to perceived danger. A lava of adrenalin rumbles the heart rate, heats up the oxygen intake, trembles the muscles to either fight or flight. In addition, there is psychological smoke and dust, which cloud the mind to all our manners, our critical thinking, our wisdom. It allows the mind to fight or flight, which served our ancestors just fine on the plains of the Serengeti, running from a pride of lions. But at the office or on a downtown street, not so much. Without our reasoning and problem solving skills, there are regrettable consequences.
So is there a way out of our genetic destiny? I believe there is. It requires that we investigate and understand the whole mechanics of the psychology that leads to anger outbursts.
The trigger behind each outburst is always an unfulfilled need. The stronger the need the more violent the rage. The more there is at stake, the more fierce the vengeance. For example, if I feel like having strawberry ice cream and the clerk tells me he is sold out of that particular flavor, I may feel peeved, but I won’t say or do anything violent. If, on the other hand, my child has been assaulted by a stranger, I am going to be livid. Then the answer seems simple, find the trigger and solve it or avoid it.
But some triggers are unavoidable, external not under our control (like death and taxes). Some needs are so intertwined with many other needs that untangling the triggers is complicated. Yesterday I had an early morning medical appointment that was important for me to be on time. I had calculated that I needed to catch the 7.45 a.m. bus to make my appointment. That morning my alarm failed and I woke ten minutes later than I had intended. The elevator stopped a few floors down where a woman with three babies and a cellphone held open the door for her tardy husband. I could see the bus from across the street at 7.44. The traffic lights were against me. Just a I reached the bus, it drove off without me. I was angry, but whom to blame? The faulty alarm clock? The slow woman on the elevator? The mistimed traffic lights? The minute-too-early bus driver? And had the driver been familiar, it was tempting to take it personally. If the same thing had happened with the same driver recently, I am certain I would been very angry at him. Independently each trigger is a small annoyance, but by connecting the dots, it can grow into real rage.
Left alone, anger by itself is fragile. Ignore it and the adrenalin will subside, the mind will restore its composure, that is unless we justify the anger. Usually that happens so quickly we do not notice it. We act out of anger, say or do something(perhaps shout or bang our fist) and then we justify our behavior. It is easy to invent blame, to weave political and historical narratives on a personal insult. This kind of woven rage fuels revenge and retribution, even war.
It is not our fault that we are wired that way. Remember, during anger our wisdom is deprived from us. If we can suppress the anger for a few second before reacting, we may be able to restore the reigns to our wisdom. Strong will-power can help. Though there a couple of qualities about will-power we need to understand. Will-power is a kind of mental muscle. I gets weak when it is tired from overuse. Thus it is unreliable. But like any muscle, it can be trained to have more stamina. Compassion is also a muscle that can be trained. Once bulked-up it can overcome any primitive anger reflex. Best of all, compassion and forgiveness can be trained to respond automatically, without having to think about them.
To effect such a change, one has to cultivate awareness. Awareness of the triggers, awareness of our physical onset of anger. Awareness of our mental warnings before the anger. By the time we have questioned the anger and its motives, it evaporates. It is fragile. If we are mindful as we move through our daily routine, mindful of both our own responses and those of others, compassion floods through our being like a cold river. It is generous enough to quench the demands of our needs. The lesser our personal needs, the fewer our triggers. Altruistic needs, on the other hand, can lead to righteous anger which can affect social change. Think of Rosa Parks or Mahatma Gandhi. Or even John Walsh who channelled his rage at the murder of his son by heading America’s Most Wanted.
There is no denying this transformation will not happen overnight, and certainly not without effort and vigilance. But it will happen. Be patient. Taming anger is a process. You will fail from time to time, though the frequency and intensity will diminish. Trust me, I speak from experience.