Category Archives: living

Play: it ain’t necessarily what you think, either…

Susan Schroeder Arts

Play for its own sake is essential to most sentient beings. Animals and birds play. We don’t know what they get out of it, but we know that they seem to enjoy it — even seem to find it necessary. Kittens roll and tumble and chase their tails. Dogs chase sticks and frisbees. Birds play with balls and talk to themselves in mirrors. Otters slide down river banks, over and over again. Dolphins frolic just because they can.

Play, activity done just for its own sake, comes naturally to children. Small children spend hours pretending, playing make-believe with dolls and other toys, with or without fellow dreamers. When there are others, especially parents who can still play, tell stories and pretend — and who will take the time to do it — playtime becomes even richer. Continue reading

My Cup Runneth Over (It’s not what you think)

“The minute I stopped arguing, I could begin to see and feel.”
Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions, AA World Services

A student went to visit a Zen master. As the student talked on about all the things he knew about Zen, the master served the tea. Naturally he served the guest first, as is the custom. He poured until the cup was full, and then continued pouring. The student watched the cup begin to overflow and  blurted, “It’s full! It’s overflowing!”

“This is you,” the master replied. “How can I teach you unless you first empty your cup?”

Many of us are afraid to admit that we don’t know. To us, it’s like a little piece of death, as if someone were taking away a bit of who we are. For those of us whose self-image is based on our intellect, rather than a steady belief that we have an innate value that can’t be taken from us, to admit that we are wrong is to admit that we are of no value.

It’s a terrible way to live, constantly having to argue, to show others how we really are on top of our game, that we’ve got it together, that we know it all. It’s like being in a constant battle for intellectual — and, often, moral — superiority, and it prevents us from learning things that can eventually lead to truly clear, unfettered thinking and the ability to appreciate ourselves and others for who we really are.

Another pertinent aphorism reads, “You can’t teach a man what he thinks he already knows.” How true, in all but a very few cases.

I used to teach remedial driving to police officers who had exceeded their department’s quota of auto crashes. Most police departments accept that officers will occasionally have a “bit of a shunt” as the British say. It’s the nature of a profession that involves a lot of unavoidable distracted driving, often augmented by adrenaline and a certain amount of fear (and maybe a teensy bit of testosterone, but let’s not go there).

Almost to a man — and I use “man” intentionally, because women are, generally speaking, far easier to teach — they’d sit in the classroom session on the first day and look totally bored, ask smartass questions, and generally act like a bunch of macho guys in a place that they find embarrassing. “Me? Need driving school! Hell, I write tickets for people who don’t know how to drive right!”

We’d tell them specifically what the driving exercises were going to be and the technical details of what it would take to complete them. In the afternoon session, we’d take them out on the track and put them in situations that required pretty sophisticated driving skills. Invariably, they’d quickly become teachable as they discovered that the instructors actually knew stuff that they didn’t, and that they were willing to impart it to those who would listen. By the end of the 3-day course, some of them were asking if they could come back and repeat it.

That’s sort of like hitting a bottom. We find we can’t do it, whatever it is, and we then become teachable. But we still have to overcome the automatic defenses that we’ve built up over our lives: the inability to admit that there’s something we don’t know. We have to empty our cup in order to accept more tea. And then keep our mouths shut until it’s our time to serve the tea.

Any of that sound at all familiar?

Changes, the movie

I’m getting ready to head out on a little road trip. It’ll be fun, because Shel and I don’t get to travel as much as we used to. But it’s not for a fun purpose. A family member has died, and we’re going to the memorial service. We weren’t especially close to the departed, but he’s the former husband of the matriarch of our generation and she and their kids are important. Not to say he wasn’t, but you get it. (Yes, “former” husband; in our family it takes more than a legal separation to get you out of the fold. Old Southern families are like that.)

Anyway, it got me to thinking about the inevitability of changes. Everything passes. New things come along. We accept or we don’t. We adjust, or we don’t.

I had a friend fifty-odd years ago who played the guitar and sang folk music. He’d sit in front of the mike tuning his 12-string and mumble (audibly) “I’m going to get this thing tuned and have it welded!”

Sometimes our attitude toward life is like that. We want to get it right — for us — and have it welded so nothing changes: no bad stuff we can’t handle easily, no pain, no loss, no illness, no aging . . . especially that! And certainly no death. That’s particularly true of addicts. The misery of our lives is built around our grasping for things to which we can never hold on. We claw our way toward things that, once we get them, we’re too tired to enjoy, or too habitually clawing to appreciate. The hungry ghosts keep pushing us, and we live our lives in perpetual grasping and loss, discontent and anger about things we can never control.

As the AA Big Book reads, “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.” I don’t mean that in the sense of some bromide that is supposed to make our lives ecstatically happy. That will never happen. What acceptance — of life’s changes, of our inability to control others, of our ability to change the things we can, of the reality of those differences — can do for us is greatly reduce the pain. As long as we are trying to grasp and hold on to things we must lose, we will be both unhappy and unable to heal, to go on with our lives, to seek happiness in those places that truly bring it.

Grief is our way of acknowledging the changes and the way to get beyond it. Passage of time takes away a lot of the pain, usually taking a couple of years whether it’s a death, a lost romance, or some other burden. That’s okay. Our pain is accomplishing nothing for loved ones who have left us for whatever reasons, and if they were counseling us they would say to march through the pain, let it go as it fades, and live happy lives. That’s what Phillip would have wanted.

The only thing standing in our way is fear of change, that greatest of human fears. Why fear something that is inevitable? Living with it and enjoying the new aspects of our ever-changing lives is the only rational solution to our misery. That’s what I want for my loved ones, my readers and myself.

Taking Time To Think About It

Those who add careful observation to what
they see and serious reflection to what they read
are on the road to wisdom instead of opinion.

Contemplation is a practice that reaches back before written history, but it is a life skill that is sorely neglected today in Western culture. In order to make sense of our lives we need time to consider and reflect, time away from phones, work, and the myriad interruptions that plague our daily lives. We need time to let ourselves absorb and make sense of all the information that has come our way.

Human beings are extremely good at acquiring data, but not all that accurate in our interpretations unless we take time to think about it. Quick decisions are an asset when we’re relatively unarmed soft-skinned creatures creeping through the jungle, but not so effective in our complicated, modern world with its vast flow of information that needs to be interpreted before it can be successfully applied. Continue reading