How I Overcame Self-Absorption

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August 27, 2021-

There was a time when I bumped into a clearly visible barrier pole, whilst backing my car out of a space, at Breakheart Reservation, in my hometown of Saugus. My head was so far into a matter of such earthshaking importance, that I can’t even vaguely recall what it was. I remember the fender bender, though, and the mildly amused twelve-year-old kid who chuckled at my ignorance.

Mom and Dad didn’t raise us to ignore our surroundings, and I caught more than a few rounds of indignation, when I turned too far inward. Gradually, in the wider world, the core of my being, which loved my family and those around us, took focus. Penny came into my life, and we helped each other break out of our respective shells. Students, clients, by the hundreds, became my focus and between wife and children, I realized that my life actually mattered far more than I had thought. Aram became our responsibility and made sure, in turn, that I didn’t lapse into my former bubble.

There was a long eleven years, in which my wife was my primary responsibility. In the end, son and his crew, Penny’s family and my brothers were our primary support group. The cackling crows who castigated me for using the adjective “my”, when I referred to Penny, offered absolutely nothing in the way of help-save their mealy-mouthed ideological puffery. There were also the masses, who went about their business, but at least didn’t get in my way.

On my own, I had choices to make, and slowly shed the residue of self-absorption, once again. A few women came to me, hoping that perhaps they would be the next Penny. It didn’t happen, and life took a far wider turn. I almost deluded myself into thinking that one or two others might be the next Penny. That didn’t happen, either, and life took a wider turn, still. There were three things that propelled me out of my bubble, altogether.

The first was dealing with five people who were/are so intensely self-absorbed, in their own right, that I was constantly wondering what, if any, place there was in the world for me, or any other good soul who was just trying to live a good life. Four of these five are gone from my world now, banned for constantly magnifying every single mistake I made, ignoring any good thing I did and yet clawing at me for attention. The fifth at least thanks me for what has already been done. I thank them, though, for making me aware of all the times I was the same towards others.

Secondly, I found myself largely responsible, for the well-being of over 80 people in a storm shelter, in Alexandria, Louisiana, late last summer, during the daylight hours of a Red Cross operation. That is when my work never stopped, until wiser heads pointed out that the opposite of self-absorption is not complete other-immersion. Then came a more balanced view, that both my personal needs and those of others had equal importance. I also realized that being too deeply in the business of other people robs them of dignity.

Third, the full acceptance of others as complete human beings, beyond their physical trappings and even their personalities, has come about from our collective dealing with COVID and all the climate change-based events that we have faced, and will continue to face, long after I myself have left this earthly life. It takes me three to five seconds to recognize that a woman has pleasing features, that a child is precious, that anyone has an engaging nature.

There are things that are about to happen in this life, that make such an emergence from self-absorption more essential than ever. I look forward to them all.

Stability

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May 29, 2021- There have been many times in my life, when I felt the ground was caving in beneath my feet. Somehow, I have always managed to recover. Sometimes, it has been because of help from family or friends. Other times, it has been because of my own stubbornness and refusal to accept the status quo, or settle for just any set of circumstances.

Now is a time when I have achieved stability, with no clouds on the horizon. The caveats are that I must be willing to share, to a reasonable and markedly-limited degree, and to do so in a way that will not make me a ward of someone else.

I credit both my upbringing and the Baha’i Faith for this basic sense of stability, having absorbed some lessons right away, and others over a period of time. My yardstick for the strength of stability is mainly the avoidance of capricious and ill-considered decisions. I am much better, in that regard, than even seven years ago. It took bouncing back from losing Penny and recognizing that I have far more worth than any naysayers have led me to believe, at certain periods of this life.

This same message is what I impart to anyone who approaches with a tale of woe. In the long run, stability only comes from doing what one’s inner essence advises- and never kowtowing to someone else’s dictates, no matter how loud and forceful their voice.

Fulfilling vs. Expedient

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November 11, 2019, Santa Monica-

A few days ago, back at Home Base, I found that some javelinas had knocked over a couple of neighbours’ trashcans.  Although it was early morning and I was in relaxation mode, there was the element of “We don’t have to live like this”, which has long been my mantra, with regard to tolerating a squalid environment.  I went outside and picked up the entire mess.

Jordan Peterson’s seventh rule for living is “Do what is fulfilling, instead of what is expedient”.  My mother never let us slide, when it was time to get a task, chore or school assignment done.  God knows, there were plenty of times when I would have loved to hang loose and slack off.  It is a blessing that I never got away with it.

Many times, people have said to me that I do things “the hard way”.  Mostly, if I do such things, it is so I can remember how to do them properly, the next time.  As for not being necessarily expedient, I have found that cutting corners almost always returns to haunt me.  It’s better to go the extra mile, the first time.

That is also the way of the veteran, whose service rarely, if ever, allowed for expediency.

 

The Cleansing

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August 31, 2019-

The day began with my usual Saturday ritual:  Get up, sans alarm, devotions, coffee& paper and a visit to Farmer’s Market.  What is different today was the call to clean up.  A local business owner found an abandoned homeless camp near and around his property, in a wooded area by Granite Creek, one of Prescott’s many streams.  The creek flows into Watson Lake, a reservoir that is also a prime boating and fishing venue.  Thus, it’s a good idea to keep the watershed clean of trash and debris, a notion that has not been front and center for those who regard themselves as desperate for a place to live, or for those who rousted the squatters out of their encampment, nearly a month ago.

One longtime friend of the owner has been steadfast in helping him clean the place, over the past three days.  I joined them today, and will do so again on Monday morning and any morning that I am not working, Wednesday-Friday of the coming week.  Much of the large items, like  tents, blankets, coats, and sleeping bags were bagged and set for disposal on Tuesday.  Disclosure:  NONE of the items are salvageable, as water and mud have rendered them useless.  This is the cost of “sweeps”, and of random, ungoverned squatter camps.

That brings up a broader issue:  The matter of personal responsibility for self and for community.  The lay minister who was my partner on this endeavour, this morning, raised a valid point as to the tendency of people to leave solutions to issues to government- or to some other group.  Many people in Prescott, and in other places across the globe, tell themselves that it’s the government’s job to tend to social issues.  This attitude can be shown either vocally(including online posts, telling the police, Parks & Recreation, etc. to “Do their job”) or by attrition (i.e. volunteering for an activity, then just not showing up).

I was, thankfully, raised to take responsibility for the neighbourhood and/or the community, and trust me, I was not always the kind of child who wanted to get out and volunteer for such projects.  My parents kept after us anyway, and instilled that sense of community involvement.

There are as many ways to “cleanse” a community and build its strength, as there are people.  The Red Cross effort to make sure smoke alarms are working, in modular homes and more conventional dwellings, is also an effort that is gaining steam here.

Lastly, the cultural strength of a community matters greatly, in building a civil society.  The Folk Sessions and Concerts at the the Court House are a major piece of this effort, as are the art fairs, soccer matches and the Farmer’s Market itself.  Last night, an intrepid young woman,who I am proud to regard as a friend, made Prescott a stop on her way from Portland to Boston, just for the sake of supporting the musical scene in a town that welcomed her, three years ago.

There are many ways to build a community-and I know of shut-ins who make quilts or stuff backpacks for needy kids, in the new school year, or the disabled man who fashioned an “adventure train” for stray dogs, whom he takes out of the shelter, two or three days a week. I am fortunate to still be able to be of more ambulatory service, and thank my spirit guides and the Creator for this.

Just, let’s not pass the buck back to the next one, or to the Government.