Krista Tippett. hosts a weekly interview program on public radio called “On Being”, in which she hosts all kinds of spiritually or philosophically of psychologically “deep” people – people who the Asheville tribe who regularly listen to this show might describe as “very evolved souls”, or some shit like that. Ms. Tippett herself is obviously very “deep” or something like that – and has a very versatile, open mind, so that she is able to carry on intelligent, informed, interesting, provocative conversations with a very wide range of people.
If I were to host such an interview program today, I would definitely call it “On Being an Asshole” – and I would interview all kinds of just regular folks, who would share very interesting – maybe squeamishness-inducing – stories about times they behaved like a complete jerk, or worse yet, a schmuck. I would both identify and empathize with these people – and I would feel some relief and forgiveness for being a total asshole today. It’s really the first foray I have made into that territory since “waking up” five months ago.
The specifics of my assholiness today had to do with my dog Panchita aka Pancho. I totally adore her – I really love dogs, consider them a fabulous species, and have no doubt that she is the best dog in the whole world – except for your dog, of course. In fact, it seems to come with the territory of befriending your dog that you come to totally adore them. It really seems to me that if a person does not adore their dog – and vice-versa – that something is going very wrong, wrong with the person or the dog or their warped relationship.
But sometimes even a pretty good dog owner fucks up. I used to say of my parenting of my wonderful child Terry that I was really glad that no one could watch a videotape of every moment of my parenting – because there sure were some moments that I was not at all proud of.
I do pretty well with my little (20 pounds, way over her fighting weight) chihuahua Pancho – though she is mixed with something definitely bigger than a chihuahua. (It is a source of much speculation what that other dog breed might be – and I may someday break down and fork over the hundred bucks or whatever for a DNA test.)
I definitely do not do one of the ditziest things that the several really stupid dog owners in this building all seem to do: they walk their dogs right up to another dog, when the two dogs are already snarling and barking at each other. One of these women the other day – when I had just physically pushed her somewhat bigger dog away from my dog (she got outraged and said “Don’t you hit my dog!” – which I had obviously not done. I said to her, “I did not hit your dog – I pushed him rudely away from my dog, because you stupidly kept coming, even though I was yelling at you to keep your dog back.” To which she stupidly said, ‘Pancho and Arnold get along fine.” “Not today, they don’t!”
No, my jerkiness with my truly very sweet – but sometimes obstinate – dog today had to do with the even more classic example: she won’t come with you when you want her to, you lose your temper and drag the dog in the direction you want them to go. If little doggie brains and emotions are capable of feeling humiliated, I think this does that to them. It also definitely momentarily strains the bonds of trust and camaraderie that we develop so diligently over hours and days and weeks and months. Pancho is famous for her uber-deep eye contact – it was how she originally landed me, at the Rusty’s Rescue dog adoption day at the local Petsmart. But for the next half-hour (maybe a whole hour – it certainly felt that way), she did not make eye contact with me or me with her.
So what are the parameters of “waking up”? Is that one-time event supposed to suddenly make you perfect? It seems clear to me that it doesn’t prevent you from, in certain situations, behaving like an asshole. I guess someone might try to claim that this “bad behavior” rules out the possibility that you have become “enlightened”. (Are these two terms – “waking up” and “getting enlightened” – interchangeable? Do they point to the same thing? I don’t know the answer to this – I only know that “enlightened” feels lots more elegant and “high-consciousness” than I observe myself being. I like to say that I am walking the “low road to higher consciousness”.
There are all the ways I am so clearly dramatically better than I have ever experienced in my life since this did happen. This guy who has always been a little anxious is now one calm, cool customer – the opposite of manic so much of the time. I walk into a room slow, calm, clear, quiet – so present. My presence is palpable. It radiates from me that I’m a force to be reckoned with. When I do speak, it has a calm authority.
I no longer pursue people. I don’t ask women out on dates. When I did sign up for the Facebook dating site last night, on a lark, I loaded a bunch of pictures and didn’t bother to fill out the profile. “If they can’t get who I am from all those pictures – at least enough to decide if they want to initiate to me, then I’m not interested in them.” I know for sure that I will not shop the site or write anybody else. People seem to be coming towards me a lot these days.
At Earth Fare, during my breaks – or when I’m shopping for myself – I don’t pursue any of the many friends I see there. If they don’t see me, I don’t go after them. I don’t call people for lunch. At church or in other big social situations, I no longer “work the room”. I don’t run around connecting with my various friends – even people I am happy to see across the room. I stand in one spot and let people come to me – and they do.
I am in no way isolating myself: I do have lots of people coming to me. And I just don’t need a lot of interaction as I used to.
I am essentially impervious to disapproval. I was thinking that exact thought as I walked from my car into work the other day. I didn’t specifically think, “Life, hit me with your best shot – send me a test.” But that is exactly what Life did. A woman who I have traditionally put on a pedestal – but also had a very warm and loving relationship with – came through my line and told me she was “sad” that I had been unkind to someone online. I said, “Wow, I feel really great about what I wrote. I think it was kinder than that person deserved to be called.” I did reel, just a bit, that this particular person was upset with me: was this really evidence that I had actually been way out of line?”
But it didn’t take more than a few moments for me to get to: “You know, she said she was ‘sad’ – but she wasn’t sad, she was disapproving.” It never had occurred to me that this very sweet, very high-consciousness woman could even have a disapproving side to her – duh! Not only does she, but I just got the brunt of it. So the whole thing reshuffled for me in a moment, and I knew that her upsetness was way more about her than about anything I had written. Life had sent me the test and I had passed. I do, in fact, seem to be impervious to criticism and disapproval.
Learning to walk the walk and find your voice is a gradual process – the Lord isn’t through with me yet.
I do sometimes call a spade a bloody fucking shovel. I am clearly experimenting with the whole range of my power/assertiveness/even aggression. I think aggression gets a bad rap. When one of the senior students in my old aikido martial arts school was roughing up the newer students, the sensei or teacher would ask that offender out into the middle of the mat to “demonstrate a technique” – and then proceed to both humiliate them and to put a definite physical hurt on them. They probably would be sore for a week. I call that aggression – he intentionally beat them up – and, in a martial arts setting, it was responsible aggression that was a teaching experience for both the offender and really everyone who was there.
I still do have one Achilles heel that clearly isn’t all healed yet. I have taken a huge step towards throwing off the label of mentally ill. But after 30 years of deeply believing that story, I still am vulnerable to it. Some of the mental health people – not all, not my therapist – are scared about my changes, my high energy, the speed with which I am sorting things out, healing from things, and walking away from destructive situations. While I’m telling people to not give me the BS that one has to be kind all the time, much of the time I am quite kind, warm, supportive – loving, really. But some people who are steeped in the mental illness model believe that you can’t be this clear, this productive, this non-stop happy for five months if you are in a normal state of mind. I must be manic.
Three times in the last five months – each of those instances immediately after some mental health person had gone out of their way to tell me that I am not actually in a really great, productive place – but that actually I am biochemically toxified and what I am calling “unreasonable happiness” is actually an upsurge in pathology.
In each of those situations, in the immediate situation I put up an absolutely clear Brene Brown-style boundary
and the perpetrator did not touch me – and I thought I walked away completely intact. But each time, by the next morning I had been totally undermined. In each case, I slept longer than I usually do – which allows the pain body to take over even more – and makes it very difficult and painful to get out of bed, insert myself back in the body, and get going.
But having stared in the eye the possibility that I might shrink away from life, shrink back under the covers, and genuinely get depressed – maybe for days – I have in each of those cases found the heart to push into the pain of moving around, going back into that body where the pain resides, and get moving.
One day I was able to do it by going directly to the shower – which tends for me, in that very warm stream, to be a place of solace and even a little pleasure and amazingly often a place of surging inspiration. I tend to take very long showers – what often finally drives me out is a thought like “I gotta go get all of these great thoughts written down. I immediately list them all in bullet-form in a recurring daily entry in my calendar that I have titled “From the world of Spirit” – which had until recently been titled simply “From the shower”.
I have always had especially strong energy cycles – more, I think, than most people. It was my tremendous misfortune, 30 years ago, that the really very kindly and mostly helpful male psychologist psychotherapist I was seeing – convinced me that the presence of these big swings was a sign of a biochemical condition that could be treated by psychotropic drugs.
And so I was delivered into the hands of the psychiatric establishment. They taught me to view these two states as symptoms of psychopathology and to give them the names of “mania” and “depression” – which in our society definitely refer to psychiatric conditions. Years later, I tried valiantly to push back against this brainwashing by substituting the purely descriptive terms “expansion” and “contraction” – which have no psychiatric loading. In many ways, this effort failed – because I never really got myself out from under the other toxic labels. These days – when I am ferociously committed to resisting those depressing psychiatric words – the terms expanded and contracted are still very useful to me.
Don’t call me “mentally ill”. Just call me an asshole – that won’t fuck me up for days.