The Tedium is the Passage

Browsing through old drafts, I came across this unfinished post from 2016. I present it here as a prequel to my May post, Isms. More at the end…

Cover of the book "Work as a Spiritual Practice," by Lewis Richmond

I found this book in my neighbor’s little lawn library, but did not notice the subtitle until I got it home. Buddhists again. What is up with that? Everywhere I look there seem to be Buddhists, or Buddhist practices. Am I resisting some inner calling or something?

I ponder that question. I am not a huge fan of organized (or even disorganized) religions. With the best of intentions, religions try to institutionalize direct experience, at which point it is no longer direct. Thus, self-contradiction is built into their foundations from day one.

I see spirituality as primarily a private, internal experience. Certainly spiritual inspiration can come from many sources, but overall, looking outside to better know yourself seems to me like a step in the opposite direction from where you are trying to get. (Of course, that perspective may be colored by the fact that I’m an introvert).

I think it’s just that Buddhists and I are often interested in the same things. I have had enough experience with (non-denominational) meditation to believe regular practice thereof would probably be good for me, though regular anything is not my strong suit. I often engage, HSP-deeply, with issues of justice, compassion, and ethics, and with the transcendent beauty of the world.

My feeling about religion is similar to my feeling about “higher” education. It’s all gussied up and locked behind a paywall, but really, it’s just reading and thinking and talking, and you don’t need an institution for that. The bureaucratization of spirituality and education seem designed to remove our individual agency in both, and sequester experiences that are a human birthright. I frown on that. Fierce, furrowed frowns.

In the first chapter of Work as a Spiritual Practice, Lewis Richmond says, “Spiritual practice is more about questions than answers, more about searching than finding…” Aha! I am certainly rich in questions.

He continues “…more about effort than accomplishment.” That’s where Buddhism and I part company. I want some answers for all my efforts, thank you very much. But maybe if Buddhism was a verb instead of a noun I could better relate. I could be buddhisming rather than Buddhist.

I’ll let you know how the book turns out.


The reason I never did is that I abandoned it shortly afterward. Creating a working life in which I could be my authentic self had been my focus for several years, and I had already discovered for myself most of what the book had to tell me. I was well on my way to finding a solution that got me out of the hierarchy, manipulation and profit-before-people orientation of conventional workplaces, so that I could live my values all the time, not just in my off-work hours.

Cov Id

Once upon a time when I was very young, I concluded that everyone should live alone for at least a year, not too long after they leave the parental nest, so they can discover how they really want to live without the noise and influence of anyone else’s likes and dislikes. I think a lot of people – some of whom were already living alone, but spending most of their interactive time at work – have had a similar opportunity, thanks to COVID. And having finally heard themselves, that voice will not be easily stilled again.

It can be a terrifying thing, discovering that you are not who you thought you were. Or perhaps you know your life is mismatched to your identity, and can even imagine what a life expressing your true self would look like, but you can’t figure out how to get there from where you are. In that case, go back to the beginning of this blog, because that’s exactly what inspired it.

SPOILER ONE: There’s lots of wheel spinning and false starting in the early years. Keep trying. It’s a test of your readiness to commit to your own happiness, and the person you have to prove that to is you. Errors are essential to growth. If you aren’t making any, you aren’t learning anything.

SPOILER TWO: I do eventually make significant progress.

SPOILER THREE:  I’m still working on it.

Recent Passages

I listened to an episode of the Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown podcast featuring Wil Wheaton this week. Mayim, an HSP with ADD (as am I, probably) is always an experience. She gets so revved by her guests, and her brain races off towards associations in multiple directions from every point they make, which I can totally relate to. But this also leads to interrupted thoughts that never get fully expressed, which is frustrating for interviewee and audience alike.

Way before podcasts, I had a radio show (remember radio?). It was mostly music, but I tried doing a couple of interviews. I soon realized that I wanted to do most of the talking, which was unfair to my guests, and probably annoying to my 5 listeners. I’m good at intently listening interesting revelations out of people, but interviewers also have to be good at shutting up and taking the back seat, which I am not. Neither is Mayim, though she really tries.

Nevertheless, the long format (typically an hour and a half) of her podcasts and her high profile history allow her to attract interesting guests. I found a lot to relate to in Wil’s account of growing up with narcissists, and having to come to terms with not being loved by one’s own parents. I’m inclined to agree with him that in some ways, that inner small child grieving rejection by those who should love it most can never be fully healed, though I am open to the possibility that I may yet turn out to be wrong about that. But in the meantime, if I haven’t gotten over it, I’ve gotten used to it, as we do with life’s griefs.

sad child._croppedI also agreed with Wil’s assessment that the core feeling of an unloved child is sadness, not anger, and kudos to him for saying so, since it is still pretty taboo for men to say they’re sad. However, it’s crystal clear he’s also furious about it, and mostly out of touch with that. At one point he says he doesn’t feel angry at his parents at all, though he has been heating up and becoming audibly pissed off every time he mentions them for an hour by then.

But that’s OK. I understand the frightening hugeness of that rage all too well. It’s not only anger at the people who hurt us when we were vulnerable, when they were supposed to be the very ones who protected us from harm, it’s also anger at everyone who didn’t save us. It’s why I have an edge despite being an empathetic HSP, and perhaps I always will. I’m a little sad that I may never be as kind as I wish I was, but I accept it, and look for contexts in which an edge is a strength, or at least, can do no harm.

Mayim doesn’t seem to really believe Wil’s parents are as bad as he says, which is a resistance I have run into over and over again, particularly in women who identify strongly as mothers. I don’t quite get that. One bad mother doesn’t undermine the credibility of the whole bunch (but refusing to acknowledge her might).

It’s also a standard therapeutic response to challenge a client’s description of their parents as monsters. Stop that, therapists. NOW. There are monstrous parents, and you know it. And almost all of them gaslight their victims by ruthlessly undermining their trust in their own perceptions and belittling their pain. If a client’s parents weren’t really monsters, they will figure that out eventually on their own, but if they were, adding your voice to all the people who have ever dissed them in their lives when they came to you for help is unforgivable.

Wil Wheaton, I believe you.

I’ve been there too. I walked away from my mother decades ago, which was the right decision for me, though it ultimately cost me connections with most of the rest of my family, not because they were great fans of hers, but because if they acknowledged my pain, they would then have to deal with it.

I’ve come to see my mother in the context of her own life. She was raised by an alcoholic and one of the most withholding, controlling people I’ve ever met (which is saying something, ’cause I’ve met a few). Most of her behavior towards me was formed by her experiences long before my birth, and wasn’t really about me at all. She wasn’t capable of love, never having received it, nor of seeing me as a human being, as her parents never saw her as one. And as problematic as that is, it’s probably not her fault.

I can’t even blame her for having children she wasn’t equipped to nurture, and doing so for selfish reasons, much as I want to. Reproducing was the social imperative of her time. Nobody asked why someone was having children. They only asked why if they weren’t.

If this is forgiveness, I forgive her. But I don’t think it is. The damage she has done and the suffering she has caused can’t be undone. Loving myself, how can I forgive someone who has wounded me as deeply as deep can go?


Yet, my meta self sees that all experience is part of the chorus of the river. In the greater sense, it isn’t good or bad, it just is. In living my life, with all its up and downs and side ways, I am fulfilling my function in the whole.

Beyond

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas,
language,
even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.

Rumi

The Tyrannical Touchstone of Normalness

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been endeavoring “to learn to accept humans as we are.” After a brush with Buddhism reassured me that I am not the first person to grapple with pain, I turned to psychology, which has been more specifically helpful.

First, I discovered the overwhelming prevalence of “optimism bias” – predicting positive outcomes to an unrealistic degree. This helped me comprehend the unfathomable insistence by a large percentage of Americans that an epidemic which has killed more than 600,000 people was either fictional or insignificant.

To Err is Human

Since my last post, I have learned about a few other common psychological phenomena Continue reading

Isms

Just a quick post (am I really capable of such a thing? We shall see) to update followers on the issues I was wrastling with in February. I quit the Yale “Science of Well-Being” course after a few weeks, as it was targeted primarily towards those who had bought into competitive materialism all of their lives, which has never been me. Also it was a little too mechanistic in its attitude toward brain science. Research is good, but not everything can be measured. Identity, for example. But hey, go Elis. Really, go. You will probably be much happier away from Yale and its ilk.

Building on the theory that procrastination was a manifestation of crippling yet unconscious anxiety Continue reading

HappyStance

As I promised I would in my previous post, after I published it, I went and read what Elaine Aron had to say about the distinction between anxiety disorders and HSP overwhelm. The subject is actually an FAQ item on her website.

Fear Itself

The article is quite long, and its messages are rather mixed. I was appalled to find that Aron comes right out and says at one point that anxiety is “normal” for HSPs, therefore it is not a mental disorder in us. This seems like an extraordinarily bizarre and irresponsible statement for a mental health expert to make about 15-20% of the population. However, when you read the whole article, her message is more nuanced Continue reading

Is Overwhelm the Same as Anxiety?

The deck of playing cards attacks Alice in WonderlandI’ve been grappling with a challenge I variously refer to as procrastination, low motivation, or a need for an astronomical amount of down/processing time, for awhile now. Years, actually. As you can see by my list of labels, the crux of the problem is not solving it (problem-solving is one of my natural strengths), but defining its nature (possibly less of a strength). Longtime readers may recognize this state of bemused non-functionality from the inception of Sensitive Type.

Just to be clear, the tasks I’m having trouble with are self-initiated. Some are associated with work, and I will eventually have to be accountable for them, but there is no one looking over my shoulder from day to day. Others impact only me. Ironically, the space to “be where I am” that I built in to my life in response to my previous crisis reduced the stress of pressure from others, but by also reducing the motivating imperative of deadlines, new stress was born.

Finding the Right Frame

I have framed the issue in many different ways, trying to find one that fits. Continue reading

The Greatest Conjunction of All

World Introvert Day + Caturday

A cat lies on a woven straw mat on the grass. She has a book between her paws, and is staring meditatively off into space.

Thoughts About Overthinking

Blog posts and discussions about Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) frequently refer to “overthinking” as an inevitable characteristic of being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). This always raises my hackles. What’s “over” about our thinking, compared to anyone else’s? And why are we comparing ourselves to anyone else anyway? Unfavorably at that? Haven’t we all heard “oversensitive” enough times not to apply any more “over-” appellations to ourselves??

And if the embedded judgment wasn’t bad enough, the term is also imprecise. I have detected at least three different meanings associated with the word. In this post, I discuss these definitions of “overthinking,” and propose alternatives for two of them.

Continue reading

Believe Me

Cassandra was a Trojan princess and priestess, best remembered for being a prophet who was always right, but never believed. The rest of her story is less well-remembered. More on that later.

To Tell the Truth

Bronze casting of a pensive young woman in ancient dress with holes for eyesCassandra only wanted to use her gift to prevent unnecessary suffering and death. But she told people things they didn’t want to hear, so she was pronounced insane, and ignored. Her own family, who had surely noticed her prophecies always came true, nevertheless locked her away, and dissed her along with the rest. They soon had reason to regret that, but by then it was too late.

When they let her out for a feast, she warned her father, the King of Troy, that the centerpiece, a giant wooden horse sent as a gift by Troy’s longtime rivals, the Greeks, was full of invading soldiers. Annoyed that she was bringing their party down, the king and his courtiers jeered at and insulted her.

Desperate to prove the truth, Cassandra grabbed an axe to break it open and show them what they would not let her tell them, but they took it away and laughed at her some more.

I don’t have to imagine how frustrating this was. I know. Like many HSPs, I often perceive things that others don’t. I learned a long time ago that these truths are not always welcomed by people who have not yet seen them (or are working very hard not to). 

But wouldn’t you think immediate physical danger was a special case? It’s only natural that people would pay attention when it was a question of their own survival. Isn’t it? Continue reading

Rest

A slim hand moves jigsaw puzzle pieces laid out on a table.Having accomplished a self-directed life where I answer to no clock but my own, I struggle constantly with the balance between activity and down time. I often suspect the struggle is with self-judgment rather than time management, but I’m never quite confident enough of that to surrender myself wholeheartedly to my periods of rest. Maybe that’s why I need so much of it!

Like most human experiences, this one is neither unique to me, nor new. It was with a dawning sense of vindication that I listened to the following articulate and compassionate defense of down time from a book published by Herbert J. Hall more than a century ago. Hall received his M.D. from Harvard in 1895, and soon gravitated towards patients with “nervous complaints.” He was clearly well-acquainted with negative self talk long before the phrase was coined.

Here is a chapter from his 1915 book, The Untroubled Mind, now in the public domain. Continue reading

Terra Infirma

I knew I was living in a protected bubble, where life AC (After COVID-19) was not so very different from life BC. I knew there were similar pockets throughout the U.S. While I was grateful for the relative safety of my situation, the sense of removal from the chaotic centers of the pandemic has its down side. Many in my suburban city refuse to change their behavior. They are worried enough to hoard toilet paper, but not enough to keep their distance in the checkout line. They don’t know anyone who died yet.

Two blooming purple lilac flower heads

The disconnect between the quiet streets here, blooming with spring, and the fact that we are in the midst of a global tragedy that must change us in ways we can’t even begin to imagine felt increasingly surreal as I read of very different scenarios elsewhere – Italy, Spain, hospitals in New York. But still, I worked my past experiences with making do, getting through it, living with uncertainty, and sheltering in place from my own HSP overwhelm. I told myself calmly and rationally that the brightest and best-trained minds on the planet are working on this, Continue reading