Abandonment Trauma

In yesterday’s post I notice the words “nothing”, underlined, and “annihilation.”  I’m simply unable to describe how it actually felt, and in fact, right now, I don’t remember how it felt.  Can’t recall it.  It’s such a total disappearance of “me.”  This is the experience of a baby, with undeveloped brain and nervous system, no concept of me, you, death or connection, feeling completely disappeared.  It used to include frozen terror, but that was before I knew what it was, knew that it was my experience as a baby left alone.

This has also been described as a spiritual experience, but I think that that experience is nothing like mine.  The spiritual experience of losing “myself” — I believe — is one of realizing that you are much bigger and entirely different from who you thought yourself to be.  Also not experiencing yourself as alone, but instead as all there is.

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Being Unmet

from my journal for Wednesday, May 20

I was feeling really awful yesterday.  It was like I had lost all the spiritual connection I’ve felt over the past months.  Somehow I was able to trust that it was real, it was still there, even though I couldn’t feel it.  Erica was a huge help.  She said she heard in my voice a weariness, not physical but emotional.  Trying out words she said “being unmet” and that resonated.  I realize that in some ways I have never been met.  I thought Dana met me, but then he failed to stay with it, he cut the connection.  Jalaja met me, she saw who I was, and perhaps she also saw that I couldn’t see it.  Yes, being unmet is a lifelong pain.  

So then, when Erica talked about the part of me that had to erase the experience of connection in the silence, because the experience of deep connection, of “refuge” as Erica said, is founded on a healthy mother-baby connection.  That is what I should have had and didn’t get.  The pain of that not-getting is so great, that the part of me that protects me has to erase it completely.  I end up in that terrible blank space where there is nothing.  Erica said “annihilation.”  Exactly.

She used the word “pendulation” and initially I thought she was wrong.  Pendulation in Somatic Experiencing is moving deliberately back and forth between the resource and the trauma.  There’s nothing deliberate about this.  I gain the resource — Divine refuge — or maybe it is even granted to me by grace — and then my own dissociative defense whips me away from it and into the center of the wound.  I had noticed that each time I had a new spiritual realization, I would later find myself more completely lost in the traumatized baby state.  (Jalaja: “the depths to which you are journeying”)  I failed to see that it’s a mechanism I’ve long been familiar with.  When you complete a healing step, you feel great for a while.  But because you are now stronger, tougher layers of the wound rise up to be dealt with.

Something else that happened yesterday was reading in Radical Acceptance, where Tara talks about how it would be hard to feel compassion for a murderer, a CEO whose company pollutes the Earth, a child molester.  I immediately felt compassion for the murderer and the molester because I know they were both acting out of pain.  It’s a little harder for the polluting CEO, but I am starting to see that money and power addiction is caused by a hole inside that can’t be filled by the material world.  And that these people are not happy, contrary to the myth that money and possessions will make you happy.

So yesterday, after talking to Erica, I stopped paying attention to emails and let myself do puzzles and listen to sacred harp music.  Erica had used the words “weariness” and “fatigue” as she was trying to describe the quality of my voice.  I think I’ve been suffering from “compassion fatigue” — no, it’s not compassion fatigue but empathy fatigue.  I don’t need to read about the pain in the world to feel it.  It’s more tiring and frustrating because there’s not much I can do about it.  I did send two small contributions along with a prayer to causes I really want to help.

The sense I’ve been getting lately is that the best use of my gifts is to send compassion to the “bad guys,” to Trump and his cohorts.  I’m reminded of a quote from Elizabeth Goudge:  “Some expiation is made in experiencing suffering, but none at all in the infliction of it.”

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Coalesce, Confluence, Confusion…

Books I’ve been reading, recent news, posts on the internet, images that come to mind…  all have been coming together in a pattern, or almost a pattern, or maybe an almost combination that’s con-fusing…   To me, con-fusing suggests melting together, dictionary says put two things together that don’t belong, dis-order.  It’s all very confusing.  Perhaps my mind is treating things more as images than as intellectual words.  Or perhaps I’m slightly triggered and my neo-cortex is offline.

Carol Lee Flinders, in At the Root of This Longing, points out that rape & murder of little girls is done by psychopaths, but they are allowed to do it by a culture of male dominance that uses them to keep women “in their place.”  She talks about mothers cautioning and being protective of their daughters.  I immediately remember the video of Black parents trying to explain to their little boys how they need to behave around police.  I know that racism is also a consequence of a dominator culture.  As is colonialism and exploitation of the earth.  It’s a little scary how many different systems are part of it, and how deep the conditioning goes into our psyches and nervous systems.

Carol Lee Flinders talks about the luminous vulnerability of little girls on the cusp of womanhood, age 12 or 13.  She also describes the rape and murder of 12-yr-old Polly Klaas in her community.  She quotes from Tony Hillerman’s description of a kinaalda ceremony in which the Navajo/Dine celebrate a young woman’s menarche.  A completely different type of culture.

I think of young men on the cusp of manhood.  No ceremony of going into the wilderness for 3 days of solitude and prayer for a dream that gives direction for their lives.  No.  Our “initiation” into “manhood” is older boys bullying them and turning them into bullies.  They aren’t men at all, only wounded boys who swagger and hide their wounds so deeply that even they don’t see them.

One of the more beautiful examples of how our culture is ruled by “Boys” is Gina Loring’s “Walking Prayers.”  It also shows how what we have been conditioned to think of as “beauty” is in fact “glamour” as suggested by John O’Donohue, in a talk with Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, pp75-78  He says “True beauty is what makes you feel more alive.”  There are wonderful examples of that at the end of this short video.

My own experience at age 12 was that my father came into my room when I was in bed and started feeling my breasts.  I pretended to be asleep, groaned, and rolled over and he left.  The last time I recovered that as an actual memory (now it’s a story) it contained the feeling “o no not this again.”  I knew there was no point in saying anything.  But since then, I have never been able to sleep on my back.  Because I saw my father not as a “real man” but as a “petty tyrant,” I learned that I was only good enough to be molested by losers.

At the same age, I remember feeling “that twilight feeling.”  It happened at our summer house in Maine.  Mom & Dad would go out for a cocktail party and dinner.  I would be left to feed 7 year old Jack, 6 year old Josephine, and 4 year old Jesse, and get them into bed.  I remember figuring out how to cook hamburgers by burning the first batch.  Once the younger kids were in bed, I would be essentially alone in the empty house while dusk fell.  I remember looking out a window into grayness and seeing my life stretching out in grayness ahead of me, my only value in taking care of someone else’s children.

I saw my father’s action as the reason I couldn’t have sex with my husband, and “that twilight feeling” as my first experience of depression.  It was years before I realized that not only was I abused and exploited, I was traumatized.

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Working on Trusting Myself

From my journal for May 18, 2020

Crashed rather badly yesterday.  Not even sure what it was.  Well, there were a number of things.  Spontaneous Evolution was in a place that made me see how big is the danger that we will destroy ourselves and our planet.  I was sent a link to David Martin who is interviewed in a beautiful documentary, and who seemed to have an amazing spiritual understanding.  He has a web page.  He turns out to be an advisor to big financial institutions.  I had a moment of complete doubt.  So I think these things prepared me to be badly triggered by what happened at Quaker Meeting on Zoom.  When I joined there were about 8 people, shown by black boxes with their names.  I joined with video, and it felt odd to see my face when everyone else was blank.  Some people had photographs of themselves as place holders — I don’t know how they do that — but no one else was live.  I began to feel very alone and exposed with all those blanks — O gosh, I see it!  It’s what I experienced as a baby, what I always got from Mother.  Token presence, but no one really there, certainly no vulnerability, no warm response.  That’s what happened.  Triggered into a frozen baby.  At some point, late in the meeting, someone talked about how the technology was messed up.  That helped a little.  I finally left the meeting — I had been reluctant to do it — perhaps some sense of letting others down, and also wanting to support the practice of meeting even tho there was no connection for me.

I talked to Karen.  I said I was flattened like a balloon.  She said she felt like a lot of people had hit a sort of wall in their ability to cope with strictly shutting down because of the pandemic.  When it started, we didn’t think it would last this long.  We won’t be ready to open up again because the government didn’t use the time to create more tests and more protective equipment.  Some places that have opened up have experienced a new surge of cases, but some places, Trump influenced, will probably not post the information.  Bad news all around.

I wasn’t able to talk to Dulany until we walked the dogs at 4:30 and that’s when I was able to find out that she also saw only herself on Zoom.  She said Suzanne set up a new Zoom for Business and it went fine.  I told her how I felt exposed, she said paranoia wasn’t part of PTSD.  At that point I still didn’t understand why I had been so badly triggered.  It felt really good to be outside and with Dulany.  She wanted to know why business meeting was “not my thing.”  I said something about the blankness I had experienced around conducting meetings of the book group.  She said that’s just fear ahead of time, then you did OK.  I wasn’t sure, hadn’t experienced myself as “doing OK.”

But I kept thinking about it and realized the issue had to do with trusting myself to say the right thing in the moment.  When I teach dance — I think about some of those early times when I had put together a program and for some reason it wasn’t appropriate.  That was in the folk dance days.  I found that I could improvise a program just fine.  And I always felt competent to talk about astronomy when teaching, to point out the constellations when the weather cooperated.  But leading a book group was a new experience and I was right in the middle of the huge transition from figuring it out to trusting myself to improvise.

Whew!  That’s where this discipline of writing is so useful for me.  It has really helped me see what was going on by writing about it.

What I haven’t managed to write about was how bad the crash was.  I felt totally helpless and apathetic.  No idea what to do to pull me out of it.  No motivation for even trying.  There was a part of me that knew that I’ve been here before, that it’s OK to crash completely, that even without making an effort I will come out of it.  I realize that I gave Karen an alternate image of bread dough.  It’s been punched down, but the yeast is working and it will puff up again.  I see that my intuition found the correct metaphor for the process.  Again, I can trust myself.

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Frozen Terror from PTSD

I was amazed when reading through my journal for 1991 I found this:

from Journal for April 25, 1991

I have been printing out copies of Ritual Year to send to people. When I glance through it, and see things like “Rape of an Infant” or “Gemstone and Wings” or “Mother abandoned me” — then I hear mother saying “Nothing like that ever happened to you. Who do you think you are? How dare you say these things?” When I go outside I feel like everyone hates me, I feel hostility coming at me from every direction. Then my muscles all tighten up, I feel incredibly tense and dead at the same time.

OK describe how I feel — trapped and yet exploding. at some vast distance from myself  I want to scream, run through the streets tearing off my clothes, piss on the Village Green. In my body I feel like I’m encased in a suit of armor, the muscles are tense, I feel pressed on, held down by weights, strapped in — yes, I imagine this is what a person in a strait jacket might feel like. I don’t feel alive in my body at all, I feel like my body is dead, clogged, compacted, pressured, and then animated by prickly electrical energy. So I can’t truly rest when I sit still, and I feel too weak and frightened and scared to try to move vigorously. And what would I do? I could hardly stand being outdoors with the dog. I can’t imagine going out again and trying to do anything. I feel a lot of pressure on my neck, like I’m being strangled, I can feel the pressure mounting in my head. Also I’ve been dizzy a lot lately.

“Ritual Year” was a project I was doing of compiling my most powerful writings into a sort of calendar, one piece for each day of the year.

We had just started doing Journey Into Courage.  I’m concerned that the planes are about to start flying.  I’m feeling a lot of tension from the stress of my life at this time.  I had no idea I was severely depressed and struggling with PTSD.

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How I Was Traumatized

I realize that when I described feeling like George Floyd being held down and suffocated, I didn’t explain what happened to me and how it felt.  I had a dear friend who had been horribly abused in a physically abusive family.  She told me more than once that she thought I was dealing with PTSD, but I discounted it.  My parents were both alcoholic, but they weren’t physically abusive.  I thought trauma had to be a result of something violent.

My friend began to do Somatic Experiencing and found it was helping her.  She gave me a copy of Waking the Tiger, Peter Levine’s understanding of trauma through studying animals.  He came to the conclusion that trauma was caused by a natural process that had been derailed.  He developed a way to heal trauma by paying attention to sensations in the body.  In Waking the Tiger he says: “An infant can be traumatized by being left alone in a cold room.”  This is because the infant’s ability to regulate her temperature has not developed yet, and she’s not capable of getting a sweater and putting it on.  Levine essentially describes trauma as happening when the organism’s ability to process the event is overwhelmed by the event.  I realized that an infant can be traumatized simply by being left alone.  Maybe she gets hungry and cries and nobody comes.  Mom may be down in the kitchen warming a bottle of formula, but the baby doesn’t know that.  If no one comes and brings food, the baby will die.  The moment the baby’s reptilian brainstem concludes that death is possible, the fight-or-flight instinct kicks in.  But a baby can’t fight and can’t flee, so the process goes into default mode which is freeze.  This is called “playing possum,” but the possum is not playing.  Instinct has literally frozen the possum’s body.  If the coyote noses its body and concludes it’s carrion and walks away, the possum comes out of freeze, shakes itself off and walks away, restored to normal functioning.  I was nearly 60 when I discovered that I had been traumatized.

Once I accepted that I was dealing with PTSD, I deduced that I had been traumatized by being left alone too long.  I had been severely depressed until I was in my 50’s and got on medication, I had chronic insomnia and constipation, trying to be sexual was difficult and painful, I used to self-mutilate with razor blades.  My mother had made it very clear to me that I was not to be a “nuisance,” i.e. not to have any needs.  As a result it has always been hard to tell when I am tired or hungry, in fact I don’t feel hungry, I look at the clock to see if it’s time to eat.  I know I was fed every four hours (that was the rule in the 40’s) so my mother never had to figure out the difference between a hungry cry, a “change me” cry, or a “tired” cry.  So it was easy to imagine my mother leaving me alone when it was inconvenient, or she was drunk.  I know it must have been very hard to have her first baby when her husband was abroad fighting WWII, and hard for her being alone with a baby most of the time.  But it also wrecked my life.

As a result of the trauma, I would get triggered into a state of frozen terror.  I described what happened to me when I went back to Cincinnati in February of 1971 to spend a week with my parents.  It was pretty bad.  I was suicidal that winter, and didn’t kill myself due to luck.  The first piece was I didn’t know that I had enough of the tranquilizer Mellaril to kill myself.  I had heard a story about someone who tried to commit suicide by swallowing a whole bottle of tranquilizers and didn’t die, just was very relaxed for days.  It wasn’t until years later, working on an emergency hotline in Boston, that I found out that the minimum lethal dose of Mellaril was 600mg.  I had been given 300mg a day during my breakdown in California in the spring of 1970, and I still had plenty left.  WELL.  I just looked it up and it’s not a tranquilizer, it’s an anti-psychotic.  The second piece of luck was that some friends were telling ghost stories on Halloween, and I realized that there might be life after death, and I would just float in space, without a body, all alone. That was scary enough to keep me from actually making plans.

When I started doing Somatic Expriencing with a practitioner, I began to be able to pay attention to what “frozen terror” felt like in my body.  Trying to imagine a real thing that could have happened that would fit my feelings, I came to this:  I am lying in a street at night, I can’t move.  A steam roller is headed toward me, and the driver can’t see me.  There is no one in sight that I could call out to.  Because I’m just a baby, I don’t have words for death, for what is happening to me.  All I know is that I am completely helpless and I’m going to be annihilated.  I don’t exactly feel like I can’t breathe, but I know that something necessary to life is unavailable.  All I needed was a description of what happened to George Floyd, just seeing a picture was enough to remind me what that felt like.  I didn’t think I had got badly triggered, but I’m noticing that in the weeks since I have been finding it harder and harder to function.  I’ve been told that a baby left alone will become apathetic. That’s what I’m feeling.  No words, no motivation.  It’s taken me hours to write this. That’s the best I can do.

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Connecting with the pain of all of us…

I have been feeling very sad and sore, quiet and tired.  I’ve been doing a lot of digital puzzles, not to avoid the feeling but because I didn’t know what to do with it.  Actually, I see that making some art would be the best expression, but I didn’t think of it.  It wasn’t until I was reading some words from Pema Chödrön — words of advice for difficult times sent out by Sounds True — that I realized that what I was feeling was tenderness. a grieving tenderness.  Pema Chödrön says it’s what you feel when your heart is broken open by pain.  I knew that my PTSD had been triggered by George Floyd’s murder.  I avoided looking at the videos, knowing that I couldn’t bear to see what was done to him.  But I saw a transcript of his last words, written out like a poem: “please… please… I can’t breathe…”  I didn’t read the rest, deleted, moved away, but it was too late.  I too was alone, unable to breathe, calling for help and getting no answer.

As I sit with the tenderness, I realize that I don’t just feel it for George Floyd and all the Black people unfairly impacted by our capitalist system and also by COVID-19, but also for all the white people who’ve joined the protests, standing with the Blacks.  I saw pictures of the protestors, and it lifted my heart, but didn’t change the grieving quality of the tenderness.  Then I realized that I also feel tenderness for the White supremacists and police officers.  They also have been badly hurt and don’t know it, won’t admit it, hurt other people to keep from feeling their own pain.

That last understanding came from what happened as a result of a performance of Journey Into Courage.

In the audience were quite a few children from a camp that is an alternative to jail for juvenile offenders. We went there the day after the performance, and met with them at their usual community gathering. They asked us questions, and then they shared similar events from their own lives. The counselors said they heard some of those stories for the first time. One young man said he was at camp because he had sexually abused younger children, and now that he knew what his victims suffered he wouldn’t do it again. It was a pivotal moment — someone who might have gone on to become an abuser had been turned around.

It was a pivotal moment — someone who might have gone on to become an abuser had been turned around.

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“Sing the things you see…”

Tuesday, May 26
3rd cup. coffee.  I want to work on the questions from Humanity Rising.
1. What am I being called to do?
The first word that comes is “art.”  But how can that serve the world?  Allowing your creative energies to flow smoothly, without impediment, will help humanity’s creativity flow to create a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world.
2. What stuff is coming up for me?
Roots.  The root of the radical.  What is needed is change from the roots.  You have been working all your life at getting down to the roots of your life, getting down to the roots of your wounding and healing them.  Now you have come to the root below the wound, to creativity, sacred art.
3. Can I hold difference with respect?
You do it all the time.  Yes, you get triggered if you try to talk to Trump & cohorts.  Better to do the lovingkindness prayer for them.  See how you learned from Dana how to make space for the person who doesn’t want to dance.  And how you are able to see that those who behave badly have been wounded.
4. What’s my highest vision?
Humans working with Nature to build a just, compassionate, sustainable life for all.
4A. what’s my piece of it?
Right now, to respect social distancing.  Keep posting important information on social media.  Metta prayer.  Practice your art.

Friday, May 29
Quote from Krishna Das’ book “Chants of a Lifetime” that I just loved, that gave me complete permission to spend time & energy painting.  When KD’s guru sent him back to America, he said “How can I serve you in America?”  His guru said “If you ask how you should serve, then it is no longer service.  Do what you want.”

Made me think of the letter from my Higher Self that I wrote in a Kripalu workshop in 1991:
My Dear One, this is what I have to say to you. You are an artist. Your art unfolds from inside out. Do not worry now about how it is to appear in the world, that will happen as it unfolds. Do painting, drama, whatever your heart wants, do it. That is the only way you will find out what is there. You cannot tell from the seed what the flower will be, you can only nurture it as it unfolds, and allow the unfolding to happen. You will be surprised and delighted and awestruck to see what is there. You will never see the immense treasure that lies sleeping in your heart until you begin to unfold it through your art. I give you courage and faith. And I tell you that “selfish” and “unselfish” are useless words, do not let them stop you from bringing out what is within. Courage, dear one, I give you courage and anger and fire and poetry and dance and gold and jewels and silks and velvets. Do not think that the material world is materialistic and unspiritual. The material world waits for you to make it sacred through your art. Offer your works to the god, and others will be nourished by the overflow. For the greater glory of god, my dear, keep bringing out what is within.

Saturday, May 30
Full of a confused mix of feelings.  Grief and anger for George Floyd, held to the pavement and suffocated by a cop’s knee on his neck while he gasped “… please… please …  I can’t breathe…”  Wanting to go to the vigil on Hanover Green, join the people standing socially distanced with masks.  Unable to go to the vigil because I haven’t the energy to ask for permission, drive, find a parking space, come back and self-quarantine for two weeks.  Well, actually, the self-quarantine part isn’t that hard and would be worth it.  Feeling sad and confused about unintentionally stopping my brother talking about his anxiety.  My intention was to support but I should have kept my mouth shut.  Mocha now underneath the table because it’s too warm to sit next to me and comfort me with her furry touch.  My heart squeezed and stretched by the music of the lost words blessing: “enter the wild with care my love and speak the things you see…    and when every hope is gone let the raven call you home.”  While walking the dog in a blue and green world I look up and see a hawk circling.  I hear its cry, a high-pitched “pwee,” and know it for an osprey.  I pick up my brush and dip it in water and then in the rust-colored gouache.  I draw it carefully down the lines I’ve drawn to indicate roots.  I feel happy doing this finicky task, I enjoy the color and the texture of the paint, and the way the brush lays it down.  I don’t care what it looks like.

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Life, the Greatest Gift of All

There are a bunch of shadbush on the far side of Scattergood.  Every time I walk by and see their delicate flowers and red-brown leaves I grieve not being able to see the shad in flower along the Gale River.  I miss the wild landscapes of Franconia.  Though now that I’m reading Braiding Sweetgrass, I realize that the most beautiful landscapes, like the ones in England, are made by people & nature working together.  That most of what I’ve known, in Cincinnati and Franconia, has been second growth after clear cut.  Homesick for the home I never had.

The music in my head is “We are the world, we are the children …  there are people dying, and it’s time to lend a hand…”

“to life, the greatest gift of all” — I still have a hard time with that.  Can’t see life as a gift.  Certainly not my life.  My life has felt like a punishment, or a difficult chore that takes all my energy just to get through the day.  But then, what about the “life” described in Braiding Sweetgrass, in Spontaneous Evolution — the life of Nature, so beautiful and intelligent, creating conditions for more life.  Not human life — we’ve made such a mess of it — but the ongoing creative abundant forgiving life of the universe.  I say “forgiving” because I finished the chapter about “Sacred and Superfund” in Braiding Sweetgrass, where Robin Wall Kimmerer discovers how the plants are coming in to reclaim the poisoned dead land.  This is the land around Lake Onondaga, both land and lake poisoned by industry.

But if I think of “Life” not as something that came to me wrecked, but as some Great Power in the Universe, that (who?) starting from hydrogen, created the periodic table of the elements.  After I had my realization/vision of that incredibly complex, unbelievably beautiful, intricately interconnected Whole, the periodic table of the elements changed from something familiar to something totally amazing. It looked like something clearly created by an Intelligence. But an intelligence way beyond human brains. I have some sense of the complex process by which the elements up to Iron were created in the interiors of stars, producing energy which blazed out into the Universe as light. The elements heavier than iron have to be created by input of energy, so they are only created by a supergiant star which explodes, sending all the elements out into the universe, seeding the primal hydrogen with heavier elements, thus making the creation of planets possible. And the universe goes on creating, by what rules only he/she/it/they know. (What is the correct pronoun for the Universe?) On a planet the right distance from its star to have liquid water, elements combine into molecules, which then combine into living cells, which then combine into complex organisms, which then combine….   the result is incredible complexity and diversity and fertility of ecosystems…   with ever increasing awareness until we have beings capable of detecting quantum mechanics and enacting compassion.  The full story is well told in Spontaneous Evolution.

When I look at that, there’s clearly a wise, compassionate, Intelligence behind all Creation, or becoming all creation.  I do not understand why so many beings have to suffer, unless it’s that we don’t learn without suffering, but I do know, at some very deep level, that we are all held in Compassion. And I so much enjoyed all the birds singing as I walked Mocha this morning.

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Feeling our Way, Intuition and Improvisation

From my journal:
3rd cup
. coffee.  Yesterday was a good day, despite things “going wrong” like a Zoom meeting for a play reading that got hacked, a walk with the dogs that was cut short by rain, etc.  

When I took Mocha out this morning, it was in the 40’s, bright sun, brisk wind.  Windchimes ringing, grass greening, trees budding.  I could almost hear singing “Life! Life! Life!”  But does that cry, does “Life,” contain spirit?  Or is it just, as Sartre claims, without pattern or direction?  I go back and forth.  Sometimes life seems to be purely material.  But then what animates it?  If what we call life has its source in a universal process that includes self-organizing, then “we were meant,” then there is intention, and the goal or direction of the process is shown/proved by the existence of the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Jesus, and the love I feel when I am able to allow myself to be free of what I “know” about myself.

[Stuart Kauffman talks about the process of self-organization and the autocatalytic set theory in Complexity, p321.  “Life is the natural expression of complex matter.  It’s a very deep property of chemistry and catalysis and being far from equilibrium. And that means that we’re at home in the universe. We’re to be expected. How welcoming that is! How far that is from the image of organisms as tinkered-together contraptions, where everything is bits of widgetry piled on top of bits of ad hocery, and it’s all blind chance. … we make the world we live in with one another. We’re participants in the story as it unfolds. We aren’t victims and we aren’t outsiders. We’re part of the universe, you and me, and the goldfish. We make our world with one another.”]

I’ve been reading Stephen Levine, Meetings at the Edge, and getting an enormous amount out of it. Working with a therapist who had a client wound his wife badly, kill someone, and then commit suicide, he says “If you are working on yourself to examine jealousy and fear and self-protection, then you are the best therapist for this fellow who is feeling these same confusions. It’s all just the braille method — until we each participate in our wholeness, we must just feel our way along moment to moment, practicing deeply the forgiveness and investigation that brings us closer to our true being. Speaking more and more from a sense of what is appropriate in the moment, letting go of attachment to ‘results,’ to that ‘appropriateness’ working. You just do what you do as work on yourself, deepening the compassion and love, letting go of the fear and knowing that keep us so isolated.”p52

Yes, “feeling our way,” using intuition and improvisation, is the totally appropriate way to work with a complex adaptive process. Which is what life is. Which is what the pandemic is. Which is why we are dealing with it so badly, coming from a culture addicted to prediction and control. What is truly amazing is that so many people are coming from a place of compassion and generosity. And that itself shows me that compassion and generosity are built into the “pattern” for the human. If “survival of the fittest” were really the foundation, there would be total chaos and violence.

“Complex Adaptive Systems are dynamic systems able to adapt in and evolve with a changing environment. It is important to realize that there is no separation between a system and its environment in the idea that a system always adapts to a changing environment. Rather, the concept to be examined is that of a system closely linked with all other related systems making up an ecosystem. Within such a context, change needs to be seen in terms of co-evolution with all other related systems, rather than as adaptation to a separate and distinct environment.”  From MIT papers.   The difficulty with them is that there are so many factors interacting that it’s not possible to predict what will happen in the future with any accuracy.  One common metaphor is “If a butterfly flaps its wings in China, it will change the weather in North America a few days later.”

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