Thursday, May 5, 2022

Subtle Self-Centricity



This is about you. And me too. We cannot help but see things from our own point of view. Yet some of us are overtly, deeply, self-centric. We can stand in another’s studio and prattle on about a relative of ours who also paints. We can stand among another’s library of books and prattle about the book they have not yet read, or worse, haven’t yet got. We can stand in a custom-built home and prattle about the grand view to see from some other home. Our sense is about ourselves, and how the world, elsewhere from the immediate, affects us.

In the immediate we are a paradox of being. We exist in the moment yet are full of stories about the past, about other things, or about other people. Our own ideas can be limited to a restructuring of what we know, have seen, or can interpret. Naturally so. Yet often the lack of compassion, awareness, insight, or empathy can speak volumes about ourselves, like it or not.

To advocate here for inculcating, as a habit, the 5 x W’s can appear didactic, or patronizing. And yet it is remarkable how little we can practice it. Which of us engages in another’s presence fully, consciously? When with another, how much of that person’s life-story do we absorb, or easily recall? Why can there sometimes be a sense of disconnect? Who among us is so much in ‘the now’ that we can sensibly integrate the other with compassion? What is it that imbues our immediate interests: the evidence before us, or some memory of the past? Where does it end?

Often, during someone else’s speech, we interrupt easily, and draw attention back to the self. We listen not to understand, but to interject with our point of view. Worse, often in our own speech we speak on and on without pause for the other to intervene, easily, with their response, interpretation, or intervention.

Self-centricity is subtle. The ‘I’ in almost everything we apprehend deeply impels our lives. It is a small-meme behaviour at best, but can also be a large-Meme attitude, to our disadvantage. We like certain colours, music, food, fashions, and even vehicles. These things can easily change over time. But not so easily changed are the large Meme adoptions we’ve acquired. They are the ones of our culture, political persuasions, religious affiliations, and sense of morality. At times so very constrained by our childhood beliefs, we eschew the shift we can feel toward having to enlarge, accept, integrate, absorb, or include yet something other into the oeuvre of our own cherished contentions. And thus, evolution, in all its tugs toward enlightenment, gives pause to one easily overcoming oneself.

Self-centricity, at its worst, tugs us away from the other. It tends to make everything directly relatable to the self. It engages life in terms of how life itself affects the self, with little genuine inclusion of the other, for the other’s sake. It can bloat the self. It can diminish or negate the other.

And so, in having read all these words, do they prattle on about you, or are they meant as a subtle reflection on me? At the baseline is this: Do we predominantly give, or do we chiefly take? (And in giving, do we indeed get to feel sufficiently good about ourselves?)

Such can be one’s not so subtle self-centricity.



Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Doubting Dichotomies


                             (Passing Through Too, oils, 6ft by 3ft 6 ins, by the author)

Series of threes consistently tug at us. Vacillations between the left and the right, or the up and the down, are an awkward thing. Easier to make a stand. Growing up, we mature somewhat easily; we make many choices throughout the seven ages of life, from mewling infant to being big bellied to our arriving at sans sense at all (1). But perpetually caught in the dichotomy of left or right choices, we generally make Dabrowskian Level One Factor Two decisions (2) and live quite happily within the moral, religious, and political contentions of our ilk. It is in our indecisiveness with too many choices, or with too much time spent in a quandary, that we can feel debilitated. What to do? Inaction can lead to abstention. Without knowing all the facts; with our having too personal an attachment to one side, or the other; or with being bombarded by contrary dis-information; just how is one to decide? And so, ‘sitting on the fence’ becomes a balancing act. But for how long?

Then there is the sheer volume of one’s counterparts that can sway our choices. For whom did you vote? Why? And how dare I be contrary? (That is, unless there be sufficient counterweight to support my own contentions.) But how can we then dance to the same tune?

In the current crisis of dis-information, of the threat of war growing yet more dastardly, of the disappearance of freedom to speak, to protest, to promulgate and publish truthfully, authentically, we are caught up in the fear of being ostracized, jailed, penalized, and dismissed. How to contend ideas without the reprisals of angry, hateful, and personalized projectiles? How to accept that out of 106 essays in the book of Our Stories the diverse participants mentioned The Torah, The Bible, Theory U,  and The Blank Slate? (See images).Then again, how do others get to share their views without being humiliated for still being immured by what occurred in Grade Two? (3) How to nurture maturation to the next Meme? (4)

Dichotomies, which are in frequent symbolism as revealed in plant seeds, in the structure of our brains, in the fact that we have left and right sides to our bodies, are sometimes overlooked in their essence of being rendered together, in the first place. The one side supports the other; the two sides are linked; the whole makes for the life within. So too for the membrane that divides the whole; it is a semi-permeable line allowing for osmotic transitions (5), and as such the division filters out that to which it cannot relate, but certainly feeds off the very chemistry of the ‘opposing’ side. And therein rises the riot; it is in the objectionable sensitivity to ‘the other.’ We eschew those who use big words. We discard those who come across as too fancy. We vilify those whose reactions are evidently immature, hateful, hurtful. We want to beat the bully; kill the killer; and subject those who threaten us to go to their own jails of isolation, cut off from our communication, and blocked at the passes.

Détente appears to be lost. The restoration of friendly relations, the agreement, compromise, and amity that might be forwarded, gets caught up in the division between the dichotomies. East versus West. North versus South. Me, versus You. How sad it is that we do not get on. And is it all because one of us is Liberal, and the other Conservative? Or for that matter, Ukrainian, and not Russian? Or is it because of the lumbering elephant in the room? It is this division-line itself that is the third tug at us; are we not surely best to meet at its interrelationship points, share in the transfer of our talents that it could afford?

We are at a crossroads. The choices are no longer quite so clear, unless they be to be kind, caring, compassionate, considerate, loving, gracious, forgiving, accepting, and integrating. But then again, history has proven that we simply cannot, collectively, do that. Well then, how about you and me; let’s start with us. Hmm? (But then again, indeed, as the song goes, “It takes two to tango!”)

................................................................................................................

(        (1)   Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT, ACT 2, SCENE 7

         (2)   Dabrowki web: https://positivepsychology.com/dabrowskis-positive-disintegration

 The theory of positive disintegration (TPD) by Kazimierz Dąbrowski is a theory of character development. Unlike some other theories of development such as Erikson's stages of psychosocial development, it is not assumed that even a majority of people progress through all levels.

         (3)  See Original Grade Theory: Mr. P's Words: Gradual Gradations (mrpswords.blogspot.com)

         (4) See Gravesian Memes: Mr. P's Words: Aspiraling as we Aspire (mrpswords.blogspot.com)

          (5) Osmosis:

[äzˈmōsəs, äsˈmōsəs]

NOUN

1.      biology

chemistry

a process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one, thus equalizing the concentrations on each side of the membrane.

synonyms:

soaking up · sucking up · drawing up/in · taking up/in · blotting up · mopping up · sponging up · sopping up

2.      the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc..

"what she knows of the blue-blood set she learned not through birthright, not even through wealth, but through osmosis"

 

 














Thursday, February 17, 2022

Given Gaps

 


(Cover design by Justin Neway; painting by author.)

“Mind the gap!” Loudspeakers in London’s Tube Stations bark out. Between concrete platforms and going elsewhere, one needs mindfulness. All of history would have one aware of the gap between ‘then,’ and now. It is not so much the voids as it is multiple periods of transitions; one is best to practice caution, consideration, and consciousness.

Mind the gap. So it is that five months of intense focus on a project has separated thee from me. Or has it been even longer? Communicating only occasionally, rarely seeing each other, we can feel these great gaps between us. The minutiae of days smudges into months of ordinariness, unless some major event occurs that might best be shared in the moment: Weddings; Funerals; Birthdays; and significant happenstances. These are the milestones of our lives. The rest can be m. o. t. s. (much of the same.) And the days churn into Time’s gap between us; you do not write to me, nor I to you. Compassion for all is our métier.

Mind the gap. So it is that over one hundred Old Boys from The Class of 1970 have each contributed a two-to-three-page essay about the last 50 years of their lives. Intending to encourage and inspire all youths who follow us, the resultant book of Our Stories is to be published, next month, and all proceeds and royalties that the book-sales make shall go as a gift to The School, in perpetuity. And given the privilege of collecting, editing, and formatting the works, as sent in from far-flung outreaches, it has been an intense five months of correspondence, and computer-based focus, and the re-integration of others into our collective lives. The 106 stories are humbling, fascinating, engaging, and challenging too. The gap years between 1970 and now, for each, have proven a trial of searching, encountering, attainments, and enduring. Some essays are profoundly vulnerable. En route the proponents have achieved a sense of enlightenment, wisdom, insight, and peace. For some. For most. Then too, some are still struggling. Living is not equitable. The gaps we mind, for each, vary by degree. Our lives are indeed lessons in the making.

Mind the gap. As differentiated as we are, as long as Time drags between our seeing each other again, between our sharing news, between giving each other a hug, we each have had our days and energy focussed on doing, on being, and on living within the scope of our various interests. And in the background, however subliminally, we’ve been aware of others, been aware of each other, been aware.

Mind the gap. Yes, you’ve been in mind, however ‘now and then’ such mindfulness may be construed. Like leaping from rock to rock in a stream, or turning from day to day in a calendar, the gaps between are vitally important, however minimally we may attend to them, breath for breath, or even in memory.

Mind the gap. Between grade levels, between paradigm shifts, between stages of enlightenment, between you and me there exists the gaps that make for the transition from the concrete discussions about things and people, to the exploration of ideas and hypotheses. That’s where the mind lies, where it creates, in the gaps!

Mind the gap! Distances can be deceptive. Between my shore and that ship, or raft, or the other coast, an ocean of meaning and intent, even as yet unrealized, lies between. It is a gap into which one could drown, or metaphorically, keep swimming. Mindfulness is all. Who?; Where?; What?; When?; are each interesting; but it is the Why? that really intrigues.

Mind the gap! What lies between is the now for now for now. And as we move we are indeed best to appreciate not just where we are going, but how we get there. Step for step. Breath for breath. Gap for gap. Keep caring.



Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Selfies And Such

 


Each keystroke matters. We too easily make mistakes. It is too bad. When in too much of a hurry to write, between the two of us, we can get too sloppy. It’s its own reward. And a lot depends on our knowing the allotted homonym differences, sure, but somehow, nosing in among the typos, a sense that our standards are slipping, builds. We grow careless. We grow carefree. We grow inordinately causal.

The Buddhist monks, somewhere, make these beautifully wrought mandalas, pebble for pebble. Each piece is carefully handpicked, methodically, and patiently, added to the whole. It’s a meticulous exercise of being aware of the now. And when all over, in historical times, they forbade a capture of the result by camera, and swept the thing over, giving the product but a momentary and brief conclusion. Life is in the moments. It is not a product as much as it is a journey. Thought for thought. Choice for choice. Word for word. Action by action. But nowadays, for whatever reason, the monks not only allow pictures taken of their final product, but some even pose for ‘selfies.’ Indeed, one needs not take oneself too seriously.

‘Selfies’. Is it not interesting how language grows? Even a word like ‘interface’ was not known when I was a boy, let alone ‘internet’. And so too shall communication be affected, such that the effect will be that new coinage and new nomenclature and new syntax and grammar and spelling all meld into what might eventually become the new Esperanto. Back in the 1960’s there was an actual Esperanto school syllabus, and at the time it was no silly-bus for a boy to take a ride on. (Or does my attempt at humour but elicit a hmm from you?) Thing is, like taking selfies, we are nowadays so very self-referenced, and unless we’ve had a direct relationship with something, like having been there, or seen it, we easily are distracted away from the unfamiliar, yet do seek the sensationally new. Old things; old stories; old ideas; historical lessons; these are like old language: stiff and formal and demanding and rigorous and up-tight.

Editing others’ work brings with it a host of compositional and structural rules, yes, but the individual idiosyncrasies of matters of choice are best to prevail. After all, the ancient Egyptians likely imposed a very strictly controlled depiction of human representation in their art. (The song, “Walk Like an Egyptian,” resonates.) But it is difficult to conceive of not one Egyptian, not once, in over three thousand years, being able to render a person as anything other than one dimensional. Nowadays one fortunately has very much leeway. We have sped up individual evolution to absorb, assimilate, include, accept, and have understanding for the very many differences among us, let alone the variegations of speech, spelling, and our inept tapping away at a keyboard. (Predictive spelling can prove quite embarrassing!)

But it is of a larger picture that I write. It is of the differentiation between the fluidity of a generalized acceptance, and the awareness of a preference for precision. Might one be better off to take one’s time to dot one’s I’s and cross one’s T’s? Might one be better off to pause and re-read, before sending, before posting, before implying, before negating, before arguing, before contending, before averring, before bruiting abroad one’s private and heartfelt sentiments, (or even, hereby, proffering one’s pretentious intellectualisms?) In other words, is there a better selfie to be taken, before showing the world one’s mental picture?

Vanity would have us overly aware of what someone else is seeing. We wish to impress. And we do need to feel pride in ourselves. Security allows us, by contrast, not to worry overmuch about a bad-hair day. In the casualness of every-day living, it matters not really what we look like when going out. Nor does it matter, overmuch, what we type like, in messages, and in email, and communication with others, particularly if they are firm friends, or family, or people we instinctually know will not judge us.

But when we leave a picture for posterity, it might be best to have shown off our best, in the first place.



Monday, October 18, 2021

Musings Over Marbles

 


We each are not free. Not entirely. All around us there are the laws of gravity, of nature, of others, and then too, even of our own individual making. We can find ourselves cauterized, curtailed, and cut off from further perceptions by the very fences we refuse to, or simply cannot, overcome. As Tevye, in ‘Fiddler On The Roof,’ put it: “If I bend that far, I will break!”

Paradigm shifts can be both individual, and collective. A group of us, like the One Hundred Monkey Syndrome, may feel some instinctual and collective sympatico, somewhat simultaneously, and begin a cultural shift of adherence to a new habituation, often by disavowal of a previously held perception. Such is the very course of history. We are creatures of habit. We acquire acculturations from our parents, our immediate others, and then from the group at large. We generally can easily identify Nationalities by such idiosyncrasies. Accents alone are not the only give-away. As such, “A Scots, an Italian, and a Russian…” quite easily conjures up a joke.

But being burdened and beleaguered by others, or worse, by the self, is not funny. One needs to feel ‘worthy’, no matter one’s age. We can spend much time in pain while shuffling off the mortal coil of shame and insecurity. As the sages have urged, “Why hide your light?” Comparisons to others, always, will only show that there are differences. We each need allow for our own story, our own right of existence.

Graduating from the collective identity of High School, we all burst away, like dropped marbles, from the collection bag. Some of us stay close, but many scatter far afield. And decades later, ten, forty, and even fifty years on, gathering us together for a Reunion, or even a full collective of the participants in one’s past, is tantamount to recalling the memories and all the people you too have known in your own history.

But staying burdened and beleaguered becomes quite a bit a matter of choice. We are people, each of us, who journey. And a journey, by definition, denotes movement, and is not a product, except for point by point. So too for enlightenment. So too for Integration. Despite Tevye’s pronouncement, he capitulates, overcomes, grows larger, more inclusive, and changes his world paradigm. So too, may we.

Within the programming of our childhood, and especially our adulthood, we are free ‘to think’. And thinking about our thinking gives us, if not license to change, at least the inner reserves of endurance and fortitude and resilience to wait things out, until, like metamorphosis itself, we can change from the cocoon that enwraps us, or the cage of acculturation that is imposed by others, or the traditions of the elders, for which we have no present reality. To be ‘truly’ individual there is so much more to be attained than simply eschewing one’s past; one needs to include it, assimilate it, understand it, and absorb it into one’s being, and be larger than its entrapment, however sordid, disdainful, horrid, or enslaving it might have been. One needs to be able to breathe in the NOW. We each reflect on the past, in the natural way of being a human being, but the pains of it may become but steppingstones, chapters, in the very story that is making up one’s own biography. And the greater the personal freedom, the greater one’s responsibility to others.

Psychologists do much to unburden us. Digging out the inner child, and attending to its unfulfilled needs, can be a pathway to much enlightenment. So too for those of us who write a Memoir, or those of us called upon to reflect upon the past, and to give our story a meaning, a significance, and a relevance for others yet to come. Bitterness can accompany past brutality. Pain can prevent present recall. Insecurity, shame, and worthiness are watchwords, for each of us, that so easily trip one up in the progress of maturation.

And now to be called upon to participate in a collective endeavour, such as the gathering of the marbles for a 50th Reunion, or other, and to be asked to tell one’s story, can prove a tremendous challenge, indeed. How to make the passage of one’s life be an inspiration to others? Or is one, sadly, not yet, readily ‘free’?



Monday, July 19, 2021

Dangerous Disparities

 


The haves and the have-nots continue to suffer. The Memes need to exist side by side, and the privileged may wrestle with guilt, while the impoverished may wrestle with envy. Either way, the dividing line is more pronounced when in direct conflict for space, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, or nowadays, the health we try to secure. To vaccinate or not becomes a matter of deep division. The contentions on either side are formidable. Science and Fear and Practicality and Ethics and Sensibility and Expectations are societal conventions thrust around in the battlefield of reasons for and against. And one can lose friends, contacts, and even family members in more ways than one because of it all. Covid and its varieties has most of us enmeshed in Old World problems during New World Times. Those without the required vaccination may as well wear bells and declare themselves ‘unclean.’ Those who’ve had their double-shots may as well (and do) wear badges that give evidence of the owner’s responsibility to society.

Responsibility comes in many guises. Back when I was a schoolboy, the Housemaster one unforgettable Prep Time intoned to all of us: “The more freedom you have, the more responsibility you have toward others.” It was a lesson that struck at my core. Perhaps it is the foundation of ethical behaviour; to try to consider one’s impact on others. Even my old Odham’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, given to me in 1960, at the bottom of page 58, states: “And that is what ‘character’ really implies – behaving toward other people as we would like them to behave toward us.” And so, one wonders, does one simply hope that all people will protect themselves from the Virus, from Leprosy, from Tuberculosis, from Chickenpox, from the Common Cold, and therewith protect oneself too? Or does one gain a shield, a mask, an isolation cubicle, a lance, an old-world glaive, or halberd, or God forbid, even a gun! Arm-twisting with shame or guilt, hurts.

“Tryin’ Times,” sings Donny Hathaway. “The riots and ghettoes. A whole lotta things that’s going down.”   

We are linked; like it or not. Interdependent, we need each other for supply chains other than just food; we need each other for the vitality of connection. Many of us are quite content with long periods of being alone. Many have sufficient (inner) resources to survive without dependence on others. But most of us are more gregarious than that, and so, despite our disparities, we will step across the party lines, o’ereach the old barriers, dive into the sea, and take off our masks. Yet some still will never show their true selves.

“Have you been vaccinated?” becomes the intrusive question. At some venues one is turned away. At airports one may find oneself having to declare. It was so for malaria vaccinations. It was so for childhood smallpox vaccinations. And if wanting to travel, or to be safe, then taking such time-tested medications became the norm. Now, even a new ‘meet the neighbours’ block-party can prove itself exclusionary.

“But now,” as an astute friend poses it, “what long-term studies are there to prove the Moderna, Pfizer, or AstraZeneca vaccines are safe?” And in one’s ignorance, or under the wealth of so very much contradictory information, many of us may baulk. Doctors who gainsay the vaccinations are stripped of their posts; we learn. Health professionals who dissuade the public are given fewer and fewer platforms. Alternative drugs, like Ivermectin, are prohibited except by prescription, and: “Find me a doctor willing to go ahead and prescribe that!” declares my friend.

Being shamed into falling into, or being disliked for taking a stance for either Camp, gets progressively sad. History shows how entire societies have suffered from ostracization; the larger group (mostly) gets to predominate. And in the meantime, we can lose friends, family members, those we love, and those we know, in more ways than one. To be, or not to be? That, indeed, is the question!

Stay safe. Be well.




Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Beyond Bubbles

 


I miss you. I think of you, often. It would be good to see you again. We could catch up with ‘this and that.’ You could tell me the ‘who, what, where, when, and even the why’ of your life. And you might also speak of the dead, the dying, the ill, the hurt, the malcontent, and the impoverished. Then again, you may speak of the fortunate, the enlightened, the survivors, those who endure, and those who succeed at making of our collective circumstances a smorgasbord of constant choice. Our communication may well do all that much, and even more. We could ‘conspire’ (as sung ‘by the fire,’ in the old-fashioned way). Yes, we could indeed breathe together, masked, or not. Or at least, write?

Shall I tell you of the many sad deaths, recent and old, imbuing me, haunting, plucking at my consciousness, giving grief its constant refrain? There be so very many that one loves, on and on, despite their having so sorely departed. So too for you? And condolences we can share, since the inevitability of losing others in our lives, especially the closely known, and dearly loved, is life’s conundrum, sans surcease. We are richer for loving. We are hurt and heartsore and bereft by their going, but love is rich.

Shall I tell you of the dragons of fire that attend sickness and pain and ill health and inability? We each have had the problems of surmounting the vicissitudes of fate. We can attain much of health over very many months, and then some slight mishap, some fall, some trip, some wrench and pull and tug and upending, can, with brutal immediacy, yank the proverbial rug. And often the instinct is to let others know, for then might come the well-wishes and prayers and support. But often, too, one is aware that the passage from downstairs to upstairs is a necessary foot by foot progress, alone; it essentially needs to be accomplished, alone, so that one may again indeed be well. Alone. One’s nurses, one’s partners, one’s friends can all help, but to do so they need be close at hand. And self-reliance is our chief aim, physically.

Covid precludes the presence of most. It cauterizes the flow of friendships. We cannot gather, visit, share afternoons of tea and scones, share evenings of supper and wine. We may phone, but then again, not all of us can easily chat over the ether. Then too, many, like me, do not favor virtual contact. It appears stiff. It feels at a disconnect. It suits me not. And the chit-chat can leave me unsettled, rather than connected. For me, it is the physical presence that exudes from the other that conspires to engender an ongoing sense of connection. And since few that I know make much of frequent phoning, or even writing, my own world shrinks to the island of my being. Contact with the remaining roster of my immediate company, the family connections, and the handful of constant correspondents, continues. But my ‘bubble’ shrinks.

Generic contact does something to say, ‘I’m thinking of you.’ It avoids (historical) particularities. In the old days (before the internet,) a letter between countries might take months to be answered. To ask after a cold last April, in July; or to congratulate for a February baby, by June’s end; or graver, to have the glory of last summer given credence, just before Christmas; is hardly to conspire. We used to be so very out of touch. And now? Even now, a dear one’s death is given but a few sentences. Our bubbles tear, and tear.

Beyond touch, (or even with it,) the bubbles of our existence remain, by inference, so very fragile. How easily we can lose one another. How fearful we are that our bubble may burst. How cloistered and clustered and caved we are, each in our world, no thanks to Covid.  

Faced with the trebuchets of outrageous fortune, we are bombarded with disparate realities. There is too much of fear. Out of the proverbial blue, death, and illness, and struggles with the pestilence, envelops us. There is universal loss and grief. We do clam up. We do withdraw. We do eschew physical contact, do not travel, and eventually, do stop up much of connection. Sharing becomes more and more difficult. Our introverted shells may well crack to let yet more light inside, but whose bubble might we not burst were we to compare? (To speak only of joy and wellness and wealth can hurt too.) Suffice it to say, I miss you?