Not My Stuff

I frequently encounter situations where someone has taken on the developmental or recovery work of a friend or loved one. They mean well, and they want to help their loved one in their process, but somewhere along the way a line gets crossed and their efforts turn from helping the individual in question to hurting everyone. Again, this is all with the best of intentions, but with terrible results.

We quite simply can’t do other people’s work for them. It may seem loving to try, but it’s anything but. The result is quite often the we inhibit their already overdue growth process. Housing the perpetually unemployed or the addicted person, tolerating inappropriate interpersonal behaviors of a loved one working through a trauma history, or allowing people to repeatedly overstay their welcome not only hurts them, it hurts the members of your family who are entitled to your attention and affection. Your partner and your minor children deserve to be the object of your love and support. Other adults quite simply need to grow up and figure life out. Their issues are not your issues.

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Asexual Dating

There is an article currently on Huffington Post that details the dating difficulties of a person who identifies as asexual. I mention it because the issue can be generalized to a number of relationship questions. The author of the article was bemoaning the fact that, while there are asexual dating sites, they aren’t very well populated and some of the people on them she finds strange. It’s also difficult to identify asexual people in daily life who might be prospective dating partners. Her solution has been to date non-asexual people, both men and women, but that hasn’t really worked out because they are looking for sexual relationships. Go figure.

asexual makeoutsWhile we might be tempted to roll our eyes at the fact that she is baffled by all of this, many people enter into relationships where they know from the outset that some of their prospective partner’s strongest needs are something they just aren’t interested in. Foe example, perhaps one partner loves spending many of their weekends at Civil War reenactments, and the other finds them silly. This couple would need to ask themselves if they could tolerate spending many weekends apart. If not, there isn’t much point in continuing the relationship.

No relationship is going to feature two people who meet all of each other’s needs. Each partner is ultimately responsible for getting their own needs met. If we are talking about finding a tennis partner or someone to go to craft fairs with, there shouldn’t be a problem. If we are talking about finding someone else as a sexual partner, there is likely to be some question as to why we are in a romantic relationship rather than just remaining friends. If an asexual person is looking for a life partner, their best bet is probably another asexual person. If they chose to try to date sexual people, it seems to me they lose the right to be surprised when it doesn’t work out.

Other times, it can be a problem of mistaken definitions. I worked with a woman several years ago who told me she was bisexual. By this she meant she was attracted to gay men. It turned out that she had an extensive history of sexual abuse as a child, and she felt attracted to gay men because she could be fairly certain they wouldn’t want to be sexual with her. She didn’t understand why gay men didn’t want to date her. I referred her to a therapist. No matter the context, it’s good to know when you are in over your head!

The Spiritual Battle of the Sexes

You don’t have to be an anthropologist to know that spiritual and religious events across traditions are attended by more women than men. Leadership in this events tends to be more male than female. Both are huge problems. One of them impacts power and control, the other programming. Both alienate half of the population.

holding handsThe role of religious and spiritual leaders in congregations of all faiths has transformed over the course of my lifetime from pastoral leader to administrator. In the Christian world we can see this in the decline of the quality of preaching in many churches, in the decline and sometimes virtual disappearance of pastoral care in any form, even on the deathbed. These things have happened despite the fact that church attendance is down across all denominations. It’s true that the Roman Catholic Church has a clergy shortage and so their deficits are a bit more understandable, but virtually everyone else has a clergy surplus. What’s the problem?

When your pastor is primarily a business, marketing, and financial manager, he or she simply doesn’t have the time to do the things most of us want a pastor to do. In some settings, lay people have been appointed to fill roles such as parish administrator, director of religious education, pastoral care committees, and other roles in an attempt to take the load off of the pastor. The training these people receive varies broadly, but since the preponderance of regular attendees at houses of worship are women, those filling these roles are mostly women. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s a good thing in a world that was dominated by male clergy – though that trend is beginning to shift.

enemaThere’s just one hitch. One of the results of all this is that women are designing programming for women (understandably), and most of that is about as attractive to the average man as an enema administered through a bazooka. That trend continues across religious and spiritual organizations. Retreats and conferences across traditions offer specific programming addressing such topics as the Divine Feminine, and that’s great. Programming for men? Not so much. Presenters at the upcoming 2020 conference of Spiritual Directors International include one man. One. Remind me again why we are supposed to feel welcome?

You see, whether we like it or not, men don’t want to hold hands during the Our Father or sit in a circle facing one another and singing. We certainly don’t want to jump to our feet and engage in some ecstatic dance. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, they just aren’t our things. What are men concerned about?

  • the changes of aging
  • job security, or finding a new job over age fifty if we need one
  • are we still attractive?
  • why has our marriage become sexless?
  • understanding our roles in our families
  • finding meaning in our lives

The truth is that unless and until those issues start being addressed, don’t expect us to show up any time soon.

Trauma and A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far is a World War II movie about an Allied offensive that tried, as the title

a bridge too far poster

implies, to go a bit too far. Released in 1977, I loved this movie – but I probably wasn’t aware of all of the reasons I loved it. Elliott Gould was definitely not one of the reasons I loved it. For those too young to know, Elliott Gould was an earlier incarnation of Jeff Goldbloom – the kind of guy some women seem to love, but who most men would prefer to bitch slap until he cries, force him to wear a tutu, and then make him get us a beer. I digress, however.

Those of us who are trauma survivors are only too aware of the mentality that launched this offensive in WWII. In fact, if we could go back in time and examine the histories of those who pushed these kinds of overly ambitious plans into action, I would wager we would find more than a few trauma survivors among them. In a much more pedestrian way, those of us in civilian life who have endured trauma frequently push ourselves toward a bridge too far, failing to respect our limits because we have been taught to ignore them. If taking the dog for a two mile walk is good, then taking her for a four mile walk is twice as good, and an eight mile walk even better. Never mind that after eight miles our feet (and quite possibly the dog’s) will be blistered and bloodied. Never mind that we will be so stiff the next morning that we will walk as if we’ve spent the night riding a horse.

a-bridge-too-far-lg
Elliott Gould.

Trauma survivors tend to be disconnected from our bodies in varying degrees because we have been taught that bodies and feelings don’t matter. Only appeasing our abusers mattered. I sailed through basic training because no matter how many screaming lunatics in military uniforms and smokey the bear hats you lined up, they had nothing on my family of origin. In fact, they reminded me of Elliott Gould. As I see it, the biggest problems for trauma survivors as they move through life is that (1) we don’t respect ourselves, and (2) because of that we are easily manipulated.

elliot gould
Elliott Gould

When you are in your twenties you may be able to literally run through walls, but by your forties you start bouncing off them. We may not respect our limits, but at a certain point in our life cycle the universe starts enforcing them. Wherever we are on life’s journey, now is the time to start listening to our bodies and our feelings. If we don’t know how, a good therapist can help us. Living life while disconnected is not living a full life. In fact, it will make us reach for A Bridge Too Far.

There are no Gurus

The fascination that has grown in the west over the past several decades with eastern spirituality has become problematic, especially regarding gurus. As spiritual teachers and so-called gurus have moved from east to west, one thing that has become apparent is that they have a propensity toward sexual misconduct with their students. This in turn creates not only the problems that come with every form of sexual abuse and misconduct, but also a problem with the whole notion of gurus.

A guru is supposed to be a fully enlightened being. By definition, a fully enlightened being would never act out in any way – including and perhaps most especially sexually. The simplistic approach would be to say that anyone who acts out sexually is not a true barkley guruguru. I would agree as far as that goes, but what this approach leaves unanswered is whether we should just head on down to the next guru or whether the whole idea of guru is somehow part of the problem.

It seems you can’t scratch the surface of many so-called gurus without finding problematic behaviors. Whether they have quietly amassed fortunes, built large networks of volunteers who work for them without pay, have a secret stash of luxury automobiles, abuse their students physically or sexually, throw lavish parties that celebrate hedonism more than spirituality, or some other unacceptable behavior, many if not most highly regarded teachers who have migrated to the west have fallen from grace. What is the problem?

The problem is that most gurus achieve recognition as gurus in a highly protected environment. Living as celibate monks in a monastery, they are able to make spiritual progress is what is a very sheltered environment. In these environments money, sexuality, fame, and western style social interactions simply aren’t an issue. What these systems generate aren’t fully enlightened beings but rather semi-enlightened man-children. In a sheltered, cloistered environment they are just fine but they fall to pieces when they step out of the monastery and into the world. Stated another way, when they have to cope with the same things everyday people like you and I cope with, it becomes apparent they aren’t so enlightened after all. Go figure. You can’t “educate” someone in a sheltered environment and believe that will equip them to function well outside that environment. It’s not just ill-advised, it’s stupid.

We have this notion that spiritual leaders should live in an environment where they guru fraudnever have to navigate the complex web of human relationships (most especially romantic and sexual relationships) or be responsible for their own financial well-being. Then we let them into the world and they set about raping and pillaging. Would you give the keys to your brand new car to someone who had never seen a car, much less had any driver’s education or driving experience? Then why in the world do we send these adult children into the world and give them the keys to our spiritual well-being?

Spiritual teachers are precisely that – teachers. Since no human being is perfect, whatever enlightenment may be it cannot be equivalent to perfection. We still need to exercise our best judgment and to understand that when it comes to our safety, our opinion is the only one that counts. Never do something that feels wrong because someone you trust tells you it is right. The external guru, if such a thing exists, is there to show you the internal guru – and your internal guru would never betray you!.

Sometimes the truth hurts

You may not like this, but it’s true. Voting for someone because of their sexual orientation is just as stupid and NOT voting for someone because of their sexual orientation. There is so much more to like than who we sleep with that it should be a non-issue. Their are both competent and incompetent people in all corners of life. Look more deeply.

Is it me?

Sometimes I think that maybe I am jaded, or too serious, or that I have some kind of kill joy perspective that renders me unable to appreciate “good, wholesome church fun.” I guess my notion that organized activities should be age appropriate only applies to the elderly or the infirm and not to adults gathered in the name of their particular (or peculiar) faith tradition. Whatever the reason may be, “good, wholesome church fun” has always left me flat.

Gathering the leaders of an organization together to do childish crap in order to make them seem more accessible seems to me to be both transparently manipulative and counterproductive, but the Church seems to disagree. Instead they trot out their leaders to do things only highly intoxicated people would do, except these people are sober as a church mouse. And while those already on the inside cheer and applaud this foolishness, those on the outside shake their heads and feel like these infants have nothing to offer them – and they are right.

I really believe that people are looking for a community that will understand and support them in the real struggles of adult life. When they see alleged leaders jumping around on pogo sticks, they don’t see people to whom they can relate. Rather, they see what looks like an occupational therapy group at a hospital for the criminally insane.

I’m not saying that we can’t have fun. In fact, I think having age appropriate fun in plain view is vitally important. The Church in all its forms has been reluctant to do that for fear its more tight assed members would object. Apparently it doesn’t want to take on the difficult task of encouraging its members to move into adulthood, and so prefers to act as if they had a role as an extra in a Jerry Lewis movie.

And the decline of the Church is a mystery because…?

Truth

The days in which anyone with even a shred of honesty or integrity could say “my religion is the only right one” have been consigned by the advances in human capacity to the waste bin of history. There are no serious or worthwhile conversations to be had from this archaic stance.

Alyssa Milano’s Sex Strike

In light of the Governor of Georgia signing a bill that bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected (which is often before the woman is aware she is pregnant), Alyssa Milano has suggested a sex strike by women until they “have legal control over our own bodies.” In case you don’t know, Alyssa Milano tries to get attention these days by fashioning herself a social and political commentator. Her “strike” is a good example of why it’s a bad idea to let just anyone be a commentator.

Believe it or not, Alyssa, sex is not a reward for men who are good little boys. Nor is it a way to get one of us to bring pressure on others of us who are not doing the things you believe they should. Despite that, women have a history of using their vaginas as if they were some kind of a reward for good behavior and acting as if physical intimacy with their partner is something that really doesn’t matter to them except as a tool of influence and blackmail – a commodity, rather like a chocolate chip cookie, that doesn’t really care whether it is eaten or not.

In a country where one in three women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, there is no shortage of relationships whose physical intimacy is both a major challenge and an area of profound unmet need. Some of us in those relationships persist, doing our best to keep the relationship together despite the challenges. Others are unable to continue through no fault of either party. The last thing that those of us in relationships that are challenged need is nonsensical input from you. As a self-reported survivor of sexual abuse you should know better, but apparently you do not. As a forty-six year old woman, you are likely aware that the odds of you becoming pregnant are not great – so what is really at work here, other than your desire for attention? Nothing good, I’m afraid.

 

Compelled to Organize

You would never guess it to look at some of our closets, but we human beings seem to be Family-Nature-Walk-Patterns-in-Naturecompelled to organize. When someone comes up with a new idea and shares it with a few friends, it might grow in popularity. At that point, someone is bound to step forward and attempt to institutionalize the idea – and that movement spells the beginning of the end of the new idea. It might last for quite a while, but when it dies out it almost certainly will be because the weight of the institution drags the good idea under water. Let’s look at an example.

Suppose that Fred discovers how much he enjoys walking along nature trails. He tells a few friends about his walks, and a couple of them decide to accompany him on a walk. His friends find the walks rewarding, too, and share his desire to spread the word about their walks. The get a website, or go on Meetup.com and form a group. After a while they learn that other people are starting walking groups, too, but they are walking at different times of the day than Fred and his friends do. Not only that, but some of them are wearing hiking boots while Fred and company only wear running or walking shoes. Others aren’t walking on clearly identified trails. Then there is the issue of clothing. Fred and his friends wear shorts or sweatpants and a t-shirt, but these new people are wearing Under Armor clothing only.

Clearly, this will never do. Fred’s colleague Frank decides to write down some rules for Lewis-Black2nature walking. True, orthodox nature walkers walk in the morning on clearly identified trails, wear comfortable clothes suitable for other purposes and athletic shoes. They declare hiking boots, Under Armor, and afternoon walking in random locations heretical and not real, authentic nature walking. The afternoon people respond in kind, declaring hiking boots, brand name apparel, and afternoon walks the only orthodox practice. Soon, both groups learn of a group across town that walks in the evening wearing flip-flops. Son of a bitch! These people have to be stopped! After all, the morning and the afternoon groups have had their disagreements, but flip-flops are simply beyond the pale! How could anyone call the way that you have to shuffle your feet along to keep those things on your feet walking? And that little plastic post between your first and second toes would surely drive any sane person around the bend! These people must be stopped!

imposter_o_6086169Did you notice, in all the fighting, what everybody seemed to forget about? Nature. Presumably they all went out for a walk in nature in order to enjoy nature, but they got all weighed down in secondary concerns that impacted their ability to enjoy nature not one bit. If you think that’s silly, just look around. It’s everywhere. Everybody wants to have the only “official” whatever it is they do. Why? Who really cares? Nobody who truly cares about the purpose of a group would give a rat’s behind what some other group did – unless they were very unsure of their own legitimacy. Unless what they are really concerned about is that they don’t feel that they are legitimate nature walkers and so worry that at any moment someone will find them out – and the misdirection of scrutiny begins.

The solution, of course, is to simply and clearly declare everybody legitimate. If you are walking in nature as you understand nature, you’re a nature walker, period. This will heartily offend the control freaks in the group, which is a good thing because we might encourage them to get some help. More importantly, these principles can be applied to any organization. We can examine our rules, particularly our rules of exclusion, to see if they have a legitimate reason. I suspect we will find most of them do not. As we eliminate these inappropriate rules, we can get back to the original purpose of our group. Imagine the possibilities!