This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wisdom and Fact

The gap between wisdom and fact can, and must, be bridged by rigorous scientific inquiry.

Do you agree or disagree?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An "ooooooohhhhhhhhh I get it" moment.

One of the things that has complicated my recovery from a breakup that happened (sort of) recently, has been the fact that I'm embarrassed about how deeply it managed to impact me.  We didn't even REALLY go out.  We hooked up a few times, and sent a lot of emails and texts, that's it. We never made anything official. Only my closest friends even knew I was talking with him and considering, maybe, possibly, someday, dating him.  The whole (non-)thing lasted just a few months.

Why would I be so crushed, devastated, hurt?  Why have I been grieving so much for at least 6 months now (maybe 9, depending on which point in history you start counting from), that I've become physically ill? I have felt bad telling friends that I feel like I am going through a bereavement.  It seems irreverent to those who actually have gone through bereavement, since my experience was "just" a breakup. But, valid or not, that's what I feel like nonetheless.

How ridiculous. 
He was a friend who slipped over into "benefits" for a few months.
There isn't even a "thing" to recover from.  The relationship didn't really exist in normal terms. 

Of course, such self-judgements aren't productive or compassionate, but they are there anyway, as part of the tapestry of my self-talk.  Trying to figure out "why I fell so hard" has been part of the journey. My mind just goes around and around. I don't know why he was so important to me. I don't know what happened. I don't know why I hurt so much.  But I want to know all these things!  So I replay memories over and over, trying to figure it out.  As a contemporary poetess says:
"I [have been] ransacking the moment for understanding."

And today, miraculously, I had a revelation.

We were distant friends for 10 years, since college. He was part of a group of friends that I really enjoyed.  They were smart, savvy, culturally savante, creative, ambitious, opinionated, and technical wizards. Everything I wanted to be.  I loved hanging out with them whenever I could.  I knew that it would be impossible for me EVER to fit in with hoi polloi, but with this group, I thought I had a chance. They were just nerdy enough to be distinct, but they weren't snobs or elitists.  Just quirky enough not to be mainstream, but in-touch enough to be cool.

However, there was always this nagging feeling that I didn't really fit in, wasn't fully welcome. And it wasn't just a feeling. I had evidence. If I wanted to hang out with them, it was usually I who asked to join them; the invitations seldom went the other way. They never demeaned or treated me poorly when I was actually with them, but they didn't go out of their way to include me either. It finally hit me a few years after college when I realized that I had been invited to none of their weddings.  Despite my efforts, I never made it to the "in" status with them.

And this is a life pattern that has haunted me since childhood.  There's always been some compelling reason that I don't belong to whatever group I find myself with.  And when I finally find a group that I SHOULD be able to belong to, looking at it logically (common interests, beliefs, approaches to life, personalities, intelligence levels), I can't seem to make it "in." And I have no idea why.  Why am I rejected? What is wrong with me?

This issue runs deep.  This may be THE core wound of my life.

Unconsciously, part of what might have been happening with this (non-)relationship-thing last year, was that I was using him to try to heal my wound.  If HE would accept me, and HE was part of the "in" crowd that I wanted to be associated with, then I would finally be worthy.  His rejection of me activated the old wound.  His rejection of me ripped the scar off, and the blood began gushing out again.  His rejection of me was not just about him (though I lost something very real, and I'm not trying to diminish his objectively great qualities), it was about every other person and group I've wanted to receive acceptance from but couldn't.  It's about my lifelong journey to find the Self I really want to be, but keep finding my(current)self falling so short of.  The quest to be cool.  To be validated. To be amazing.

Consciously, I tell myself "Of course, I already am amazing and cool and accepted and OK just the way I am."  I don't feel, most of the time, that my self esteem is badly lacking.  I recognize that while I've made some poor choices in the past, overall I am doing my best and have a lot to be proud of.  But unconscious patterns are not so easily changed.  Most of the time you don't even know they are there until something --like a strange (non-)romance, for example-- comes along and pushes you slightly to one side, and you step on a landmine, and you wake up in the hospital with a disfigured body and wonder what hit you.

Knowing a little bit more about "what hit me" does bring some relief, though.  It helps me find some meaning in the experience.  Maybe some day I'll even thank my lucky stars that this happened, because it exposed an area of my heart that needed healing, and allowed me to heal it.  (Not that I'm a fan of the redemptive suffering concept, but... whatever...)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

dream analysis of the going backwards dream

So the last post was about the context for my dream. This post will formally analyze the actual dream. Well, as formal as I can be when I am both the client and the analyst.  I'll have to switch back and forth between hats here.

AnalystWhat would you say was the point of strongest feeling in the dream, the place where the emotions and sensations were the clearest, the part you'd remember the longest if you hadn't written the dream down?
Client: Probably the part where I couldn't get the car to stop. It was scary. And I've had dreams like that before, where I couldn't stop my car.
AnalystOK, that's a strong part of the dream.  It seems, then, that there are two central problems in the dream.  One, you wanted to find the right teacups (that kept coming back). And two, you couldn't stop the car.
Client: That sounds right
Analyst: As you know, dreams are often "holographic" in nature. By that I mean, every part of the dream kind of reiterates every other part. You can remove one part of the dream and still get the basic meaning of it based on all the other symbols. Each part just adds more granularity.  Anyway, for the sake of time we can look at the major themes and problems, and try to see how they all tie together, and trust that all the smaller details of the dream will be in support of those ideas.  Last time we identified some major themes, and just now we identified some major problems the dream was trying to solve.  By the way, were either of the problems resolved in the dream?
Client: No, not really.  I mean, kind of.  I got teacups, but not the ones I wanted. And somehow the car got to the lobby, but I didn't feel like it was safe to drive. So it was kind of inconclusive.
Analyst: So we want to help you find some resolutions to the internal places where you feel inconclusive.  Let's dig deeper and see what some of those places might be, based on the dream symbolism.  Let me ask you about your personal connotations for some of these dream symbols.  First of all, teacups. Do teacups hold any special significance in your life, or should we treat them as more like a "pure symbol"?
Client: Actually, yes, it's kind of funny, but teacups hold a strong association in my mind with romantic relationships. That's all the details I'm going to give on that symbol, since this is a public blog, and that's all I feel comfortable sharing. 
Analyst: Totally fine. As long as we know the symbol's meaning! 
Client: ...Whoa. I get it. Searching for teacups means I'm searching for "the one," looking for love.  Totally makes sense.  I've been thinking about dating someone lately, but after a few dates, I don't feel he's the right one for me. So it makes sense that I am not finding the right kinds of teacups in the dream.
Analyst: Well hold on there.  I hope you don't mind if I turn this slightly around for you though.  I think it would be too easy to say that "if looking for teacups = looking for love, then not finding the right teacups maybe = not finding the right guy."  However, dreams are usually about the dreamer, not about other people.  A teacup is a receptive symbol--it holds tea inside itself.  I think a more productive interpretation would be to posit that the teacup is your internal ability to contain love. Perhaps, rather than saying "you're not finding the right guy," you could say, "I haven't found the part of myself that I feel comfortable receiving love with." Does that ring true for you?
Client: Very much so.  I'm willing to try to be mature and face my own insecurities though.
Analyst: So the first teacup you picked up was a hand-made clay cup that had $4.00 etched in the side, and that etching made holes in the cup, right?  But that wasn't why you didn't like that cup. What was wrong with that one again?
Client: It was too thick and I didn't like the colors.  It was really... unrefined, like rough and uneven and so on.  I actually kind of like that style for dishes... sometimes... but not for teacups.  At least in the dream, i was wanting something with more class, more grace.
Analyst: And the second one, the one in the hotel lobby, wasn't classy or graceful?
Client: No, ironically, it felt too ubiquitous.  I wanted something a little more unique.
Analyst: So the first cup was unique, but a little TOO unique, and the second one wasn't unique enough?
Client: That's right.
Analyst: So we have a polarity here inside yourself. Part of you struggles with where you should be on the uniqueness-ubiquitousness axis. Is that right?
Client: Um, yes! That's the understatement of my life!
Analyst: Ha ha. So it's safe to say you haven't really made peace with this axis in your life. It's still a charged issue.
Client: Yes.
AnalystAnd this is all tied in with the topic of love. I'd bet that if you could find peace inside yourself with the feelings of your own special niche in that axis, you'd be a lot more comfortable receiving love.
Client: *tears up*
Analyst: Well before we move on to the other parts of the dream, I want to explore that issue.  I want to see if we can discover why this issue is a charged one for you, using clues from the dream.  Where did it start, what is keeping this a problem in your life, and so on.  So we have two cups.  One represents totally unique--it's the cup from the refurbished junk store. It's handmade.
Client: It reminded me of cups I drank from when I visited my midwife's home. She used to be a hippie, and is a really natural-living person. Her husband made their dishes by hand, and they were all unique.  I liked those dishes in her home. I probably wouldn't choose them for my home though... I don't know, maybe...
Analyst: Ah, hippies. They aren't afraid to be unique are they?
Client: I guess not.  I actually have a lot in common with the so-called hippie people of today.  I like to live naturally and stuff.  I can't go as far as her, though, I think. I kind of like to be a little bit normal sometimes.
Analyst: But you felt like you could afford this cup. So there was part of you in the dream that identified with it, whereas, you really didn't identify at all with the hotel cup? You kept saying it wasn't yours, it wasn't even for sale.
Client: Right. And that's how it is in my life.  I definitely lean more towards the quirky, unique, hippie culture side, than the be-like-everyone-else side, but like I said, I can't really be fully in the hippie culture either.
Analyst: The cup had holes in it. You could kind of say it was broken, like a number of other things in the dream--the frame, the car, the microphone... Do you think that there's part of you that can't contain love? Even if others give it to you, the love just runs out, like tea from a broken tea cup?
Client: Very possibly.
Analyst: It was also in a store of old things. So I'd say this issue is probably pretty old for you.  You may have done your best to kind of "refurbish" your old issues, but they are still there, "framing" your life in one way or another.  And it's interesting that you chose the word "junk" as opposed to "antiques" or something. That might say a lot about how you value who you were in the past. 
Client: Well, I have tried hard not to discard everything from my past. I try to value a lot about it, even though I believe and live very differently today than I used to. But yeah, it's hard sometimes. I've changed so much. And then some things never change.
Analyst: I wonder if we can figure out what that number 4 means.  It seems to be tied in with the issue of the relationships/teacups somehow.  There was a 4 on the first cup, and there were four of the hotel cups later on.  What might 4 mean?  Did anything happen 4 years ago? 4 months ago?
Client: My marriage lasted almost exactly 4 years. When you say "relationships" and "4" in the same sentence, that's what jumps into my mind.
Analyst: Ah, so something about your marriage.  OK, that might be a possible input into this issue.  We'll come back to this.  Let's move on to the second major problem in the dream, which was the car. You were pulling it out of the parking space in the garage, and it wouldn't brake, so it was rolling down the hill.
Client: Actually, the part where I was hitting the brakes and the gas at the same time reminds me of a recent session I had with a biofeedback therapist. We were working on getting me over my anxiety about dealing with a certain person in my life. I was supposed to imagine talking to him, and feel how stressed that made me in my body, and then consciously work to relax through it.  I told the therapist it made me feel like I was pushing the gas and the brakes at the same time--I was getting myself anxious while simultaneously telling myself to calm down.
Analyst: Ah, so the dream may be referencing that idea, related to anxiety and calmness.  So "telling yourself to calm down," that's like hitting the brakes, right?
Client: Yeah. I was supposed to consciously take deep slow breaths, and focus on relaxing the tense muscles in my body.
Analyst: So it seems like in the dream, it took that command to "calm down" literally--your car was going "down"hill!
Client: Ha... um... So what I get from that is that no matter what I try, I'm still not making the progress I want to make.
Analyst: Well, if seems that there is a deeper issue here. Your conscious efforts to stop yourself from going downhill (hitting the gas, hitting the brakes) are being undermined by an unconscious issue of some sort. Something is broken inside, and that brokenness is preventing you from being in control of your life.
Client: I've felt really depressed lately. I wonder if the car "going downhill" could indicate my down-in-the-dumps feelings. And it's true, nothing I do seems to help with the depression. At least not for long.
Analyst: Ah, so the car going downhill, for you, seems to be associated with depression.  We definitely want to figure out what's going on there.  So let's back up in the dream a bit.  In the first section of the dream, we were dealing with your feelings about being unique vs. ubiquitous. It ended with your mom choosing the ubiquitous option for you, and you were not happy with that. That's when we got to the scene with the car.  There's a causative effect being shown here. Teacups lead to car.  So it seems like the way your unconscious mind is dealing with this issue of unique vs. ubiquitous is directly leading into your depression issue. Does that sound fair?
Client: It sounds fair and very likely.
Analyst: We could go into a lot more detail about this dream, but I feel like we got to the heart of it, and this blog post is already too long!  
Client: Yeah, I feel like this is the central issue of the dream.
Analyst: So it seems that our job now is to find a way to focus on helping you find some peace with the unique-ubiquitous axis inside of you.  So that no matter how you choose to express yourself on any given day, you are not anxious about being broken, out-of-date, too thick, too thin, too anything.  If you can find peace there, then your cup can be ready to receive love, and you can feel more in control of your life. Perhaps, then, the depression can find some relief too.
Client: Yeah, that sounds great. Let's just wave a magic wand and make it happen!  (ha ha ha, right.)
Analyst: Well, you know that's not exactly how we do it, but we can bring about healing by focusing on these issues and by speaking to the unconscious mind via the language of symbols.  You know, part of the issue around the teacups was the "4" that you associated with how long your marriage lasted. So tell me, how would you rate your previous marriage on the unique-ubiquitous spectrum?
Client: Oh, that's kind of complicated.  On one hand, we got into the marriage with very traditional ideas of marriage. Both of us said no matter what, we wouldn't divorce.  So that aspect was probably really conservative.  I guess conservative doesn't mean ubiquitous, but I kind of associate it with how things "are supposed" to be, you know? Everyone lives happily ever after. But everything else was definitely... not normal.  He was narcissistic and abusive... it wasn't good. So probably, I'd say, it was a very unique relationship. But in a bad way.
Analyst: OK, now let's envision yourself in a marriage that was the way things "are supposed" to be, according to you, like a conservative-values marriage, more on the "ubiquitous" side of things. How does that feel to you?
Client: Ack, there's something about that that doesn't feel right at all.  It sounds beige and predictable and boring.
Analyst: So we have exposed, here, something holding you back.  You tried a "unique" style relationship, and it was bad for you. And a "ubiquitous" style relationship sounds bad for you too.  It sounds like you have some fear locking you in to this dichotomy. The fear is telling you that no matter what you choose, it's going to be bad.  So in the dream, your response is to try not to choose either one. You walk away, and that's when you sink into the depression. That's how depression works.  Depression often serves us by helping us disengage from a situation that seems impossible to escape. It's a natural biological response to captivity.
Client: Wow, that sounds right.
Analyst: But of course, you know, logically speaking, that it doesn't have to be that way. You can have a "unique" style relationship that is GOOD, right?  Being unique doesn't HAVE to mean being classless or graceless. The problem is, unconsciously, though, you've had holes etched into your old teacup, scars from the bad relationship. So it's hard for you to disconnect those bad feelings from the prospect of future love.
Client: *tears up again* Yes, and you know what, the part of the dream where the woman tells the people her dream about her husband cheating on her after she died, I think that might be directly referring to the relationship I just got out of a few months ago. It was a very similar scenario.  So the dream seems to be processing my negative experiences with relationships.
Analyst: So, here's my idea. On the symbolic side, let's do some dream imagery. Let's go back into that junk store and find that teacup with the "$4.00" etched into it. Imagine that you pick it up and see that etching that's going all the way through the cup.  Now take a finger, and pretend you have a glowing shiny little star at the tip of your finger, like a magic wand. You're going to gently wipe your finger over that teacup, and as you do, you are closing the holes in the cup. You're also reshaping the clay, making it into stronger porcelain, a thinner texture to whatever depth and shape you like, and changing the color to whatever you like. What sounds good?
Client: Peacock greens, blues, and purples
Analyst: That sounds lovely.  A beautifully shaped, solid, classy, graceful, peacock-colored shining teacup, transformed in your hands.  And it's in this store of the refurbished old items. How perfect. You have done the ultimate refurbishing! Do this imagery several times a day for two weeks, and see how you get on.
Client: Thanks so much! I hope this works!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Going backward

I recently decided to buy this book, because one of my life goals is to be smart. And you're supposed to know about Shakespeare in order to be smart.  And I want my kids to be smart too, so, voila. Here I am, trying to learn Shakespeare by learning how to teach kids Shakespeare. So we can all walk around being smart.

I'm not too sure about this book.  I'm not too sure I want to learn Shakespeare, and I'm not too sure about memorizing it... and what use is it for kids to be able to regurgitate words that are no longer in the English vernacular, like "aught" (all) or "collied" (coal-black)?

Bad mood and cynicism aside, though, I'm giving it a fair shot for now.

Anyway, that's not what I what I wanted to blog about. That was just an intro.  I want to blog about how what I read (red) before going to bed affected my dreams.

I was reading the chapter where the author talked about A Midsummer Night's Dream. In part of his analysis, he said that Shakespeare was trying to point out how changeable and out of our control Love really is.  Love can strike out of nowhere. It can affect us in strange ways. It can make us desire one person, when (from a logical standpoint) a better-qualified person is standing right next to him. And it can change in an instant. Love can be stolen from us, as if there were fairies that visited us in the night and applied a potion from a magical flower to our eyes, just to score points in games of spite they are playing with each other.

This was supposed to be genius, and it probably is, but I find it depressing. Determinism may be the likeliest explanation for what's going on in the world... but I don't like it. I want to feel like I have some control. Or that things make sense. Or that there could be a love which is impossible to steal or fade away. That someday I'll find "the one," and we'll both know it, and everything will be happy forever, guaranteed, no questions.  But wanting to believe something doesn't make it true. In reality, most relationships require boatloads of effort, the love waxes and wanes, and sometimes it's just pure raw commitment that keeps people together. And there are no guarantees.  Sometimes someone wakes up and realizes that they don't love their partner anymore, and there's no way to make the relationship work ever again. There are no guarantees in life. As a friend of mine said once, "life is a mystery wrapped in an enigma."

(In fact, the friend who said this is someone I was having a serious conversation with the day before the dream, by the way. It had to be by texting, because he's far away. And the conversation was about love. And this friend of mine is a huge fan of Shakespeare, by the way... so this all somehow magically ties together!)

So it was in this frame of mind that I fell asleep and had a midsummer night's dream of my own.

I dreamed I was going to a huge hotel with my mom and my kids. Maybe it was the Crown Center in Kansas City. I don't remember why we were there, some kind of conference I think, but at some point we decided to go shopping. There was a mall attached (that's why I think it might have been the Crown Center). We were looking at a bunch of different stuff in the mall, and I remembered that I needed some teacups. So we found this store that was one of those "refurbished junk" stores that have become popular lately. (The kind where the owners find all kinds of junk at garage sales and thrift stores, and they make artsy stuff with it and resell it). I was admiring a lot of the stuff.  I remember there was a picture frame that had a big gouge out of it. It was made of porcelain or something like that, and the gouge was like a triangular chip. I thought, "that gouge doesn't really look very good, but I guess it's OK. It gives the frame character."  I saw some teacups, but I didn't really like them. They were really thick.  There was a big set of tea accessories on the table--teapots and cups and such-- and they all looked like they were hand made out of clay. One of them had "$4.00" etched on the side. In the dream I didn't notice this, but as I think about it now, it was a pretty useless cup, because the etching went all the way through the clay, so any liquid inside would have spilled out of the holes. But in the dream, it seemed normal, because all the tea accessories had their prices displayed like that!   What I actually thought in the dream, though, was, "even though I can afford $4, I don't like the color or the thick style."
It was a small store named by an abbreviation, something like OIE. I remember seeing the logo as I walked out, it was the letters inside a circle.
We walked back to the lobby of the hotel, for some sort of gathering there, and I think it was lunchtime. We got some coffee and snacks at a table there. There were a bunch of people milling around.
There were two workers sitting at a table in the lobby, a woman with strawberry blonde hair and a black man in a dressy shirt. It seemed like they were professional radio hosts or something. They were broadcasting; they would also take questions from the audience and try to answer them. Somebody was telling them her dream, and they were supposed to interpret it. The woman telling them her dream said it was that she died, and her husband found himself unable to control himself. He had to go sleep with another woman. In the dream, even though she was dead, she still saw this happen and felt betrayed. She also saw that he was out of control; he didn't want to do it, but he was compelled.  These radio hosts started talking about the dream, but I lost interest and started wandering away.  
Mom held up one of the cups on the coffee/snack table and told me, "You should buy some of these teacups from the hotel."  It was just a blasé porcelain mug. It was really thin... (I don't know what that style of dishes is called, it's that thin dishware, sometimes they have images painted on them, but the hotel ones were plain white.  I thought the mugs were ugly, mostly the shape didn't appeal to me. I said, "I don't like them. Anyway, they're not for sale, because the hotel uses them."
Mom insisted, "you have to get these."  I protested and said I didn't want them. But she decided to go buy them for me.  I needed 4 cups, so she grabbed 4 used (!) cups and saucers and said, "Come on, we're going to go pay." I said, "I am so embarrassed to go ask someone at the hotel if I can pay for their stuff that isn't for sale. I'm not going to go with you!" She went off with the kids. I told her I was going to go find the car so we could leave. 
I found her car far away in the parking garage. I noticed her car and my car were both there. We needed both of them, but there was only one of me. So I decided to get Mom's car, pick her and the kids up by the lobby, then drive back to the parking garage and split people into the  two cars. 
I backed Mom's car out, and hit the brake, but the brake wasn't responsive enough. It was barely effective at all, so the car started sliding down the slope in the parking garage.  I hit the brake harder and harder until I was practically standing on it, but it wasn't braking.  I freaked out because I could bump into somebody while I was rolling backward. I tried hitting the gas pedal instead, hoping I could at least go forward instead of rolling down the hill backward. But that didn't work either. The gas pedal just made the wheels kind of spin on the pavement, but the car kept going backward.  I tried hitting both pedals at the same time and that just didn't work.
I don't know what happened, but the dream kind of skipped to the next scene. I had somehow managed to get the car to the lobby, and I was telling Mom, "your car is messed up! It's scary!"
But she was surrounded by a bunch of teenagers, maybe some of her piano students. I knew that we had to take them with us in the cars to go back home.
The radio announcers were there again, and the man was saying, "Oh, did you hear on the radio? My microphone cut out when I was interpreting that woman's dream, so nobody heard what I said. But you know, life is good, we're going to keep going on. Look at these young teenagers, so excited for Jesus. They're doing a great job. One of these young men decided to turn his life around, and he's living for the Lord now!"  In the dream, as I would in waking life, I was annoyed by his phony, pep-talk-y attitude, and I thought to myself, quite cynically, "well, the young man might be saying he changed his life around NOW, but what about years later, will he still be a good person?" I could feel that the mood was up, and that something really had changed in this young man, I just didn't know how long it would last.
All this time, I'm trying to get everyone to leave, because it was time to leave.  At the same time, I was trying to get Mom's attention and try to get her to understand that I was worried about her car, that it might not be safe to drive.  The End.

Some themes in this dream:
The number 4
Thick vs. thin
Things being out of control
Things being used and re-used.
Brake=break?  There was a lot of broken stuff in the dream.

I'll do a full interpretation in the next post!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Who Would I Be Without My Pain?

I've wanted to write a blog post with this title for a long time. It's a question I think of often.  It hit me again this morning.

My five-year-old was telling me something about going left then going right.  I was surprised that he had figured out left vs. right.  It's something we worked on for, oh maybe, 10 seconds a few weeks ago, before getting distracted with something else.  I had tried to teach him the "your left hand makes an L when you hold it up" trick, and it really didn't seem to sink in.  Maybe because he hasn't fully figured out phonics yet.  Anyway. He seemed to have directions totally nailed this morning! I tested him on it, and he did it correctly!  So I asked him, because I wanted to know how he had managed to figure this out.  "How do you know which is your left side and which is your right side?"

"I just remember that the left side is the one where my tooth hurt," he said, pointing to his left cheek.

I was stunned.

Last year he went through a period of bad tooth pain. One of his back molars was rotting before our eyes, even though we did everything "right"--brushed every day, not too much candy, no juice, etc.  We have wretched dentists in this town (at least the ones that took state-covered insurance anyway), and they were of no help whatsoever. So I did some research, and put him on a diet that kept his blood sugar stable, and began supplementing with cod liver oil and grass-fed butter. His tooth pain died down, and the rot progression stopped. Yay!

However, he still remembers the pain. And he has started orienting his life, in a very literal way, around the memory of that pain.

I'm studying instructional design, and part of the process is learning about how Learning works.  One of the best theories we have for Learning is the "schema" idea. Basically, every bit of knowledge that we know is connected to other bits of knowledge. Triggering one idea can bring up an entire network of ideas.  Schemas help us make sense of extremely complex ideas and situations by forming quick representations of them.

But schemas are built, one little bit at a time.

It made me emotional to think that my son's schema for what "left and right" are is built on a memory of pain. Eventually, pretty soon, he'll understand the concept of "left and right" without relying on that scaffolding device (the memory of his tooth pain), but if he ever forgets and needs to dig down deep, that's the place his brain will take him.  "Left is the side where my tooth hurt."  His bout with tooth pain is part of his life, his way of orienting to the world, his identity.

In this example, I think the damage is pretty minimal.  I don't see any other signs that he has been too terribly scarred by the battle we had with tooth pain last year.  What about other wounds, though?  Is he building his identity around the idea of not having a normal dad? (Or a normal mom, for that matter!)

What about the children who go through terrible, traumatizing experiences? How much of their schemas are built by referencing memories of awful abuse, war scenes, hunger, or life-threatening disease?  They will not build schemas the same as normal children, because they simply can't.  What has been handed to them is what their brains are working with. If could remove those reference points, would they be able to know the difference between left and right?  What if trying to "heal" them of their pain would have the effect of destroying their ability to make some kind of sense of the world?  Yes, the brain is plastic, but it takes an awfully long time to retrain even simple schema, how much more an entire brain.

So often I wonder. Pain is awful. I want it to go away.  But what are the side effects of its absence?  What would happen if I could magically make my pain go away? What in my life have I built around my pain, and the memories thereof, that would become hollow or confused if I could erase the pain?  Like a game of Jenga--which blocks would make the entire tower topple over if they were removed, and which ones are safer to remove?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The myth of the Whole Person

When you're single you get a lot of conflicting messages from society.  The messages are mostly subtle, unspoken. One of the most common messages, though, is not so subtle. You see it everywhere.

It's about being a "whole person."

The commonly doled out advice goes along the lines of "Don't look for a relationship to complete you. Learn to realize you are already complete in and of yourself!"
Or it might come across something like: "When you stop looking for a relationship, that's when you'll find it!"

It sounds so healthy, so wise.

I think it's bullcrap.  Here's why.

First of all, it assumes that each of us should be a "whole person."  What does that even mean? I take it to mean "self sufficient."  Your value lies in your own personhood, and you don't need anyone else to make you happy.  But this is ridiculous.

From a social sciences perspective-- Nobody is truly self-sufficient.  We are all part of a huge web of interdependence. Let's bring this down to a very basic level. Nobody would chide someone about trying to be a "whole person in and of yourself" because they go to the grocery store to buy groceries, instead of growing all their own food.  "Why can't you be happy with what you produce by yourself, Jane Doe? Why are you relying on other people's food to meet your needs and make you happy?"

How about a step higher on Mazlow's hierarchy? (I'm not sure how much stock I actually put in that way of characterizing human behavior, but we'll go with it for today's post, for the sake of making a point.)

Above biological needs are safety needs.  Are we, each of us individually, to try to be completely self-sufficient when it comes to safety? Are we somehow lacking in maturity, because we rely on other people, (say, the police department, for one example), to keep us safe sometimes?  Of course not.  Could we be happy if we tried to rely on our own "wholeness" and didn't have the comfort of knowing there's somebody, or a group of somebodies, keeping us safe?  Probably not very.

Romantic relationships could be put neatly into the third category, directly above safety needs.  Why, all of a sudden, at this point, are we supposed to be self-sufficient and self-complete in this category, when it's so obvious that we need the help of fellow humans to meet our needs in the first two categories?

From a psychological standpoint-- Is there even such a thing as a "whole person?"  All of us have strengths and weaknesses.  Some of us are good at managing groups of people, some of us are good with children, some of us are good at speaking our mind boldly, some of us are good at diffusing tense situations... the list goes on.  Nobody can be good at everything.  All of us are bad at something.

But life throws lots of things at any one person, and many of those things lie outside of that person's preferred skill-set.  When things happen to me that I am just not very good at handling, it's normal, healthy, mature, and wise, for me to ask someone else--who's good at that thing-- to help me.

Why is it somehow unhealthy for me to recognize that it would be great to have a long-term life partner who is better at dealing with social situations than I am (for example)?  Or to realize that I'm generally so freaking intense, having someone around who can lighten the mood would be good for my health?  Where is the line drawn between an unhealthy obsession, and an objective understanding that finding a quality life partner is a very reasonable, mature, and desirable goal?

From a purely practical standpoint-- Having someone around can be very useful.  I can hang a shelf on the wall by myself if I absolutely have to, but how much easier to have an extra set of hands?  I look forward to the day, for example, when I can briefly leave the kids with a responsible adult so I can go take a "quick" errand.  (Right now, no errand is ever "quick." I have to tear the kids away from whatever they're doing, make sure they have shoes and acceptable clothes on, strap them into the car seats, keep them from getting into trouble wherever we end up going, and do the whole thing again to go back home.)  Heck, many studies even point to the possibility that people in committed long-term life partnerships are healthier and live longer than those who aren't, as a general rule.  (There are always many exceptions, of course.)

Relationships are a need.  A basic human need.  We are social animals, and for millenia our very survival has depended upon our ability to stick together.  It is not wrong or unhealthy to want a relationship.

I get that some people become a bit desperate, and can allow their desperation to blind them and drive them to making unhealthy choices.  I get that there's a thing called co-dependence (though I think, like ADHD, it is rather over-prescribed...)  These people need our support, MORE relationship, not our condemnation and withdrawal.  They need help in lessening their loneliness, not accusations that they are supposed to be complete, and what the heck is wrong with them for not being complete?

It is such a hypocritical thing to say. If you really think you are a complete person in and of yourself, then go prove it.  That means no relying on anyone for anything. No more going to the grocery store or living in a house that somebody else built.

And of course, I'm not trying to say that relationships aren't difficult, exhausting, time-consuming, and problematic, themselves. They are.  And many of them fail and cause great suffering.  Overall, though, if both parties are mature and committed to working through the problems, I think I am well supported in my opinion that the pros outweigh the cons.

My overall point, though, is to challenge this individualistic assumption that we should all be self-complete.  How narcissistic!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Self worth and my heart

His milieu intoxicated me almost as much as he, himself, intoxicated me. Part of his incredible draw was the promise of being part of the environment, mindset, family dynamics, and politics with which he was surrounded. The inputs that contributed to his identity, and the ways he interacted with them.

Is his identity better than mine? By being around him, did I hope to exalt myself to being as awesome as I thought he was? In other words, was I, at least partially, envisioning the relationship as a vassal-noble kind of dynamic, with myself as a floundering commoner, and him as a powerful person of high status--able to lift me from my position by means of his influence and resources?  Is he simply cut from a different, finer, cloth than I am? 

Perhaps wanting so much to be part of a system I perceived as better than my own system reflects an unhealthy self-image?

Or maybe my eagerness was more of a symptom of feeling powerless to change the components of my own system that I really really really want to change. Part of me violently rejects being disqualified as anyone less than an equal human with anyone else. I've had fewer opportunities than he has, that's all. I know I am just as smart, just as responsible, just as refined as he is. ...I just also know I'll need a little help to transform the aspects of my life that I'm not satisfied with. 

Whatever the cause of today's resurgence of pain, an image has flooded my awareness. I feel the sensation of my heart as if it were located a couple inches outside of my chest. It is heaving like a dying animal struggling for each next breath. Bent over like an old peasant woman never in her life allowed her own choices. Twinging with pain all over, like a burn victim. 

I place my hands around my heart, willing them to form a cool oasis to minister to this suffering creature. Be strong, I urge. This season will pass. A new vision will emerge that you can beat for. The time will come when you shine in such refracted rainbow brilliance, that all your enemies will be ashamed of their petty judgements and reckless rejections of the life you work diligently to infuse. Deceit will no longer haunt you. You will love who and where you are, and the trust you place in those who partner with you will be well deserved.

Believe this until you heal, I whisper. Believe it until it comes true.

Friday, August 2, 2013

It goes to prove, you never know what to expect from me...

Messing up a brownie recipe is a
batch botch.

A cranky woman who messes up a brownie recipe is a
batch botching bitch.

An unfeminine, cranky woman who messes up a brownie recipe is a
batch botching butch bitch.

Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all night.