Interesting, if true: 3 useful words

head leaning against arm

Interesting, if true: three useful words when facing uncertainty, sorting truth from fiction

Among the most useful 3 words I have practiced over the years I learned from my healing teacher, Jason Shulman  who reports having learned them from his high school science teacher: “interesting, if true.”

These days I find myself forgetting to apply this in two key sets of circumstances.

On the one hand,  I find myself unquestioningly dis-believing and dismissing most of what I hear or read in the news. Too often I forget to remember: “interesting, if true.” 

On the other hand, I find myself unquestioningly believing most of my own thoughts, which this week have tended to the dark, personal, and prosecutorial. This “dilemma” I am up against, (usually in the form of an actual human being), will never change: “it” is, “in fact” unsolvable. This is an old, well-worn` pattern, familiar when I am aware, debilitating when I am not. Too often I forget to remember: “interesting, if true.” 

These are two sides of the same problem

In each set of circumstances some part of me – who is both limited and unacknowledged – masquerades as the whole of me. I have also handed her the keys to the bus and invited her to take the wheel: she steers me this way and that, sides-swiping bystanders along the way.

I have split myself by relegating uncertainty to the outside world, and by embracing the certainty of my own stories. 

I am used to thinking of myself as a nuanced and dimensional human being, so this binary thinking is in itself a distressing phenomenon. I have cast myself in a play with many enemies and no friends or allies.

There are more resourceful options when up against uncertainty

I had to reach back to a piece I wrote three years ago to re-presence three parts of me I need to heed right now.

The one who is willing to learn: to seek out trustworthy enough information, while realizing that in a few days I might as well be prepared to go through that process all over again. Because whether it comes to understanding how the novel Coronavirus spreads and does its damage, how public behaviors are trending, or how the economy is faring – the data is in continuous update mode.

The one who is willing to persist like sunrise and sunset with some mix of bargaining prayers, grief, courage, urgency, helplessness, trust, terror. Who is willing to mobilize inner resources and outer supports. Who discerns, perhaps after having wept, howled, or broken plates.

And the one who is willing to put down all her tools for taming the Uncertain: what is left then is to simply rest my head up against the unknown. Actually rest. Allow myself to be comforted. To relax, physically. Nothing to figure out. No need to listen in the way I’ve thought of listening. No need to open my heart or even be concerned about whether it is open or closed. Neither pattern nor meaning to seek out. An open mouth. No words. Neither are words precluded nor actions hindered. Just my head resting up against the unknown, on a soft, rock-solid shoulder.

A cautionary reminder to myself - and all of us

There is no single way or “right” way to respond to the uncertain and the unknown, there is just our effort to be in relationship to it, and kindness when we are not able to carry that off. 

This stand, I am willing to say, is both interesting AND true.

“I don’t knows” small, life-stopping, and life-giving

The small I don’t know

“I don’t know” surely ranks as among the most difficult phrases for many of us to utter. Our families and culture indoctrinate us, implicitly or explicitly, in one or another story of the associated dangers. Test anxiety, performance anxiety, terror of public speaking are some of the common ways this shows up in our lives: the unknown is an enemy.

I grew up shaped by an absolute certainty that personal calamity would result from not knowing. My very existence depended on knowing. Knowing what was in family members’ minds and hearts but was taboo to speak. Knowing when I was needed where and for what without being told. Knowing the right answer. Knowing with precision. Anticipating what I needed to know and maintaining a constant state of readiness. Exhausting. No wonder I had bags under my eyes even as a kid.

Eventually I found that when I could let go of the certainty of calamity, I was not an irredeemable failure. Instead I might learn something about myself, another human being, or the world. Being open to learning and possibility sometimes serves me as inspiration, other times as aspiration. It is a practice that I have at different times pursued cheerfully, doggedly, grumbling to myself.

And if I don’t garner new information, I have the chance to practice something else: patience, and humility.

 

The life-stopping I don’t know 

Being recalled for a mammogram. Knowing a loved one is in harm’s way. A sudden loss of security, health, relationship, function. I find this I don’t know mixed with bargaining prayers, grief, courage, urgency, helplessness, trust, terror. The very quality of time and space shifts. It seems odd if the sun is shining and the weather perfect.

I may have to mobilize my inner resources and outer supports. I may spend a lot of my energies figuring out what is the next right thing to do. I may need to weep or howl or break plates.

Yet somehow the quality of persistence pervades such times. The persistence of sunrise and sunset, sleeping and waking, breath.

 

…somehow becomes the life-giving I don’t know

The small I don’t knows have been swallowed by the mother of “I Don’t Knows” – which I can only call Mystery. I can make no sense of my life, of the world, of Life. My sense-making mechanisms don’t function normally. It’s not exactly that I lose my senses, my mind, and the defenses that I built upon them.

They are just not the right tool for this I Don’t Know.

 

What does seem to work is this: I rest my head up against the unknown

This unknown is so solid that as I do this, I can actually rest. I am comforted. I relax, physically. There is nothing for me to figure out. I do not need to listen in the way I’ve thought of listening. I do not need to open my heart or even be concerned about whether it is open or closed. There is neither pattern nor meaning to seek out. An open mouth. No words. Neither are words precluded nor actions hindered. Just my head resting up against the unknown, on the shoulder of a rock-solid friendship.

We interrupt you to bring you this PAUSE

Nothing frustrates me more than to be interrupted when I am bent on my objective of the moment: until I can receive it as the pause I need.

In my more fanciful moments death looms like a vacation with a checklist directed towards tidiness and completion. The plants are watered, the bills are paid and there is enough in the checking account to cover the next month. The garden is weeded, mulched, and blooming in season. Deadlines have all been met, duties acquitted, birthdays and friendships acknowledged, questions big and little answered, sorries made good, forgivenesses extended.

No room for dust, accumulated mail, the list of Things that Must Be Finished  that multiplies by twos and threes for every task checked off: plane reservations, checking in on a sick grandson, grasping some essential key to a writing blind-spot that Gregory Orr’s essay must hold, emptying the overfull rain gauge so I can keep track of the bounty of this week’s generous skies.

And especially no tolerance for interruption and the disproportionate heat of irritation that comes with yielding my priority, my timing, my drive towards completion. 

In my more fanciful and unawakened moments – and they are plentiful, I actually try to live this way, in spite of the fact my doing so has led not to the sought-after continuity or satisfaction, but to exhaustion and dissatisfaction.

I have entirely missed living in those moments of interruption, defending against them as against a mortal assault.

So here is what I have learned to do in those moments: pause.

When I can just pause and let things come to rest where they are, let myself come to rest where I am – there is a fulfillment that is greater, I could say more real, than completing any task itself. The pause may call for me to turn away from my task and face the person, or cat, who wants my attention. I may cap my pen and place it in the red ceramic cup I use as a holder. Or I may put my laptop in sleep mode. Taking such a physical action lets things come to rest where they are.

It  takes naming where I am to let myself come to rest.

A string of namings helps to to let the irritation and heat dissipate. I am pissed. I am holding my breath. Oh, I am breathing. I am cooling down.

These two – a physical action and a string of namings – turn interruption into an ally who invites me to PAUSE, to stay in contact with the living moment.

Tasks lose their frantic edge and any claim at shoring up my security, identity, or attitude of good-will towards myself, and become one absorbing shift of relationship after another.

The heat of my irritation at countless daily interruptions dissipates.

The pause: this is life making itself useful, like my mother’s pen knife.

This practice confers an actual, not a false continuity, one that holds both the completed and the unfinished, the resolved and the unresolved, perhaps eases the difficulties of that most final of interruptions: death, attended by untidinesses of all kinds – loss, solemnity, awe, and mystery. Perhaps even my own death, inevitably to be attended by the untidy, and by the great unknown.

A Blessing for the New Year, 5777

On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the Day of Creation: this year, beginning at sunset on Sunday, October 2.

The Jewish Sages are always of varying opinions. Some say: we celebrate the 1st Day, the Creation of the Universe. Some say: we celebrate the 6th day, the creation of the First Human Beings.

Unable to separate human life from the natural world in which we are embedded,  I come down firmly on both sides.

So many of us are living through disruptive and transformative times, each of us a new creation in process. In chaos. In mystery. In the unknown. So whatever your faith, doubt, or practice, this blessing is for you.

 

A Blessing

from Sara Eisenberg

In this season when God has been in the field

and is about to ascend to His Throne,

the mind is sharper as it peers inward,

the heart is softening,

the inner workings of all the worlds are being reset –

May you be blessed with clarity,

compassion for yourself and the state of the world,

resolve to live a good-enough life, and

trust in one step at a time,

even when it is a step back.


Read more about God in the field here:

https://alifeofpractice.com/living-in-harmony-with-natures-rhythms/1007/