Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas and Closeness

"Do Nothing" - a shot from the recent blizzard in Madison, WI
Please be gentle with yourselves as (if) you continue with the highest holiday season in the States:
In close quarters, we over think, second-guessing our own innate assumption of common humanness, which, I now think, boils down to a common need for kindness. We are cruelest to those who remind us of our capacity for (is) clear that they (don't) like who they become around us...not the hatred of the Other, but the self-hatred produced by the Other.
~G Willow Wilson, The Butterfly Mosque

In this passage, G Willow Wilson is referring to her conversion to Islam, her time in a tight-knit neighborhood full of suspicion in Cairo, and to the "clash of Civilizations." In all respect for the larger picture, I wanted to present this as also an inner battle - an inner clash. Long ago, a friend told me that returning home from her college stint at Sarah Lawrence College in upper NY State to her small town Neenah, Wisconsin upbringing made her feel schizophrenic - totally split, paranoid, divided against herself and her family and all she knew and knows.

Holidays - whether they are Christmas observed or not observed, simply time off, with family or not - are rough. Even if you really observe Haunakah or Ramadan, and eat out Chinese with friends on Christmas proper, the overall ethic of American society is one oriented towards this, the "biggest" of all holidays in the year. Co-workers ask if you are "going home for the holidays" even if you are 50. We use the euphemism "holidays" in order to ostensibly be inclusive, but let's face it: we all know that we really mean now - Christmas.

It is a time when it is easy to "disassociate in order to try and connect to others who are dissociated" as a friend recently put it. Families each have their own culture and identities, and when people grow up and split off into different areas of the States or the world, or different states of mind, going "back" can be confusing and even crazy-making (and I don't use that, or the word schizophrenic, lightly here).

Within everyone's families someone is always the scapegoat, the black sheep. Maybe you are that person, maybe you aren't. Be careful of aggression. Give space where you can and consider your own "inner other" - the parts of yourself, perhaps the ones most associated with your family - that you have divided off and attempted to hide from yourself. Your self-hatred will try to roost inside someone else, or your idea of someone else - watch out for that.

Above all, when you find you have resorted to gossip, aggression, fighting or shutting down, be gentle for the fact that you have done that. Our most intimate "clash of civilizations" happens each and every day in our transitions from work to home, family of origin to family of generation or chosen family. Even if your family is pretty peaceful, there's always going to be an edge of re-integrating when people spend time apart. Especially because of the school shooting, there's an edge of tenderness when the edges of people come together. Notice it and be as gentle as you can there.

Connect where you can and stay connected to yourself. I bid you good luck and as much heartbreaking connection as you can bear.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Compassion Confession

Ekphrastic photo of Squeak Carnworth's Perfect Studio, Chazen Museum, Madison, WI
I have a confession to make.
I have made it in oblique ways to some of you in the past, but I think it's time I say it directly.
A newer student this week said that she read the essays I send out before starting class (which started as blog posts here: Listening In, All the Ways We Apologize and Speaking Up, and have since all been published online elsewhere). After she was done, even before she was done, she realized she "didn't even need to read them." Not because she already knew all they said, but because even reading just parts told her what she needed to know:
I create safe spaces.
She will learn in the process what's in the essays.

So here it is:
I am not a writing teacher. I am not a photography teacher, a calligraphy teacher, a movement teacher.
I am a Buddhist teacher.
I am a Compassion teacher.