Archive for the 'Books' Category
I’ve started reading When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd. I loved her other book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, because of how she pursued her ideas. She would be overcome by an experience, paint it or write it or meditate it, then research the symbol, have a profound dream, experience an extraordinary coincidence, then the symbol starts showing up everywhere, followed by another profound experience that moves her deeper into the issue. What a way to live. Traveling, pursuing symbols, experiencing remarkable responses in nature and other people, researching passionate interests, having mind blowing insights, then writing about it.
She uses the word “Christ” and “Christian” a lot which kind of makes me cringe because I think those words have way too much fundamentalist baggage and association to closed-minded ideas and stereotypes. She had a lot of revelations in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter that seems to have had a surprisingly little impact on her state of mind and her writing, at least where she is picking up at the start of this book.
So far it is about the search for the true self, the removal of the series of masks we wear and present everywhere we go. She emphasizes the importance of stillness and waiting, and how unbelievably difficult it is for most of us in modern society.
My thesis in part was on the true self and how to move beyond the ego. I think this is why I like her books so much, because they show a way to make this happen. But I find myself beginning to be skeptical of this “true self” talk. As if a static self cowers under all the masks and layers, clutching the vulnerable shadow that was put away as too shameful to be seen. And if you dig deep enough and process enough, it emerges like “Hey, here I am! You’re real now!”
In Thoughts without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from the Buddhist Perspective, Mark Epstein proposes that the true self, and finding the true self, is a myth within therapy.
In the Buddhist view, a realized being has realized her own lack of true self. She is present by virtue of her absence and can function effectively and spontaneously in the world precisely because of her ability to see the self as already broken. It is not necessary to impute a true self to imagine qualities that we associate with emotional maturity. Indeed, it may be the absence of grasping for that essential core that unleashes the flood of affect that makes us feel most real. This is the kind of paradox that both Winnicott and traditional Zen masters thrive on: the true self experience that has come to preoccupy Western analysts is achievable most directly through the appreciation of what the Buddhists would call emptiness of self. 
Epstein adds: “The crumbling of the false self occurs through awareness of its manifestations, not through the substitution of some underlying “truer” personality.” 
Perhaps it is re-training the mind, practicing attention and awareness, becoming an observer instead of a reactor to the critical, negative voice of the ego. Once re-trained, the experience of the self becomes the brilliant white light of the movie projector instead of the jumbled, endless drama and content of the movie screen. The self is nothing, it just is. It experiences, it observes, it radiates without changing shape. It moves from moment to moment without becoming stuck in repetitive, painful patterns. The qualities of spontaneity emerge as well as the ability to experience the full spectrum of feelings without repression and superimposed masks.
Maybe Kidd will come to these realizations or maybe something different. I’ll keep reading.
There’s not many things I like better than a book that changes the way I think. I just finished why beautiful people have more daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire- Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do by Alan S Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa. Before I read this book, I was very much of the persuasion that culture and media shapes us and those influences are the root a lot of issues, such as the emphasis on appearance, money and material possession. I’m not completely detached from that idea, but I feel I have a much more balanced perspective.
The premise of the book is essentially this: we have the brains and bodies of animals that evolved on the savannah 10,000 years ago. We live in the 21st century with brains and bodies that adapted to life as it was 10,000 years ago. The environment must be stable and constant long enough for evolution to occur. This has not been the case in the last 10,000 years. The agricultural revolution, then the industrial revolution, and now the computer revolution means that things have changed so fast and there has been no opportunity for new adaptations that would favor farmers or factory workers or the guy in the office cubby.
The authors explain that the “Savannah Principle” means that we retain much, if not all, of what was useful and necessary to survive, find mates, and reproduce ten thousand years ago. This is so intriguing to me. If I looked into the eyes of a man or woman from that long ago, would I really see a human being of comparable intelligence and curiosity and desire? The authors go on to give very logical (though sometimes simplistic) theories for many things in everyday life, from the sweet tooth to marriage to gender differences. I once considered gender differences to be a socialized thing, now I do not think so. Culture does not wholly create us.
I like the reasoning and complete lack of “political correctness” of evolutionary psychology, but it is also cold. Religion and spirituality, for example, is reduced to logic of “better to believe than not to believe” merely in terms of risk. Are we really just animals who invent many convoluted theories to explain our existence and our behavior?
I buy their explanations for a lot of things but I draw the line at meaning. I imagine our ancestors thousands of years ago had a rich inner life of storytelling and spirituality and attunement with nature. They must have had profound experiences and magical coincidences and considered something greater than themselves. There is more to life.
I received Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in the mail around noon on Saturday and at approximately 5pm today, I finished the last page. So fantastic. I will not say anything about it, no spoilers here I promise.
I think JK Rowling captures the psychology of childhood and coming of age in such a remarkable, ingenious way in her storytelling. I could go on and on about the symbolism, not just the larger picture of good and evil and being human, but in the dynamics between adults and children and between peers. The movies based upon the book can never effectively portray what she does so well in her descriptions of the range of emotional experience. She puts together scenes of grief and unspeakable evil with scenes that are inexplicably comforting and magical. I love her sense of humor too.
This weekend we also fit in a show at Higher Ground, rock star night in Best Western’s suite and midnight swimming in the pool, trip to Sandbar for more swimming and lying on the beach, and a BBQ tonight.
I’m currently reading The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery by Henri J.M. Nouwen. I took home a pile of books from my grandmother’s and this was one of them. Inside is underlining and comments written in my mother’s handwriting. I find this book very comforting and it feels if an intellectual soul similar to my own has penned this diary. He too is on a search for authenticity, albeit in spiritual terms. He also wrestles with fascination with ideas and ability to talk about something versus truly experiencing or embodying those concepts. His time at the monastery helps him to work toward making that shift from talking about to being.
Nouwen writes: “Today I imagined my inner self as a place crowded with pins and needles. How could I receive anyone in my prayer when there is no real place for them to be free and relaxed? When I am still so full of preoccupations, jealousies, angry feelings, anyone who enters will get hurt. I had a very vivid realization that I must create some free space in my innermost self so that I may indeed invite others to enter and be healed. To pray for others means to offer others a hospitable place where I can really listen to their needs and pains. Compassion, therefore, calls for a self-scrutiny that can lead to inner gentleness.” p 145
From this, the center of one’s self can reach the center of another and create the space for a healing encounter. Nouwen talks about it in the context of prayer, but I believe he is describing the exact same experience so crucial to a helping relationship. Again the key concept- compassion towards one’s self must occur before one can be truly compassionate to others. Compassion creates gentleness, smoothing away the sharpness of self-criticism, anger and doubt.
I’m reading Psychotherapy Grounded in the Feminine Principle by Barbara Stevens Sullivan and I’ve been thinking a lot about oppression and how different the experience of it is from the inside when you truly get in touch with it. And stuff. But I’m tired. It’ll just have to keep circling in my brain until I get the energy to put it into words.
I wish I could blog about the people I meet in my job but I don’t feel it is ethical to do so, even if left out everything remotely identifiable. My work is full of such interesting and rewarding moments. Some moments just leave me speechless, too profound to touch. If I could blog about it, maybe I could touch that moment better.
This weekend is Nowhere Found’s concert at the Milton grange and Steve’s birthday!
Steve got me Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School by Gina A Oliva. To be honest, I did not think I would relate to the book. The book was about a “deaf” woman. I felt the old annoyance about the two extremes- everything is always about the hearing world or the “completely deaf, uses sign language” world and there is little to nothing out there that relates to my experience.
Then I read on the first page:
“I graduated high school in 1968 with a 75-dB loss. This is considered moderate-to-severe loss, and with hearing aids, I could hear people who spoke directly to me. Without the hearing aids, I was deaf, for all practical purposes.” p 1
A 75-dB loss is the exact hearing loss I’ve had all my life. From then on, she describes a K-12 and college experience essentially identical to mine. She writes about her own experience as well as that of dozens of others who participated in her study. She uses the word “solitaire” to describe the deaf and hearing-impaired individuals who benefited from a public education academically, but suffered socially. A suffering that goes on every single school day, from age 5 to 22.
“Hearing loss made me different from the other students during all of my k-12 years. This difference colored, overshadowed, permeated, and consumed every single school day of my life. It was always just “there” and it threatened to become a lifelong state of affairs… That was life as I knew it, and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. I looked like everyone else but felt like I was surrounded by an invisible glass wall that made all voices sound garbled.” p 22
She describes it as “being trapped in a world where I could not be myself” (p 23), an identical phrase to the one I’ve used many times.
She writes of an experience that I know all too well, and this pain never lessens, no matter how often it happens:
“At the actual slumber party, the five or six girls, whom I invited and really wanted to be friends with, stayed up all night talking while I laid in the dark, hearing their voices but not understanding one word they said.” p 55
Multiply this experience thousands of times over, in many different situations and environments, and that is a solitaire’s life. No self-esteem can survive this unscathed, that is for certain.
“As I grow older, I am continuously struck by just how much I missed as a result of my hearing loss during my K-12 and college years and the ongoing impact this has had on my life. I don’t feel the loss on a daily basis, but it comes back to haunt me in ways I little expect.” 74
On appearing normal:
“[Others] might think, “Oh, she is participating just fine,” but the experience will be limited to just that, participation in the actual activity. The child will not be privy to the conversations that exist in and around the activity, and [others] will be unaware of the extent of this isolation.” 92
One solitaire writes on participating in sports:
“It was great to be involved, but with this involvement came a lot of stress. I always had a hard time hearing the coach yell the plays, hard time hearing teammates on the field, missed out on team gossip in between drills, would miss many of the team jokes and always dreaded the team bus rides to meets because I could never follow all the chatter with all the noise on the bus. (I would sit very quiet and feel invisible!)” p 92-93.
“Feeling invisible” - another term I’ve used many, many times.
I can’t tell you how torturous those school bus rides were. All the kids talk and laugh and flirt and you sit like a stone, watching out the window and waiting for the ride to be over. Can you imagine helplessly sitting in a state of continual, inexplicably enforced isolation while simultaneously longing with all your being that it was different, knowing that it should be different- for years on end?
Another solitaire writes of coming across very similarly as I do:
“My hearing wasn’t that bad. I was able to wear these annoying hearing aids; but still, they’re good to use. My voice is perfect, and I can speak “fluent” English and you cannot notice if I am deaf or not. So, that caused [others] to think that I was okay when I was not okay. Big mistake.” 97
“When I was growing up… I wished I could participate fully in a wider variety of social activities with these friends as well as with more acquaintances. Instead, my satisfying interactions with friends were limited to one-on-one conversations… I wanted more casual friends but basically I had none. If a fellow student didn’t know me really well from lots of one-on-one conversations, he or she didn’t know me at all.” p 101.
I hate being unknown and feeling helpless to do anything about it. It is the worst feeling. When I shared my predictament with others, it was all to easy for them to encourage me to “just” initiate, reach out to people, become more involved, speak up, disclose, and “stop being a whiny victim”. After all, I certainly looked and behaved normally enough- people would like and include me if they just knew me. But it was getting to the part where I was known that seemed nearly impossible to me. This something that most others took easily for granted was something that eluded me.
These people were never hearing impaired and were not surrounded by the glass walls but I believed these messages, believed that there was something more I should have done to make it any different and overcome the barrier. The book helps me see that there was nothing that really could have been done- everyone with a similar hearing loss had a similar experience- not just me. I wasn’t too quiet, too shy, too aloof, too odd and feeling too sorry for myself. I was just deaf (for all practical purposes). It was really that simple.
“Today, it is possible for me to see that a number of threads in my current life are directly connected to my beginnings as a solitaire. I think that the social deprivation I experienced during those years shaped my entire professional career.” p 102
The same will probably be true for me.
I wrote Gina an email at Gallaudet University. I don’t know if she received it or if she will respond, but it was nice to write it.
Well, after reading The Tao of Equus by Linda Kohanov, I’m never going to look at horses in the same way again. I happened to read the inside cover of this book while I was at PetSmart and since then I kept thinking of it and finally I ordered it online. While reading it, I was amazed at how it chronicled, in a different way, the essence of my grad school paper. The book is about one way of finding authenticity and how to live it. Authenticity requires fully experiencing and accepting the range of one’s thoughts and feelings and integrating modes of awareness.
The author argues that horses can be very sensitive barometer of authenticity and can work therapeutically to help riders get in touch with suppressed thoughts and feelings, as well as working through trauma. We can easily fool ourselves and others with our presentation or “mask”, but not a sensitive prey animal such as a horse.
She introduced concepts that I have been mulling on since, such as pre- and postconquest consciousness (a description of the concept can be found here) and nonlocal mind (one explanation here). I feel that the current environment of our culture, with its emphasis on appearance, science-as-god and logic, is incredibly detrimental, not only to the planet but to our own spirit. We are brutally confined and arrested in our development as human beings and suffering for it. The next step- authenticity- or integration of pre and postconquest consciousness- is so important. Feeling/intuition meets logic/reason, instead of one overruling the other.
I cannot say why I believe this so strongly, particularly when I feel so far from authenticity that I don’t know where or how to begin. Nothing inspires me more than reading about remarkable journeys of discovering new levels of awareness and ways of being as one develops psychologically and spiritually. Something about it rings so true and clearly that I wonder if what I was meant to do with my life has something to do with this. But again, how to begin, or how to ever someday make a living at it?
Today is like being dragged through thick, cloying mud by an elephant taking slow measured steps. Today is draggin’ hard.
I finished I and Thou last week. I’ve never had a book hit me so hard. Buber has taken everything I’ve dimly sensed all my life and he made it real. I and Thou is a book I will be reading again and again- it was in big part what I was trying to say in my paper. The reason I understand his book as well as I do is because of the months of thinking and researching and writing that went into my paper. And of course, every sentence he wrote is rife with new learning and understanding each time it is read.
His writings not only have fundamental truths about relating and presence, but it also brings to new life crucial messages that, for me, organized religion has ritualized and killed. Not only was his use of language and concepts so eye opening, but he also used three images in particular, the same ones that I have been grappling with the last several months. When I read those particular lines, I simply couldn’t believe it.
I wrote this so that I don’t forget.