Thursday, September 10, 2009

Potholes, and Cans of Worms

One of the "basics" of human psychology is this notion that we tend to suffer from various degrees of "repetition compulsion," when it comes to our lives. Goodness knows that I have made some of the same mistakes twice and even thrice... and have felt like a giant doofus, afterwards, too.

I ponder, though....

Maybe we just need to have lessons pounded into our heads repeatedly before we get it... maybe it's something else. Maybe we repeat the same mistakes over and over, before we finally are able to step away from our "addictions" (I happen to believe that many BAD choices we make are "addictions" to feeling a certain way, even if that way is HORRIBLE) and realize that we need to do something else, in order to find happiness.

Some poor souls... never seem to notice that they walk down the (metaphorical) street, and keep on falling into the same giant pothole, over and over, and over. Some are actually aware of the pothole, but find themselves utterly unable to resist the urge to walk into it, anyway (that's where I get the thought of psychological repetition as an "addiction"), no matter how badly they get hurt. I've been thinking about my mom's life recently (as many of you know), and she did the latter... cheerfully giving the same compulsion "a new name" each time she stepped into it... ignoring all advice around her, generally with words to the effect that "Yeah, but I'm wiser now, and it'll be DIFFERENT this time." It was a heartfelt letter from one of her relatives that made me sit down and put these thoughts into words.

It is this "not learning," and rushing headlong into the fire-- despite repeated and guaranteed failure-- where people lose me.

Maybe I'm clueless, maybe I'm naive. I'm open to both possibilities...

But if there's a "can of worms" presenting itself, in your path... and you KNOW that cans of worms will cause pain, confusion, loss, chaos or whatever "trouble" you choose... WHY would you open such a can of worms, again? WHY would a person believe that-- after having burned themselves a dozen times on the fire-- the 13th time the fire will miraculously "not be hot?" Why would they stick their hand BACK into the fire, for the 13th time, even while flocks of friends, family and loved ones shout "Don't do it! Don't do it! DON'T DO IT!???"

I'll be the first to admit that change-- that is, REAL personal change of one's behavior-- can be extremely difficult. But isn't the point that we are supposed to LEARN from our mistake, not trap ourselves in an endless cycle of repeating them, over and over?

I guess my point is... if there's a can of worms at the side of the road... and you KNOW that it's "a can of worms," and you KNOW this kind of can causes you pain... leave the damned thing there, and walk on by!

What's that saying?

"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Yeah. That's it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Death... and Birth (redux)

Some weeks back, I contemplated "death," following the passing of my mother.

Typically, we associate death with the passing of a person, or perhaps of a beloved pet. But death can mean many things. Death of a company, death of an idea, death of a relationship, death of a habit, death of a paradigm, even death of an addiction. And death-- while often painful-- is not necessarily a bad thing.

In my family, the month of August was always a month of many birthdays. But it has also been a month of many deaths. This particular August has been a month of "deaths" for me.

As August ran out, time also ran out on my affiliation with a large web group I've been a part of, almost since its inception in 1996-- both as "just a member," and as "group management." On some level this symbolic "death" led me to a contemplation of exactly what this death was, and the circumstances surrounding "voluntary deaths." In a sense this was the death of a habit. In a different sense, it was the death of a pattern of not-growing; of not moving on. My point here being, that some things need to die, and should be allowed to die.

Sometimes we grow attached to things, in a not-so-healthy way. And we get stuck, and refuse to allow these things to "die." It could be the relationship we're in, going on year 18, even though the relationship "ended" five years ago, or it could be a habit we keep following, even though it is no longer relevant. Or, take therapy. The point of therapy is that we heal and move on, not that we remain in therapy, for 20 years.

Last night, I contemplated the issues of "moving on," compassion, and the hesitance we feel, when it comes to letting go. It led me to consider the problems we often face with patterns and habits, and how we keep doing the same toxic thing, over and over... somehow expecting a different result, next time around... driven, perhaps, by the belief that we can somehow find redemption "if only" it all works out. Often, there's a metaphorical process of running around in a circle going "The sky's gonna fall," while not actually doing anything to address the falling sky.

On a different level, we often stay in situations that involve others out of an alleged sense of compassion, for them, even though the issue at hand is actually about us. We "farm out" accountability for our stuckness by pointing out that were being "considerate" and "compassionate" towards someONE/someTHING outside ourselves. For me, it was often due to the fear of admitting that I simply wasn't able to make something "work." Each of us probably has a different "monster under the bed."

Pema Chödrön, one of my favorite spiritual Teachers, has written much on the topic of compassion. One of the misinterpretations of compassion seems to be that it somehow requires us to "blindly support" someone, in order to be "compassionate." We mistakenly believe that we must validate and underwrite every bad act and toxic habit, if we are to be truly compassionate. However, sometimes the most compassionate act requires us to be "the bad guy." We struggle with this, because how can it be "compassion," if someone gets hurt?

Sometimes a "house of cards" has to be allowed to fall. Perhaps the most compassionate act is to NOT protect someone from their self-destructive actions, but to allow them to actually fall into the black pit those patterns, so they will fully experience the consequences of their choices. Maybe it's a bit like parenting-- unless we actually take the training wheels OFF the bicycle, and thus expose the child to the possibility of falling, there can be no growth; they will never learn to ride the bike unassisted.

Perhaps part of what makes death (of the symbolic, rather than phsyical kind) "scary," is our tendency to forget that such deaths are more often "passages," than "endings." As one of my Teachers once pointed out: "When a door closes, you BY DEFINITION have stepped through, into a NEW space."

I'm by no means advocating that we should not respect, observe, remember and learn from the past... merely pointing out that sometimes we allow "mourning the old" to overshadow new opportunities to such a degree that we get stuck, unable to see and embrace the beauty and potential of what lies ahead.