Archive for the ‘self’ Category

Birdman, the film that just won an Oscar for best picture is interesting, enigmatic, provocative and discussion-worthy.

Life and death are illusions,” says Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman’s director, “We are in a constant state of transformation.”

Birdman gets at that; it approaches the transformational questions of life, “How do we live so as to matter? How do we come to see ourselves as important? How do we win the affections of others?”

The bird man, like all of us, can’t quite figure that out. The movie presents identity and and success and mental health as elusive, especially for a has-been like the Birdman. Our unique sense of self, existing in our minds, existing in our fantasies of success, in the eyes of our family members, our friends, the press, our fans — vanity, vanity, vanity, says the bird man, except in my fantasy!

For you who are squeamish about the ugliness of the ego’s personal angst, any of you suffering identity bifurcation, for you who hate movies where the ending leaves you going “What the heck just happened?” skip it.

But for you who do not require a movie to have a logical, sequential, expected flow of events, you who like to chew on the cud of the ever-shifting human condition, who have dreamed of flying your way to success, for any of you who love to grapple with our tentative sense of self, for any of you who wrestle over our constantly morphing awareness of self-value, our craving for love and our willingness to do most anything to get it, you might want to check it out.

Birdman is as beautiful as Michael Keaton’s dreamy flight over New York, as terrifyingly gorgeous his career falling like a fireball though heavy clouds, as lovely as a few touching scenes of tenderness with his ex-wife and his daughter, and as ugly as the narrow, concrete underground halls of an aging theatre, a string of angry “f” words, brutal competition for attention, unfulfilled emotional need and mental illness.

For me, I get it. We all wonder, “Do I matter?” and we all grapple with ways to answer, “Yes, maybe, for the moment, I hope.”

It looks a lot like Brian Williams, popular NBC News anchor has lied — which is not the best thing for someone trusted to report the news — and that then he lied about lying.

Why?

Why would a guy who makes ten million dollars a year and is super well-respected as a celebrity news anchor lie about taking fire in a helicopter in Iraq when it didn’t happen and then lie again by saying he misremembered the incident and accidentally tangled up the facts? It isn’t like he needs to make up accomplishments because he lacks accomplishments or affirmation — or does he?

Actually, perhaps the simplest explanation for Brian’s behavior is that he is needy, that he doesn’t feel complete, that he doesn’t feel good enough, that he is insecure about his reputation and his accomplishments. There is a good chance that wealthy Brian is hungry, for love.

Of course I could be wrong. Brian may just be a spoiled brat and a narcissist. But even if that is so, or a bit so, even such a condition as that may arise out of deprivation, from not really getting or understanding or living a life of real love.

This is so human its painful, and yet not. It is not unusual for a powerful man to be needy. Actually, I think Brian represents most all of us, whatever our status . He is somewhat insecure; he is hungry for love and attention.

In a way it’s helpful seeing him like this. It is enlightening. Fame and fortune don’t fill our tanks, not when we come into celebrity and wealth already on empty or even half-full. It is pretty much the thing with us that we never seem to get enough attention or valor or respect or love. We are all love hungry.

What to do?

What we need to do to avoid falseness, to not have to be the hero who took fire is to be fine with being needy and to make good friends with being non-heroic, at least a good deal of the time.

It’s okay to want valor that you don’t have, and it’s okay to be less accomplished than you are, but its also best to avoid lying to people who put their trust in you. It’s a really sad to lose people’s trust, and it definitely doesn’t do much for your reputation or your self-esteem.

For all or most of us, hunger for valor or simply for love will remain, but we can probably get a perfectly good meal now and again, just by being our selves.

The jacaranda trees are showing off again in Southern California, being themselves, being gorgeous, taking compliments, blushing not-so-shyly in the canopy.

Their flowers are the thing, standouts, showoffs, conspicuousities — large proud panicles of purple or blue, fine five-lobed corollas.

This is just what the jacaranda do each spring, show off the essence of their essential essence, parade their blue-purple — be — exist as they are, with aspirations to be very precisely themselves. They carpet the areas under themselves in their color, mirroring their splendor on the ground. One is not enough, of their exact selves.

We might do well to follow suit in precisely their fashion. Some of us aspire too much to other than what we are. We are purple; we long for red. We are blue; we want green.

There is much to be said for being what we are, fully, unreservedly, not shyly, not longingly, no eye cast jealously toward colors below, above, to the side — simply, breath-takingly us!

What are you? Normal, boring, no standout, a plodder, a wall flower, an average citizen, a good joe, an average Jane — not blue ribbon?

No, you are more than that.

The self-possessed average-ordinary — always casting the ubiquitous dumb-blind-stare of stupid inferiority within the canopy of their ever-present shadow of insane insecurity — they are more than they know.

The inveterately comparative — those ever casting the elusive and wistful glance of they-seem-more-educated, she-is-more beautiful, he-is-taller-and-stronger — these know not who they are.

Each self is a jacaranda of a different color, a gorgeous conspicuousity, a standout in the canopy, casting its own color on the ground below, existing as nothing less than what it is, particularly purple, yellow or green, nothing less, nothing more, nothing else needed — to be beautiful.

When Adam first saw Eve, he said … “Wow! Check you out, baby!  Nice work, God.  Hey, Eve …  want to go for a coffee … or something…”

And Eve said, “Yes! And then she turned aside and said, “That is the best looking guy I’ve ever seen! He is so hot!”

Then Adam said, “Hey Eve, Should we get dressed up tonight… our just go out …  au natural?”

And Eve said, “I don’t care what people think … wait … there are no other people. Hey, were alone …  hey baby… !”

Adam and Eve’s beautiful physicality, it was all God’s idea and Adam and Eve must have been thrilled with each other.

God made them for each other, and he made their puzzle pieces, fit together, and God called his work “good.”

What do we take from this? We do not need to be ashamed of our bodies, our skin, our muscles, our jiggly parts, our flab, what Paul calls our “weaker parts,” our vulnerabilities, our sexuality. We should never be ashamed of God’s body work.

The body is amazing.

Sneezes regularly exceed 100 miles per hour. Feet have 500 sweat glands.  You know that when you remove your socks. Your nose can remember 50,000 scents.  You use 200 muscles to take a step.

Everyday we produce 300 billion new cells.

Women are born with one to two million immature eggs.

We can make copies of ourselves! How fun is that?

We are miracles!

We have a little studied book, the Song of Songs, where we find the writer healthily enchanted with his lover’s physicality. Solomon writes in the Song:

The sweet, fragrant curves of your body,
the soft, spiced contours of your flesh
Invite me …

You’re beautiful from head to toe, my dear love,
beautiful beyond compare, absolutely flawless. 

(Message Version)

This is scripture. Holy scripture is comfortable with flesh, with bodies, with “spiced contours.”

There is an old stereotype of the religious person who is puritanical, Gnostic, self-rejecting, who hates the body, who is afraid to hug, to dance. But this is not what God wants.

Truly spiritual people are self-accepting, not self-shaming. They make friends with their flesh, with their gender, they are thrilled with their mates bodies, and they dance at their weddings, and they enjoy sex afterwards.

But, now let’s be honest, transparent, real —  not everyone, is comfortable with other bodies or their own. Some people actually hate their bodies.

How does that happen?

How have we gotten so far away from what God began with?

  1. The Barbie and GI Joe standard dominate us. Our sense of body image is bombarded on TV, movies, and internet media with  ideal bodies —  toned, muscular, skinny, tall and amazing bodies.

2. Past physical and sexual abuse —  too many shaming experiences have made some of us hate our bodies. This has sometimes come from the mean comments  or harmful abuses of others —  parents, peers, even ourselves.

3. Lastly life, surgeries, diseases, disabilities, weight gain, aging, such uncontrollables may have taken away our sense of a whole self, an acceptable self.

But our bodies, old or young, symmetrical, dysmorphic, attractive or unattractive are places where honoring, where kindness should occur. This is scriptural.

 Do you not know that your bodies [imperfect bodies] are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Question: How can we then honor God with our bodies?  We can love them, feed them, rest them and accept them.

Last weekend I went to a Jamaican restaurant with about 20 other friends. Jerk chicken, tasty veggies, chocolate cake — yum!  Different ages, races, backgrounds – all accepted, all fed.  One person came and took a nap on a chair in the back, then came and sat in my lap and at the end of the meal had to be carried out the door. It was four-year old Loki. We honored, his little body.

We should so honor all bodies. We would do best to treat our body as if were four. We should hug it when it cries, feed it when it is hungry, carry it home when it has had too much to eat and drink.

How else can we honor God with our bodies? We can use our bodies to respect and nurture other bodies.

Jesus is a good model of this. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

It takes a pretty secure man to say I long like a “hen”  to gather my children.  But to hen chicks, to nurture children, is a good thing, a godly trait, a human trait and not a trait just reserved for women.

I like Jesus in this regard. Jesus handled his maleness well. He had close female friends and followers, but there is no evidence that he was ever anything but appropriate with them. None of them became girlfriends or wives.

As Christ-like people, we can nurture the opposite gender in really fun, uplifting and beautiful ways. We can make friends with each other, and we can respect each other’s bodies.

On Friday I heard laughing downstairs at the church. Later, I found out that the food distribution team was laughing about some pasta they had to give out. The brand name was “Allegra,” but someone thought it was, “Viagra.”  Wow! If word got out, that the  church gave away Allegra Viagra — that would bring some new converts.

“Hey, you should try this church. They give out this pasta, that helps with … you know. My husband has been eating it, and he is a changed man!”

Also on Friday, one of the distribution leaders was so excited about the church’s underwear!  She told me, “Wow, in our clothing room, we were given some new underwear to give out!”

Cool! That should go on the church website. “FB Church, a place with you can get great Bible studies, cool worship and new underwear.” A good church is okay with human. It gives away underware. It cares for real bodies!

Bodies, gender, good; male and female, made and loved by God and useful in honoring him and helping others, all good.

But, we know too, that bodies, can make bad choices.

Being sexual beings is beautiful, and can lead to fun, to children, to nurturing, but … our sexuality can also bring pain and harm to our lives.

San Diego was rocked recently by the charges against the mayor for sexual inappropriateness. Life carries within it a challenging handling of sexuality.

King David, the towering hero of the Old Testament, made some mistakes, sexually. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, one of his soldier’s wives, and then to cover it up, when Bathsheba became pregnant, David had her husband murdered.

Our sexual desires, while good, made by God, can derail us. David suffered some grievous consequences and losses for his behavior, the loss of a child, the rebellion of his sons. In fact, David set a model of sexual inappropriateness that his sons followed, and that was tragic.

But it is not David’s mistakes, but his recovery that is worth noting. God, the creator of our sexuality, is also the redeemer of our sexuality! How gracious, even in the area of sexual mistakes, God is!

David fails, but God is full of understanding for David’s humanness, of his weaknesses.

After David fails, after David mucks things up, David rushed to God. God still loved David, and God forgave him, and even amazingly redeemed the situation.

Psalm 51:7 records David’s prayer, after his affair.

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.

David trusts in and asks for a scrubbing, to be made clean, to be given the ability, after failure and loss and pain, to sing and dance again. How can he do that? He can do that because he knows a God who understands human imperfection and forgives.
Psalm 51:8-9 gives us more of David’s model prayer:

Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.

God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.

God can take our mess and clean it up. He can start us again. After we have suffered from our sexual mistakes, what we need to know and grab on to is a God who can and will forgive us. We do well, after failure, to rush to God and ask to be forgiven and renewed.

What is so amazing in the story of David, is that after David makes a horrible choice, and lots of evil comes from it, God brings some good out of the situation anyway! Bathsheba and David marry after the mess, and Bathsheba gives birth to four sons. One of the sons was Solomon, who became the next King after David.

This history, this real story, shows us that God is so redemptive when it comes to our bodies, even our sexual mistakes.

What to take from all this?

  1. Love your body! God does! Be at peace with yourself as Adam and Eve were with each other. Take care of your body, feed it healthy food, exercise it, work it, rest it and steward your gender. Buy it new underwear!

2. Use your body to love other bodies, and yet be aware of the power of sexuality. It’s good stuff, but strong stuff. Control your body. And follow Jesus in being appropriate with the opposite gender.

3. If you fail with your body, and we all do in some way — if you feed it too much, over work it, are immoral with it — then stop doing that, and rush to God to ask for forgiveness and help, just as David did.

And then God, who love bodies, who made your body, and the fragile person’s inside of it, will scrub you clean, and redeem your life.

When my mom got breast cancer, I unbordered.

She had a disfiguring surgery, and it marked a new era for her – me too. Only later did I come to understand her experience as an extremely difficult self-consciousness regarding her body, her clothing and her sense of female wholeness. But as a teenage boy, although I couldn’t understand her conflicted feelings, and she didn’t share them with me, as I sat with her by her bed we fused over pain. The suffering-her and the anxious-me met in a way we had not experienced since birth had separated us.

G.K. Chesterton has noted that “birth is as solemn a parting as death.” When we are born, we get our first lesson in not-being-someone-else. We experience our first unhooking, a primal, existential psyche detrailering. It’s a good thing.

When I  was born I broke out of my mother, and the deep structure of my psyche must have shouted, ”I’m free!” But when she got cancer I returned to her, to an adult awareness of her, and I had the opportunity to enter the acutely poignant reality of her again. This happens.  We have chances now and again to make such movements. Birthed into liberating independence, we can be wooed by difficulty back inside someone we love. When we go through pain, there is an opportunity to trailer back up. She had surgery; the cancer was removed, but something remained in me.

It’s odd how connecting with each other works out — and when. When I was in grade school my grandma on my mom’s side of the family came to live with us in our home near Warsaw, Missouri. It was a migration that would take her out of element in the Los Angles area and into mine. She was alone at that stage of her life, her husband having died, her children having all set up their own households. Landing in our house, she landed in a thoroughly mid-west, male world.

I remember two things about her stay with us: That she bought us our first TV, and that I clubbed her to the floor in the laundry room. She changed our world, and we rocked hers. The TV she gave us saved our family. We were transplanted Californians,  lost and alone in rural Missouri, but we were saved through Gilligan and his  island and  Steve McGarrett and Dano and by the commercials where we learned what we really needed to thrive.

The TV was an efficacious means of salvation from the Baptist church we attended in Warsaw, but grandma’s clubbing was merely good fun. My brothers and I loved to whack each other, a punch on the arm, a toy gun war around the house, a generally good thumping with billy clubs. The clubs we made for ourselves by stuffing several socks inside one sock until we had nice long, hard slugging socks.

The day grandma went down, I was lying in wait for one of my brothers; grandma happened to slide open the pocket door that accessed the laundry room. I jumped out from behind the washer with the club already in motion; it landed smack on top of grandma’s little head, down she went. The apologies came next. Not too long after that, grandma moved back to California.

It wasn’t the only time my grandma had met family difficulty and had to move. My mom told me a while back that her mom was sexually abused as a child. It happened in this way; my grandma’s dad died when she was little, and her mom remarried, and her step-dad abused her.

“Really, mom?” I asked. “I never knew that! In our family — grandma was sexually abused? Wow!”

And after my mom told me this, and I knew it had happened, it crushed something in me, connecting me in some kind of bridging way to my grandma and giving me an option really, to think about and enter into a new conscious awareness of her.

My mom told me that afterwards my grandma was sent away to live with an aunt. I think of her now, our Nana, tiny like she was, when she was abused. I imagine her alone, confused and afraid afterwards, and I know she was, crying under her blankets in her dark bedroom – alone. And I wish I could have gone to her then, changed like I have changed now, changed by my own painful experiences into a more authentic self, into one who knows what to do with pain, and talked to her as if she were my little daughter — time and space swept aside for a moment – and me patting Nana on the back, this harmed little girl who was to become my mom’s mom and my very one-and-only Nana, and me putting my head beside hers like a real good dad would, in an appropriate unbordering of the self, and then breaking down with her, and saying to her with tears running out of my eyes and down my cheeks and onto her cheeks, ”What was done to you was so wrong. I’m so sorry it happened! Look at me, you didn’t do anything wrong! You didn’t do anything wrong! Something wrong was done to you. And it shouldn’t have been done, and I love you, and I am going to protect you now so that this bad thing never, ever happens to you again!”

Sticking to one’s own consciousness and harboring up within one’s own self is overrated. We cross over, at times, into someone else’s sacred space. In certain uninvited moments of life, we make this choice, when time and space allow, and as we can, and even when it doesn’t seem to be allowed, because who and what is allowed is what we choose.

And I wish I could have gone to her step-dad, and said what needed to be said to him too, in an emotionally controlled way, and then gone to other people who needed to look into this in some way that would set some boundaries up, and then I wish I could have taken my grandma away and found a loving place for her and said to her, “Now you are safe, and you are going to be okay, we are going to have someone talk to you about this and listen to you and help you be okay.”

My grandma eventually married a much older man than herself, whose first wife had died, and he was a very good man, and he had little girls that he protected and I think he gave her some of that, the place removed from harm for the wounded self to recover — and safety.

My grandma was abused when I was not yet a self, when I was still unborn, but now I am, and my consciousness of it connects me with my grandma, but not her to me because she’s gone now. The mental time-traveler’s option is to cross over the sacred border of the self and to trailer up with someone who isn’t even alive anymore, especially in a family. We do it all the time when we read biographies.  In nooks and corners of our lives we can choose to live in broken-down sameness together for a short time.

This is my experience, and it is increasingly so as I age. Over time, I find my edges smearing, fuzzing and blurring. It’s been a slow but certain transformation.

When my daughter Rosalind was two we started on the flash cards. And we made Sesame Street a habit. She made good progress – “dog, cat, lion.” We played school. I loved teaching her. I read, read, read and read some more to her. I read “Little Chick,” over and over again. These were some really good times together. At this point in life, I was working as a high school literature and writing teacher, and my wife worked in a library. Our family loved a book shelf, a pile of books head high, a campus, a life of print, but then something happened to Rosalind, and we had to learn to not make that the standard by which we measured value.

One day, when Rosalind was one and one-half, she stopped breathing, turned blue, and started convulsing. It was a moment that I haven’t yet fully recovered from. You don’t get over such things; you just take shelter, and remain hyper-vigilant and take comfort where you can. The paramedics came to the house with a siren blasting, and we all rushed off to the hospital. The needle in Rosalind’s baby spine was a tough moment. You spend all your energy protecting your baby, and then you hold her so someone can hurt her. It doesn’t feel right.

The diagnoses came in turn and over the next few years. She has “febrile convulsions.” Then she has “epilepsy.”  And eventually, we were told the kicker that we never thought we would hear. She has, “brain damage.” Finally, the label-verdict on how school would go was given by a neuro-psychologist after extensive testing: “She is retarded.”  Bam, that label hurt, all of us, from grandma on down. And with the labels came the drugs, phenobarbitol,  topamax,  depakote – a sluggish life, lots of naps. I hated it, I still do, but I have learned to be okay with it, kind of, and not.

I know that as tightly as I’m woven by my opinions and experiences and choices into a unique and personal self,  my psychic independence unravels  at the unwanted threshold I passed over with my family.

One evening when Rosalind was in grade I went into her room. Her face was red and soaked with tears, and angry and hurt.

“What’s the matter?” I asked sitting on the edge of her bed and putting my hand to her head.

“Nothing,” she said angrily.

“No, something is wrong,” I said, “just tell me. I won’t be mad at you.”

“I’m stupid!” she blurted out. “I can’t read!”

I put my head down by hers. Her pain swept up out of her and into me. I started crying. We were like that for a moment, my sobs mixed up with  hers. She hadn’t seen that so much. I a guy, touch, not given to excessive humidity, especially with others.

We were close like that for a moment, then Rosalind pushed my face back and looked into my eyes with profound puzzlement. She stared and asked, “Daddy, are you crying for me?” It was out. Our eyes were locked. Then she knew something she hadn’t known as well until then — she wasn’t alone.

I think again about my mom, my wife, my daughters my grandma, and I know and always have known, and will and always will come to times when my carefully stitched up edges unravel. It tends to be when I get close to the women in my life. I am autonomous, and yet with them, I am not, and now perhaps more so over time. I have leaky borders.

If I have to live alone someday, and I may, without wanting to, for instance if my wife dies before I do, I won’t like it, especially at night. I hate to sleep alone. And I hate to go through hard things alone.

Recently, I spent the morning with my wife. We painted our bedroom together, one wall a beautiful dark olive branch green. Painting together is not advisable early in a marriage, but after years together it can go well, evoking only a couple of testy moment for a mornings team work. One snarly incident occurred when I critiqued her work on the baseboard. She reminded me that she didn’t need or want my opinion.

At the end of the day, we sat together exhausted. I found myself shifting into my very familiar and personal I-am-with-her awareness. I unbordered, as I sometimes do, when I am very close to her, relaxing into her green tea perfume, the clean smell of her hair conditioner, the skin-on-skin tactility that feels so very safe and so extremely comforting.

I asked her only a short time back, in just such a bonded moment: “Am I you?” At the time, it seemed like the thing to say. It could have been meant romantically, but I was thinking about it epistemologically and she took it so.

“No,” she said firmly, and then threw down her own opinion on the ontological table. “Sometimes you edit my decisions too much and  tell me what to do, and I don’t like it.” My wife went to Smart Mouth College.

She’s wrong, of course, as always, but right too. I am not her. I am an autonomous self, and yet I do cross over into her, and at times I can hardly tell myself from her or her from me. I like to think back over my life; it’s been a mix of coexistence and  independence. I  have known the ecstasy of escaping my mother, and I have known the ecstasy of merging with my wife.

These many years later, I can still see my mom sick with the cancer, lying in her dark bedroom as I hold her hand, and I can see my daughter crying alone in her room with me beside her, and see too my grandma sitting on a chair in a room that my grandpa is painting. My grandma is smiling at my grandpa, her house painter, the renewer of  her own renewed spaces, her gift, her other self to shelter in. And, I can see my self too, sick with my last sickness perhaps, and my wife, my own adopted other self sitting on my bed and my beautiful daughter stroking my pale head.

How is it that a man might come to such places where he might untrailer from himself and hook on to another?  It brings to mind, oddly enough, in the shifting range of reflection, Shakespeare’s King Lear raving in the storm. The old king, once perhaps loved just a little and perhaps able to give a little love, ends up on the on the heath with no love, all bordered and fenced within himself, screaming into the wind.

He had his chances, the old coot, with his  three daughters, to cross over into them, but then in the process of his making his way through the transfer of power, they were lost to him, and crazy with pain he cries out, ”A man may see how this world goes with no eyes.”

And so I turn my no-eyed, other-seeing consciousness on the crazy king, the man of the moment who is not me and yet who is me, because we both know deep family pain, but I have lived and moved and had just a bit of my being in other persons. And I see Leer there alone in the rain, not yet ended, and I, his self-appointed fool, take him by the arm, this wacked out old king, and I lead him home with me, a piece of my own disturbed self, and I find a safe place for him within me, as if he were me.

I am capable of his foolishness, but I think I can help him, and so I take his arm, and I lead him to bed so that he might take a good, long therapeutic nap. And then I go and get his daughter Cordelia, so that he might wake to her, crossing over to him, and stroking his crazy old head sane again.

Many people these days seem to be off put by judgment.

They don’t like politicians who sling mud at opposing parties. They don’t like religious fanatics who pronounce judgment on sinners. They don’t like ex-wives who tell the kids that dad is a jerk.

That’s interesting. I find that all very interesting.

Someone told me recently that they were embarrassed by their own skin, literally,  how it looks, how it feels.

Someone told me recently that they lacked confidence, with others — almost always.

Someone told me recently that they had a lot of guilt, when really, as far as I can tell,  this person has done nothing much wrong. They aren’t old enough!

Someone confessed to me, “I don’t know if I’ve done enough good to outweigh the bad I’ve done.”

People don’t like judgment and yet it  seems that many people are  the harshest judge of themselves that they know. People judge themselves in ways that they would never judge others.

I heard that someone told their friend a while back, “People don’t like us!”  I know both these people. It isn’t true. Both are liked.

Most all of us, if we hear a baby crying will pick up the baby and comfort it, not scold it. And yet when we cry inside, we too often scold ourselves for the very feelings we should embrace, comfort and sooth.

Yesterday, at a picnic I attended, one of the little boys present whacked his head on the tailgate of a pickup. He bellowed. I held him. He leaned into me. He was comforted. His mom came. He was comforted again.

This is the model for how we should treat ourselves. There will be jugment, but better yet is discernment, and better yet is tolerance and compassion and mercy.

We would all do well, I think, to hold ourselves more when we whack our heads against life, and to bring a little pat and not another whack to the little one within.

When my mom got cancer, I was young, but I was not unaware of what I am aware of now, concerning her. 

She had a disfiguring surgery, and she must have had feelings about that, experienced a changed sense of self because of it, entered into some kind differnt kind of self-consciousness regarding her body. And although I don’t know all she felt and yet feels about this thing, in those difficult days, I sat with her by her bed  and  in some way fused with her. It was difficult for me to tell the her from me completely then.  I grieved for and with her then and still do, as I think of how this has changed the way she feels about herself, forever.

Am I a consciousness separated from the consciousness of others?

I am and I am not. I was not, in that season, with my mom, and I have not been at other times, and these have been some of my most acute moments of consciousness, the  moments of awareness of another person and what they might feel given what they have experienced.

My mom  told me a while back that her mom, my grandma, was sexually abused. It happened in this way; my grandma’s dad died when she was little, and her mom remarried,  it was her step dad who abused her.

“Really, mom? I never knew that! In our family — grandma was sexually abused? Wow!”  And after my mom told me this, and I knew it had happened, it entered me, connecting me in some kind of bridging way to my grandma and giving me an option really,  an option to think about and enter into a new conscious awareness of my past.

My mom told me that afterwards my grandma was sent away to live with an aunt. I think of her now, our Nana, tiny like she was,  when she was abused. I imagine her  alone, confused and afraid afterwards, and I know she was, crying under her blankets in her dark bedroom —  alone. And I wish I could have gone to her then, changed like I have changed now,  changed by my own painful experiences into a more authentic self, into one who knows, and talked to her as if she were my family, as if she were my little daughter — time and space swept aside for a moment —  and me patting her on the back, this harmed little girl who was to become my mom’s mom and my very one-and-only Nana,  and me putting my head beside hers like a real dad would,  in an appropriate unbordering of the self, and then breaking down with her, and  saying to  her with the tears running out of my eyes and down my cheeks and onto her cheeks, “What was done to you was so wrong. I’m so sorry it happened! Look at me. You didn’t do anything wrong! You didn’t do anything wrong!  Something wrong was done to you. And it shouldn’t have been done, and I love you, and I am going to protect you now so that this never, ever happens to you again!”

Sticking to ones own consciousness and harboring up with in one’s own self  is overrated. We cross over, at times, into other’s sacred space in moments of human need and pain, and we make the choice ,when time and space allow,  and as we can, when it doesn’t seem to allow, because who and what is allowed is what we allow, to come close to us. 

And I wish I could have gone to her step-dad, and said what needed to be said to him too, in a controlled way, and then gone to other people who needed to look into this in some way that would bring  a new awareness to him, and then I wish I could have taken my grandma away and found a loving place for her, and said to her, “Now your are safe, and you are going to be okay, we are going to have someone talk to you about this and listen to you and help you be okay.”

My grandma eventually married a much older man than herself, whose wife had died, and he was a very good man, and I think he gave her some of that, the place removed from harm for the wounded self to recover — and safety.

It happened then, when I was not a self, still unborn, but now I am, and my consciousness of it connects me with my grandma, but not her with me. It’s common, this chance, to cross over the sacred border of the self.  I’ve experienced this phenomena, again and again, the awareness of pain that fuses me together with someone else,  inviting me to trailer up with them and live in broken-down sameness together for a short time.

I am a self, or I think I am, but am I?

This is a real  consciousness problem, not some kind of intellectualized, obfuscated philosophical triple talk,  and it is my dilemma, and everyone’s– the significant,  long-standing philosophical conundrum of being a consciousness self in a world of other selves.  It sucks, to have this to sort out, kind of.

If you have  read the extensive and abstruse literature on the consciousness, or the concept of the self, then, “I’m sorry,” and if you haven’t, then your on your own, to know the you-of-you, and the you of not-you, and the them of  the-very-not you.

To get after it, I asked my wife Linda today, “Am I you?’ It was a good question, in context, which I was.

We  had spent the morning together. It was a beautiful sunny, Martin Luther King holiday in Southern California. We began by drinking strong coffee and watching the weather report and talking with the caffeine kicking in the way I like to feel it — early and buzzing and crazy good. I read the first one  out loud to her from the Message version, so colloquial-cool with its one-way-to-be and not the other, and its cleverish, “You don’t go to Smart-Mouth College” and other fun paraphrasy stuff.  After, we said a short prayer of gratefulness together, which we do once in a while to help us deframe from the self, and then we rode our bikes down to Target to pick up a bike lock. We got one, with a self of its own, a thick, smooth, serpentine, springly, clickish bike lock. In the future we won’t  have only two options for nearby shopping: walk or take the cars. We  can bike, with the protective serpent, and hopefully not have to buy new bikes, afterward.

As I rode behind Linda, I tried to find my consciousness, my self, my not-her.  And so I engaged in a few random consciousness experiments. I  looked out from my moving self, and I pointed my digital camera-screen eyes at a subject and clicked — on the moving black shadow of my bike on the white side walk below me. I like shadows, and so I rode happily observing my shadow, until it disappeared under a tree. Here and then gone, and then forgotten as I came into an avian racket in the branches above me.

Bird chatter —  I heard it in the background of my shadow centered awareness on the approach to the tree, then nearer, then above, then behind, “Now that’s  got my late focusing attention,” and turning on my bike seat, I  looked back and up, scanning and listening. I couldn’t see any feathered color, only green leaves and grey branches.  “Starlings” I thought, checking my memory for, “yacky birds,” but I couldn’t be sure, and kept pedaling, following my wife, the pleasant avian din receding like a wind chime in a dying breeze —  then gone. I clicked back ahead, 0n some people, standing by the lake, with children. But looking, so to speak, through them, I found myself mostly conscious of my most recent consciousness,  “I looked at what I was interested in, and I heard what I didn’t plan to hear but liked, a lot.” My conscious, of the birds, was not gone with them.

Wow and then superwow on wow, wow, wow! To experience the me and the not me! I am an awareness, which is different from what I am aware of. How good is that, to be separated, like that, and yet to know,  like this? Good and very good! I am sentient! I am conscious of my consciousness.  And I am conscious of my memories of my consciousness. And I am conscious that I can retain a consciousness of my consciousness. And I am conscious that I can enter into the deep consciousness of someone else. Whoooohoooo! How good is that? Write a consciousness psalm! Read it every morning to the world.  This is smart and mouthed, “Sing praise, for consciousness!”

When my wife and I got home we ate lunch and cleaned up the house and sat close. I leaned over and kissed her. I had spent the morning interacting with her and then I had the time alone with myself on the bike, and now I was shifting back  toward the with-her awareness. I felt myself unbordering, as I sometimes do, when I am with her, relaxing into her green tea perfume, the clean smell of  her hair conditioner, the lovely scented safety of her skin lotion  —  and at that moment, I asked her: “Am I you?” It seemed like the thing to say. It could have been meant romantically, but I was thinking about it epistemologically and she took it so.

“”No,” she said firmly, and then threw down her own opinion on the ontological table. “Sometimes you edit my decisions too much, and  tell me what to do, and I don’t like it.” My wife went to Smart Mouth College. She should read the Psalms more. Me too.

That morning, she had wanted to buy the bike lock at the bike shop, “but Target” I had suggested, was “cheaper,” and so this was  not the rhubarb pie and the ice cream on top that we used to share at Marie Calendar’s, close and sugary and funish. No Eastern universal cosmic soul with us. No Nirvana. I’m not her! She said so.

I agree. I resolutely agree, that I’m not her when she, as she is want to do, is not thinking clearly. The problems with some of the classic literature on the self —  Aristotle,  Hume and Freud —  is that they when they talked about the self they forgot about — wives. Intellectual discussions of the self have too often gone on holiday, disconnecting  from smart mouthed marital repartees and mid-morning bike rides and sexually abused grandmothers and love. Wittgenstein, the language philosopher, astutely pointed this out and it is worth remembering.

After my wife brought up my faults, I thought a moment and said,  “The way I see it is that I have good ideas, and sometimes I share them with you, and you can benefit from them if you so choose, so I’m just basically helping you.”  

“You’re  not,” she replied.

So I know who I am. I’m not her, or him or them. Good. Done.  I have a self.  This thought, now in my mind, is mine, and that thought, now in hers, is hers, so, I am in this way, not her way. Kick it; it’s so delicious; so fine. I love having my own observations, experiences, opinions, awareness of my own awareness. This at least in part, what it means to be a conscious self.

And yet, not so fast, like that and this; my edges smear, fuzz and blur, especially when I cry. And I know that as tightly as I’m woven by my opinions and experiences and choices into a unique and personal self, I will, in times of pain, unravel again at the intellectual door. I think again about my grandma, and I know and always have, and will and always will, come to times when my carefully stitched up edges unravel  — I hope. I am and yet am not a separated self, and now perhaps more so not over time. If I have to live  alone someday, I will, if needed, but I won’t like it, especially at  night. I  hate to sleep alone. And I hate to go through hard things alone, and I hate for anyone to have to suffer alone.

I will merge again, I will deframe, and I will unhook from self and time and space and enter someone else’s reality,  my wife, my two daughters and my friends, and I will not be alone  with my self so that they will not be alone with themselves.  I don’t have to do this, but I will choose to do this because this is how I want to live, and I will have a shared consciousness.

It’s interesting, how this extends outward into so many other  intellectual concerns.  Take the idea of God, a big idea, huge in the history of ideas, and much thought about and written on.  Sometimes I think of God and how different he must be from my self, and far off, it feels sometimes like there is this vast space between us, and I think, there really is. Anyone who doesn’t know this is, I believe, somewhat dishonest about their experience. I’m not God, and he is certainly not me. And I don’t apprehend him well, and it is easy to conclude that although he might be here, “He isn’t here,  not now, not in this harsh reality that I am now in.” I doubt if my grandma felt God when she was being sexually abused.

A lot of people say they believe in God, most people will say that really, but they won’t say that they know what he is feeling or thinking or doing at any one given moment because they don’t. Consciousness doesn’t unborder to the divine often, or does it?

What is the deal with the self and the divine? Can we know God as we know our wives and grandma’s and friends? Can we detrailer from the self and hitch a ride on God’s consciousness?

The guys who wrote the canonized Christian literature on this thought so, writing about being personally formed inside their mothers by God himself, writing philosophically that, “In him [God] we live and move and have our being,” saying that our bodies are like churches that God comes and lives in, and that if we open self’s door, God comes inside us and lives in us, and even getting to the radical point where they say that we can come to the awareness that we no longer live our own lives but that God lives out his life in us. It sounds like soft borders again.  God merging with the self?  Christian orthodoxy says so, and sees God as what is called,  “incarnate,” meaning with us, present, close, in the flesh, or not at all. But enough of this ; too much talk like this and we are on holiday again.,

I don’t know exactly where I stop and God begins, but here too, the lines begin to disolve in the details of everyday life.

God, like the birds,  exisits in odd and unexpected moment of consciousness, seen or not. I like it. I’ve experienced it.  Consciousness of literary consciousness, consciousness of past consciousness, consciousness of things universally conscious,  consciousness of the consciousness of others, consciousness of God — this is what it means to be a conscious self.

So I think about this, as I sip my coffee this morning, and I sense the divine consciousness in me and everyone who has ever lived in it all, and as I do, I hear my unseen birds yacking it up in their tree again.

And riding past the tree,  my eyed-consciousness in tack, I see my bike shadow running along with me on the walk, and then  no-eyed conscious, I see my mom, lying in her dark bedroom as I hold her hand, and I see my grandma sitting on a chair in a room that my grandpa is painting and she is smiling at him, her house painter, the renewer of  her own renewed spaces, and I sense that this safe man was someone who was given to her as a gift of another self to shelter in, and I see my wife ahead of me on the bike riding with me to Target, my own other self and yet not, and then I hear, oddly enough, in the shifting range of focus, King Lear yelling in my ear,  “A man may see how this world goes with no eyes.”  And I turn my consciousnnes on the crazy king, the self of the moment that is not me, and see him there, insane before the storm.  I take him by the arm, this wacked out old king,  and I lead him home with me, into me, a piece of my slowly developing self, and find a safe place for him within me, as if he were me, as he really is. He needs a good, long therapeutic nap.

And I call out to no one in particular but anyone who might be in earshot, “The guy has been out there alone for too long. Help me bring him in, and go get his daughters, please — now.”

.

Discipline Thy Self

Posted: November 4, 2009 in self
Tags: , , , , , ,

 

Rowing Toward GodSelf-discipline

I grew up reading. I read over one hundred books in the 4th grade. I loved to read.

One day in my high schoo English class, my teacher asked me to read out loud a section of the literature we were studying. I remember it well. I was sitting on the right side, along the wall trying to blend into the paint.

I was a reader, but when she said my name, my mouth went into a draught. My heart began to protrude through the veins in my neck. I forgot my mother’s maiden name. I lost control of my lips. I had to read so I began. On one particular aspirated consonant I think I spit on the girl in front of me. I died twice in the next three minutes.

I have never told anyone how afraid I felt that day until writing this. But I’m in good company. More than 90 percent of Americans say they have been shy at some time in their lives. Almost half say they’re shy now. Many feel weak, not powerful, shy not confident.

2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

 It wasn’t until half way through my eleventh grade I realized high school was not going to last forever. I also came to the awareness that my teachers were keeping records. It came as a shock. Grades matter? They will follow me into the next stage of life?

 I had invited Jesus to be my savior when I was eight. I wasn’t living my life for God in high-school, but now I know that I that is when I heard a whisper inside. It was as if someone said, “Get ready.” Someone  was moving an awareness in me. I Began to sense that I had a spirit of power and self-discipline inside me.

 I decided to aim high. I took typing. I learned the keyboard.

 To be disciplined means to adhere to a certain order. Discipline refers to systematic, orderly instruction given to a disciple. Self-discipline refers to the regular training that one gives one’s self to accomplish a certain task. Hit those keys without looking. Memorize that keyboard.

Self-discipline isn’t one choice, it’s a million choices in the same direction. In late high school, I began to make that choice again and again, the choice to try.

Ben Franklin was the master of self-discipline. But his self-discipline was different than Christian self-discipline. The beginning point for Ben was self and the motivation was self-improvement. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

But for us God followers, the beginning point of all order and discipline in our lives is not “early” but it is God, his voice, his plan, not ours.

Before you know it, after high school, I landed in college.  I majored in English. Over the next five years I read hundreds of books and papers, almost every one at the last minute. I took a credential in teaching, and an  MA in literature. I began a life of scholarly discipline.

I remember a moment of few years ago of exquisite beauty. It was a moment of identity, of fulfillment. I got a phone call. It was from one of the editors at Leadership Journal, Christianity Today’s magazine for pastors. They wanted  to publish the article I wrote and sent them on reading groups. It was entitled,  ”It’s Not Ophra’s Book Club.”

 Someone else would read what I wrote. Other leaders and pastors would benefit from these ideas. It wasn’t something everybody cares about, strives for. But for me it was a beautifully satisfying moment. It was a moment I had been looking forward to for a long time. The high school kid who didn’t study and who was afraid to read, who took typing, had finally typed what others would read.

 2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

I remember sitting in Starbucks in Eastlake in the spring of 2006. I sat with my coffee looked out window at the tall, ornamental grass glowing in the sun.   A friend of mine had just told me that he wanted to go back to South Africa. And then he said something surprising. He wanted to know if I wanted to go with him.

He had taught school their in the 1980’s and worked for Campus Crusade for Christ. He wanted to go to Johannesburg and Soweto and to Swaziland.  There was much need there to train and encourage pastors.

I have never really wanted to go to South Africa. I looked out over pampas grass growing outside Starbucks. It was beautiful in the sun. I thought of the veld, of the beauty I had seen in pictures of Africa. Every so faintly, not a voice, but in my mind, God whispered again, “Get ready. I have people for you.”

 Over the next few months I got shots, bought malaria medicine, had my passport renewed, prepared sermons, bought clothes, read books on Africa, prayed, went to planning meetings, spoke to pastors in Africa on the phone to see what they needed, wrote letters to  raise money. And I went to a lawyer and had my estate put  in a trust.

 With much self-discipline, I prepared myself. And then we flew, for two days.

I’ll never forget one Sunday morning in Soweto. I stood in a tent on a dirt floor in a suit. My wife and my fellow travelers and I were the only whites in the tent church.  In front of me was the pain of AIDS and death and loss of children and loss of dreams. I looked out at the pain of Africa, at the people God was sharing with me, and I remembered the pain in my own family and  my own heart and all the hard things God had taken me through.

I preached a message called “Pain Gain,” translated into Swahili. It was as if my whole life led up to that moment, all the pain of loss and all the study and all the risks of coming to Africa met. At the end, half of the church came forward, crying, praying, seeking healing. Then they prayed for me and my team. I cried. It was a moment.

 2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

When I was little, my parents moved to Missouri where my dad took the job of running a Christian campground. We built a home there, for economy  we put in a wood burning furnace in the basement. It was a fire breathing dragon; it ate big logs and kept us toasty warm.

 My job, as a small boy, was to split and haul wood into the basement. I had to bring the stacked wood up to the red line my dad had marked on the wall. I spent many afternoons in  the winter snow and cold, splitting big logs with an ax and a chisel.  I remember so clearly the “thunk” as the wood I threw it up hit and it the wall.  It was the sound was the sound of  self-discipline, and in this manner I learned to work with my hands, and with tools.  It was regular, it was systematic, it was required – by my dad. And God whispered, although I didn’t hear it then. “You may be headed out into life to be a brain worker, but I am going to need you to know how to use your hands.”

After I married and had first daughter my wife  and I bought a house. We bought work. It had been built in the 1940’s. Again I took  up tools. I tore off old dark wood paneling and  I sheet rocked the kitchen.  I took out an old sink in the bathroom and put in a new one. I peeled  back a flat roof and repaired it.

 In the last few weeks I have had a lot to do. I have counseled  people; I have studied, I have written, I have taught classes. I have done brain work, and people work.

But also, in my spare time, I have gone about my church, and I have gotten down on my knees on the floor in  the preschool room and scrapped dirt off the floor with a razor blade.  I have fixed door handles. I have climbed up on the roof of one of the buildings and checked it out for repairs. I have worked on bids to replace the awnings. I know how to work and I have worked like l learned to work throwing up wood against a wall.

And I have had some moments, while working, when God whispered again. He has said, although I didn’t hear an audible voice:  ”I taught you years ago how to work, how to work hard. I taught you how to use your hands in a disciplined way. Now may passion for my  house consume you. You’ve fixed your own houses. Now renew my house. And I don’t want you to do it alone.”

 2 Timothy 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

 1 Cor. 9:26-27 says this in the Message version, “I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. “

 God has put in us the ability to control ourrselves, to discipline ourselves.  We Christians are not by our new nature lazy, afraid, or uncaring. God has put his spirit in us, he has given us power and control over our impulses, our bodies and our thoughts.

If you open to his voice, God is currently speaking to you, whispering your next adventure to you, gently telling you, “Get ready.  Get self-disciplined. ” And if you listen to his prompting something new will begin. Within your bordered self, a you, a unique personality will begin to be formed by the work you discipline yourself to do. A being will be freed and personage empowered. We change through self-discipline, initiated by God.

 We are a people following a voice. We are a people living within God, infused with God,  a God who himself puts a spirit of self-discipline in us. It is a God directed, God empowered self-discipline.  

 It changes us: it changes the world.