Passing Strangeness

While I was driving today, I saw a young man walking slowly beside a young woman in full length, multi layered, traditional robes, perhaps Nepali, mostly in reds but with a green cloth head covering. They seemed to be having a quiet conversation. Their body language looked either intimate or conspiratorial; leaning in toward each other with out touching. About 15 feet behind them walked two older men of an age to be the parents of the younger pair. They too were talking quietly together and seemed to be watching the boy and the girl. All three men were wearing clean but plain Nepali style clothing.
This seemed rather out of place to me as I was driving in Richmond, Virginia.  I am wondering if I had the privilege to witnessed some small part of a traditional courtship ritual.  That seems to be my immediate impression and it made me feel all proud and paternal. 

I have no idea why!

A rare departure…

Those of you who are regular readers will know that I’m not particularly prone to prose. Today is a rather rare departure from my preferred poetic form but I have been thinking about some things that do not lend themselves to 17 syllable haiku or even 14 line Shakespearian sonnets.  Not being a master of extended beat free verse, I’ll just have to make do with good old fashioned prose.

In the course of my work as a mental health clinician, I keep coming across people who are trying to make things better by acting in ways that, at one time, may have been effective techniques to get their needs met. Unfortunately for them, the circumstances have changed in their lives and these, once adaptive, techniques are no longer effective. In fact, these old adaptive techniques are now actually counterproductive and are actually working against their goals or objectives.  

These thoughts have been percolating around in my head for years but without a clear analogy that would be understandable to my clients. In the course of my morning chores today I think I may have come across the root and sprout of a possible example to illustrate this for my people.

Imagine a soldier, fighting a war in a deep jungle, like in central Africa. To hide from his enemies, to not get killed, and to be successful in completing his missions, he needs to blend into his background. This good soldier camouflages himself with mottled green clothing, uses vegitation to break up his outline so he isn’t obviously man shaped, and learns to move with the pace of the jungle so he can best blend in with his environment. By doing this, he adapts to the conditions around him to best survive and succeed.

Now, imagine the war is going well and the general decides he needs to move some of his soldiers to another part of the country to fight. He sends a helicopter, in the middle of the night to scoops up a bunch of soldiers from the jungle and drops them into the desert just as the sun is rising.

Jungle rhythms offer no benefit in the desert. Camouflage that once concealed you, keeping you safe, now makes you stand out and puts you at risk. And just how smart does a desert fighter have to be to figure out that a moving shrub among the dunes is probably up to no good? 

Folks, you’ve got to change your coping mechanism to match your changing circumstances if you want to be successful!  Otherwise, you’re an albino squirrel in the forest.

I’ll have a fine opportunity to try this analogy out in just a few minutes. Wish me luck!

Hold on Life

Today, I’m going to take a break from poetry  and contemplate relative morality and ego defensive rationalization in the context of a continuum between good and evil. 

 I image by now, I’ve already lost 80% of the good people who read my random neurotic expression. I’ve exceeded 17 syllables—

This morning, somewhere between buying my cuppa Joe and unlocking the medication closet at work, my wallet houdinied through a heretofore unknown tear in the fabric of my pocket, or spacetime, I’m not sure which. At any rate, poof, my day is interrupted by anxiety. 

As of yet, there has been no attempt to use my credit or debit cards and the various financial institutions that issue them have been notified. But this leaves me facing the daunting task of reconstructing the tangible aspects of my self.  I need to reorder replacement Drivers license, insurance card, various vendor reward and discount cards, and reconcile myself to the loss of the few bucks in cash and cash equivalents like Starbucks cards.

This is what started this rumination on good versus evil and the continuum of moral behavior.  It, kind of, goes like this:

So you’re walking across the parking lot of the store you frequent regularly and, looking down, you see somebody’s wallet.! Oh the myriad of possibilities that open up before you! The many choices you can make!

Choice 1-  Step over it and pretend it isn’t there because that’s the kind of miss you just don’t need to get involved with.  Narcissist- Wow! What does this say about you! You can’t even be bothered to take a few seconds out of your day to do a total stranger a solid favor?

Choice 2- Pick it up, take it back into the store, give it to the clerk, and say, “somebody drop this in the parking lot.”  Altruism at it’s finest!- The embodiment of “Mudita”- do something good for no other reason than the joy it will bring to someone else!

Choice 3- Pick it up, open it up, look at the name on the ID, Google search them, find their number, call them, tell them you found the wallet.  Overkill!-  This is a stranger, after all. This action, begs the question, what do you hope to gain?

 Choice 4- Pick up the wallet, remove the cash, pocket the cash,turn in the wallet to the clerks. Pragmatic Self Interest.-The rationalization here is “I’ll go ahead and take my reward for saving this poor sap the trouble of cancelling his credit cards and getting new ID and insurance cards etc…

 Choice 5, Pick up the wallet, take the cash and any cash equivalents like Starbucks cards or gift cards, leave the wallet where you found it.  A Portrait in Greed!- You will benefit yourself without exposing yourself to unnecessary risk. Douchbag!

 Choice 6- Pick up the wallet, strip it of anything of value, and throw the ID the insurance card the credit cards which are going to get arrested if you try to use anyway in the nearest dumpster so you don’t get caught for your petty larceny.  Antisocial personality- you live your life with no interest in anything beyond yourself; totally unconcerned with your fellow man!

Choice 7- Pocket the cash and cash equivalence, sell the ID and the credit cards to noon business associate with criminal ties. Lazy criminal- clearly, you ain’t got no balls! You will take an easy score over working hard to maximize your criminal profit!

Choice 8- Look up the address on the ID, figure the person is not home yet, go by their place with a bunch of your buddies in a big old truck andclear their place out. Criminal Entrepreneur- You know how to take advantage of a windfall!  Everybody knows you gotta bid high or stay at home to win!

Choice 9- use the information found the wallet to build a complete portfolio of the person, steal their identity, open up every conceivable account you can, mine it for everything it’s worth, park the money offshore and destroy their life. Satan!- Clearly you are the spawn of hell!

Clearly there are a lot more options, but these nine pretty much cover the gamut from Saint to Satan when it comes to how you handle something like a wallet in the parking lot.  Think about yourself honestly, conduct that fearless moral inventory, and consider, just consider moving a little bit toward the light!

I hope whoever finds my wallet today makes choice 2… Or at least choice 4!!

A Requiem for Father

Memento Mori Haiku I
“Sorry, It’s cancer.”

Thus began his journey home

To distant children.

                  ~*~

Memento Mori Haiku II 
Bitter grudges pale,

Insignificant before

Cancer’s blinding light.

                  ~*~

Memento Mori Haiku III 
It proved a blessing-

His pancreatic cancer,

Thawed long frozen hearts.

                  ~*~

Memento Mori Haiku IV
Spiritual growth

Inversely proportional

Physical wasting 

                  ~*~
Memento Mori Haiku V
He journeys onward,

Free of all mortal burdens,

Borne on re-found love

                  ~*~

A commemoration on, this, the fourth anniversary of his transcendence.

Ward Andrew Garrabrant Sr.

26 Aug 1940 – 23 Mar 2012

Pack or Herd

It matters not where you belong,

the purpose is the same.

A young wolf comes across a fawn.

Sensing easy meat, she leaps.

In her grasp the fawn, he bleats,

Seeking rescue from the herd.

From three directions they converge

In response to the cries they heard.

They fall upon that young she wolf

With heads and hooves and mighty ire.

Now she’s no fool, this young huntress,

She knows it’s now time to retire.

Drops her prize and flees for home

With the herd in close pursuit,

Battering at her as she runs.

What damage they would deal is moot

For to her leader she quickly comes.

His stands his ground as she runs by

With the herd still close behind.

Growling deeply, he bares his fangs.

Halting, the old Buck meets his eye.

He snorts and stamps, their gazes locked,

A tableau frozen, endless as time.

And in that stare, a message passed:

You care for yours, I’ll care for mine.

Virtual Blog Tour

 

“The Forgotten Path”

 

Wandering afar

Exploring endless newness

Must reawaken

The, long dormant, inner kid.

Retreading a long, lost, path.

 

Many thanks to Sam Rappaz for the invitation.  Please visit her blog at: http://tokillamimingbird.wirdpress.com

The questions in this tour are:

What am I working on at the moment?

Well, I’m mostly working on living my life while exploring the various nooks and crannies of my intropsychic environment, observing, both critically and uncritically, the world around my on this journey, and trying to understand some small part of what it all means.

How does my work differ from others in the poetic genre?

Now that is way too philosophical a question! To answer that question, I would have to ask, all the other poets I read, why they write, what inspires them, and do they have a purpose or goal?  I’ll leave that to the scholarly Literature Majors!!

Why do I write what I do?

For me, I write, simply,  because I like it. I am inspired in my writing by the process of living in this world and within myself and the interaction and contrasts between the internal and external experiences. I share it because modern technology has made it so easy and inexpensive, it takes little investment in time or energy to share.

How does my writing/creative process work?

Honestly, I have no idea! The creative process, for me, is a mystical process. Something that I have not given much thought.  I engage in many creative activities, carving, cooking, drawing, photography, sculpting, working, writing. It would not be incorrect to say that living is the core of my creative process.

I hope that this will give you some idea about what leads to my writing and sharing these brief glimpses into the world I walk through!

Now I understand that I’m supposed to pass this on to four other bloggers I follow.  I am also supposed to send them emails inviting them. Please know that you nominees are under no obligation to participate. In fact, some of you may have been nominated before.

Nominees are:

Hanna at http://graceandsorrow.wordpress.com

George at http://thisbrokenelm.wordpress.com

Mitch at http://exploratorius.wordpress.com

Shawn at http://www.shawnbird.com

Please do not consider a lack of nomination a slight to your work! I follow and adore the work of many many more than four bloggers!

Food for Thought: or (liberal parenting comes home to roost)

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So, we were driving into school this morning, my son and I. The temperature was uncharacteristically low for the Virginia Piedmont. The thermometer in my aging Suburban read -9 f. My son, who is prepping for his driving test, comments on an unusual vehicle noise with some alarm.
” Dad, that doesn’t sound good. Do you think it’s going to break down?”

“Nah, I think it will be fine. But this does remind me of the importance of having an emergency kit and a survival plan if you were to break down and get stranded for a few hours or a day on the roadside in terrible weather. Have you thought about that?”

Without missing a beat and with perfect deadpan and flat inflection, he says, “I would cut you open and climb inside.”

Maybe letting him watch the Star Wars movies when he was 4 was NOT the best idea.

Meet Two Men

In a village, there once lived a man named Humble. Every day he got up and went about using his many skills to help the people of his village. The people were very grateful but they could not understand why he blushed and hung his head when they thanked him for the help. At the end of the day, he went home tired but pleased that he was able to be of some small service to his friends.

In that same village, there lived another man whose name was Pride. He also got up in the morning and went out into the village and helped everyone he met. Although there were many people in the village, he never seemed to find very many people to help. Also, the people he did help never seemed to be appropriately grateful for all that he did for them. At the end of the day, he went home angry and frustrated.

An Electronic Model for Humanity

Holiday greetings to all!

UPS delivered to my son, today, his Christmas present. Nine boxes, 21 items, all electronics, and all totally useless. It will only be through patience, diligence, persistence, and great luck that these 21 items will come together into an awesome new computer.

As I look at this giant pile of boxes and contemplate the effort and the familial bonding ahead, I am struck by the similarity between this project and building a human community. All of these things are interrelated but without each other they are, individually, totally useless. In this way, they are quite like people. Each of us, has a purpose to serve, a mission to accomplish, and actions that we need to take in this life. Whatever that purpose may be, it require the interaction, assistance, and participation of other people to have any lasting meaning. In short without other people, we, like these electronic devices, are incapable of fulfilling our purpose and are thus, totally useless.

So, in this holiday season, this wordprocessing program has this to say to all of you out there: I need you, motherboard. I need you, CPU. I need you, sound card. I need you, video card. I need you, hard drive. I need you, ram. I need you, power supply. Without you, I can accomplish nothing.

Thank you all, for being other indispensable components of this amazing thing we call humanity. May we all work together, harmoniously, toward something spectacular!

Virtues and Vices (not a poem)

I think this may be the time to test my readers’ stamina.  This post may well end up being longer than all the previous postings on this blog combined.  Lets see if anyone actually reads it all…

I’ve been thinking a lot about virtues and vices lately. In a broader sense, I’ve been thinking about pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, benefits and costs. My athlete friends talk about “the wall” and the “runners high”. My poet friends talk about the joys and sorrows of life. My business people friends talk about cost/benefit analysis. My investor friends talk about profits and losses. My theologian friends talk about virtues and vices. Everybody seems to have these pairs of things, one to be sought and one to be avoided, that are somehow inextricably connected with each other. Many philosophers claim that they must exist together because without one, the other is meaningless. On the other hand, Zen teaches that they do not exist separately at all. That there is no dual nature to these things. Things just are and any perception of duality in nature is a product of our lack of understanding of the essence of being.

All of this is just fine but way too complicated for me! So I’ve been tying to come up with a quick and easy guide to distinguish between good and bad or an easy way to tell virtues from vices.

It’s starting to look to me like the key may be in the “loading”.

Now, let me preface this with the caveat that I’m not really sure what “loading” is. A few months ago one of those “investor friends” told me that even though I was just a mental health clinician that didn’t excuse my ignorance about finances and then talked to me for a few hours about stocks and bonds and commodities and mutual funds. What I took away from that conversation was this:

1) I’m glad I’m a social worker!
2) There are these things called loads.

To the best of my understanding, loads come in two flavors, front-end and back-end (lengthy and inappropriate distraction deleted) and they boil down to when you have to pay the fee to the nice people who are supposed to be making your money grow. Simply put, front-end loading means you pay the fee first and then they make what’s left of your money grow and back-end loading means they grow your money and then take a biggish chunk of your harvest. I know. Kind of uninteresting. I yawned and said, “Thanks a lot man! That was a big help. I’m sure it will be very helpful.”

Surprisingly, it was!

Shortly after that I was leading a substance abuse engagement group for a bunch of guys with major mental illnesses who were also substance abusers. The purpose behind the group depends on who you ask. For me, the purpose of the group was to try to help these guys think about how their addictions might be interfering with their mental health treatment. For the guys in my group, the purpose was to “let this white guy use the county’s money to buy us some breakfast and coffee”.
Everybody was happy!
In group that morning, one of the guys said something about getting high was fantastic until you got busted. Like a lightning bolt, this thought about “loads” struck! I asked the guys if it was like that for all of their addictions- you get the goods up front and then later- bummer- you gotta pay the price- no food, girlfriend dumps you, eviction, arrest, whatever. “Pretty much”, they all agreed. Then I asked them if they would be more or less likely to engage in their addictive behavior if the load came first. They were quiet for several minutes. I thought I had gotten through to them in a deep and meaningful way until the group spokesman said, “Dude? What the fuck you talking about? What’s this “load” shit?” The group comedian said, “Load a Shit, that’s what!” Every body laughed including me. Then I told them about my understanding of front-end and back-end loads (another lengthy and inappropriate distraction deleted). Not surprisingly, they didn’t get it.  I kept trying to get my point across with little success.

Finally I came upon a successful analogy:

“Guys”, I said, “How would it be if you could just legally engage in your addiction?” They all thought that would be a really rocking idea.  Then I asked them how this would be: “Say you could just engage with your addiction but first you had to give away all your money, get thrown out of your apartment, live on the street, get beat up, go to court, and spend nine months in jail?”  Again, not surprisingly, the answer was, “Man, that’s a dumb ass deal!  What fool would take that deal?”  “But Guys” I said, “That is exactly the deal every one of you did take except that all the load (the bad shit) was on the back-end instead of the front-end!  The load is the same, It’s just a question of when you pay it!’  This got through to them and we had a very lengthy debate about whether or not it was really the same.

When I tried, excitedly, to tell my “investor friend” about this, he fell asleep. Maybe some of you will appreciate this insight and maybe some of you will have found a temporary solution to your insomnia. Either way, my work is done!

My question to you, dear readers, is the same basic question that we wrestled with in group for the next few sessions.  “Is the only difference between a Virtue and a Vice when you pay the load?  It seems to me that without exception, Virtues are all front-end loaded(you pay the price and then you get the reward) and Vices are all back-end loaded(you get the reward and then you pay the price- unless you can evade it!).  Maybe the Zen Masters are right and all being truly is non-dual.

Your thoughts?

Cheers!

“Speaker for the Dead”

This weekend, I had the opportunity to experience what an excellently crafted funeral homily can be. I’ve been to many funerals, but this was a first! An honest and truthful examination of a life that acknowledged the painful failings for those who needed closure, without bludgeoning those who do not acknowledge the faults and yet is presented in a way that made the whole conflict invisible to those who were oblivious to the issues. I offer great praise to a master wordsmith and a caring minister. Thank you!

I came away from the experience with a deeper insight into the complexity of the person and a hint at what may have contributed to his less understandable behavior than I ever would have imagined possible from an 8 minute sermon.

In my experience, homilies tend to fall into a few basic categories:

1. The Shallow Praise Fest- only the good parts of the person are acknowledged. Dishonest and Hard on those with unresolved issues.

2. The Bash the Dead Party- only the persons failings are acknowledged. Dishonest and Hard on those who experienced only the best the person had to give.

3. The Snooze-o-Rama- a scholarly exploration of the biblical texts that strip the person of all Humanity by barely acknowledging that the (homily writer) had any understanding or awareness of the dead person when they still lived. Boring and devoid of all personal content- AKA “McSermon”! “Would you like to make that a combo? Would you like that Super-Sized?”

And worst of all…

4. “The Alter Call”- Where the minister demonstrates a total lack of understanding of humanity and the grieving process by offering to “convert anyone or everyone at the service who is willing to come up front here and publicly accept Jesus as their personal savior. Praise God! Amen!”

I’ve been to way too many 1s and 3s, a couple of very uncomfortable 2s, and a surprisingly large number of 4s!

Today was a rare gift! Thank You Again!