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Bouquets, brickbats, and trusting the untrustworthy May 24, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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[TW: Abuse]

There is a distinction between trusting a person and trusting their ideas. Even the worst people can be right, even if they use the truth as a weapon. If you seek true understanding, it is worth paying attention to the criticism we receive, even if that bouquet of criticism is delivered with brickbats.

I have always been a person who is interested in self-improvement and introspective knowledge. This set of self-challenging ideals has been a large source of motivation for myself over the years, and it is not something which is likely to change. This predilection had led me to gain some fairly significant insight into not only myself, but of the people around me. The more intimate I am with them, the more I understand them. And while I’m nowhere near always right, the value here comes in that we have the ability to see where others cannot. Being even partially right where another cannot see at all is better than the myopia that would result in ignoring that perspective completely.

The knowledge gained from these perspectives can be used in ways that are loving, and ways that are not. And depending on all sorts of factors, such as our own emotional maturity, levels of selfishness and security, etc, that knowledge can be used in a myriad of ways both good and bad. If a person severely hurt, depressed, or otherwise behaviorally compromised then that understanding can become a weapon. It’s a part of being human.

And sometimes shit gets hard, and when we’re afraid and hurt what we know can become clothed in the ability to hurt other people. When this happens to me, for example, my intellectual understanding does not simply go away, it just gets loaded into a (metaphorical) gun. I’ve been hurt (let’s say), some way or another, and I know something relevant to the situation or to the person involved. And now I’m going to use that knowledge to re-direct that pain. I’m going to take that truth, wrap it in a napkin of my pain, and I’m going to show the person who hurt me how I feel.

It’s an unhealthy reaction, but it is a human one. I do not believe that this ability, propensity, and even occasional desire is unique or even rare; I think it’s part of being human, especially during difficult times in our lives. And when times get difficult, people hurt each other. And when people hurt each other, the ability to see nuance, truth, and even to recognize the truth in what people say is lost in the mire of that pain.

This is very unfortunate, and I believe that it is a mistake to ignore or distrust an idea simply because of it’s source. Skepticism asks us to seek evidence, and sometimes data comes from places that we may wish we had never gone, but it is data nonetheless. Ignoring an idea simply because the way it reached us was painful is a reactionary and emotional response, not a skeptical one.

When we dismiss a person, even the truth that they might have had for us gets thrown away as well. In my darkest moments, when I’m least certain, I might think that a person who has criticized me cruelly is completely right about me. But this is merely one side of a spectrum. Because other times, when feeling more secure, I think that that person is completely wrong, and therefore I don’t need to keep in consideration their opinion. How are these two things not the same error?

While we all can mock the words of a person we have dismissed as deplorable (and often for good reason), might it be that those words might have something to teach us, and that we are only dismissing them because those words were wrapped in pain and weaponized?

Is it possible to learn from the content of painful words, even from painful people? Can even pacifists learn from the technology of war?

Yes.

Blind Spots and Bad Drivers

No matter how self-aware I am or become, there are always aspects of myself that I cannot see, at least not well.  As I go through my life, I have built up habits which, as I “drive”through life I cannot see unless I specifically turn my attention to them. But I have to be willing to look at at them.  And sometimes it’s painful to look in that direction, because that section of my universe may have emotional associations which I prefer to avoid, ignore, or forget.

It’s quite easy to forget (or to avoid) to look in that direction, as a result. It’s much more pleasant, and easier, not to. As an actively defensive driver (and yes, this is somewhat of a metaphor as well), I will keep an eye, sometimes, on where cars are relative to me and anticipate when a car is moving into my blind spots. Thus, sometimes I know a car is there even if I am not looking. But my attention is not perfect, and so if I plan on changing lanes, I need to peek anyway.

Especially if I’m tired, hurt, or otherwise emotionally distracted. I need to build up the habit to check where I can only see when I intentionally move my attention. And sometimes I need other people, even ones I may not like, to help me see those blind spots. Because quite often the people we clash with see things within ourselves that we do not like to see, and whether or not we trust their intentions, their perspective can often see what we cannot.

But here we need to be careful, because there are people who want to manipulate, control, and influence us in a direction that is not necessarily in our favor. There are people in the world who, despite being able to see some of the problems with our behavior and may, potentially, have something to teach us, they are more focused on their own interests to actually help us. They might tell us there is something in that blind spot which is not there (they may be projecting or are directly trying to deceive us). They may not tell you there is something there because they may think it’s not a big deal or whatever. Or, they just may not see it either, and are just as blind to that spot as you are.

And such people may leave us hurt, traumatized, and possibly less trusting. In those cases, we are then subject to over-compensating and becoming too focused on our own perspectives, and then we start to change lanes without looking. Trusting our own judgment is good, but sometimes it is the judgment of others, especially those who have hurt us, which we need especially because it is painful. There is a reason certain things are painful, and sometimes it’s because some truth is painful. In order to grow, we need to look at difficult truths and be willing to make effort to understand. Growth does not come from personal avoidance and people willing to simply be content with your own parochial myopia. Love and friendship is not merely celebrating what’s important to you, what you want, and what you can see. That is much closer to submissiveness to a quasi-narcissism than to love.

Challenge v. Control

I’ve been through, in my life, many experiences where people attempted (and often succeeded) to control me. I am also guilty of, in moments of fear, insecurity, and uncertainty, attempting (and sometimes succeeding) to control other people. I don’t like doing it, at all. I don’t want to do it, either. However, it’s part of the human dynamic and the distinction between the desire to help and to control is sometimes a very fine line, one which sometimes even the person perpetrating the advice/control cannot see. Navigating such treacherous waters is difficult on all sides, and only a few people actually want to and enjoy the kind of intentional manipulation of that control.

And when a person has found themselves in the position of being controlled, manipulated, and influenced too much, the reaction is often to become less accepting of opinion, of trying to trust their own instincts, and to sometimes close themselves off to what people who have hurt them have to say. And in many cases, this is for very good reason. But I am of the (probably controversial) opinion that it is especially the people who have hurt us that have the most to teach us.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that people who are abusive and controlling are right, especially about our character. What I am saying is that often pain comes from truth, even if that truth is twisted and deformed for the purposes of that control and abuse. The affect such people often have on us is so real because a true thing has been used as a weapon.  The fact that a hammer can be used to hurt or kill does not invalidate the usefulness of the hammer in building all sorts of things.

The Devil will often use the truth, whether for a greater lie or for the sake of power, as it is said. But we are not talking about the Devil (and even if we were, in Jewish/Christian mythology, the Devil is merely an interlocutor and questioner of God, not a psychopath or even evil), we are talking about people.  Of course, if a person is overwhelmingly using their hammer to attack rather than to build, then that person probably should not be trusted. But ignoring and invalidating everything such a person would say is akin to eliminating hammers in your life, rather than unwieldy carpenters.

Having been the receiver of a lot of criticism based upon some truth, it is hard to hear the parts that are true and to disregard the parts which are interpretation, attempts to hurt and control, and the parts which are not true. Being human, I have flaws and have made mistakes in my life. But I will not ignore or dismiss the words of critics and ideas whole-cloth, because to do so opens me up to the possibility of conflating the message with the messenger. Even an abusive person, in using abusive words and actions, may have some insight worth paying attention to (even if they don’t follow it themselves).

I don’t want anyone to be coerced, controlled, or abused, but I also don’t want people to shrink into their shells and accept only words from people who are willing to coddle them and not challenge their comfort zone. That is not love, that is how growth stagnates. There is a very difficult rope to walk on between self-absorbed obliviousness and accepting victimhood. One of the questiona I keep asking myself recently is whether one’s own obliviousness, self-absorption, and arrogance (sometimes framed as confidence or strength of will) is any better, in the long run, to being subject to the coercion and abuse from others. Either way, you are letting a limited perspective control you.

Trusting my own judgment and instincts is only in tension with, and not in contradiction to, hearing the criticisms of friends, acquaintance, or even foes. This is because even if I cannot trust a person’s intentions or motivations, sometimes I must trust their ability to see my blind spots when I can’t.

Therefore, I pay attention to criticisms, even from those I consider to be not trustworthy. I do not seek to internalize the ideas of abusive people, but to ignore their perspective seems equally problematic. The error in abusive control comes in the abuse, not necessarily the content. If abusive people could learn to find loving ways to show us what we cannot see, then nobody would need to shy away from their knowledge.

And this is as true of me as it is of anyone. My struggle is to find ways to share my perspective in ways that are not hurtful, and to understand the knowledge that even abusive people might have to teach me. I trust my judgment, but my judgment is limited. Those who can see some things that I can see, and some of those people are truly assholes, must complement what I can already see, or I risk the blindness and myopia that follows fear and mistrust.

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Life Lessons from Pacman…sort of April 16, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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Sometimes help comes from the places you are running from

Sometimes help comes from the places you are running from

So, earlier today I was playing some Pacman. I know, that’s like totes retro, but I was doing that shit before everyone else! Actually, I think I played like 3 games before a few weeks ago.  Damn, when did I become such a poser? Whatevs, it matters not because I was totally eating some chumps (that’s what I call eating the ghosts) when I noticed that I totally got distracted by something else and lost a life.

And I was all like damn, that sucks. Now I only have one extra life, I should totally bag this shit and start over. And then it occurred to me.

Dude, you just made a mistake, and you have more life left. Now stop whining and eat some fucking ghosts.

In other words, it’s not over yet, and from here it is all uphill if you manage to get over your shit. Yeah, you done fucked up, fool (he says to himself ironically). Now it’s time to realize that it’s ok to fuck up. Now it’s time to eat some motherfucking chumps.

pacmanchart

So, here’s the thing. I know some of you out there reading this hate me. I don’t care. I don’t hate you. Hate won’t help anything. One of the reasons I was so fucked up over the last couple of years is that I loved you all, at least to some extent, despite my pain that you caused me. And yeah, I know I caused my share of pain too. And I regret that, because I know I made it worse and because I hate hurting people I love. I don’t expect these words to matter to you. That’s not my problem anymore. I’m saying them because they are true, and because the truth matters to me more than looking weak, flawed, or what you’ll say in response.

So, keep calling me a sociopath. Keep calling me an abuser. Keep calling me anything that it feels good to call me. I will not be defined by misdiagnoses or my past mistakes. I’ve already, several times, admitted my own guilt. Everyone knows that I am flawed. But we’ve moved past the damnation of old religion, and we, as people with some wisdom, history, and culture beneath us can realize that deeds may scar us, but they do not cripple us if we learn to heal well.

And not all of us heal well.

And I know there are many of you out there that love me. And believe me, I believe it. For the first time, I actually believe it the vast majority of the time. You know who you are. Some of you I have had some distance from (for good reason), and some have been a daily part of my life. You are all lovely, and I am sorry for being a jerk sometimes and for asking for so much from you when I was not always giving as much back as I could have. I’m working on it.

You are not my strength; my strength is within. But you are the reflections of my strength, and I can only hope to be the reflection of yours.

I want to thank a few people, specifically, because they are all people who deserve some recognition. I cannot name all of you, and so I will use (hopefully amusing) nicknames or initials. I think you should all recognize yourselves.

pactheistD, Holy crap have I known you a long time. Seriously, we dated when I was in 10th grade. I mean, you knew me as a teenager, and you are still around. I’m glad. I hope the best for you, knowing that the next few years couple possibly be hard. But I believe in you (I almost said I had “faith” in you, lol), and think you can finally find true happiness.

N, you and I have known each other for something like 25 years. And getting to know you again, over the last few years, has been amazing. You are truly kind-hearted, brilliant, and perhaps a bit too dedicated. But you are lovely, and I feel honored that you share my affection.

RedPepperLover69, you are more patient, rational, and diplomatic than I could ever be. Your contributions to difficult things I had to write in the last year made me turn in different directions than I would have seen on my own. You are a good friend, and I will look forward to your many concoctions, parties, and your questionable taste in veggies.

My Southern Belle, we’ve had a strange path ourselves.  Distance is hard for me, but I feel like you are worth the patience, extra effort, and work it takes to overcome that. I feel that our similar experiences over the last year drew us together. I am quite glad that we are close, and that you have been so loving. I love you.

Pickle, We’ve had a few rough moments. Man, did we meet each other at the wrong time, perhaps. Or perhaps it was the right time. In any case, you’re energy has led me through some dark months.  I needed a lot of my own time, as you know, but you who were there many times when I had trouble bearing the hard nights. Thank you so much, and I love you.

RabbitDarling, you and I have gone from one side of a spectrum to another. There was a time where you were able to say words that hurt me very deeply, and I know that this hurts you to think about. None of that. You are more than forgiven (as I have said). Since then, you became (to me) to a person who continues to inspire growth, change, and the belief that when we’re out of fucks, sometimes it’s just better to bare ourselves to the world and hope they see us for who we want to be rather than who we sometimes end up being. Thank you.

Wangleschnifter, I do not know how to put in words how wonderful you have been for me. The start of us coincided with the beginning of the bad times. And yet you have the grace, wisdom, and heart to have been one of the central pieces of my life. You make me laugh, you make me smile, and you are lovely beyond measure. I plan on tolerating you for a long time to come, if I am ever so lucky.

And…

What do I call you? You. You know who you are. What are you to me? What are we? I don’t know. But I’m finally getting to the place where I’m not sure it matters much what label there is. You have been the best influence on me that I have ever known. And yet, perhaps in part because of this, you have been the one to teach me that I don’t need that influence from anywhere but within my own damned self (with the occasional re-direction from outside, when something is in my blind spots). I once thought I could not live without you. I now just think that I would strongly prefer not to, because the world is less beautiful without you in it.

And there are others, but there’s too much to say. I’m tired. I should sleep.

And so I need to close this, because my well has run dry for today. I stand before you all, naked, vulnerable, and a little bit scared. However, my fear is not from those who hate me, from people that love me, or even from myself. My fear is from lies I tell myself, and I’m no longer interested in being deceived, either by myself or others. I’m no longer interested in running from my fear.

γνῶθι σεαυτόν

For if you do, you might learn something. If you don’t, any knowledge you gain shall be purely accidental, or at least not earned.

At a Distance February 27, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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One of my personal love languages is physical touch, or affection. Being too distant, for too long, from a lover makes it really difficult to maintain the feeling of care, love, and appreciation for some of us. But it’s not impossible for a person who really values physical affection to find love, comfort and appreciation at a distance. Sometimes, it may take a little longer and you may have to shift your expectations and the way you express and accept love a little bit, but it can be done.

Long distance relationships have been difficult for me, over the years, and I really prefer to have people I’m involved with close, so that I can see them fairly frequently. Currently, I’m involved with three people. None of those people live in Philadelphia (where I live). Two of them are within an hour (or so) drive, but one is a few states away meaning that our relationship is maintained primarily through texting, phone conversations, and other forms of telecommunication.

It’s not necessary, I’m discovering, to cohabitate with partners to feel fulfilled (although, ultimately, I will probably want to with someone I’m partnered with). Nonetheless I require, to feel fully happy and loved, regular physical touch from people in my life. With one partner, that’s once a week (Saturday night/Sunday morning, usually), another it’s 1-2 days a week. With the third? Well, that’s a little different.

When someone lives  10 hours away, finding time to see them is more challenging.

Anticipation is a thing. For someone (like myself) who has struggled with patience all of my life, anticipation is a really difficult thing. Knowing that I will not be seeing someone whom I care about for weeks, months, or longer can be a really difficult thing to get through day to day. There are simply some times you want to cuddle with them, and not being able to do so is really difficult, for many of us.

Now, the fact that I have two other people I see regularly helps, but not completely.  Also, most of my relationship with my long-distance partner has been, well, long distance. In fact, we’ve only met once (a weekend last Summer), so I am sort of used to not being able to touch and be touched by them. But now that we are getting closer, trusting each other more, and are identifying as being more significant to one another I am definitely feeling the lack of physical touch more and more.

And I find myself looking forward to seeing her more and more, the closer it gets to our plans to spend a weekend together.

What do do?

So, for a person who might be struggling with this lack of physical presence, what might we do to make it better in the meantime?

Start with finding what kinds of alternative interactions are appreciated by your loved one. If you can’t hug, cuddle, and share physical intimacy with them this week or this month, what will you do?

First, you need to start by knowing how much your partner, lover, friend etc wants to interact with you. Some people are completely comfortable with only occasional interaction. They may be busy with other partners, personal projects, or they just may not need to interact with you as much as you’d like. Make sure that you are not being too needy or negligent, and find an amount of interaction that works for you both.

And keep in mind that sometimes the amount of contact, intimacy, and attachment you have for that partner may not match their desires and needs. It may be OK to occasionally say “hey, I really need to talk with you right now, can we please set aside some time now or soon to do so?” but there will be times when they may not want or have time for your attention. Just be sure to communicate when your needs don’t seem to match up.

Use your words, and know how important those words are to your partner. Express your feelings of appreciation and affection. Whether you’re rapport is periodic, comes in bursts of long conversation, or seemingly never ends, make sure that You are expressing how you feel about them in a way that is both meaningful and appreciated. And remember that not all people respond to words of affirmation in the same way. Some people don’t need to be reminded of how you feel, but others do appreciate hearing those kinds of words.

Conversation is a wonderful means towards intimacy and trust. Whether with friends, occasional lovers, or your live-in spouse, conversation can be a really important way to develop and maintain intimacy.  You don’t have to talk every day (and, in fact, many people won’t want to), but make time to talk and stay emotionally connected. When you are distant from each other in space, that conversation becomes the primary vehicle for relationships maintenance.

Make plans. OK, so you are not going to see them for a week, a month, or maybe not until the next conference. But try to make some plans to see each if you can. Knowing exactly when you will be seeing them can act as a focus for your feeling separated, and give some structure to the feelings of absence that you may be having. It gives you a goal to move towards, and (at least for me) the anticipation can be delicious while simultaneously frustrating.

But also be aware that some of us can, sometimes, put too much pressure on ourselves for these things. We create fantasies, ideals, and can also over-plan so that we can’t just let that time together create its own spontaneity. Having said that, I’m also aware that I err on the side of being too spontaneous, and tend to (perhaps) not plan enough. Be sure to communicate about expectations, desires, and activities you’d like to do (aside from just spend the weekend under the covers, lacking sufficient sleep and possibly nutrition….actually that doesn’t sound all that bad….).

Try to build memories and to make the most of that time together when you are there. Because if you are not going to see them for 2 weeks, a month, or 6 months, make sure that when you have that time, you appreciate it and are not getting caught up in concerns about what we are “supposed” to do, but that we are doing the things that we want to do.

Remember that distance can extend the normal NRE experience. New Relationship Energy tends to last anywhere from 6 months to about 2 years (if my memory serves me), depending on various factors I’m not an expert in. But that time can be extended when you don’t see each other as much. This means that there is potential for some of those really wonderful feelings that exist for the beginning of our relationships over a longer period of time with that distant partner.

This, has the possible draw back of making a long-distance relationship harder to maintain in the long run, however. What happens when, after 2-3 years, those visits become less new and shiny? Well, what do you do in any situation like that?

Sometimes, you just have to recognize that those ebbs and flows are going to come and go. Sometimes, you may have to re-discover new aspects of the relationship, and connect in new and different ways. Sometimes, you may just end up drifting apart in ways which are comfortable for both of you.

Sometimes, you may actually decide to re-locate. And then, maybe, that long-distance is not so long.

I’m thinking about all of this because I’m made steps towards becoming significantly closer to someone who lives far away from me. And while I will see her in a few weeks, it may be a while until I see her after that, and so I am simultaneously anticipating the trip, am wondering if 2-3 days will be long enough to stay (I mean, I could just decide to stay an extra day, I suppose), and am wishing that I were seeing her sooner.

And it’s weird, because it’s really rare that a develop feelings for someone at a distance. I think, maybe, that I am learning that affection and sexuality are important aspects of relationships for me, they are not necessarily the strongest altogether.  I’m learning more and more about myself, my capability to love, and what I have to offer is expanding with that understanding.

Three weeks!

Last summer, when we first met IRL

Last summer, when we first met IRL

Humility: The Song and the Notes February 8, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Personal, Religion, Sex and sexuality.
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Nietzsche_tastevanitySo, you know this concept of humility? Yeah, that one is rough sometimes. It seems like some people hear it’s tones as a discordant miasma of chaos, while others hear a well-trained symphony playing something seemingly divine. The truth is that it’s neither of those things, but the nuances of music are such that there is room for argument and taste.

There is the kind of humility which is supposed to be the theme song which follows you around. It’s like a master beat-box artist, or possibly an angel with a harp or even just some dude just wailin’ on that bass (tastes do differ, after all), but not matter what that arrangement is, it’s one of the presences in your life, ideally keeping arrogance, bias, and simple error at bay.

Listen, confidence is great. I’m all for confidence.  And I’m definitely not for deference or prostration to either gods, absolutist ideals (or Platonism in general), or traditions. But there are other sources of servitude than religions and traditions. Our emotions, desires, and cognitive biases will perpetually get in the way of our ability to navigate between the Scylla/Carybdis of our hubris/timidity. Humility, if played to an Aristotelian key, is a song of temperance, and not docility.

for my own reference as much as anyone else's

for my own reference as much as anyone else’s

So, given the tempo of this Aristotelian ballad, floating between Prestissimo and the Grave (perhaps an adagio today and an allegro tomorrow), I think that some sense of perspective of who, where, and how we are requires the ability to be self corrective more or less based upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves. That is, we need to listen to the other players if we want to make music well. Life is not all solos.

But also because sometimes it’s time for quiet reflection, and sometimes it’s time to dance! Sometimes we need to assert ourselves, and sometimes we need to step back and listen. And sometimes we might hear something new in our favorite songs or discover that upon further reflection, we hate this song (Hell, Nietzsche could tell you all about that, amirite?). Sometimes we can find new ways to interact with the world, as our desires and tastes change.

The path behind and the path forward

Our preferences are linked to things like memory, experience, and emotional associations.  These preferences are also intimately related to the ideals and goals which we revere. These ideals are immensely powerful motivators, but they can also be anchors and delusions.

Sometimes these ideals come from an ancient religion, steeped in history and buried into the very language, culture, and psychology of a community. That is where this blog started, as a log of ideas about how religion wove its way into the fabric of love, sex, and commitment in our culture. It was an exploration of the problematic concepts which underlie all of our ability to conceive of who and what we are as people living in a universe without gods, but within a culture drowning in the psychopathic, unconcerned, or impotent ideas of gods.

Yes, yet another Nietzsche reference. Get used to it.

Yes, yet another Nietzsche reference.
Get used to it.

This was a blog about exploring what was possible, if we stop adhering to the sexual, romantic, and relationship norms our society defers to. It was, in a sense, one more hammer to the old gods, ideals, and philosophies to which so many are still adhered.

And over time it changed. I started thinking about polyamory more.  I started having more experiences within polyamory. I had many wonderful and fulfilling experiences, I’ve had experiences which were fun but often challenging, and I’ve experienced the worst interpersonal trauma from people I lent some trust to.

And I’ve changed. Who I am today is not who I was 6 years ago, when this blog started.  And in the last several months, I came to a realization that has had a profound effect on my outlook for the future.  I realized that I was wrong about something very fundamental about myself; something that has been the cause of a very significant problems in my life. And I owe that knowledge to someone who I love dearly and who had to allow me to sink or swim on my own.

I swam.

What is it? Well, that’s not really important, is it? The specific lesson is not the point, at all. Besides, that revelation is personal, and while I would be more than willing to share that understanding (assuming I could properly articulate it) with the people I’m close to in my life (and I’m happy that I have people in my life who honor me with their friendship and love), it’s not necessary here.

Also, there are people who still read this blog (hi there! You can one star my post if you like, but that’s sort of childish, isn’t it?) who would attempt to bend and stretch such information against me if they could (narrative spinning is their specialty, after all). Also, because it can’t really be that interesting to most of the rest of you anyway. You don’t come here to be my proxy therapist. I tend to pay people to do that for me.

The last reason I’ll not explore this personal revelation here leads to another kind of humility which I’d like to talk about. This is the kind that comes out of nowhere and knocks you on your ass. These are the striking and emotionally intense notes in the song of your life, ones which have consequences for how you hear the rest of the song.

It’s the kind of humility (humiliation, perhaps) where you have found that you (perhaps) fucked up, big time, and now it’s time to shut up and start listening. Of course, one does not always shut up and listen, so one might talk themselves into a corner. And then, well, you’re in a corner having to decide what to do next.

And then you have to learn some things. Then you have to reflect one how you fucked up, what you are going to do about it, and even though you might hate doing it….

Now it’s time to walk the hard path.

And then, sometimes, while walking that path, you find that you didn’t know as much as you thought, especially about yourself.

I think there might be a metaphor in there....

I think there might be a metaphor in there….

My lovely girlfriend and I, with whom I’ve just celebrated a year together just this week (but who must remain anonymous, for unfortunate reasons related to social expectations and cultural taboos), went to see the movie Wild, which I liked quite a lot. Obviously, it’s a movie about self-discovery and traveling a difficult road (both literally and metaphorically) towards a goal which may be arbitrary, but which takes on new meaning as you approach it.

The problem is that by focusing on that destination, that ideal, you miss all the details all around you. It’s also not unlike hearing that note or phrasing in a piece of music which keeps dancing around a melody, harmonic, or note. If you do nothing but anticipate that note, that goal, or even that (perhaps) perfection then you are not paying full attention to the path itself. You start to miss the trees because you are looking for the whole forest.

If we, as listeners and as path-travelers, learn to pay more attention to the moment then we will notice that it changes our journey from progress to process. In other words, we become less-ends-oriented and we become more aware of the experience of journeying. Knowing precisely where you are is a humbling experience, sometimes. Whether we think of this humility in the cosmic sense of size or in the existential sense identity, it amounts to a humility which should offer us some pause.

And we should accept that offer, from time to time.

Eventually that destination, which was so dramatic and distracting to start, dissolves either into the horizon and becomes your theme song or it starts to fade into background noise, ultimately to be unnoticed or forgotten. And then all there is the path. And when you are bored on this path you start to see things differently. When it’s quiet, when you are alone without distraction, you have the opportunity to listen to yourself a little closer, and you will almost certainly learn something.

Since we're on a Cheryl Strayed kick today.

Since we’re on a Cheryl Strayed kick today.

Well, I’ve learned some things recently. And I think that I am feeling better than I have in a long time, at least in terms of being optimistic about my personal future. The dawn has broken, the storm clouds are retreating, and what I thought was going to be my end may end up being my greatest beginning.

I’m not saying that it will be easy, because it will not be.  I will not say that I do not fear it, because I do. But where it will be hard I will work harder, and where it will be terrifying I will allow myself to slow down, look at the path, consider the destination I may create for myself at that moment. As a practical result, I will no longer retreat from the world as I have been in recent months.

Now, the biggest challenge I have is to have the patience to wait for Spring, because this cold weather is not pleasant for me, at all. Is it May yet?

Bottom line? Well, I was wrong about some things concerning myself. But as a result I was able to discover that maybe I have an opportunity for something better, now. My advice is to be willing to listen, be wrong, and to imagine that perhaps the reason you find yourself where you are has more to do about what you are wrong about than anything else. Or, alternatively, you may find that you were more right than you knew, only you didn’t believe in yourself enough.

Not arrogance and not servility, but instead a humble sense of perspective towards finding a way to balance your individual strengths with an ability to weave those strengths into a larger whole. There will be times for solos, soap-boxes, and individual efforts, but working harmoniously and in symphony is often much harder and more rewarding.

I wish for beautiful music along all of your paths.

Deception January 27, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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I recently re-discovered an old journal of mine that I thought I had misplaced. In fact, I think I misplace this journal every couple of years or so, because every time I find it I think to put it some place safe, and then forget where that place is. I wasn’t looking for it, specifically, this time. This time, I was just putting away some paperwork, and there it was.

journalAlso, recently, I’ve started writing in a new journal. It was an idea that I came up with in the context of recent therapy sessions, and it has been helpful to have a safe space to write about things that are too personal, even for me. As readers know, I have not been shy about writing about some personal issues here, and that will not stop, but there are some issues I will not write about publicly.

I’ve also started re-reading The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. In the early chapters, I ran into the idea that all warfare is based in deception. The next line said “if able, appear unable.” In other words, make yourself appear weaker than you are. Or, at very least, do not present yourself as you are, so that your enemy cannot properly size you up.

This, immediately, reminded me of a quote that I ran into many years ago, one which has stuck with me over the years. I remembered it as having been written by Baruch Spinoza, who is among my favorites to read. The truth is that the quote is from Soren Kierkegaard, who I was reading around the same time, many years ago, so the quote was copied in my journal around a bunch of Spinoza quotes. The quote is as follows:

One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed it is only by this means, i.e., by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in an illusion.

The context of this quote, according to this source, is about why Kierkegaard sometimes wrote as if not a religious person (supposedly to lead people to Christ, as Kierkegaard was a Christian Existentialist). But I think it has some significance outside of this parochial context, and I think it can tell us something about human behavior which is worth some consideration.

I don’t want to dig deeply into that at the moment, but I think the most interesting thought embedded in there is the nature of illusion; is not illusion relative? Is not one who is in error prone to see the truth as an illusion? How human is it to be caught in a narrative which is quite delusional, but because one is within that web it appears sensible? Cults, religions, and even some cliques operate in just this way, and sometimes the only way through the miasma might be some creativity with perspective.

The mind is crafty and agile. The mind that wants to believe will, and it will move not only the goalposts, the ball, and the kicker but it will often shift the field upon which it plays in order to keep the illusion of coherence.

It’s harder to hit a moving target. It’s hard to hit what you can’t see. Stealth, in other words, is an advantage in war.

War?

Is that analogy apt? Are we at war? And who are “we”? Civilization? liberals and conservatives? Exes? Family?

For many years, I have advocated transparency. I’ve been open about my flaws, mistakes, and struggles as a person who very much wants personal growth and improvement. And this strategy has been a mixed bag. It has led to some intimacy with people I’m close to, but it has also been taken advantage of by people who like to control people and narratives. And by a person who is especially good at, or at least has a strong desire to utilize, such control and who is also especially good as deception, open war would be fruitless and possibly unwise.

Perhaps.

I don’t really have anything more to say on the subject right now, but I’ll end with a few thoughts about where I’m headed. I’ve been very quiet recently. Last year was a very traumatic and stressful one for me. But do not be deceived; I am not going away nor am I defeated. This year is a new one, and I am feeling better all the time. I’m gaining strength that I did not previously have. I do not fear anyone, or anything, because I have no reason to hide. My pain has only made me stronger.

Deception may be an art of war, but I have yet to decide whether I want to wage war or simply stride along my path impervious and uninterested in the distractions off to the side. So long as the distractions stay to the side, and do not land in my path forward, I will not focus on them. My path, however, is wide and it includes friends, organizations, and some parts of the polyamorous, atheist, and skeptical communities.

The debris which previous warfare has left behind me is not forgotten, however. This is not a washing of the hands, forgiveness, or anything of that nature. Far from it.  This is a desire to move forward unmolested, if that’s possible.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.

Endings December 31, 2014

Posted by Ginny in Personal.
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Regular readers of Polyskeptic will have noticed that 2014 has been a year of upheaval and conflict; sometimes reflected on the blog, ever-present in the life of its contributors. You’ll also likely have noticed that I’ve been mostly silent for the latter half of the year. A lot has happened, most of which is not public knowledge, and I needed to just go to ground and process and cope quietly with the support of a few trusted loved ones.

One of the things that’s happened, that we haven’t talked about until now, is that Shaun and I have separated, and been living apart for the last several months. It’s hard to know how to talk about that here, where we share so many details of our private lives, and where our relationships are one of our main discussion topics. I’ve decided I don’t want to publicly discuss the details or the reasons. I’m a little bit concerned that there will be speculation and rumors and gossip and distortions, and I do understand that it’s natural to be curious about the lives of others, and to spin stories about them when information is absent. Even given that, I’m choosing not to tell my story publicly, at least not right now. It’s my business, it’s painful, and I’ve already had my privacy violated pretty egregiously this year. I’m hoping the majority of people will respect that and not spread stories about us when they haven’t spoken to either of us directly.

We had a discussion this week about whether or not I would continue writing for Polyskeptic. Shaun has given me an open invitation to continue posting here, but for the time being at least I would rather do my writing elsewhere. I’m reactivating the blog my brother and I were collaborating on before I started writing at Polyskeptic: it’s over here at The Brunette’s Blog if you’re interested in following.

I’m also taking a very deliberate sabbatical from attending and speaking at conferences, for the next year at least. This has less to do with my marriage ending and more with other factors, but on the whole I’m feeling the need to pull my focus away from education and activism and the wider community, and work on rebuilding my personal life and face-to-face community. I hope to come back at some point, bringing with me whatever wisdom I’ve distilled from the experiences of the last few years.

May 2015 be kinder to us all.

Trauma, mistakes, and the pain of reflection December 23, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Personal, Polyamory.
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All of us carry some amount of pain within us. We, being prone to error, hurt one-another. Hopefully, this pain acts as a teacher, and as we grow, mature, and learn we become more aware of the causes of such things and our capability to hurt weakens. The strength to hurt, to control, and to manipulate are, after all, not reverent strengths.

I have my own pain, carried from various periods of my life. Some stems from childhood, but much of it stems from adulthood. The mistreatment I received over the years worked its way into my bones, and gave me a ubiquitous feeling of not deserving better or even being capable of better myself. I simply got used to not asking for, fighting for, or even feeling worthy of not being treated poorly, which has the all too common effect of not always seeing others worthy to not be treated similarly. Slowly, deeply, and blindly, I became a man who accepted mistreatment, receiving and giving, all too easily. From this was born the quiet, mostly invisible, and powerful demon of resentment, frustration, and ultimately a deep anger which permeated most of my adult life and relationships.

In short, pain begets pain.

All this came to a head in the last year, and I’m glad it’s almost over. All of the trauma I had received previous to the last year or so became magnified by newer events so damaging that I could no longer keep the resentment, pain, and anger within the armor I created to keep my emotions away from those who I wouldn’t allow myself to trust or get close to. I’ve written about some of this before, including when I told my version of what happened with the split up of our former house. In retrospect, I left a cult. The resulting waves, including false narratives and cold war which has sucked people into the cult-like area of influence, has been utterly ridiculous and beyond painful. Those events have been the traumatic trigger for much of the mistakes I have made in the last year, and may have repercussions of many years to come.

In the last year, the raw amount of pain from earlier periods in my life became so bad, so unbearable, that I began to lash out at the people closest to me while not realizing how much pain I was in. As a result, I lost relationships of immeasurable value to me, some of which I will never regain. What’s worse is the demonization I received from some of those parties. Just more fire to the trauma bonfire, I suppose.

These days, my thoughts are full of regret, loss, and the reminder that learning a lesson too late is almost always unhelpful. And what’s worst is the fact that most of it was completely avoidable if I had been less self-absorbed, selfish, and had instead listened to those who were trying to help. Not all of it was unavoidable, of course. Some people are too interested in being right, winning, and petty schadenfreude to have had some of what has happened go any other way. But with others, the damage could have been avoided.

And for that I am immeasurably sorry.

 

Mistakes

Let my enemies raise their glasses in triumph upon my admitting, again, my mistakes. Let them trumpet their flat songs and revel in their illusory superiority insofar as their delusion allows them to think their dank cellars to be castles. Allow those who care little for empathy or introspection beyond the tip of their noses to laugh and gloat in an illusory sense of triumph over those they abuse. I care not of the opinions of people too narcissistic and myopic to grow or learn from mistakes. I shake off the dust from my feet upon leaving their abodes and seek out better, healthier, lands.

I have been, especially most recently, in error. But the error was not mine alone. I, however, will take as lessons what errors were truly mine, and I will not place blame where it does not belong. I will not take upon myself full blame, nor will I shrug it off onto others when it is tailored for me.

My pain is not an excuse, even if it might be an explanation. My fear, compelling as it is towards acts of desperation, has ruled all too often and subsequently has upturned the potentially flat stones upon which my future path may have been otherwise laid. The ground before me now is unsettled, uncertain, and I have only to become more comfortable with that terrifying foreign land of The Unknown. Knowing that I still have wonderful companions along such a path is heartening.

Today, however, I step off the path, briefly, in order to risk the reflective and refreshing nature of the calm waters there. The fears of its depths are visceral, but perhaps nothing is more terrifying than the nature of it’s placid surface. For nothing is as terrifying as the depths within us, reflected in quiet and still moments besides our paths.

The dark nights of the soul will haunt more than any external spectre.

 

Reflections

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

-Nietzsche, BGE §146

 

In the calm, quiet, depths of the night you can no longer run away from yourself. Assuming, of course, you are sensitive to your own light and darkness, these quiet moments will sometimes compel insomnia and self-criticism. And yet some seem to be immune to the disquieting contrasts that the blinding light of solitude create within us, not seeing the shapes of the shadows that exposure and attention engender. Some people can’t be self-critical because they are blind to their own flaws.

All_Is_VanityI am reminded of J.S. Mill’s question of Socrates and pigs, and a tangential concern springs to mind; is it better to remain aware of our flaws and errors and unsatisfied or unaware and satisfied? Is it better to be content and ignorant of these contrasts within our dark souls? That is, is it better to see ourselves as righteous when none of us are? Would it be better to blind ourselves, like old Oedipus, to the truth of our condition?

Is ignorance bliss?

It’s all too easy to say that we should live in such a way that we do not regret, for when the regretful act is done no amount of living well can undo such an act except to learn from it, perhaps. Avoiding the reality of our responsibility, whether due to lack of concern or because it is too painful to reflect upon it are sociopathic and tragic, and will not lead to growth in either case.

We need the moments of stillness, introspection, and reflection besides our paths, if we care about truth and our relation to it. In the stillness between steps along the paths we traverse, the waters within and around us settle and we are forced to reflect or to keep moving in order to disturb that reflective surface and ignore that reflection. Stillness and quiet are imperative for those willing to surpass the depths within. Noise, motion, and distraction are the tools of those afraid of the abyss.

How many might wait for others to stand still besides that water, all the while dancing about themselves, in order to watch another ponder their own reflection while they, dancing or playing with their phones, to try to co-op the narrative of such reflection? Is this, itself, not a failure of meta-reflection? Is this, in a way, another kind of distraction? Is this not ultimately avoiding one’s own reflection?

Is this, in some sense, among the more terrifying capabilities we humans have, to look into each other and either fail to see ourselves or to see ourselves and not recognize what we see?

Is it more terrifying to see our own depths, or to see that we all share the same depths and are reflections of one another?

Such a realization might imply a kind of obligation stemming from that commonality. Such realizations might also uncomfortably seat us next to those we most despise, where we can think we are looking at their reflection when, in fact, we are looking at both of us or merely ourselves. But perhaps most terrifying is that it might reveal that those we love can as easily be hurt by us as they can hurt us, and that all it takes is the smallest amount of self-deception that we, individually, might matter more than them.

 

Pain (in love) begets Pain

How easy it is to hurt those we love, and how unfortunate that it’s so difficult to undo. When stones start to break the surfaces of those waters between us, it becomes much harder to see anything but chaos, pain, and to lose sight of those terrorizing reflections. For it is only the still waters which allow introspection.

Selfishness and blindness are two of the sources of cruelty and distance, I think. And when the pain is passed onto the next person, is it any surprise when some of those people no longer wish to walk along the path with you or stop along it to reflect along-side you? Is it any surprise that when you throw your stones at the waters, those who seek that stillness and quiet will seek out calmer waters elsewhere?

No. It is terrible, but it is no surprise.

And so, I believe, I think it’s better to at least be capable of keeping our own waters calm, from time to time. When we lose that reflection for too long, it’s quite likely that we are contributing to the lack of stillness. It is quite possible that we are distracting ourselves with noise and motion, and we cannot see ourselves or each other.

I hope that I can more often find that stillness, calm, and the wisdom that comes with it. It’s hard, so very hard, in the turbulent water in with I now swim, but the storm is no longer raging and I’m finding more and more of myself being reflected back by momentary facets of the increasingly calm waters.

When one is focusing on quieting and calming the mind in order to allow those reflective waters to present ourselves and those closest to us, only the truly malicious can continue to harm. I am many things, many of them unflattering to the image I would wish to reflect, but maliciousness is not one of them.

But I have seen maliciousness. I have seen the face of (at least) one person who, in the calmness and quiet, sleeps well despite the fact that the water around him is only still because he has just drowned the flailing victim who insisted upon threatening his contentedness. So long as I never become that, I can be content that my mistakes can be healed.

 

A prayer (or, at least, a meditation)

Allow me to offer a sort-of prayer to myself, there being no ultimate authority upon whom’s lap I can lay such an entreaty.

Let me not conflate those unworthy and empty souls with those who have been undeserved second-hand bearers of my own pain. Let me not mistake those who are deserving of criticism and pity with those who, in short, are not. Let me not follow my path thinking that I am solely harmed, when I too have acted deservingly of criticism within the bounds of my own will and capability.

Let my preferences, perspectives, and limitation not be the gravitational center of narratives which I retell further down my path. Let the mistakes lie where they are, and not add flavor or putrid nourishment to the future of my narrative past. Let not the story I tell myself, my very consciousness and self, becomes embedded in pretty lies. Let others spin their narratives as they will; I can only hope that such predators will eventually be seen for what they are.

Finally, let me finally be able to love myself, whether or not other people hate me, smear my name, leave me, or stand beside me. My pain will not rule me forever, and my fear will no longer be my mind killer. Only when I can truly love myself can I love others well and accept their love.

I get closer, every day, to that abstract and unreal goal. There is no perfection or completeness in such a journey; only the path, one step at a time. May I always remember that while only death is the end to such a journey, at each moment I have arrived at myself, and that’s a pretty great place to be.

Gnothi_sauton

Forging an iron(ic) self: putting the border behind me October 24, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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The blog has been quiet for a while. There are reasons for that, which are not relevant to the world, but I wanted to say a few words relevant to my own personal life.

Previously, I have written about Borderline Personality Disorder. It was a time when I was doing a lot of reading, thinking, and talking about what I perceived to be the closest diagnosis which fit what I was experiencing emotionally, behaviorally, etc.  It started with a therapist I saw years ago, who suggested this as an explanation, and I sort of grabbed onto it as a part of my identity.

One of the criteria of BPD is a lack of solid self-identity, and this was something I had struggled with throughout my life (as, I believe, most of us have). Earlier in my life, I associated it with the concept of an existential crisis, and even wrote, recently, about how Sartre’s book Nausea always resonated with me in many ways. But in more recent years, I just piled it onto a diagnosis which helped define the emotional and behavioral struggles I have have to deal with much of my life.  I started, in essence, to identify as a borderline.

That description sat as a place-holder for any real sense of self.

I’m in therapy again, and in talking about these issues and trying to find a set of strategies and concept to move forward with, I have been confronted with the fact that I, perhaps, have too closely associated with such a diagnosis. My therapist has said to me that he does not think I am a borderline, even if I have some borderline symptoms. The fact is that most of us have some symptoms consistent with all sorts of potential diagnoses, and that perhaps we are not best served by identifying with those potential diagnoses. It’s so easy to just lump yourself into a box than to struggle with the actual hard things in life on their own terms.

At this point, my best guess is that previous therapy, thinking, growing, etc have already moved me further away from being diagnoseable. I am different than I was 5 years ago. Hell, I’m different than I was a few months ago.  At the same time, I do still have some real patterns of behavior which I need to struggle with towards becoming the person I want to be.  That struggle will probably be one without end, as growth is a thing which must continue because life changes, our needs and desires change, and so the struggles change.

I am fearing that fact, that reality of change, less than ever before. Change, growth, and uncertainty are often terrifying realities, but these days I’m starting to understand their importance as well. There will be certain things about me which will probably always be true. I am still afraid of many things, and there are specific certainties which I will always want, but I very much want to stop making excuses for not being the human being I want to be.

And, in a strange way, thinking of myself as a borderline was just another excuse. It was a way to essentialize who I was, rather than see the particular issues as challenges to work through. My ultra criticism of myself bled onto my criticism of others; because I wasn’t good enough, I became frustrated by the imperfections in others. But it’s not about being good enough, and that critical nature blinded me to so many other things I could have been focusing on. And I rationalized it all as an essential person who could do no differently.

I am a person people like. I am a person worth knowing and being close to. I’m also not trying to convince you (dear reader) of those facts, those are things I’m trying to believe myself. Those beliefs will be more things that the person I want to be will have as attributes.

That person will not be weighed down by mistakes and traumas of the past, but will move forward and look at solutions. Those who have actively tried to make my life harder and demonize me will fail. Those who insist upon defining me by embellished and fabricated events from my past will have to seek a new target for their abuse, because I will not be limited by either the illusions of others or through my own fears. Instead, I will be motivated by what I can do, what I will do, and I will enjoy a life with people who care for me despite my flaws, and I will succeed one way or another.

I needed a swift kick in the ass, and now I have the bruises there to remind me that whenever I try to sit comfortably in the self I have grown complacent within, the need to get up and keep moving will become part of who I am, not who I want to be. The need to never receive such a kick again will compel me to remember that I don’t need to be perfect, better than others, nor even do I have to insist upon not resting for a while and see how far I have come.

Even the job of growing and learning needs a vacation for a little while, now and then. Otherwise, we risk burnout.

The illusion of perfection, feelings of superiority, and the need to never stop moving are all related. I’m glad that I know this, and I hope that such realizations are not forever bereft in others.

TL;DR

I think now, identifying as a borderline is too strong of a claim.

And so it’s time to move on from that part of my life, and be the person I want to be. Do or do not. There is no try.

In retrospect, I was trying to solve a lack of strong self identity by clinging to a diagnosis which wedded me to not having one. That was dumb.

No more.