Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I've been thinking a lot more about being aspergers-ish. Actually, nearly all the posts in the 2nd edition of Aunt BeaN's blog were on this topic, which is why I didn't save them-- they seemed a lesson in how to bore my gentle readers to death. But I'm still thinking about it, so here's another one. Apologies in advance for being self-absorbed.

I've always thought of myself as introverted. I could put in a lengthy list of examples, but I probably don't need to convince anybody. The new thing I've been noticing recently, though, has more to do with how other people are-- i.e., how different I am from other people, and how the ways I am different confuse other people. For example. I consider someone a dear friend if we get together once every 3-4 weeks and have a deep and/or wide-ranging conversation about what's going on in our lives, what we've been reading, politics, whatever. What I'm discovering is that other people consider that to be an acquaintance. Their close friends are the ones they talk to several times a week, sometimes every day. Sometimes several times a day.


Just thinking about talking to the same person more than once a week stresses me out. What would we talk about? The things that change on a day-to-day basis are things that aren't worth talking about, in my opinion-- with some obvious exceptions, of course, like a friend who is going through a particularly trying time or illness. But I'm noticing as I watch other people, especially women, that this is how they connect. They talk to each other about the little mundane details of their lives. The new recipe I tried last night, my aunt is in the hospital again, one of the kids has a cold, I got a new rug for the hallway.......... OH! I get it!

But I can't DO it. I can't bring myself to talk about little everyday things that seem boring and banal to me. But other people do it all the time. I listen to them. I even like listening to them, as long as it doesn't go on for an hour and they don't expect me to respond in kind. But when it comes my turn to say something, I just kind of sit there and STARE at them, like NOW WHAT? Because I honestly can't think of a thing to say.

The complication of this that I've become aware of recently is that many of my friends (whom I consider to be very good friends) think that I must be better friends with someone else, because I don't talk to them very often. My friend at church thinks I'm better friends with the women in my neighborhood, because I only see her once a month or so. My friends in our neighborhood think I must be better friends with the women at work because otherwise I would call more often. My friends at work think I must not be interested in being friends with them because I never call them outside of work. (I won't presume to guess what the women in my women's group think since they might actually read this.) When the truth is that just adding up the once a month (or so) that I've talked to each of these women (and every day to the women at work) makes me feel so overwhelmed socially that I just want to go hide somewhere for a week not talk to anybody.

I can't figure out what to do about this. I've considered making an announcement: "You know, I'm a really introverted person, so if I don't call, it doesn't have anything to do with you, it's just me. But if you ever need to talk about some really big issue, I'll be right there." But I don't think that's going to help. Because the truth is that the pre-requisite for getting called for the really big issues is that you were there for all the little ones, too. In other words, I don't know how to be a good friend, in a way that other people see as being a good friend.

The odd thing, though, is that on a number of occasions, I've been sitting in a group of women, all chattering away, and I'm the only one that notices that someone's feelings have been hurt. Or I'll be the one that remembers some little thing someone said a couple of months earlier. It's not that I'm heartless or insensitive, or at least not usually. It's just that I'm not good at "social reciprocity," which is the technical term for what normal people do with their friends, as opposed to doofuses like me. Which is why I have a lot in common with the asperger's folks, even though I'm a lot different, too.

nuff said.
Aunt BeaN
who is off to hide in a closet somewhere

Monday, February 12, 2007

You know, another problem with trying to discuss religion these days is that everyone is so damn touchy about it. It's nearly impossible to have a reasoned, intelligent discussion with someone about their beliefs (or the things they don't believe)-- a discussion in which you might learn something and/or change your own ideas based on contact with new information-- because as soon as you bring up religion and/or spirituality, you're touching on an issue where people's minds are already made up-- including atheists. I've read some stuff written by atheists recently that is every bit as adamant and closed-minded as fundamentalism. I think of Richard Dawkins as an fundamentalist atheist. Wait! let's not get off on that topic.

anyway. I'm still thinking about The Secret but anticipating before even typing out my thoughts that this might be somewhat controversial. So, let's try making it into a fable.

Imagine that we live in an alternate universe. A universe where it is a firmly established fact that your thoughts and the thoughts of everyone around you create the reality we all inhabit. You think about something you want and that something appears in your life. BUT the thoughts of everyone around you do the same thing, and although the country where we live in this alternate universe is big and diverse, the resources which produce these "thought manifestations" are limited to a reasonable amount per person--plenty for health and happiness, but not enough for fabulous wealth. Let's further imagine that the ability to manifest your thoughts is a learned skill, just like riding a bike or baking a cake. In this alternate universe, given these circumstances, would you as a thinker/manifester (is that a word?) have an ethical responsibility to not manifest more than your fair share of the planet's resources? If you have an innate gift for manifesting your thoughts (i.e., you're better at it than your neighbors), should you scale back on what you "could" manifest out of deference to the needs of those around you? should you be aware that you might strip the planet raw? what happens if you are visualizing living in a peaceful, quiet neighborhood where you can meditate on your back porch every morning, but your neighbor is visualizing raising two dozen chickens, so they can have free-range, naturally nested eggs every morning for breakfast? whose visualization is going to "win"?

In this universe, it seems to me that the most important spiritual task would be to learn enough about yourself to know what you need to support a healthy, creative, and useful life. And even more importantly: how to be content with that. Rather than learning how to manifest the ultimate most that you possibly could.

Do you see my point?

Back in our universe, different bits of this will be problematic to different people. The skeptics, of course, think the whole "thoughts create reality" idea is just a clever ruse to get people to pay big bucks to the infomercial folks. Theist types will be bugged that you don't need God in this scenario. The New Age folks would disagree that there are only finite resources: they seem to believe that the universe has unlimited ability to meet all our desires, and there really is enough for everybody to have everything they want.

But even given all that (none of which I can really argue with, because I don't really know the answer to any of this and maybe they're right)-- I still think my alternate universe makes a point. Because just imagine a universe in which every one can manifest exactly what they're thinking but they are competing for limited resources with which to do it. So you would have some people who have stronger personalities who would charge ahead and get whatever they want; you'd have people who wanted to make sure everyone else got what they wanted and so ended up with nothing; you'd have people who live in the country to the (um, let's say) west of here who are resource poor, so they don't have nearly as much as we do; you have people in the country to the (say) east of here who don't really care about manifesting their thoughts, so the people in our country feel justified in using their resources to get what they want. IN SHORT, you'd have our world.

Which is why I think that if you ever hear anyone say, All you have to do to have everything you ever wanted is just..... (insert anything here) you should run fast and far in the opposite direction. If you're teaching this stuff, you have a responsibility to teach that our heart's desire, our true spiritual path, is not the same as the path to monetary success.

It's just my opinion of course.

Aunt BeaN

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Secret

A friend of mine loaned me the DVD of the movie The Secret this past week, which I have dutifully watched about half of ('scuse dangling preposition). I don't know anything about the background of the movie beyond what you can find out by watching it, although I did see the book in Borders last week, so I know there is a book, too. Probably also seminars and weekend retreats and a newsletter and a website. But I digress.

Basically, the movie is about a woman who, in a time of great personal despair, finds out about an ancient secret that has been known by various wise and well-known people throughout the ages, but through some sort of conspiracy has been hidden from your average Joe/Josephine. If we had all known about this secret, our lives would be completely different, because we would all be millionaires if only we'd known. The secret is the "Law of Attraction," which, simply stated, says: like attracts like. So if you think about and/or visualize the things that you want, you will attract those things into your life. If you think about the things you don't want (debt, loneliness, whatever), you will attract those things, even if what you're thinking is that you don't want them. Otherwise known as "Your thoughts create reality."

Of course there's enough truth in this to make it pretty compelling. It is true that the way you think about a certain situation will entirely color your experience of that situation, thus in effect changing your reality. I could relate dozens of experiences with this in my own life, some of them fairly profound. For example. You already know how hopeless I am in social situations. If I go into a social event feeling paranoid and anxious, I am sure to project paranoia and anxiousness, thus attracting experiences befitting paranoia and reinforcing my belief that I am hopeless at social situations. Or I can go into exactly the same event feeling a little nervous, but hopeful that I might see a friend or two and it might turn out to be a pretty good time, and what the hell, even if I make a fool of myself, I might meet a new friend who doesn't mind social misfits. And what do you know-- almost invariably if I have that attitude, everything turns out fine. And occasionally I even manage to get away with looking like a socially competent person, because I'm not such a nervous wreck that I look like a weird, anxiety-filled dork.

So I can buy that. And the movie adds the interesting twist that even if you are thinking that you don't want something-- I hate being lonely, I don't want to be lonely, why am I always alone? -- you are still attracting what you're thinking about. So the antidote to loneliness isn't thinking about how much you hate it, but thinking positively- hopefully, optimistically- about making new friends, ways you can get involved with other people, etc. That's not really a secret, it's just common sense. But it's still news to some of us, and it's a good thing to learn.

So from that limited perspective, this is a great movie to watch, because it's like a 90-minute infomercial reminding you to think positively--- and those parts of the movie are quite well done and motivational. But where I quickly lose interest-- wait, that's not strong enough-- but where I quickly become completely disgusted-- is when that is taken a step further to "if we just think positively, we can all be millionaires." If you imagine checks arriving in the mail, checks will start arriving in the mail. If you imagine owning an expensive gold necklace you see in a jewelry store window, before you know it, someone will give it to you. If you imagine your small business becoming a multinational conglomerate, there you'll be in a couple of years. And so on.

First of all, if this is true, why haven't we all won the lottery by now? I've never bought a lottery ticket on my own, but every few months, my office mates and I all donate a dollar and someone goes and buys a fistful of lottery tickets. Then we spend our whole lunch hour thinking, visualizing, and talking about what we'd do if we won the lottery.

Hasn't happened yet. Nor has it happened for millions of other ticket buyers who spend a whole lot more than their lunch hour dreaming of winning the lottery.

Secondly, I have no patience with any spiritual practice that has wealth as one of its goals. Please. I could write a whole post just about that. Every major world religion I've ever heard of speaks of materialism as an obstacle to spiritual growth. Love people, use things, not the other way around. It just makes me mad thinking about it.

And the more you think about it, the more appalling it becomes. Let me make an aside here before I really get into rant mode: the movie consists mostly of snippets of interviews with various spiritual leaders (described as authors, metaphysicians, teachers, etc), not all of whom talk about wealth, so this may not apply to all of them. But let's just take one in particular. Jack Canfield is one of the main speakers. I'm assuming this is the same Jack Canfield of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" fame. This is almost a direct quote: "And you can see that it [the secret] works because look at me!! I live in a four and a half million dollar home, I have a wife that's to die for, I travel all over the world and have great adventures..." I'm not kidding, that's really in there. How in the world would human society continue to function if we all lived in 4 1/2 million dollar homes? It's little better than a pyramid scheme, if you ask me. Just listen to me (buy my book/DVD, pay to hear me speak, pay $500 a pop for an hour-long personal consultation, pay who-knows-how-much for a weekend retreat) and you too can be fabulously wealthy just like me. And of course they always have the easy out: if it doesn't work for you, it's because you're not thinking positively enough, or because your subconscious is working against you, or or or...

I think the reason why this feels so wrong to me is because of familiarity. It's like a revival speaker or a faith healer or a snake oil salesman. It worked for me, and if it doesn't work for you, it's because you didn't have enough faith, or you didn't pray hard enough, or whatever. And the fact that in the meantime I got rich off of unsuspecting people like you, well, it's what you deserved, because you're just not quite as good as me. Whatever. Ack.

Ok, I'm done. Excuse me while I get down off my soapbox and pack it up.

Aunt-y BeaN
I've tried to write the third post in that last thread half a dozen times now and I just can't get it to say anything worth posting. My original point was that it is nearly impossible to intelligently discuss religion because there are so many, infinite varieties of religious experience (hey, somebody should write a book about that). Well.................. DUH. as my daughter would say. But after I typed out the second post, I couldn't really pin down what I was trying to say, and I still haven't figured it out, so I guess for now I'm just bagging it. Sorry to leave the unfinished thought out there. It seemed fairly important at the time, so maybe I'll figure out a better way to say it eventually and revisit.



Saturday, February 10, 2007

... the snow turned into rain.... (Dan Fogelberg, a very long time ago)

I mostly grew up in a climate where one assumed warm was better, at least until you were above 100 degrees. But now I live in a climate that has a real, bona fide winter, and I know that sometimes cold is better. We've been in and out of the deep freeze half a dozen times over the last few weeks, and here is my opinion: when you have 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, and then it "warms up" to 35 degrees, you have nothing but a big sloppy mess on your hands. And if it snows, which it has been off and on all day today, it turns into slushy rain, which is just nasty. Here is the perfect winter: highs in the mid-20s the entire time, with occasional forays into single digits, so that they mid-20s feels balmy by comparison. If you live in florida, that probably sounds crazy, but you can trust me on this-- everyone I know here locally feels the same way.

Hugs and kisses,
Aunt BeaN (who stepped into top-of-shoe slush in the grocery store parking lot this morning)

Friday, February 02, 2007

So where exactly was that long-winded thread going? you might ask, and it would be a good question because I'm not sure I know now that it's all typed out.  It ended up going an entirely different way than expected.  But here is where I was going at the outset.

When it started, I was headed towards something like this: it's nearly impossible to intelligently discuss religion or religious people if you make generalizations, because the variations are infinite, even among people who say they believe the same thing. (which is, of course, a generalization, but I will proceed anyway). I know conservatives who are pro-choice; I know Democrats who have moral standards that are like something out of the Victorian era. I know conservative Christians who have no problem with evolution. I was raised as an Evangelical, but even in the days when I was most vehemently Evangelical, I still believed quite firmly in the separation of church and state, and I've never seen the point of prayer in the schools. And the converse of each of those statements are all generalizations I've heard or read in the last couple of weeks as the lead-in to a lengthy discussion about "those" types of people.

Here's my theory. None of us can take in the totality of the infinite amount of data around us at every moment. If there is an infinite being out there, the human mind will never fully comprehend it. So we choose a way of seeing our experience that helps us understand it. It's like walking outside on an extremely bright and sunny day. You reach for your sunglasses. Maybe you like the blue-blockers, maybe you want polarized, maybe you prefer a pink tinge. Or maybe you don't like sunglasses and you have to squint against the glare so you don't see as much. Whatever.

We all filter our experience somehow. a way of looking at the world that helps us make sense of what we perceive. We're probably unaware of our most basic assumptions because we breathed them in with our first breath. Others we take on by choice or training as time goes by. Religion is one of those filters; it helps us make sense of the world around us. It can be a crutch, of course, if it keeps you from thinking or leads you to make false conclusions. But it can also be a legitimate way of trying to understand certain phenomena that science doesn't explain very well. And to claim that science doesn't have its own set of biases is just silly. maybe over time those who hold to a scientific worldview do a better job of discarding outmoded ideas and accepting new ones based on better data. But there's plenty of evidence that even brilliant scientists have a hard time with that-- check out Einstein and quantum mechanics, to name just one.

So no matter what your point of view, you can't take it too seriously-- it's just a filter, like everyone else's. You've found one that works well for you, great. But it's not perfect, and it's not the only way to look at things. (Which would preclude fundamentalism, if only they'd just listen to me, dang it.)

more later, the battery's dead.