As (not) seen on TV

Beating the Cloth DrumI recently subscribed to “Zen Quotes” from Shambhala.com. I’m leery of “quote services” because most of the time what I receive is banal and overly sanguine. However, I am very pleased with the quotes I have received so far. I was hoping that Shambhala would break out of the mold; they did.

Here is the one from last week:

There is no getting around it: for achieving the initial entrance into satori [the experience of awakening], nothing can excel a direct and expeditious assault fired by intense, vigorous, urgent desire. People who engage in practice a little bit at a time when the thought occurs to them will not achieve kensho [self-realization] even if they continue doing it for thirty or forty years. As time passes, their efforts physically exhaust them, drain them of the necessary spirit and strength they need to subdue the illusory, passion-ridden thoughts that crowd into their minds. In the end, they are reduced to fingering rosaries and tearfully reciting Nembutsu, a pastime that brings them no more relief than one of those ready-made toothache medicines sold in the streets.

Life is hard work. We live in a society that wants a pill to fix everything. We want 10-minute Zen. We want to be mindful while at work getting things done so we don’t have to take time out to really meditate. We think that, for some reason, enlightenment should be easier for us because we are more … “something”–not sure what that “something” is. Even religion is less demanding. I went to church twice on Sundays and Wednesday night. Without fail. Every week. How many do that today?

Now, before you start lambasting me (FWIW, I prefer a mild sauce), I’m not suggesting that we must return to that “old time religion.” I realize that more is not always better. But is it reasonable –or even sane–to think that everything is easier now just because we can get email on our phones, travel to anywhere in the world in a matter of hours, and order pizza while playing video games?

The Buddha, the apostle Paul, Mohammed, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, the Zen masters, Rumi, and many others did not get where they got with 10-minute Zen and church once a quarter and 60 hour work weeks and month long vacations and summers in the Hamptons. No. They worked their asses off meditating and praying and giving up things and studying. But we’re led to believe today that there is a short cut.

Mindfulness at work is not enough. Reading Zen quotes once a week is not enough. Saying “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual” without a daily practice that takes more than 10 minutes IS NOT ENOUGH.

I’m yelling at myself as much as you, the reader. I want to be a writer but I don’t write for hours every day. I want to be an artist but I don’t paint/draw/sketch for hours every day. I want to be thinner/stronger/leaner but I watch TV instead of being active for hours every day.

Life requires strong desire and strong desire requires effort and effort requires time and time requires sacrifice. Read what Jesus (not Paul) says. Read what the Buddha says. Read The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Read The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich. Read I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj.

There is no magic pill, folks. No “as seen on TV” product that gets you where you want to be in 30 days or your money back. It’s discouraging in today’s fast paced, always going, take a pill and you’re fine world. But there are some things that technology and science and medicine just can’t change. We are human just like we’ve always been and the outside world isn’t as influential on the inside as we’d like to think.

I’ll leave you with the summary from the back cover of my copy of Bonhoeffer’s book:

This is the book by which the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German theologian who was martyred by the Nazis in 1945, became widely known in both Europe and America. In it he examines the serious implications of believing in Christ, the intensity of the struggle between the world and God in man’s deepest self whenever he takes upon himself true discipleship.

“This whole book is a powerful attack on ‘easy Christianity’ and a warning that in a world such as Bonhoeffer could see coming, faith was not easily attained. … Bonhoeffer is a teacher a thinker whose truths were tested in a time of trouble and whose life and death certified to the strength and depth of his desire to follow Christ.” – Samuel H. Miller, Dean, Harvard Divinity School.

Egocide and suicide

egocide and suicideLately, I’ve been thinking about egocide. (Why does my autocorrect want to change that to “geocode”??) I’m at the end of my rope and climbing back up is not an option. I’ve got to change. Drastically change. Kill off the “Ken” I think I am and reinvent “Ken.” Killing off, or sacrificing, my concept of myself amounts to killing off my ego—egocide.

David Rosen, in his book Transforming Depression, describes egocide as “a symbolic killing of the ego that is experienced as ego death: a sacrifice of the ego to the Self, a higher principle.” Rosen went through this in his own life. “It was the ego-image [he] had of [himself] as a husband that was sacrificed. When [he] released that image, [he] found [he] could surrender to a higher power within [himself]—the Self.

The other day, as I was starting this post, I found a blog post about Buckminster Fuller’s egocide. The idea was that he would throw away his ego. He would not work for himself or for material gain but solely for the greater good. He trusted that his needs would be met. Apparently, trusting the universe to provide worked out pretty well for ol’ Bucky.

Then, I was watching the last episode of Top of the Lake (streaming on Netflix) and there was the following conversation between Robin, the protagonist, and GJ, a guru-type. Robin had just gotten some very bad news.

Robin: I don’t know how to keep living.

GJ: So, you’re on your knees? Good. Now die to yourself. To your idea of yourself. Everything you think you are, you’re not. What’s left? Find out. … Stop thinking.

Robin: I need to help Tui

GJ: You people all want to help someone. Help yourself first. Like the airplane. Put on your own mask first.

Robin: How do I help myself?

GJ: Why should I tell you when you don’t listen.

Robin: I’m listening.

GJ: No! All you hear are your own crazy thoughts like a river of shit on and on. See your thoughts for what they are. Stop your helping. Stop your planning. Give up. There is no way out. Not for others. Not for you.

Egocide is about death. And that’s why it is an alternative to suicide. When in a depression, there is no future and no past. Time doesn’t move. Therefore, nothing changes. I can’t envision a time when I wont be depressed. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t depressed. All I have is this moment. This overwhelming, oppressive moment. But things must change because they are intolerable as they are. If things can’t change with time then death is the only answer. Death is the only way to make things change. Something must die. If not the body then, perhaps, the ego can be a surrogate.

The real question is: what images of myself, exactly, do I need to sacrifice? I’ve been trying to let go of “Ken the computer guy” for a while but the problem is that he’s the only one making any money. But, perhaps it’s my feeling that way which is preventing all the other Ken’s from bringing home some bacon? Maybe there’s also the aspect of letting go of negative images—the “I’ll never be a real writer/painter.”

I don’t think there has to be something there to fill the gaping hole left by the sacrificed ego. That’s too much planning. If egocide is a surrogate for suicide then there can’t be a replacement already in the wings. Perhaps some people can transition from one stage to the next easily. They know in advance what they want to do before they get to the point of needing to terminate the old “them.” But, not everyone. I’ve known for a while now that something’s gotta change but I didn’t know what/how/when.

Well, I’ll keep you posted on what’s going on and how I see the imminent transformation shaping up. So, keep reading!

Got cud? (Jung’s take on depression, part 2)

iStock_000006897508XSmallTo ruminate is to further chew partly digested food. (At least if you’re a cow, sheep, giraffe, or other ruminant.) For homo sapiens, to ruminate is to brood—to be in a self-focused, self-critical frame of mind. Psychologists say this is a big no-no but Jung seemed to prescribe and not proscribe it:

Depression should therefore be regarded as an unconscious compensation whose content must be made conscious if it is to be fully effective. This can only be done by consciously regressing along with the depressive tendency and integrating the memories so activated into the conscious mind—which was what the depression was aiming at in the first place.

—C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation,
CW vol 5, par 625.

In The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, we read:

Rumination invariably backfires. It merely compounds out misery. It’s a heroic attempt to solve a problem that it is just not capable of solving. Another mode of mind altogether is required when it comes to dealing with unhappiness. [p. 45]

So, rumination = bad. But earlier in the same book, we read:

This is why we can react so negatively to unhappiness:our experience is not one simply of sadness, but is colored powerfully by reawakened feelings of deficiency or inadequacy. What may make these reactivated thinking patterns most damaging is that we often don’t realize they are memories at all. We feel not good enough now without being aware that it is a thinking pattern from the past that is evoking the feeling. [p. 38]

Memories! That’s the link between Jung and Williams et al. Memories are being activated but we don’t realize they are memories. When depressed, part of this “not realizing” is because we can’t envision a past. Nothing has ever been different than it is right now. We can’t remember—or even imagine—a time when we weren’t depressed. So, when we are ruminating on our depression and unhappiness, we are unable to look back far enough to “see” those memories that are being activated, those memories from our childhood. We only experience the effects of those situations today. And so we try to “fix” our mood by ruminating on today’s events or what went wrong yesterday or last week which caused our current slide. And, yes, that does not work because current events and situations are only triggers for what has been branded into our minds from childhood. We can’t change anything by focusing on the triggers. There will always be triggers and while we may be able to control our reaction to those triggers that is not a real solution.

What Jung is suggesting is exactly the “other mode of mind” which Williams et al. say is absolutely necessary. While at first blush Jung is advocating rumination and logical, analytical thinking, he is really describing a different process all together.

Finding a way out [of depression] is beyond his rational powers. Only the irrational soul, with its “transcendent function” (i.e., imagination), can find a way forward. Leaving behind the world of materialistic determinism, rationality, and the isolation of conscious ego from conscious ego, Jung would have the depressed individual let go of his conscious efforts and fall into the unconscious, where the exuberant power of imagination lies latent. Only the experience of soul. Only the discovery that I “have” a soul and can even “become” my soul offers any solution for the depressed condition. 1

Jung is prescribing a regression—a letting go of conscious efforts (aka rumination) and a falling into the unconscious. Not totally. Not allowing the unconscious to possess us. But with the intent of integrating the unconscious with the conscious—of combining the two to make a whole. We are not striving for perfection but for completeness. And to be complete, to be whole, we need the “negative” aspects of ourselves to be as conscious as the “positive.” Denying or ignoring aspects of our childhood is not being whole.

Now I realize the vagueness of my remarks. “Ya just have to fall into the unconscious.” “Ya just have to integrate the past memories.” “Ya just …” As if this were as easy as removing stains with Oxyclean™. But no one said individuation was going to be easy! I’m still working on it myself.

I think my depression has a lot to do with Mother. Not so much my mother, but Mother (note the capital M) in all her aspects. The nurturing Mother. The protective Mother. The devouring Mother. The critical Mother. The Mother in Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” that wants to build a wall around her son to keep him safe. Mother is a difficult thing to break away from for a boy. Think “The Police” and “Every girl I go out with becomes my mother in the end.” I sleep all day ensconced in the blankets the way a comforting Mother holds her child. When I’m stressed, I eat as if a nurturing Mother were feeding me. I want someone to fix everything, kiss my boo-boos and make everything all better the way Mother is supposed to.

And so, I think that my task is dealing with my relationship with my mother. This is a tad bit difficult because I don’t remember much of my childhood and my mother died several years ago. But it’s all there, in my unconscious. I “just” need to get in there and find it. So, that means less time sleeping and eating and watching TV and more time writing and doing active imagination and creative activities that will allow the unconscious to make itself known to me. I hope to start adding posts on creativity very soon—I’m working on a presentation on “Creativity and Transformation” to be given here in Kansas City and then in Phoenix next year. So, stay tuned!

Part 1 of this post is here.

Notes:

  1. Haule, John Ryan, “Depression and Soul-Loss,” www.jrhaule.net

The flesh is weak … and the spirit ain’t helping much

Sunday morning III’m trying to get (a little more) organized. But it’s not working out very well.

I use a program with my mail reader that lets me tag individual messages. I tag email messages with Projects and Keywords and Due Dates and Alerts. I can sort messages into folders so I know what’s due today, tomorrow, and next week. Problem is, it doesn’t help much. I’ve got a bunch of past due actions for emails and I rarely look at what’s coming up because I’m too busy trying (and usually failing) to get done what’s due today.

I use a task manager app which syncs my laptop, desktop, and phone. I can see what I have to do today while sitting on the toilet. Problem is, it doesn’t help much. I add tasks and due dates but I ignore some of them.

Phone calls are the worst. I hate phone calls. Most of the time I’ll let my phone go to voice mail so I don’t have to talk to anyone. In fact, I owe a return call to a friend from Friday early afternoon and it’s early Sunday morning. And I know what it’s about and it’s fairly urgent! I just don’t want to talk.

I know I should eat better and less. For lunch yesterday I had left over ribs and backed potato. I took 2 ribs and about 1/3 of a freakin’ humongous potato. Then I go back for seconds. I tell my daughter I’m getting just one more rib but I come back with 2 more ribs and another 1/3 of the freakin’ humongous potato. Then I am disgusted with myself when I look in the mirror and watch my belt shrinking past the first hole.

I know I should get to the gym. I even bought some knew clothes and promised myself I’d start going when they arrived. I’ve been to the gym once in the last week. It’s so much work to get dressed and get to the gym and then I need to take a shower after which is even more work. It would be so much easier if I had an exercise machine in the house. Oh, wait. I do!

I tell myself I’m just going to watch one episode of “The Unit” on TV. But I end up watching two, then three, then four. All the while I’m watching the clock and realizing that the day is slipping by and all I’ve done is eat 4 ribs and 2/3 of a freakin’ humongous potato.

I know I shouldn’t drink so much. I know that I feel better when I don’t drink. But I’m about to go refill my glass with bourbon.

There’s a changed perception of time with depression which I’ve talked about and that has something to do with this. And there’s a physical component to my lack of motivation. But I can’t wait for things to get better. I can’t wait for my depression to go away. I need coping strategies now! I don’t feel that they are sufficient, but here’s what I’m doing to cope:

  1. I’m telling people that I need to conserve my energy so I’m not taking on new responsibilities.
  2. I’m telling people to remind me of things when I’m not getting them done. I really don’t mind. And I really don’t mind but few people are doing this.
  3. I’m trying to be gentle with myself and not critical or nasty when I don’t do things. Yes, the laundry has piled up again and the kitchen needs cleaning and I forgot to water the plants. But that’s ok. I’ll get to all these tasks (hopefully before the plants die and we get fruit flies and I run out of clean t-shirts).
  4. I’m still keeping to-do lists. Even though it doesn’t seem to help much, I still tag my email messages and add items to my task manager and keep the calendar items for what gets cleaned when (although it is hidden). I’m hoping that after enough time, these things will begin to help and become habits.
  5. I’m taking time to play with my daughter even when I “should” be working because I’ve put things off all week and need to get things done by Monday.
  6. I’m trying to get out of the house more in order to work. There are far fewer distractions and TVs out there. But there are few comfortable seats and most places cost money (even a few dollars for a coffee every day adds up).

I really hope I get better at this. And soon! I don’t see myself recovering from depression and getting back to a “normal” life. So, it would help if my coping skills improved a bit.

The power of negative thinking

the power of negative thinkingMaybe it was the influence of my father, maybe it’s genetic. I’m sure my depression has something to do with it. Can you really blame me? I’ve been proven right over and over and over. Anymore, I barely have to start thinking about something and from deep inside I hear those two little words screamed at me

“YOU CAN’T!!!!!” (The number of exclamation points usually varies between 2 and 6.)

Usually it’s more self deprecating: “You’d never be able to do that.” “You don’t have the energy.” “You’ll never finish it so why start.” “It’s impossible.” “You don’t have the energy or time or money or support or ability or skills or …”

It simply amazes to no end how people get so much done in a day. I always have things come up unexpectedly or things take longer than I thought or something is good on TV or … or … or … and I don’t get anything done! Most of the time contemplating writing a blog post is daunting not to mention the articles, stories, plays, and books I “want” to write. It’s more that I “say I want” to or I “want to think that I want” to. I mean a man has to have some goals, right? The more unachievable they are the better. You’ll never disappoint.

Sustained energy is a real problem for me. I went through a time not too long ago — for many months — when I literally could not get out of bed. My body felt like lead. I couldn’t even roll over. Sometimes I’d get up around 3pm and watch some TV then go back to sleep. And believe me, this was SOUND sleep. Dreaming sleep.

Sometimes the thought of being happy — the thought of wanting to be happy — makes me sick to my stomach. I wear my depression as a badge of honor. I’m starting to begin to realize that. Why do I not want to be happy? Why do I worry, when I’m about to meet someone, that I’ll smile too wide and they will think I’m happy. God forbid! I’m depressed. I’m sullen. I’m introverted. I’m facing life as it really is and not in some fantastical utopia surrounded by baubles and tweets and new shoes and 6-pack abs and … Come on, people. The world is in a shit load of trouble and your only concern at the moment is saving 10% on designer underwear? (Remind me to tell you about my bubble theory — link to be added when I actually write that post. So, don’t hold your breath.)

I’m so negative about everything. Just now I was thinking to myself (as if I could think to anyone else) that this will never become a blog post. I’ll never finish it.

My wife talks about my negativity, not my depression. I used to think that the latter causes the former and so it’s out of my hands until my depression is cured. It’s an unfortunate side effect. You know, like dry mouth, constipation, dizziness, drowsiness, sleeplessness, breast swelling, tumors, tremors, bruising, … But right now, while I’m writing these words, I’m thinking that maybe my negativity could be having an effect on my depression. Just a thought.

And I’m instantly recoiling in horror from what that means. This merely sounds like more work to me! I don’t get to cry, “Woe is I” (grammatically, that IS correct).

Now, I’m back to thinking I’ll probably trashing this whole post. God, this is going to be a lot of work. But I don’t think I’m totally in the wrong. I do think that this whole positive psychology is going way over board. I CANNOT do ANYTHING I want. I cannot have a baby. I cannot become an astronaut. I cannot become president (In all reality, that is. I mean I AM eligible but I have about 8 friends and none of them are millionaires.) I cannot be a singer in a rock and roll band. The aphorisms that float around the internet and on chiropractors’ and dentists’ walls are emetics. The “American Dream” as it is touted around these days is a lie. I have restrictions and limitations and liabilities that logically and factually preclude certain outcomes from ever taking place. We need to be living within our realm of possibilities.

But I digress. Please excuse the tirade.

What I need are some successes in my bat utility belt to use as weapons in my war against the axis powers of negativity, defeatism, and I-can’t-ism. And I need them soon. A long standing precedent has been set and it’s going to take a lot to override it. Negative thinking is a very powerful thing because it’s insidious. It moves in and kicks out everyone else, bolts the door,and stockpiles weapons to an extent that makes those brethren down in Waco green with envy.

What have been your experiences in overturning the precedent of negative thinking?

At the end of the rope

20130622-182500.jpgYup. That’s what the end of the rope looks like. Not a pretty sight, is it?

I’m reading (skimming, actually, for its due back at the library in a few days) Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. (BTW, a perusal of the table of contents reveals that this 631 page book is definitely worth a read, or a skim.) The epigraph for the first chapter is extremely apt for me these days:

It may be when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

—Wendell Berry

I’m not sure I have the strength to climb back up the rope. It sure seems like a huge distance to cover. Maybe the thing for me to do is simply let go. Let go and fall as far as there is to fall until I hit … whatever is down there to hit. And maybe then I can start my real work and begin my real journey. It sure would be easier to walk than continue hanging onto this damn rope!

Jung’s Take on Depression

Depression should therefore be regarded as an unconscious compensation whose content must be made conscious if it is to be fully effective. This can only be done by consciously regressing along with the depressive tendency and integrating the memories so activated into the conscious mind—which was what the depression was aiming at in the first place.

—C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation,
CW vol 5, par 625.

I’ve been trying to understand Jung’s words for quite a while now in order to make some sense of my own depression. I get how depression is “an unconscious enforcement of introversion” 1 — I don’t even want to leave the house most days let alone interact with anyone. But my depression is characterized by such an incredible lethargy that even something as trivial sounding as “consciously regressing” seems too onerous to attempt.

Depression is an “unconscious compensation,” presumably, for a one-sided conscious attitude. That is, after all, what the unconscious does via dreams, creative expression, &c. It compensates for the conscious attitude. It tries to nudge us in a different direction. It attempts to initiate a course correction.

Unfortunately, my experience has been more in the arena of “loss of soul“:

“… a retrograde movement of the libido, a regression which threatens to reproduce the earlier, instinctual, and unconscious state. The danger lies in those well-known “perils of the soul”—a splitting of the personality (“loss of soul“) and reduction of consciousness, both of which automatically increase the power of the unconscious.

—C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation,
CW vol 5, par 248.

That’s what I experience. An “increase [of] the power of the unconscious” as I sleep till 3pm or watch TV all day or try to write and can’t focus enough to get down a single sentence.

What I need to do is make the content of the unconscious compensation conscious. Then the depression is “effective.” That’s a very interesting turn of phrase. An effective depression. A depression that has a goal, a purpose. Perhaps things are beginning to change, but depression has not, in general, been seen as something purposeful. Something teleological. Rather it’s been seen as something to alleviate.

And I’ve tried medications to get me going, to kick-start the process, so to speak. And they seem to work. For a while. I get more focus, more energy. For a while. But I don’t seem to accomplish anything with that added energy. I’m still trying to cope rather than making the content conscious.

Maybe that’s because I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to be making conscious!

Edinger includes the loss of a loved one in Jung’s definition and says the “enforced introversion” is the psyche’s requiring “the individual to withdraw the projection that the lost loved one carried … because … if the dead loved one is really carrying a large portion of your soul the deceased can suck you right down into the grave with them.” 2 So, maybe this provides a clue. Projections are, by definition, unconscious. So, withdrawing a projection is akin to “integrating … into the conscious mind.” However, at the moment I don’t see much correlation. When caught in a projection, a tell-tale sign is usually an over-reaction. My depression is, at best, a continual under-reaction. So it seems difficult to determine to what I am underreacting and, henceforth, what I need to integrate into my consciousness.

In part 2 of this post, I’ll try to formulate the ideas that came to me from the field of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) while reading The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Notes:

  1. Edward F. Edinger, Transformation of Libido: A Seminar on C. G. Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, p. 74
  2. Ibid.

Can anyone point me to the underworld?

St. John of the CrossI had a revelation today. I meditated using HeartMath’s Inner Balance Sensor and really focused on paced breathing for about 45 minutes. Then ended the session but continued sitting there, letting anything arise from the unconscious that wanted to arise, not directing my thoughts along any path. I began to repeat the question: “Where is my Soul?” Over and over and over like a mantra. A great heaviness came over me accompanied by great … was it sadness? sorrow? grief? I’m not sure. Maybe all three. Whatever it was, it was intense.

Then the thought arose: My Soul is depressed, too.

My Soul is deep in the unconscious, along with almost all of my energy. I’ve waited long enough for her to return on her own, bringing back my energy. It is now time for me to go and retrieve my Soul. It is (way past) time for me to act. So many parallels come to mind here. Orpheus going into the underworld to retrieve his love, Eurydice. Rafiki saying “It is time” and setting off into the desert to retrieve Simba. There are countless others, I’m sure, if I needed to go on.

But there’s a slight complication. My Soul is not sitting in the underworld waiting for me. No, she is affected by my depression, as well. Think about it this way: My Soul is inside a ball of clay and I am on the surface of the ball of clay. A giant thumb, a.k.a. my depression, is pressing down on me and pushing me into the clay. But the thumb is also pushing my Soul away from me! It’s going to take me longer to reach my Soul because I need to overtake her. This thought was disheartening, to say the least. It means that I am not yet fully into my nigredo, to borrow a term from alchemy. It is still not yet midnight during my “dark night of the soul.” I need to go deeper into my depression if I am to retrieve my Soul. God help me!

But then a hopeful thought arose amidst my anguish and self pity. This can be done psychologically! I don’t need to do this physically or physiologically or mentally. I have long been lamenting my lack of energy. I’ve been reading again and again that depression is the prelude to transformation, that our energy buried in the unconscious is undergoing a change, and every time I give a disgusted little snort and say, “If only! Doesn’t work that way for me!” I’ve been waiting for my energy, my Soul, to return to me as I sit and watch TV and lament my loss of energy, of Soul. True, I don’t have physical or mental energy but my meditation session today showed me that I do have enough psychological energy. I began this descent today and now I have an idea of what I need to do. Which is incredibly heartening and uplifting.

So, now I’m yelling up at that giant thumb saying, “Push harder, man! Push with all your might!” The faster I get to my true, psychological bottom, the faster I can see my Soul again and begin the journey back from the underworld.

How Stress Affects the Body – Infographic

Growing Old: My Father and I

Growing Old: My Father and IMy post yesterday reminded me of a short essay I wrote about 5 years ago. It was a real revelation when these thoughts came to me. My view and opinion of my father was drastically and permanently changed.

Growing Old

by Ken Buch

I am beginning to think that the purpose in getting older is exactly the thing that irks me the most—seeing my father reflected back at me as I stare into the mirror or catching myself mimicking some unconscious, nervous thing that my father does or hearing some too-often used cliché of his come tumbling out of my mouth. But the purpose is not to make me lament that I have turned or am turning into my father for nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose is the occasional recollection of my father in these trivial things with the hope that the remembering will extend to the painful things. The hope that when I am impatient with my daughter that I will remember my father’s impatience with me; when I am hurtful through neglect or forgetfulness that I will remember my father’s hurtfulness; when I am selfish or irrational or obstinate or mean that I will remember my father’s selfishness, irrationality, obstinateness, and meanness not with the aim of self pity or condemnation but rather to comprehend just how fallible—how human—we both are despite our immense differences. I have “reasons” for acting as I do and while, in hindsight, they may seem poor indeed, they were, nonetheless, extremely compelling in the moment and may not justify but certainly explain my attitude and actions. And it is the similarity of those irrational reasons which I and my father share—reasons unknown and unknowable to all, even, sometimes, ourselves, but reasons nonetheless which exonerate us, to some extent, from the never ending blame piled on us by our progeny. My father is, just as I am, a mere mortal trying to get through each day with all the associated complications and preconceptions and limiting biases with which he attached himself to his world and is, therefore, no more worthy of resentment than I.