Monday, December 21, 2009

Moving from blame and shame into light

For some reason, when I look at this picture, I hear a line from Monty Python: "The one with the braces; He done it!"

I don't know about you, but I have a terrible tendency to play the blame game. If something goes wrong, particularly if I do something wrong, I have a part of my brain (I suspect I should just call it ego and be done with it) that delights in pointing the finger elsewhere.

I suspect that the shame game is part of the same phenomenon: when I cannot avoid the blame, then I feel a shame -- usually disproportionate to the problem. Both of these games -- blame and shame -- play into our troublesome notions of duality, because they are so entangled with our understanding of good, bad, right and wrong and that unfortunate conviction that if you -- or I -- exhibit one we cannot exhibit the other. If I have done something wrong -- and admit it to myself -- I find myself falling down the rabbit hole of "I never do anything right and I am a terrible person."

And if someone ELSE does something wrong, I have a truly unfortunate tendency to "otherize" them, to want to condemn them and separate from them. Worse yet, I find myself on guard much of the time, watching for signs of potential bad behavior so I can isolate (read "protect") myself sooner from potential harm (or temptation). I generally call these "trust issues" and can easily claim that they are based on past experience, but the fact is that as long as I have these filters up I cannot claim to be the compassionate, enlightened soul I so long to be.

I suspect the reason this is coming up again is because both my daughters are home, and in watching and listening to their struggles I see this pattern so clearly in them that I am forced to face it in myself: that as long as we keep fixating on how others hurt or betray us, or how others are at fault, or not what we want them to be, and as long as we use that understanding to isolate ourselves we will continue to suffer. Projecting our own negativity outward only seems to make us more miserable, and the more we justify our distaste and malaise by pointing fingers, the less likely we are to feel harmonious, in tune, at one with ourselves and our surroundings.

This morning, in Richard Rohr's The Naked Now, I was reading his chapter on Love and Suffering, and how it is these two experiences that most commonly break us open to a truer experience of the Divine. And he offers in passing the notion of mercy as a means to compassion:

"In facing the contradiction that we ourselves are, we become living icons of both/and. Once you can accept mercy, it is almost natural to hand it on to others...You become a conduit of what you yourself have received. If you have never needed mercy and do not face your own inherent contradictions, you can go from youth to old age dualistically locked inside a mechanistic universe."

I know. It seems obvious. But it does mean that every instance in which we find ourselves playing either the blame or the shame game, we also have an opportunity to experience -- and convey -- the mercy that is an integral part of openness, compassion, and non-duality. In every real or imagined slight we either experience or deliver there is that possibility that we could transcend our egoic notions of right and wrong, and, knowing God is merciful with us, be merciful with ourselves and others.

Which brings me back to the idea expressed two days ago in this blog, of forgiveness as a means to non-duality -- and I've decided to post that quote again, because it bears repeating:

...When you are concerned with either attacking or defending, manipulating or resisting, pushing or pulling, you cannot be contemplative. When you are preoccupied with enemies, you are always dualistic... Dualistic people use knowledge, even religious knowledge, for the purposes of ego enhancement, shaming, and the control of others and themselves, for it works very well in that way.

Non-dual people use knowledge for the transformation of persons and structures, but most especially to change themselves and to see reality with a new eye and heart. They hold and "suffer" the conflicts of life instead of passing them on or projecting them elsewhere. They do not get rid of life's pain until they learn its necessary lessons. Such a holding tank that agrees to hold it all, eliminating nothing, is what I mean by living in the naked now and being present outside the mind.

And here's what he has to say in this morning's chapter about the transformation of suffering:

"Things happen against your will -- which is what makes it suffering. But over time you can learn to give up your defended state... the situation is what it is, although we will invariably go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, resignation, and (hopefully) on to acceptance. The suffering might feel wrong, terminal, absurd, unjust, impossible, physically painful, or just outide of your comfort zone...Remember always, however, that if you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it to those around you -- and even to the next generation."

Uh-oh -- another opportunity for shame: that I have somehow transmitted my own "trust issues" to my daughters is profoundly disturbing. With work and prayer, I hope to find some mercy for myself, and be a conduit -- i.e., pass that on to them as well. Perhaps together we will be able to find a place where we can step away from blame and shame into light.

(PS: A hearty thank-you, once again, to my dear friend Karen, who took me on a walk long ago to share the multi-colored starfish on her beach)


Kimberly Mason said...

I think I need to read through this one twice! (double dose)

Maureen said...

Great post, Diane.

A therapist I know calls that part of the brain to which you refer "our lizard brain"; it's ancient and undeveloped and the place where blame and shame and hurt reside together. The trick is recognizing when the lizard wants to come to the fore, and strike it down, so to speak, before it does its harm. She gives her patients little plastic lizards, a kind of talismanic reminder.

I am going to share that Rohr quote about the transformation of suffering with my friends at Our Cancer. It is so apt.

I think if we remind ourselves that we are made in His image, we can find that place that takes us into the light. Going the route isn't easy; we'll mess up a lot, no doubt. But the trying counts. It counts.