The Conversation that Arises Out of Everything: What We Feed in Ourselves Lives in Ourselves

When a conversation begins in our mind, what do we do? When we respond to such a conversation by just listening, wondering, then letting it go, we learn from it and it usually passes. When we talk back, or hold onto it, the conversation continues. Even if we step back from it for a while, it carries on someplace in us. What we feed, lives.

 

A feral cat has lived in our neighborhood for at least 6 months. For months, he kept coming to our house. He would show up at different doors of our home and call to us. He would hang out with one of our cats sometimes, or at least not get in a fight. But if we’d try to get close to him, or even open the door when he was there, and he’d run quickly away. He’d never let us close.

 

Then one day, my wife gave it food, despite knowing the likely consequences. It was just too painful to hear him cry or see his need. Then a few days later, she did it again. The cat appeared more often, but still ran when we opened a door and roamed without us seeing him for hours or days. Then my wife did it again. And then every day. Then twice a day. Then he let her touch him. Then he let me pet him. And now? Now he acts like he’s ours. He follows us around or hangs out by the front door on our deck, looks in the kitchen window with pleading eyes, and dreams of us taking him in.

 

It’s the same with the content of our mind. What we feed becomes us, or “ours.”

 

The painful follow up with the cat is that we took him to the ASPCA, who vaccinated and neutered him, but wouldn’t take him in for adoption; they were too full. We next took him to our vet, for tests and further treatment. It turns out he has feline AIDS. Now, we must figure out what to do next. We have two other cats, who are indoor-outdoor. Even though feline AIDS is not easily transmissible, and humans are safe from it, there’s still a chance he might infect our other pets. In fact, our vet said that if we took in the stray, infection would be inevitable. Plus, he would need to live only indoors so he doesn’t spread the disease or get injured himself.

 

He must’ve had a home, once. Did they kick him out of their home and cut him from their heart? Or did they just run out of money to care for him? I wonder if they even knew he was sick and were afraid of, or didn’t want to face, a cat with AIDS?

 

What we try to ignore or cut from our hearts stays with us. The cat might be physically gone for this person. But the memory? The pain? The guilt? Cutting out is just another and more harmful form of feeding. It’s feeding what psychologist Carl Jung called our shadow, the part of our self that we deny, won’t or can’t acknowledge and try to project onto others but carry with us as a weight. To let go proficiently, we must do it with awareness, care, compassion, even love. What we feed in us becomes us.

 

I have to say that hearing that the cat had AIDS hurt so much….

 

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

What Makes a Relationship Work? Allowing Another’s Well-Being to Be as Important as Our Own

This might be one of the most challenging blogs, stories, poems I ever tried to write. It tries to get to the heart of my life without getting too personal, which is clearly a delicate balance. It was written or is being written both at night, in my dreams, and in the daytime. We might all know or think we know what a relationship is. But maybe it’s also something more than we realize, constantly changing as we live.

 

Blogs often arise when I see a hint of what is usually not seen and then follow it, try to open it up, or open me up. Last night, for example, I had this feeling that there was nothing more to write about, nothing more hidden away. Then, in a dream, the hidden side of that feeling was exposed, and there certainly was something there. Something that is almost always with me.

 

In the dream, a young boy and a woman were sitting at a table with me. I didn’t know the boy. My dream self knew the woman, but I don’t think my daytime self does. We were talking about human relationships, particularly intimate ones, and the boy kept asking, what do you mean?

 

For me, like most teenagers and people in their early twenties, relationships of any type, family, friends and certainly lovers, were one of the most important aspects of life. It was not just about fun and pleasure. It was an attempt, a yearning, to get to know how another person experienced life, experienced pains and joys, challenges, and insights ⎼ and to get to know how other people saw me. Such an experience was too fascinating, too powerful to ignore. At its base was the desire to love and be loved. I thought of each person that attracted me as a mystery waiting to be revealed. But unfortunately, I only found glimpses of what I sought. I didn’t know how to go deeper. It felt like I might lose myself if I did.

 

Then it, like everything, changed. I met someone and realized I could truly love this person.

 

The psychologist Carl Jung theorized that when we’re first attracted to someone, we’re perceiving in the other elements of ourselves we’ve denied, lost, or neglected. Our attraction is an attempt to recover what was lost. We project an emotionally charged image of the other person, creating a fascination for them. And likewise, we can think this other person is responsible for our own emotions, our love.

 

But to maintain a relationship, we must let go of what first attracted us, let go of this image and fascination, to find the reality, find the truly breathing person. And if we think of the other as the source of our loving, we never see, never truly feel, who we are. We give up our power over our own emotions and look for ourselves in the wrong places. We get habituated to looking outside ourselves to satisfy what lives inside us. Instead, we must make a decision of sorts, to be honest about who these two beings standing here, now, are.

 

In the dream, I said to the young boy that a loving relationship isn’t really a relationship at all, and it’s not just between two people. But I’m not sure what the dream me meant. It sounds deep, but maybe it’s got a dream logic that makes no sense in the daylight.  Relationship– the roots and etymology of the word takes us to re, meaning back or again, and the Latin relatio, or refero (I relate, refer), fero meaning to bear or carry. It can mean a type of association, kinship, where we carry inside us another being. Another being comes alive in us. Maybe, we bear the weight of feeling vulnerable, and allowing another’s well-being to be as important as our own.

 

Maybe the dream me was referring to the fact that we all exist in a larger setting, a community, a world. Or maybe he was talking about something else……

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

**The photo is of my parents.

 

 

How We Look Is Not Separate from What We See: Giving Form to What’s Most Intimately Ourselves

Sometimes, we surprise ourselves with what we can do, with what we know and don’t know.

 

I retired from teaching secondary school ten years ago. But last night, in my dreams I was once again teaching. In many classes, ten, twenty, thirty students or more showed up. In others, only one or two.  Maybe students had begun to assume that I would always be there and took me for granted. Or maybe they were too distracted by their personal lives, or I was getting too tired. Whatever it was, my dream-self decided it was time to retire.

 

In one room, a large group of students came to hear and join me in saying goodbye. It was surprising how full of feeling the situation was. We accepted each other so deeply. And I had nothing planned. It was all spontaneous. What I said emerged extemporaneously, as if from all of us together, and included nothing about goodbyes.

 

The way a moment forms has so much to teach us and is teaching us so much as it forms. There is so much there if we can see it and feel it. It’s the ultimate teacher. In fact, we are this forming of a moment. But will we look? Feel?

 

And I woke up. Sort of. The light outside was a gray mist emerging from the dark night, a dawn just beginning to gray. Outside the window, almost no discernible objects emerged from the mist, no trees, or bushes. But in the mostly dark inside, I could discern the placement but not the details of the bed, dresser, and other furniture. And as I wrote down the dream on a pad of paper by my bed, I wondered if anyone in the dream, any student had understood what I was saying.

 

Then I realized the answer in the dream was also a question. Do I understand my own answer?

 

Research and theories by psychologists and neuroscientists speculate one purpose of dreaming is to integrate emotional, and other material from our daily lives. Was the dream an example of that integration process? Was it telling me what my conscious mind couldn’t figure out or was it merely putting into words what I had already concluded? We often underestimate the role the unconscious and the resting mind plays in conscious and critical thinking. Our conscious understanding never gets it all. But if we humbly accept that, sometimes what we find surprises us with its depth and value…..

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

The Dream that Heals and the River that Flows Through Us

Recently, just before having a scary medical test, I had a dream that I not only remembered afterwards in detail, but which greatly affected me. Actually, remembered might not be the most accurate way to describe what happened, because I was partly awake even while I was dreaming.

 

In the dream, I was visiting the city of my birth and wanted to call my parents. They were back in the home where I grew up, even though they had moved out of that house several years before either my mom’s or my dad’s death. And in the dream, I knew all this, knew they had died years ago. Yet, I still wanted to call them on the phone, but I had forgotten their phone number.

 

Suddenly, I was with a group of friends entering a restaurant not far from my parent’s old home, not far from my old home. The friends and I had reservations for dinner. But I decided to quickly walk to my parent’s house, tell them I would come by after dinner and stay the night, and I’d get their phone number.

 

When I got to the house, I looked in the front window. Both my parents were there. They were entertaining other couples. But they had a security guard at the door, a tall, strong man standing in a darkened area of the front porch. The guard knew about me, had heard stories from my parents. He even told me about his own son who was training in the martial arts. But he wouldn’t let me in without checking my ID. I showed him my driver’s license and he said I could enter.

 

As soon as I did, I was swept up in the feel, the atmosphere of the past. I was there, in my old home, with my parents very fully there, right there, and yet I also knew they were no longer alive.

 

Then I woke up. Somehow, dreaming this dream changed my whole emotional situation. I felt good, no longer afraid of the medical test, or maybe anything. It was not that I felt my parents could, now, speak to me. But seeing them made my past come alive ⎼ and was possibly telling me something about my future. About not fearing death, maybe? Or about fear itself? About reality?

 

We wander to so many places in our dreams, and we can dream and wander both while asleep and awake. Daydreams, and all manner of thoughts and images can run around our minds all through the day, accessing the same river of imagery as night dreams.

 

The dream clearly reminded me how much I missed my parents and that they were still with me, as me. And that includes so much more than their DNA. No one is perfect, but my parents, more than anyone, taught me to love. But was the security guard a gatekeeper to a mythic realm or heaven, or maybe a form of Charon without his ferryboat, taking my dream mind to the other shore? And why had I forgotten their phone number?…

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

After the Celebration, Then What?

A big event occurs. You graduate from high school or college, you win the lottery, get married, and what do you expect next from your life? You imagine the joy of seeing the winning numbers going on forever. You imagine the ceremony, the parties, the honeymoon. But after the celebrating, what then? Do you imagine cleaning the house? Taking out the trash?

 

We expect the world would be changed or we would be changed. That the quality of our experience of life would be better, heightened, maybe. Or the quality of our mind would be different. And it is, but not like we expected. We are always changing. But we easily get caught up in the idea or the story we tell ourselves instead of the reality or totality.

 

Especially today, when the level of anxiety is so high due to all the threats to so many of us, and so many aspects of our lives, including our sense of humanity and the climate, our health or control over our own bodies, it is easy to expect or hope for even more from any event than it could possibly produce. For example, we could work to successfully elect a candidate we trust, or to defeat one we knew had to be defeated, and afterwards, we expect all the threats to disappear, and the whole world would be changed. If only that were so.

 

Daniel Kahneman, professor of both psychology and public affairs described this as a “focusing illusion.” When we’re thinking about the graduation or the wedding, it is big, tremendous. When we’re in school, we might think that when we graduate, life will be so different. Or we’re in love and imagine that, once the love is celebrated and wrapped in the marriage license, we will feel more secure and loved. But what we find is a new moment, another day, another call for action. We forget how we adapt to situations, to living with a spouse or a new job or whatever it is we do after a big event.

 

We forget where feelings come from. We think the achievement itself creates the thrill of success. We think the person we love creates the love. We forget that to feel loved one must love. To be touched, one must touch. Jack Kornfield wrote a book called After the Ecstasy, The Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path. We can even view enlightenment, whatever that is, in the same way. “Once I get enlightened, all will be different.” Or “If only I’d get enlightened…” If only this or that.

 

All we ever have is moments, and moments are too slippery to ever own. They are less a thing and more what or who we are. Hopefully, most will be spent with more clarity than confusion, more compassion than anger, more love than greed. We do the best we can in the moment to learn from whatever occurs, and then let it go. To perceive and honor what is there for us without blinding ourselves with self-judgments or turning a passing moment into a permanent monument to a self. Monuments don’t feel and what isn’t perceived can’t be acted upon….

 

*To read the whole piece, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

Models of Who We Might Be: Finding the Quiet that Reveals Truths and Informs Our Voice

We are all influenced by others, constantly, and more often than we like to admit. It doesn’t matter if we’re young or old or the time or place. When we’re with certain friends, we act and respond one way. When we’re in school or work or with parents, we present ourselves differently. As the philosopher Aristotle said, we’re political or social beings, even the shyest and most independent of us.

 

Yet, even surrounded by others we can feel alone, isolated inside our heads as if our joys and pains were what separated us from others, not united us. We might breathe in and out as if each breath secluded us from the world instead of weaving us together. Our minds can feel filled with static when we haven’t learned how to adjust the channels to a receptive station.

 

The French philosopher and author J. P. Sartre had a character in his play No Exit say that hell is other people. What if this hell was caused by an obstructed or inauthentic view of our self? What if we had a model to follow who could show us how to live and think in authentic ways that are now hidden by contemporary culture?

 

And sometimes, there is just silence inside us, which can be frightening⎼ or wonderful. Frightening as it reveals that so much is unknown and unknowable, not as set and secure as we might like it to be. And other times, silence is welcome, calming, freeing, or exciting and full of possibilities. What if there are models out there of how to hear silence as the natural sound of mind in tune with the world?

 

I was recently in a bookstore and found The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers, by Eric Weiner. It is about dead thinkers, mostly men, mostly white, unfortunately. But the book is fun to read and examines not only what the philosophers said but who they were and how they lived.

 

Socrates was a monumental figure in Western thought, and in my own life. Or maybe it’s just the myth of Socrates. Because he died 2421 years ago, and he wrote nothing. We know him only through what others said of him. It’s not the living person that we know but an image carved by history to serve our collective needs. Or maybe he has become what  psychiatrist Carl Jung called an archetype or pattern of thought and behavior that can guide us to develop ourselves psychologically, morally, and spiritually.

 

Weiner depicts Socrates as a practitioner of what Buddhists call “crazy wisdom,” someone who casts aside social norms, risking everything to jolt others into new understandings. And he did risk everything. At the age of 71, he was imprisoned and forced to commit suicide by the authorities of his home city of Athens, supposedly for corrupting youth, but most likely because he provoked questions people found uncomfortable….

 

*Please share and go to the Good Men Project to read the whole post.

The Myth of Today: The Call Is Not to Enter the Dark Forest by Ourselves, But, by Ourselves, to Call Others

I’m sitting here, feeling my hands on the keyboard, noticing my breath is a little short and jumpy.  Anxious. Worried. A dark curtain is hanging out behind my right ear. And I notice a desire to do something to part that curtain; to change the situation of our world today, or at least bring some calm to myself, so the anxiety will explode into bits of nothing, or into the past to be studied like ancient history. So, I can feel the joy that deeply wants to be felt.

 

A friend calls on the phone. I take a deep breath and we talk, which lifts me out of the anxiety. A little mindfulness and the voice of friendship can do that. We all need that voice.

 

So much is changing. So much is threatened. And it’s difficult to see how we can influence a change for the better. But just as the voice of a friend helped lift me out of the grip of anxiety, joining with others, and feeling the yearning and the need to act, together, does the same. There might be fear there, that is true. But also light, hope. A sense of the future emerges, that there can be a future. That there can be joy and love in the future.

 

This is one way we dissolve anxiety. We see that it’s there, name it, and then do something to alleviate it. Worrying can deprive us of ourselves. Learning, planning, acting can give us the strength we need, so we feel we have strength and power. It is a kindness that we give ourselves, and kindness is so needed to change the world. Kindness to ourselves and others helps us part that curtain so we can see ourselves more clearly, with more perspective.

 

And getting a larger perspective is a second thing we can do. We can do that partly by taking walks in nature, studying mind-body disciplines like martial arts, yoga, and meditation, reading history, politics, science, literature, humor, etc.

 

I remember reading Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with A Thousand Faces. This is a powerful book to read and share with students and friends. It can open doors to widely divergent works of literature and religion that otherwise might be closed, such as the story of the Buddha to Bilbo Baggins. From Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo to Gilgamesh, the hero of the first story ever written. From Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to Star Wars and Close Encounters.

 

Campbell’s book explicates the hero cycle, a pattern that heroic characters have possibly followed in their path to enlightenment, redemption, or saving lives. One part of that path is The Call to Adventure. The movie Star Wars begins with Luke Skywalker living with his aunt and uncle. He is enveloped in his normal world, knowing nothing of who he is and feeling distant from the battle taking place in the universe around him. He is asked by Obi Wan Kenobi to join in the quest to rescue Princess Leia. He refuses. At first.

 

Then he goes home to find it, and his aunt and uncle, burned. The struggle has become personal, and he is ready to heed the call. George Lucas used the hero cycle quite very deliberately in creating the movie….

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

***Photo is the Lion Gate of Mycenae, Greece.

Somedays, Everything Feels Synchronous: The Quiet Underbelly of Everything is Everything

I was walking down our rural road yesterday afternoon, just approaching a pine forest, and I heard the trees shake, then a gentle boom in the air, and looked up to see the white-tan underside of a huge bird, a snowy owl maybe, fly about 40 feet over my head.

 

And today, while walking I remembered and looked around for that bird. And I thought of asking my neighbor, who knows a great deal more than I do about the local animal population, what kind of bird it might be. Just a minute later, off to the side of the road, was the neighbor. He lived nearby and was removing old tires and other garbage people had thrown there. I greeted him, told him about the bird and asked if he thought it had been an owl.

 

He wasn’t sure. Owls, he said, are usually silent. Eagles change colors for the first four years of their lives, and there are increasing numbers in the area, so maybe it was a young eagle. And after I thanked him and left, I felt grateful for my neighbor, and realized how wonderful and weird it was that I had thought of him, and suddenly there he stood.

 

When I returned home, I started thinking about coincidences.

 

Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh used the term inter-being to explain the Buddhist teaching on interdependence. We all inter-are, in the sense that without the air, what could I breathe? Without the solidity of the earth, what could I walk on? Without the fertile soil, what food could grow? Without other people, would I know who I was? Thich Nhat Hanh said if we look at a sheet of paper, we can see a cloud in it, sunshine, rain, the tree that supplied the pulp for the paper, the loggers who cut the tree, the bread they ate that day, the wheat that went into the bread, the logger’s partner, their children, and finally ourselves.

 

But I don’t always feel this. I don’t always feel the soul of the world or that the world is alive or I’m part of it or it is me. I don’t always feel a connection. I don’t usually look at a stream flowing alongside the road and feel its waters as the blood of my veins.

 

And then, from the bookshelf next to where I was sitting, I picked up Devotions, a collection of poems by Mary Oliver. I randomly opened the book to a poem titled, “Some Questions You Might Ask.” The poem starts with the line, “Is the soul solid, like iron?” And later, “Who has it, and who doesn’t?” Does an anteater have a soul, she asked, a camel, or maple tree? A blue iris? A rose, lemon, or the grass?

 

Or the world itself? And I thought of my cats—and I felt such closeness to them. But do they have a soul, whatever that is? Do they feel they’re connected to the quiet underbelly of everything? And is that quiet underbelly soul?…

 

To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project. Enjoy.

Are We the Masked Species? What Can Wearing a Mask Teach Us About Ourselves?

What can wearing a COVID-mask teach us about ourselves and how we look at others? After almost two years of living in a pandemic, we could benefit by thinking not only about how wearing a mask can protect others from us, or us from a deadly disease, but about what mask wearing can teach us about ourselves, and relating to others.

 

We use the word person to refer to what we are and say we have a personality. The root word here is Latin, persona, meaning a social role, image, or a theatrical mask or appearance we wear in public. Psychologist Carl Jung used the term to mean the social face we present to others, a mask or image we create, or way to hide elements of ourselves. So, in a way we were the masked species even before the pandemic.

 

From antiquity, masks have been an important element of possibly all cultures. Most staged dramas began with performers wearing masks. In Ancient Greece, for example, the legendary poet, Thespis, was supposedly the first to put an actor on a stage and turn choral recitation into drama. He created larger than life masks that also acted like a megaphone. The first written stories were myths with existential and religious themes, about creation, life and death, heroes, and heroines. The first dramas were enacted myths, so drama emerged from religious ceremonies. But what happens when we wear an actual medical mask in public while doing everyday tasks?

 

Of course, politics also enters the picture, as the right-wing in the US and elsewhere have turned a medical necessity into a political statement, thus undermining the effectiveness of masks as simply a practical way to prevent the spread of a deadly disease. This influences how we respond to masks and perceive those who wear them, as well as undermines the value of rational, factual based decision-making. It purposefully turns the social sphere, the public commons into a stage for enacting a political and possibly even a religious drama.

 

Other people are no longer perceived as persons very much like us, but as characters in a drama. And when political leaders of one party threaten and call for violence against another party or against anyone who disagrees with them, that drama can too easily become deadly.

 

According to a research article by Frontiers in Psychology, COVID masks cover about 60-70% of the area of the face responsible for emotional expression. This makes identification of others or any social interaction more difficult. It limits the ability of other people to read our emotions and hear what we say, as the sound of our words is usually augmented by the sight of our lips moving and changes in facing expression. Consciously reading subtle emotional cues as well as the trustworthiness or honesty of others can be difficult enough for many of us without a mask. A mask obviously diminishes this ability.

 

How much does a mask become a blank slate for us to project our own personal dramas? We all know how deeply important how our face looks is to most of us. Especially today, with so many suffering from anxiety and trauma, we can feel extremely sensitive, self-judgmental about how we look, afraid of the tiniest “imperfections.” …

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Why Is It So Hard to Develop Intimate Relationships? A Mystery Meeting A Mystery

In a recent blog, I wrote about feeling intimacy with the world around us and was asked about human, loving relationships. And why is intimacy often so difficult? I was at first reluctant to answer. It is such a personal subject, and no one has it all together. There are psychological and ethical guidelines but no mapquest.

 

Yes, we often use the word ‘intimate’ as a synonym for sex, as if “I was intimate with so and so” meant, “I had sex with so and so.” As if the sex was the most important part of the relation. But that often obscures the reality.

 

And I say this not just because I am an older man who thinks of sex very differently than I used to. I didn’t always realize that the desire for sex can mask a desire for something more than pleasure, for a way to get close or stay close, to pull down the separation we often feel and just be there with another person. To let go. To see into another life. Because being totally with another being so we see how they see and feel even a little bit what they feel is better than good sex. Or maybe it is the heart of good sex. Or maybe it’s the heart, period. A type of, or aspect of, love. It is what makes long term relationships not only work but be exciting.

 

In this sense, sex can even be a roadblock. It can be so intensely focused on our physical pleasure that we lose sight of this deeper desire we have, the deeper fulfillment we can experience.

 

If intimacy is “what we truly desire,” is it so difficult to create because it is unusual? Do we have a fear of getting what we truly desire? Or a fear of what being intimate might lead to? Or of how intimacy might change our sense of ourselves? Or has our trust been shattered by some violation in the past so we can’t risk such a moment ever happening again?

 

To pull down the walls and end the sense of separation we often feel means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to notice and feel even the smallest emotional movements in another person. Clearly, vulnerability can be scary. We can be hurt. To truly know another, to feel our way into another person’s sense of life is best accomplished when we allow ourselves to also be known.

 

It is to let go of our images of who we are. This is the most complicated part. We often need a meditative practice or a guide to help with this. We often think of a self as having permanent characteristics that distinguish us from others; and think of what distinguishes us as what separates us. We are here, they are there. Never the two shall meet. So, if the two never shall meet, intimacy is impossible. Trust is difficult. So is real joy. Life becomes a continual pretense or acting a part. We act the part of whatever we imagine the self is or someone else wants or needs. And we feel fake or ungrounded….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.