Have you ever been in the middle of a particularly major life transition and wondered if you were doing the right thing? Or, perhaps you were quite certain that you were headed in the right direction; you, however, weren’t sure that some of the lesser but still impactful decisions you had to make were correctly decided.
That’s descriptive of me right now. I’m in the middle of a huge life transition–I’m planning a move to the West Coast next summer. Were it just me it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I’ve got my daughters’ quality of life to consider. We are all in the mix. I’ve got to sell my house, put the finishing touches on moving to a different post-graduate program, find housing in the Bay Area (yeah, that’ll keep you up at night), minimize all my possessions, and…and…and…
It’s a colossal effort, and yet I know it will come together. But…
There are those moments of quiet when I take in the magnitude of it all, and I ask, “Am I doing the right thing for everyone?” It’s not often, but it’s not an unimportant question. When there are children depending upon us to care for them and build a foundation under them, we need to ask such a question. As a Jew, I pose that question to God as I and my ancestors have come to understand him both personally and corporately. And, I sincerely expect an answer although answers don’t always come on my preferred timeline.
The late Brennan Manning once told a story of a Jewish Bubbe out with her grandson at the shore. She was delighting in watching him play with his new shovel and bucket until a large wave unexpectedly washed ashore and swept his toys out to sea soaking her young grandchild in salty water. Running to her grandson as he sat crying on the sand, Bubbe called out, “Bring back my grandson’s shovel and bucket! It makes him so happy to play with them, and, if it makes him happy, then I am happy!” A few moments passed, and suddenly a wave spit out her grandson’s bucket and shovel right at their feet. Smiling and clapping, her grandson resumed playing as if nothing had ever happened. Bubbe, however, frowned and said, “He had a hat!”
Some would say that Bubbe is ungrateful. Look at the miraculous quality of what just happened! The sea returned the shovel and bucket! So what that his hat wasn’t returned to him. I say that Bubbe is expectant, and this boldness and sense of anticipation in believing God, as she understands him, is what informs how she interacts with him.
So, what does this have to do with my moving out West? Well, I think that regardless of one’s understanding of who God might be–even in terms of agnosticism, interacting with God (or if you want to call the Divine “the Universe”) can be a highly rewarding and reassuring process. It can remove a sense of ontological loneliness that plagues so many of us and guide us through incredibly difficult circumstances. In my case, on the day I decided that we were going to move West, I asked for a reassurance that it was the right decision–something I rarely do, but it was such a big, life-altering decision. I wanted the strongest sense that it was right. So, I drove my car along a stretch of highway pondering what a “good reassurance” might be. Something that I could look back on when circumstances got rough and remind myself, “Oh, you’re on the right track. Remember? You saw that sign.”
Suddenly, I had it! I love bald eagles, and we have a few of them in my neck of the woods. I decided that I wanted to see a bald eagle in a tree right by the road as I was driving–something I never see. It didn’t have to be that day. Just…soon. I’ll confess that I felt silly. Asking for a sign. P’shaw! as my grandfather would say. As soon as I asked God to give me a sign, I almost took it back. I don’t do things like that. But then, in the middle of my embarrassed rumination, I saw it. I slowed down my car to take it in. A beautiful bald eagle perched majestically on a branch overhanging the highway’s shoulder at 7 AM. I was shocked. “Did that just happen?” I thought. It did indeed.
My mind has returned to that moment during times of high stress and anxiety, and it has caused to me to wonder what signs really are. What is a sign?
When we drive, we see signs all the time, or at least we should see them if we are paying attention. We’ve probably all encountered people who don’t pay attention to the road signs. Those are the people driving the opposite direction on a one-way street or doing a U-ey when they should not. How about those folks who run stop signs for lack of paying attention, thusly, causing an accident? Signs serve a very good purpose. They let you know where you are, what you should do, how fast you should drive, where to go, and where not to go. The most important thing to note about signs is that one has to see them in order for them to be effective.
Well, if Tom Cochrane’s song is correct and life is a highway, then it stands to reason that we need signs, too. We need to know when we are on the right road. We need to know where the next rest area is. We need to know where we should not turn and where we should. What does a Do Not Enter sign look like in terms of our own lives? What does a Be Alert For Bears sign or an Avalanche Warning sign look like metaphorically speaking? More important, what does a Dead End sign look like? How do you know when you can’t go any further?
For me, this is why I asked for a sign. I needed to know that the road I had just turned onto was the right one since the journey was going to be so long and, frankly, fraught with hurdles.
So, how does one recognize a sign?
But risk we must if we’re to live a full life (like our cat). People who take risks are happier because they live their lives more fully, without fear at the helm of their ship charting the course (which means they venture out to open seas). They not only jump out of airplanes and off mountaintops – as my son is itching to do – but they dive into the murky waters of the greatest emotional risk of all: relationships of all kinds. They risk their hearts (which do not heal as easily as a broken bone). And they do so from a platform of self-trust, which is the launching pad for all of life’s decisions, big and small.” (Risk Aversion and Anxiety)
I am seldom on Facebook, but, as I was up bright and early this morning, I indulged my urge and took a peek. This is what I found:
My knee-jerk reaction was, “What the fu…” Was I more shocked by the original “prayer” or with my Facebook friend’s additional commentary? And, why did these words strike a nerve in me?
I must turn back the clock to 2014, when I wrote my most highly viewed blog post “Affective Deprivation Disorder and Alexithymia in Marriage”. In that post, I described the emotional experiences of my former marriage:
“If I could remove all emotional desire from myself, then I would be able to do this (stay married). I actually asked God to make me like Spock. That has to be one of the weirder prayers to ascend. Like some warped psalm:
“Oh God, make me like Spock. Purge me of emotion. Oh my soul, shut the hell up so that only my brain will speak and my heart will sleep a thousand years.”
Oddly these two entreaties, if you will, have a similar tone. I longed to be purged while Byron Katie desires to be absolved as elucidated by the use of the word “spare” which means “to be released, acquitted, exculpated, or pardoned”. The end result would be the same–a kind of subjective idealism that could take a person all the way to solipsism. What does that mean? Allow me to explain.
Firstly, it should be stated that nothing that Byron Katie teaches is new or ground-breaking. She is combining the Narrative Approach in psychology with certain Buddhist principles to craft a teaching that has been used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), EMDR, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for years. Her Four Questions are well-stated. She has made solid therapeutic guidance highly accessible to many people. With Oprah’s stamp of approval, people who have perhaps disregarded therapy as ineffective or stigmatizing will now have a chance to experience what solid therapy is all about. That being said, her Four Questions are straight out of CBT and Narrative Psychology.
So, what of this philosophy of subjective idealism? Simply stating it, subjective idealism states that your reality and how you perceive it is contingent upon how you experience it; Reality is contingent upon The Knower–to be is to be perceived. The extreme form of subjective idealism is solipsism which states that “I alone exist”. British Idealist F.H. Bradley explained solipsism as such:
Bradley’s explanation almost defines 21st century human interaction. You stay in your experiential bubble. I’ll stay in mine. Nothing beyond my experience exists. Nothing beyond your experience–if that is valid–exists or is germane to mine. We are but ships passing in the ether in anonymous, quick interactions either on social media, in consumeristic interactions online or at retail outlets be they malls, indy stores, or cafés big and small. Disconnection.
This brings me to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
Directly above our two most basic needs in terms of our humanity–Physiological and Safety–lies Love and Belonging. Putting it as simply as possible, one of the reasons why people require therapeutic interventions and outside help for prolonged periods of their lives is because they have to figure out how to acquire and develop Esteem and Self-Actualization without Love and Belonging. Or worse, if a person experienced hardships and traumas in which their Physiological and Safety needs were threatened or unmet, then certainly their needs for Love and Belonging would go unmet as well. In that case then, how would one go about developing Esteem and Self-Actualization in a coherent way? How do we build bridges over deficiencies in order to continue maturing until we can increase our capacities for those needs to be met? Is it possible for everyone?
What Katie and my friend are suggesting is that we simply obliterate the need and desire. We resort to emotional subjective idealism–particularly my friend. If God is meeting my desire for love, approval, and appreciation, then I no longer need it from humans. Well, that contradicts the teaching of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament, and I only say this because my friend is a Christian. So much of the New Testament and the Gospel are concerned with relationships and community and how people are to treat one another. Why then post something that essentially advocates extricating oneself from reciprocal relational experiences and responsibilities, thusly, retreating into a self-created pseudo-solipsistic model?
This I know all about. To counteract pain and grief.
Human beings are social creatures. We are mammals after all. There is a scene in the film “The Horse Whisperer” in which Robert Redford’s character, Tom, stands in a field for hours near a traumatized stallion, Pilgrim. Pilgrim, appearing fatigued from standing in the same spot for such a long stretch, finally approaches Tom reluctantly. Tom gently leads him back to the stables. When asked why the skittish horse allowed Tom to touch him, he answered that horses were social creatures and would eventually have a need to join their herd; or, a herd of some kind.
Humans are no different, but we have very clever ways to convince ourselves otherwise. We build bridges inside ourselves over the empty and dark crevasses of unmet needs that have morphed into unnamed pain and call it Stoicism, Enlightenment, or Individualism. We will say that we are absolving ourselves of our needs or desires for love, approval, and appreciation, and it sure does sound like something…worthy. In my mind, however, it is a form of bargaining in order to avoid grieving that which has been lost or never experienced, and I say this because I used to believe these things, too.
The problem herein is that absolving yourself of your desires to be loved, approved of, and appreciated also pardons you from giving these things, and this is, in a more profound sense, what is causing people to pray for this sort of absolution to begin with. The world we have today is in no way more evil, chaotic, corrupt, or violent than it was 100 years ago–or 1,000 years ago. History seems to always repeat itself, and humans still struggle to learn from the past. What the world continues to lack is goodness in the forms of love, approval, appreciation, generosity, courtesy, and neighborly concern.
What might our cultures look like if more people were appreciated, loved, and approved of? How would you feel day-to-day if you felt truly appreciated by your friends, children, co-workers, and partner? If you felt approved of–truly liked–by the people in your life? Well-developed and self-actualized people do not require other people’s permission to make their life choices or hard decisions, but it is much easier to achieve self-actualization if you have a foundation of Love and Belonging beneath you rather than a foundation of grief for never having had it.
The healthy and ultimately most healing “prayer” that I think one could offer up instead of the aforementioned is:
God, help me grieve the times and experiences in my life wherein I did not receive the love, approval, and appreciation that were meant to develop me for Esteem and Self-Actualization. Introduce me to healthy people who know how to love, approve of, and appreciate me and others properly so that I may become a fully-developed, healthy person who can not only fully internalize and experience the spectrum of loving experiences but also go on to love, approve of, and appreciate others in order to become an agent of Goodness in the world. Amen.
I have made a point to keep my blog free of all political discussion purposefully because I don’t run a political blog. 21st c. political discourse tends to be characterized by fear mongering, polarizing and pedantic language, a lack of civility, ad hominem attacks and other logical fallacies, and a ferocious but presently normalized invective that was not culturally familiar or acceptable twenty or even ten years ago. I am most likely the millionth person to observe that something has shifted in the last five years in the United States in terms of what Americans accept as ‘normal’ behavior from our local, state, and national leaders. Where we were once scandalized by a sitting president engaging in oral sex with an intern in the Oval Office, we now condone (in the form of electing him to office) a father’s brazen admissions of sexual attraction towards his daughter as well as permit a known sexual harasser and batterer to occupy the highest office of power in our country. This is where the culture wars, political partisanship, ideology substituting itself for good politics, and excessive corporate campaign contributions led us.
They led us to the great disaster of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday, September 28. The nation was on pins and needles because this was not just another hearing. Something about this hearing felt nauseatingly familiar to many men and women tuned into C-Span, and I’m not talking about politics. Something else was afoot.
Judge Kavanaugh was nominated by Mr. Trump in July 2018 to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. While I’m very interested in the political reasons for Mr. Trump’s choice not the least of which is Kavanaugh’s view that a sitting president cannot be indicted, I am far more inclined to examine Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) outburst during the hearing in which he explodes in anger towards the Democrats questioning Kavanaugh:
“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020.”
The Republican from South Carolina then turned his attention back to Kavanaugh and asked: “Are you a gang rapist?” Kavanaugh replied: “No.”The Republican senator also asked Kavanaugh, “Would you say you’ve been through hell?” Kavanaugh responded, “I’ve been through hell and then some.”Graham expressed sympathy for the Supreme Court nominee and his family, saying, “I cannot imagine what you and your family have gone through.” He added, “I hope the American people can see through this sham…”Earlier in the day, Graham compared the judge’s treatment to Ford’s experience, the woman who came forward to accuse him of sexual assault.“I’m not going to reward people for playing a political game, I think, with her life,” Graham said. “She is just as much a victim of this as I think Brett Kavanaugh (is). Because somebody betrayed her trust, and we know who she gave the letter to.” (CNN)
Certainly, this outburst has a political context, but there is a wide stream of that something else flowing through this dialogue; and it should not to be missed. I want to break it down, but before I do I want to note that Sen. Graham spoke with Chris Wallace on “FOX News Sunday” prior to the hearing. Here’s what he said:
“What am I supposed to do, go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation? I’m just being honest. Unless there’s something more, no, I’m not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this. But she should come forward. She should have her say. She will be respectfully treated…I will listen, but I’m not going to play a game here and tell you this will wipe out his entire life,” Graham noted. “‘Cause if nothing changes, it won’t with me.” (CNN)
There it is again–that idea that Kavanaugh’s life will be ruined somehow were Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations found to be credible, and Graham is…what? The harbinger of Kavanaugh’s downfall should he hold him to account with rigorous questioning or further investigation? As CNN’s Editor-at-Large says, “If the very people who hold in their hands — and votes — the power to make or break Kavanaugh’s nomination are admitting publicly that almost nothing Ford says will change their mind(s), isn’t that the sort of rank partisanship that has gotten us into this morass in the first place?” Logically speaking, if Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a young woman in high school, then isn’t he the cause of his own ruin? Of course, a young man can hardly conceive that one day he might be a Supreme Court Justice nominee, but that is neither here nor there. Young men shouldn’t be drunkenly sexually assaulting young women and expecting to win a gold medal in ‘Character and Ethics’ a few decades later when past bad acts come to light. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s job is to sniff this sort of thing out and make certain that Supreme Court Justice nominees are fit for the role: beyond reproach. Sen. Graham and the entire committee lost sight of that role in the midst of their pursuit of power:
“A judge must be a person with strong character. A judge who has strong character has the ability to apply broad, general law to a narrow, specific set of facts without abusing the court’s authority, letting his or her personal views get in the way, or overlooking important facts and law…a judge should be a visionary. The judiciary is responsible for making sure our laws serve justice and uphold the Constitution. When our laws fail to do so, a judge should search for a way, within the confines of the law, to right a wrong and see that justice is done, even in the face of a disapproving majority. Finally, a judge should be a patriotic American. By this, I mean that a judge must be concerned for the country and the people the law serves more than his or her personal agenda or self-interest. Justices must have intellectual integrity. Supreme Court justices ordinarily are accountable only to their own consciences. Justices must be able to build consensus. The court’s opinions only have force when a majority agrees; fractured decisions leave people struggling to understand what the law means.” (What Makes a Great Supreme Court Justice?)
Alas, Sen. Graham indicates that holding Kavanaugh to account is akin to ruining his life, but this is not something that jibes with Graham’s past actions or his ambitions.
“Graham, who was first elected to Congress in 1994, came to national attention in 1998. He was a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. Graham then served as a “manager” of Clinton’s Senate impeachment trial.
The irony of his demonstration is that Graham, who wants to chair the Judiciary Committee someday, sought to use a sex scandal to take out a president at that time. Now, two decades later, Graham is defending a Republican Supreme Court nominee from accusations of sexual misconduct.” (Politico)
Moving on, the first question that Graham asks of Kavanaugh is whether he is a gang rapist. That would be a legitimate question if Judge Kavanaugh were accused of gang rape, but Dr. Blasey Ford never alleged that Brett Kavanaugh gang raped her. She never declared, “Brett Kavanaugh is a gang rapist.” So, why ask such an absurd question? Well, this question is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad absurdum in which someone appeals to the extremes in an attempt to disprove something. Notice that Sen. Graham did not ask Kavanaugh whether he had engaged in forced sexual touching with Dr. Blasey Ford. That would have been a legitimate question. No, Graham comes up with some absurd caricature that offends the imagination, triggers victims of rape, and strikes skeptics as ridiculous: “Judge Kavanaugh as high school gang rapist?” P’shaw! No, he’s not a gang rapist! Well, if that’s not right, then the whole allegation must be false; and therein lies the deception and utter brilliance of argumentum ad absurdum. Brett Kavanaugh, however, can be innocent of gang rape and still be guilty of sexually assaulting Dr. Blasey Ford. It was, well, an absurd question.
Sen. Graham’s next question makes Brett Kavanaugh look pitiable, and it is a brilliant juxtaposition considering the public just watched a prosecutor take Christine Blasey Ford apart for four hours under high pressure questioning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Who looks like a victim now? The victim of sexual assault or the alleged perpetrator? It was a clever redirect.
Sen. Graham then goes on to offer sympathy for Kavanaugh’s “suffering” going so far as to call the hearing “a sham”. He then takes it further by comparing Kavanaugh’s present circumstances–being heavily scrutinized, questioned, and potentially investigated–to Dr. Blasey’s high school sexual assault at Kavanaugh’s own hands. Yet this is the purpose of a hearing! A Supreme Court Justice nominee is supposed to be heavily scrutinized and questioned. If I, as a citizen, am supposed to abide by the laws this man interprets, then I want to know that he isn’t guilty of breaking any himself particularly in the realm of sexual violence.
So, what is all this then? What is the “something else” that we are witnessing aside from obvious partisan politics and sniping? This is gaslighting. Perceptual manipulation and minimizing in the public forum.
Why is it gaslighting? This is where I have to speak politically for a moment. This hearing was indeed a sham largely because the GOP is trying very hard to confirm Kavanaugh before the midterm elections. I understand their zeal and impatience. They have an agenda, and they want to see it through. This hearing was a formality for the conservatives. Sen. Graham’s irate posturing and belligerent bloviating accusing the DFL of a sham was manipulative. The entire hearing was a sham from the beginning. The GOP did not seem interested in the true quality of the contents of Judge Kavanaugh’s character or past actions that might reveal his deeper nature. If they were, then Sen. Graham would have been open-minded and quietly considered every word Dr. Blasey Ford spoke last Thursday during her four hours before him and his colleagues. The Senate Judiciary Committee would have called for an FBI Investigation right away and postponed all proceedings. Some things just matter more than a political agenda.
Had this been the DFL pushing through a favored nominee with little opposition due to lack of votes, then it would have likely played the same way. Their hearing would have been a formality, too. Each party has its own idea of who should occupy this most coveted seat on The Bench. That being said, what is more important? The next two to six years of the GOP political agenda, or the next forty to fifty years of judiciary competence, ethics, and rigor? I know that POTUS has openly boasted about: grabbing women by the p*ssy (2015 “Access Hollywood” Interview), treating women like sh*t (New York Magazine), calling women who breastfeed disgusting, and going so far as to find 12 year-old girls attractive among so many other offensive and misogynistic misdeeds (Telegraph), but Mr. Trump’s anomalous, abnormal, and likely personality-driven behavior should never be normalized because it is not, in fact, normal or something to be modeled. In fact, America’s elected officials should raise the bar–or, sadly, return the bar to its previous height–and demand excellence from each other in conduct, behavior, speech, personal and professional ethics, and character regardless of their party affiliation.
The issue at hand should not be: “There wasn’t a problem with Kavanaugh until you pointed it out; therefore, you must be the problem, ____________.” (insert Dr. Blasey Ford, another accuser, or DFL) . In my mind, the most pressing issue is the possibility that a Supreme Court Justice nominee may very well have sexually assaulted at least one woman, and the majority of the GOP does not seem to care about that. This reeks of cronyism, elitism, and that old institution that must crumble: The Boys’ Club (well, you know, generally for privileged white boys and men).
For many people, this “something else” feels so familiar because it is familiar. For survivors of sexual violence, we’ve seen our perpetrators defended while being blamed ourselves because we “looked” like we wanted it. Our perpetrator didn’t understand; we should feel sorry for him/her. S/he sure is going through hell now being held accountable. Besides, they have such a bright future. Why make a big deal out of a misunderstanding? (That’s minimizing or trivializing, and that’s a form of gaslighting)
Perhaps we were told that we didn’t remember it like it happened (This is called countering, and this is a form of gaslighting). The following ever-popular accusation is often made and was made by Trump himself: “If it really happened, then why didn’t you come forward?” You need only look at the four-hour ordeal Dr. Blasey Ford has been subjected to not to mention everything else she is currently enduring to understand why men and women don’t come forward after sexual violence. I was raped when I was 22 years-old on a date, and I never told anyone. My refusal to disclose doesn’t mean a rape never happened. It only means that I didn’t talk about it. Period.
Gaslighting is pervasive, and one can encounter it in myriad environments both professional and personal–and political it seems. Be savvy. Pay attention. When you begin to feel crazy, like you’re the only sane one around, start really listening to what is being said to you or around you. Educate yourself on perceptual manipulation aka gaslighting. Learn about logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are commonly used in political arguments and rhetoric. The culture of our political system can change. It changes when we vote and get involved.
So, get out and vote in the people who line up with your values and ethics, and vote out the people who do not. Also, pay attention to how your current political favorites behave when they are politicking. Do they rely on gaslighting and logical fallacies to push their points and agendas? Do they often align themselves with those who do? Carefully consider that. It matters. A lot.
I used to write a lot about trauma and the nature of it largely because I was in the middle of dealing with it. For me, I would try to get outside of my own traumas and inspect them as if I were looking at a car I might buy.
That works for a while–the distancing. It restores to you a sense of control, and for people who have been traumatized feeling in control is meaningful. It brings a sense of empowerment, and that makes a huge difference when you’re doing “trauma work”. But, what about those things called “triggers”? What happens then? Honestly, it feels a bit like this:
Eventually, however, we have to take a meaningful look at what traumatized us. That is what many of my trauma-related posts are about–trying to live a meaningful life while also stuck in the “glass box of emotion”.
But, what about life after the trauma work? What do I mean by that? Well, I can tell you what I did during the trauma work. I shut my life down because I had no energy to power it. Metaphorically, I had a small generator, and that only kept necessary systems online. I withdrew from almost everything that involved socializing because I did not have the emotional energy to interface with other people. I was too sensitive at that time to deal with the normal flaws and foibles that characterize the human race. I could barely reach out to my friends. I was just trying to stay afloat. We are talking about surviving here. Getting out of a serious domestic abuse situation is not easy. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I lost friends in the process. There are people who will not understand, not believe you, or who who will shame you for taking the actions you did. It all contributes to a very rocky healing process and extenuates the grieving. Alas, after the initial shock, the therapy, the fallow period in which you feel utterly broken, and the slow ascent out of the pit of despair and pain, you can and do emerge. You will be “remodeled”. You aren’t the same, but you are still you. So, what now? Three years after my ex-husband moved out, what have I learned?
At this point on the road, this is where I’m at. I’m sure in a year I’ll be somewhere else, but it is reassuring to know that we don’t have to stay where we are now. We can get up and move. As always, I wish you all great peace and…
I just started reading Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki.
Maria Kondo struck a nerve in America with her runaway hit The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I, however, need to do more than just tidy up. I need to purge. Do you know what I mean?
I’ve lived in my house for 19 years. That’s a long time to live in a singular space, and, while I make it a point to donate gently used items quarterly (or we would have nowhere to hang our hats), it’s nowhere near enough. I have four daughters. Children seem to amass large quantities of things. People give them things. They collect things. They want to keep them forever. I understand that. I feel sentimental about certain things. Children, however, seem to feel sentimental about almost everything–even that used napkin from last Tuesday when their friend came over and used it to wipe dirt off the floor. It’s actually a testament to their wonder, I think, and capacity to be 100% present.
And if you have a basement?! God have mercy on you.
Another round of donating is not what I’m about to embark on. In ten months, I am moving house. Three years ago, I announced on this blog that my marriage was ending after years of back-and-forthing and writing about domestic violence and emotional abuse and, “Is it really that bad?” A year-and-half ago, I went back to graduate school, and next summer three of my daughters and I are headed West–to the Bay Area. To live in a very small space no doubt. It’s the beginning of another new adventure.
So, I have to examine every single thing I own and decide: Do I need this or not? And, I wasn’t sure how to go about doing that. That’s why I picked up Sasaki’s book. I figured, hey, there must be some good advice in here. At a minimum, maybe I’ll feel inspired or mentored. Sasaki, thusly, defines minimalism as:
“Minimalism is a lifestyle in which you reduce your possessions to the absolute minimum you need. Living as a minimalist with the bare essentials has not only provided superficial benefits like the pleasure of a tidy room or the simple ease of cleaning, it has also led to a more fundamental shift. It’s given me a chance to think about what it really means to be happy.” (pp. 20-25).
Here is an example of a minimalist bedroom:
A minimalist kitchen:
A minimalist bathroom:
A minimalist living room:
I have noticed that all of these images are super posh, and, in my opinion, this should be more accessible. What does a middle-of-the-road minimalistic apartment or house look like? You know, where ordinary people reside. Of note, this is not a movement aimed at people living in poverty. First-world countries are heavily affected by consumerism and capitalistic expenditures, and the USA tops that list with China and Japan featuring second and third. Americans are awash in stuff:
The USA features the highest levels of per household disposable income and expenditure. High income levels boost the capacity for discretionary spending of US households, although the country’s income gap remains large and continues to rise. (Euromonitor International)
I wonder what sort of impact those of us with too much stuff would have on our communities if we donated the items we truly don’t need and seldom if ever used and stopped using our income to acquire more goods, thusly, changing how we “consume”? Furthermore, what sort of impact would this have on our time–an invaluable resource? I imagine that owning less means having more time, too, because we have to dedicate time to caring for our stuff. How might we spend our resources if we moved in a minimalistic direction with intention? Over the next 10 months, I intend to find this out. I can tell you right now what my two biggest problems are going to be–whittling down the book collection, my kitchen implements because I am a cook, and tea accoutrements. I have an unusually large number of really beautiful teacups most of which were gifted to me, and I can’t take them all with me.
Perhaps I ought to do a giveaway! One teacup a week…
Anyone like teacups? English teacups? And then there are the Yixing teapots…
God have mercy indeed (I’m actually sort of excited to see how this experiment turns out).
I receive many emails asking how to fix a loved one. It might be a mother with a personality disorder or a partner or family member with alexithymia. In both cases, I have been that self-same person on the search for solutions. I have asked the same questions: What can I do to fix this? Is it me? Can I fix myself so that they will love me? Can I fix them by giving them books to read or directing them to resources? Maybe they had bad modeling as children and just need to be loved better, and I’m the one to do it!
I have loved someone with a disordered personality that kept them out of reach, distant from me, isolating me on a loveless and lonely island. For years, I dove into the treacherous sea of uncertainty and swam to distant coastlines in an attempt to rescue my own mother from her mental illness. I came bearing recommendations and suggestions that I swore would help her. I only roused her inner demons and exacerbated her illness causing her to throw me back into the black waters which promptly washed me back onto the rocky shores of my tiny island.
I loved another person who seemed to thrive on isolation and personal inertia. From the moment we returned from the weekend in a hotel we called our honeymoon, he holed up in a room and rarely ventured forth into the outside world. He preferred fantasy over reality. He disdained my presence and cultivated an impoverished sense of love and relationships while also developing a deluded and grandiose sense of self. It did not matter how hard I tried to enter into his personal poverty or what riches I offered him. He rejected everything. He preferred his own distorted interpretation of the world. He chose himself even over his children. Whether he lacked the capacity or the will, it did not matter for he simply did not act. He remained as he ever was.
What then? The heart wants what it wants and loves whom it loves, but then what? When the truth becomes apparent, and when will it become apparent? When you ask for it. When you want it. And, what is this truth? It is not your job to change people. It is not your job to fix people.
It is your job to change and heal yourself.
It is our job to develop our personalities and our character so that we are continually becoming the kind of people with whom we would like to partner either platonically or romantically. This is no small task. It is so much easier and, honestly, far more fun to look at other people and pick them apart. It’s vastly entertaining to scrutinize and judge our acquaintances and even our partners. That smug feeling we experience when we climb onto our high horses is like taking a hit of heroine. It’s addictive. Why? Here is an interesting take on judgment:
“At some point in our life, usually in childhood, some external event causes us to separate from that true nature. That separation from love creates in us feelings of specialness or inadequacy, leading to loneliness and as a result, fear. So we project it outward in the form of judgment.
We know we are loving, interconnected beings, but in our separation we live in a dream state, shutting off our connection to our loving truth. This separation establishes the ego’s perception of a false self based on judgment. We grow to believe deeply in the false perception of ourselves in order to feel safe in the world of separation.
Deep down, and without realizing it, we judge ourselves for separating from our truth, leading us to feel ashamed and guilty. That unconscious guilt is so painful that we have no choice but project it outward in an effort to end our suffering. By projecting judgment onto others, we deny and repress our feelings of guilt. Subconsciously, this makes us feel even more guilty because we know this judgment is not who we really are. The guilt we feel from judging others is then projected right back onto ourselves, and the vicious cycle beings again. This the judgment cycle.
I cannot overstate this: Judgement is the number one reason we feel blocked, sad and alone. Our popular culture and media place enormous value on social status, looks, racial and religious separation, and material wealth. We are made to feel less than, separate, and not good enough, so we use judgment to insulate ourselves from the pain of feeling inadequate, insecure, or unworthy. It’s easier to make fun of, write off, or judge someone for a perceived weakness of theirs than it is to examine our own sense of lack.
Judgment is an addictive pattern.
Judgement is an addiction response to deep-rooted trauma. The first trauma is the separation from love. From a spiritual perspective, choosing fear and separation over love dissociates us from our truth. We become fragmented in this state of separation and lose our connection to our inner being. In this disconnected state, we inadvertently turn our back on our inner being and become obsessed with an outward projection of who we think we are. Feelings of guilt and sadness wash over us, because deep down, we know we’ve turned our back on love. But we can’t fully understand our guilt, so we do whatever we can to avoid feeling it. This is how the cycle of judgment becomes and addictive pattern.
When we avoid our guilt and suffering by projecting it onto others, it’s a way of numbing out. Like any good drug, judgment will anesthetize our pain and redirect our focus. It can even get us high. Gossip is a great example. Whenever you get together with friends to talk about another person in a judgmental way, you’re avoiding your own core wounds. You’re using judgment as a drug to numb your own pain and get high on someone else’s. Gossip is especially nasty because it gives us the illusion that we’re bonding with others, when instead we’re just banding together to heap all our pain onto another person.
Gossiping can give us a buzz because it provides temporary relief from self-judgment and attack. We repeat a self-judgmental story on a loop all day long: I’m not good enough. Why did I make that mistake? I’m ugly. I’m not smart enough. And so on. All these self-inflicted behaviors are just another form of addiction. We unconsciously choose to judge rather than feel the pain beneath our wounds.
But notice I said that our self-judgmental story is played on a loop. That’s because it leads nowhere! Getting on the path to healing requires us to feel the discomfort—but we’re way too scared to go there, so instead we gossip or judge ourselves as the victim feels safer than facing our wounds. This I show self-judgment becomes an addiction.
The addictive pattern is further fueled by our denial. We long to feel better but deny that judgement is the problem. In fact, we see judgment as the solution, as a way of protecting ourselves. Our unconscious belief system keeps us stuck in the judgment cycle because we’re terrified of facing our own pain and suffering. We use judgment to protect ourselves from exposing our deepest wounds.
The repetition of judgment is habit-forming. If you repeat a behavior over and over, you strengthen your neural pathways. In time that behavior becomes second nature. The more you repeat the pattern of judgment, the more you believe in it. You create your reality with the thoughts you repeat and the beliefs that you align with. When judgment is your belief system, you’ll always feel unsafe, under attack and defensive. If you’re going to change the habit of judgment you need to change your core belief system. Our aim is to find our way back home—to find our way back to love.” (From Judgment Detox by Gabrielle Bernstein)
Stopping any self-destructive cycle and engaging in a truly honest personal inventory with the intention of self-betterment is difficult but virtuous. Asking the question: What do I really want from a friend and partner and then committing to developing those very qualities in oneself is, in my experience, the path to actually ending destructive relationships and beginning healthy ones.
Why? Well, as you begin to grow into healthy behaviors and ways of relating to yourself and other people, you will organically grow out of unhealthy patterns of behavior. Self-destructive behaviors will ebb, and the people in your life who were attracted to those qualities in you will migrate away from you because you will naturally also move away from them. Simply put, your orbits will change. This kind of growth is a process, and processes take time. It is not something that happens immediately, but it does happen when you commit to your own process of improvement and growth. After a time, you will see that destructive people have left your life. You may also be forced to make difficult decisions like ending relationships that were always bad for you or have become so over a period of time, but this is part of growing up and into living life with intention.
When you live your life with intention, you discover that you cannot make another person meet your needs; you cannot force another person to stop hurting you. You can only move away from them and choose to live your life among different people who share your values. And, this is essentially what people are emailing me about: How can I make my loved one share my values? How can I make the person I love stop valuing neglect or gaslighting or exploitation or selfishness or their own personal inertia? How can I make them see that what I value is better? You can’t. If you don’t share the same values now, then you likely never will. Take the temporary hit, gather your momentum, and keep going. You will find other people in the world who do share your values and will love you, and you will love them, too. You really will.
I don’t say any of this flippantly or without compassion. I have done everything that I’m suggesting, and I know all too well just how hard it is. I also know what life looks like “on the other side”. It is worth it.