Archive for June, 2010

virtual boundaries

June 30, 2010

Physical boundaries in life are generally easy to spot – there is a wall, a fence, a closed door, a large DO-NOT-ENTER sign, and other manifestations of lines that one does not cross without permission. Learned boundaries include not touching another person unless invited, walking on the sidewalk, and only eating off of your own plate.

We have emotional boundaries. The rules are not quite so obvious and clear. Our sense of closeness and comfort with another person and their role in our lives usually govern how much of any emotion we might reveal. Reading the emotional boundaries of others takes time and experience. Some people hold their emotions so closely, we always have to guess what they are feeling. Some people wear their emotions like a disguise. Still others are emotional fountains that are overwhelming. Most of us fall in between. We learn to respect when and who to ask: how do you feel? And how much we trust the answer.

The majority of us learn the appropriate boundaries of times, places, events, and people that evoke specific emotions. We learn to smile and be joyful at weddings and to be sad and grieving at funerals. We learn to have emotions regardless of whether we might truly feel them. We learn to deny that we might have certain emotions because those emotions make others uncomfortable. We learn through the customs of our society and through trial and error in relationship to our parents and teachers as we are growing up.

We have virtual boundaries, too. It is impolite and a transgression of etiquette to use another person’s computer without their permission. The computer may or may not be their property. The virtual information stored on the computer is. The emotion evoked in a person whose virtual boundary has been violated is not virtual. For that person, their digitized life is very, very real as are their emotions. If all the electricity went out in the world, there might be a few people who would actually cease to exist.

Because of people who have no respect for certain boundaries and cross them without hesitation, we tuck our binary information behind virtual boundaries of passwords, PIN numbers, and authentication codes. Just like thieves who slither inside your home or your car to grab some piece of you, virtual thieves silently sneak inside your virtual world with keyloggers that copy down the key strokes you make to enter your accounts and when you walk away, they siphon off your assets. Some of them get so much information, they can go out into the world and pretend to be you.

When anyone crosses our boundaries uninvited with intent to harm, whether those boundaries are physical, emotional, or virtual, it is a violation of everyone’s well-being. In our karmic world, the harm they caused will revisit them with a vengeance. Whatever we focus on will grow.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

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The presence of virtual restoration

June 28, 2010

I am once again all powerful and pack a fireball that can knock out an enemy with a simple wave of my hand.

My trinkets, my jewels, my gear, my weapons, my gold, my herbs, my potions, and my confidence have been restored to my virtual characters on World of Warcraft. They came to me via virtual e-mail from the virtual presence of a person who I believe to be as real as I am. All of the items are exactly what I lost . . . even the money which was counted down to the last copper penny. The virtual memory of digital life left a blueprint so that everything could be replicated.

In three dimensional life, perfect replication is impossible. Inside binary code, perfect replication is a necessity. For computer programs to successfully work, they must do the exact same thing over and over and over again. Everything can be restored completely and, if you do the back-up systems and keep the memory intact, you can replicate virtual existence at any point in the past.

But if just one digitized zero is misplaced, the program code goes haywire. All of it. You have to find that missing zero and replace it for virtual life to continue. Virtual life then goes on as if nothing had happened.

Restoration in three dimensional life is a little different. I am changed as a result of the intrusion upon my virtual life. Just because my virtual personas have been made whole, does this mean I have been made whole as well? Nothing is missing from my presence, except that the trust I place upon other virtual presences has been altered. The presence of the thieves has caused me to pull my trust closer and withhold it from them. My willingness to trust changed also because of the response of the company who sells and maintains the World of Warcraft environment. It expanded and grew larger to encompass more of the people who work there.

It is difficult for me to separate out what was a voluntary decision on my part and what is my instinctive programming. Trust is a survival quality that we are born with and needs to be tended to with mindful attentiveness. To gain the trust of others, we must replicate behaviors with reliable consistency. If we falter and fail just once, the trust program in others changes. Restoration is a long and arduous process.

I am more whole today than I was before. Every life incident teaches me, enlarges me, expands me, and grows me.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

anonymous presence

June 27, 2010

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. (Alcoholics Anonymous, Tradition #12)

As one of my last assignments for the class I am taking on substance abuse, I explored the 12 Traditions that support the 12 Step programs for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, etc. These traditions are principles that describe the external environment required for any 12 Step program to exist and be successful. The 12 Steps are an internal process of personal spiritual growth and change for recovery to occur. The 12 Traditions are regarded as the rules and regulations, but they are also a set of spiritual principles that create a safe environment for the process of the 12 Steps to be shared.

Tradition 12 is saying that being unknown and ordinary is the breath of life for all the principles of the 12 Step programs and maintaining these principles is more important than any one person’s habits or behaviors. These words imply that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. They prevent any one person from taking over 12-Step groups.

Being anonymous is required. It protects each individual alone and collectively. By protecting the group, Tradition 12 guarantees the safety of all the principles. This does not mean that principles or other people are more important than an individual. Even while living among the many, each person must continue to put his or her own welfare first unless, by some tacit agreement, he or she has agreed to put others first. The men and women who go to war and fight battles and are willing to die to keep us safe come to mind. Yet, even then, soldiers are expected to take very good care of themselves so that they can be effective and keep their agreements.

This tradition says that the principles come before personality. Some people believe that if they cannot be their personality, then they are not being themselves. We are not our personalities. Our personalities are behaviors that reflect who we believe ourselves to be. We are all in charge of our behaviors. We select the behaviors that show the world who we are.

I thought about what it means to be anonymous. Synonyms include being nameless, unidentified, unknown, ordinary, indistinctive, everyday, unexceptional, and unmemorable. There is an element of safety in being nameless and ordinary. There is an element of loneliness in being unknown and unmemorable.

We can be nameless and still be known. I put my name aside. I set my personality along side of my name. Who am I when I have no name and no habitual behaviors to display myself before the world? Throughout my day, I am nameless and unknown at the grocery store, the post office, the gas station, and a dozen other brief encounters. I display behavior appropriate to the circumstances. At work, I am no longer nameless and I am known only to the extent that I reveal myself through my behaviors. Again, I choose the behaviors that represent how I want to be perceived in my work world. But, these are not therapeutic settings as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings are.

How can one remain anonymous in a therapeutic setting? My brief experience in attending 12-step program meetings gave me an insight that says being anonymous opens a door for exploring the individuality of the person who has been submerged under drugs or alcohol (or any other behavior that is an addiction).

It brings up the question we can all ask ourselves: who am I and how can I be in the world when I am not my name or my personality?

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

Nonattached presence

June 20, 2010

Although the inner world of self and the external world of reality appear to be distinct, ultimately they are not two, but one-not just closely interconnected or mutually dependent, but inseparable from one another. In Buddhism, we call this oneness “the true aspect of all phenomena,” the ultimate truth, or the Buddha nature. Nichiren also called it the Mystic Law, which he expressed as Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. -Buddha in Your Mirror (sharingbuddhism.com)

I’ve been thinking about my stolen virtual items and how I view that theft within my larger belief system. If virtual items exist in any reality, they exist as part of the One. So, in essence they are still here, just not in my presence.

Everything else that I am is still here in my presence. No one can steal away my sense about myself. In fact, this virtual theft of digitized possessions has brought me around to meet me.

I am surprised today to find that I have developed this quality of nonattachment. As I play the game, I realize that there are many things I cannot do with my characters without their appropriate gear and items. And, I don’t find it as frustrating as I thought I might. I find freedom in being able to see other paths that I can take with my characters and still enjoy playing the game. Their world can be recreated.

Even more surprising, I found that I did not have any attachment to the responses that I got when I told my sad tale to others. All responses have been welcome as a matter of me sharing my life with others. In my life, I have been a person who once required everyone to agree with me and give me the response I expected.

It does not even bother me that some people don’t care at all. Even a nonresponse is only that: no response. The only meaning it might have is meaning I might attach to it.

Some time ago, I wrote about being on the verge of something very big in my life.

This is it.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

Virtual presence

June 19, 2010

I have a virtual presence – a presence online in the digital world of the Internet. In fact, I have several of them. There is this one where I blog as myself and bringing my true presence to life.

Then there are others . . . one of which might surprise you.

I am a warlock on the game World of Warcraft. I am also a priest and a mage. While I can easily become as addicted to anyone else to computer games (I mastered the original Tetris past level 20 within a week), World of Warcraft (affectionately known as WOW) requires enough presence and intellectual engagement as to make me tired and say goodnight within a couple of hours. I don’t watch television regularly, so WOW is my recreational escape from reality.

Just by its title, you should know that my characters kill ugly mean monsters and members of the opposing factions to defend themselves and protect others. We slaughter animals to make food. I don’t necessarily enjoy the killing part (although I am an ancient warrior and part of my purpose in this existence is to learn peaceful ways of resolving conflict; still, my first reaction whenever I hear about child molesters, is “just shoot them”). I also am an herbalist and a tailor, which is interesting in itself. But the only way to obtain the herbs and goods to make clothing is to go out into the big mean world and get it.

Out in the big mean world are characters who attack me.

But it is not real. The people behind the characters are real and that is why I like connecting there. When someone I know is off traveling even on the other side of the world, they can log on to WOW and we can play together, talk, and socialize. But I know full well that the characters I am staring at on my computer screen are not real. They just feel like it.

My warlock was well geared, too. She had top-of-the line armor, weapons, trinkets, rings, potions, and amulets that made her indestructible if I played her right. Note that I said “was” at the beginning of this sentence.

That’s because all her stuff got stolen. Someone hacked my WOW account and stripped her of all her money, gear, herbs, cloth, and food. Then, they started in on my priest and mage. Fortunately, I happened to log on in the middle of that and changed the password several times in a row to shut them out. I did all the right things: contacted WOW (they have a good history of retrieving the stolen items), changed passwords everywhere, changed my personal information, and then uninstalled the add-on program for WOW that I think made my account vulnerable.

None of the items stolen were real at all and I know the people who stole the items will sell them at the virtual vendors and auction house for virtual gold. I lost about 7,000 virtual gold and the cost of the gear maybe totaled 500 gold. So, why would anyone steal virtual stuff to get virtual gold? The 7,500 in virtual gold will buy them some virtual gear. And, in the real world there are people who will pay real cash money for virtual gold so they can just buy the gear instead of taking the time to play the game to earn the gear. Total in real money? About forty ($40.00) bucks.

Isn’t that just like real life?

The gear is replaceable. Even if WOW does not restore it, it is just a matter of time and playing the game to get what I need.

What is not replaceable is the virtual trust and good feelings I had from playing the game. They stole virtual stuff, does that mean I my anger and sadness are virtual, too? I am mourning their loss. Those emotions feel pretty real to me. Putting the episode into perspective helps me keep them in check. I think about people who have lost their entire homes and families. That does not mean that my feelings are not justified; they are — I just need to be honest about what it is I am angry, sad, and grieving for.

The impact on the thieves cannot be undone either. They learned stealing as a way of life, and probably have had parts of their lives stolen from them. Stealing is how they survive. I don’t know the circumstances of the thieves. I don’t know what makes them have to steal. I am lucky. I can go out and make my life, restore my characters, make new ones if I want . . . I have a keen sense of my ability to choose. My virtual items are still a part of the One and will return to me if that is what is good for me.

©by Barbara L. Kass

Slippery Places

June 15, 2010

Warning: this is a long one (about 2 pages single spaced). It is a composite of my experience attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings as an observer for the class on substance abuse I am taking at Loyola. I need to turn it in on Friday. Feedback is welcome. BK

“Are you in the program?” His voice booms across the room. He looks like an aging California surfer: blonde hair slicked back, skin the color and texture of hide leather, and blazing blue eyes that challenge my presence.

“No,” I say, “I’m Barbara. I am here to observe.”

“Observe away,” he sweeps his arm across the chairs in front of him. “You should be in the program. It works.” He pokes himself in the chest. “Forty-five days. I never thought it could happen.”

Of course, I say to myself as I sit down, all of them would think I am addict. Why else would anyone come here?

“I know you,” a woman squints at me. “I’ve seen you before. You ARE in the program!”

“No, I am not,” I tell her. More people file into the room. Some of them take notice of a new face. Others appear oblivious.

Everyone finds a chair. They squirm restlessly as if being still is impossible. One reads the 12 Steps. Another reads the 12 Traditions. The leader of the meeting is a dark, somber young woman.

“Each person has three minutes,” she locks her gaze on me. “Say your name, that you are an addict and, if you don’t want to share, just say ‘pass.’ We will go counterclockwise around the table and then move to the back rows. We start with you.”

She points to an elderly man. He looks about 70. He might be younger, but his illness has aged him.

“My name is John and I am an addict.”

There is a chorus of “Hi, John” before he continues.

“I am very aware of the slippery places in my life. I know I have to avoid bars. One drink and the whole game is over. I have an infection, and I had to go to the doctor. He gave me an antibiotic, which is okay, but then he asked me if I wanted something for the pain.” John pauses, staring at his hands. I notice his fingers are trembling.

“I said no, but it really bothers me. I never thought about my doctor being a slippery place,” he says softly. “That’s it. Thanks.”

“Thanks for sharing,” the chorus fills the room.

Around and around it goes. One woman admits to being only two weeks into her third recovery, having relapsed twice. A man describes being offered oxycontin by a co-worker even after he told the co-worker he was in recovery. When they get to me, I say my name and that I will pass. I do not say I am an addict.

I am a misfit among these souls. Alcohol puts me to sleep and I dislike being out of control of my mind. I abolished my addiction to cigarettes over 20 years ago. Slippery places no longer provoke a need for nicotine. But, it is not the same. There is something different happening here.

Another meeting, another time, a sea of faces who I will not soon forget. Children come with their mothers making babysitters nonessential. I wonder what the children think, what the impact will be on them. It is not my place to ask.

A young man apologizes for his twitches.

“I’m only two days sober,” he explains, “this girl invited me out to a bar a while ago. Months ago. Okay, a year ago. I only had one drink that night. But then I had another a couple of weeks later. And then another after a few days. Then, I started using again. Two years I didn’t use. Two years! All it took was one trip to a bar, and that’s all down the drain. This time I’m going to stay clean. I hate withdrawal.”

Slippery places.

A young woman with tattoos covering her arms, her bare midriff, her back, says she is having a rough time. Her daughter is about five years old and sits next to her contentedly licking a Tootsie Roll Pop.

“I need to find a sponsor. One here close by. I can’t be without a sponsor for very long. I’ll start using again.”

Slippery places.

These are lives balanced in a delicate, precarious cease fire. They might have quit their drugs, but they have not quit their addiction. All they are doing is NOT doing the drugs or the drinking. Very few talk about coping skills when life gets hard or when they find themselves sliding into the slippery places. The warning is out there. The way to cope with the slippery places is to just not go there. Meetings are the place to go instead.

As a counselor, I would require it. Proof-of-attendance slips are available. Loneliness is a slippery place for addicts. Being with others, making safe connections, having a sponsor, being a sponsor, and making oneself accountable to others helps build confidence and self-reliance. An addicted person needs exercises that help them say “yes, I can make good choices.” Regardless of the endless stories of relapse, those who shared gave testimony to their own self-worth and the desire for another chance. Addicts are the only people who can grant themselves second chances.

The meetings give addicts autonomy over their own treatment and recovery. No one is telling them what to do or how to do it. No one is prescribing anything. The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions are ways of being in the world. How a person chooses to integrate and reflect those steps and traditions is a way of becoming who one truly is.

If I could give a recovering drug addict just one thing, it would be to help him or her find a way to be finished with addiction. Being finished does not mean that a person could have a drink, or pop a pill, or snort anything ever. Being finished means that the person is free of the desire, the need, the compulsion, and the constant struggle to avoid slippery places. Slippery places are not just bars or people or events. We all have slippery places inside of us in our thoughts, our emotions, and our responses to life.

The difference is that my slippery places will not take me outside of myself or my life. For recovering addicts, slippery places can end their lives. None of us can control the slippery places. The only part we can control is what we might do when we start sliding.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

the presence of protection

June 12, 2010

If you light a lantern for another, it will also brighten your own way.
-Nichiren

This quote came to me yesterday from my sharingbuddhism.com subscription (it is free and each day you get a new quote to help nudge you awake and speed your way toward enlightenment). Yesterday, though, I wrote about life feasting upon life. It is the way of this existence and humans are predators, too. Even vegetarians eat life. Just because it is a plant does not mean it does not have a soul or is not connected to Spirit, Source, God, the Universal Consciousness, the One, and anything else you might call the larger power we are all a part of. We assume in our arrogance that plants are somehow exempt from spirituality because they are not animals.

By now you are probably asking, “What is with her? What does this have to do with the quote? Is she going to digress herself into the last century?” I do that, I admit. Digress a lot. But, too bad; this is my blog. (<==== attitude problem)

Because we eat and require other life forms in order to survive, we have a responsibility towards them. In fulfilling that responsibility, we fulfill the responsibility to take care of ourselves. The more we take care of and protect other life (including humans), the more we protect ourselves. We are not separate and apart from the impact our presence has on other life forms. What we do to them, we do to ourselves.

We have nearly decapitated ourselves with the oil spill in the Gulf. And we are all responsible. We are also responsible for coming up with a solution and a better way of handling our energy needs. The Hudson River in New York was once declared dead. But a couple of people got together, cleaned it up, quit destroying it, and it healed.

We can do that for humans, too.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

epic struggles in my windowpane

June 11, 2010

It was a tiny, but ferocious, battle. Gazing idly out my window this morning, my eye found the panicked flashing of a firefly trapped inside a spider’s web. Normally, fireflies use this luminescent ability to attract mates or prey (and you thought those little lightning bugs were harmless . . . nope, they eat other bugs and would probably take you or me down without a second thought if they were big enough).

Think about that. Imagine a summer dusk in your backyard and you are sitting there with your spouse, maybe a few friends, a gathering of children chasing each other in the yard, and suddenly, little green, red, or orange lights begin sparkling in the grass. What happens next? Yep, those darling little children rush over to find out what is making that wonderful glow. They are attracted to the light same as any other prey.

But back to the struggle. Of course, the spider was waiting high in the corner of its web, out of sight. About one-third the size of the firefly, the spider went about its business. I could not tell if it was biting the firefly or spinning more web around it. The firefly wriggled its spindly legs attempting to free itself from the web, but the web was very sticky. All the while, its green luminescence flashed brightly.

The size of the firefly proved to be too much for the delicate web and it tumbled to the window sill. The spider hunted around the web for a while, seeking what had just been there. I felt kind of bad for the spider. All that hard work. I have an affinity for spiders (which some people find very weird) and have lived peacefully with spiders in my home (which people find even weirder). Years ago, I lived in an apartment with a fly spider. They like to crawl across your ceiling and build their webs high up in corners or near windows to trap flying insects, like flies. We had an agreement. He would stay on the ceiling and I would stay on the floor. It worked. I never had any flies in my apartment.

I don’t know if the spider ever found its prey. Upon closer inspection of the spider’s web, I noted another insect already wrapped and tucked away in the corner. A midnight snack perhaps.

Being at the top of the food chain, most of us cloistered away from the slaughter that becomes our steaks, pork chops, and fried chicken, we rarely witness the forfeit of life for life. What some might find ugly and repellant (and how many of you were rooting for the firefly?), I find fascinating in its representation of the symbiotic relationship of all that exists.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

for Rosa

June 8, 2010

I spent some time with a woman today who is far from her native home, has little or no chance to return there, and who found out that her daughter died today.

We are the same age. She cleans houses for a living and sends most of her money home to take care of her family. I am in charge of papers in an office with lots of words that don’t mean much but are good at telling other people what to do. I don’t ever send money home to my family.

I wonder which one of us provides the most valuable service.

She speaks Spanish and enough broken English to be understood. I speak English and just enough Spanish to get myself in trouble. But I clearly understood that her daughter was muerto and then there was nothing else she could say to me because she simply broke down and cried.

I sat with her. We were sitting on the cold cement door step to the garage. She slumped over her knees and wept as if she could weep herself into nonexistence. All I could do was rest my hand on her shoulder and press my leg gently against hers to let her know I was there. I had nothing to say that was going to comfort her. I have two daughters and a granddaughter. It did not take a huge leap of logic for me to know how I would feel if one of them died.

Nothing was going to make her feel better because the only thing that could would be that her daughter come alive. I called on my eternal presence, asking for something – anything – that I could do, be, say, or give that would bring this woman some comfort, some relief from her grief.

There was dead silence, and for a moment, I thought my presence had deserted me, until I realized I was my eternal presence in those moments for her. Of course, once my ego discovered this, part of me started getting all puffed up, until I acknowledged it and said, “I know. I am ego, too. But for now, I just want to be whatever will support this woman.”

It is humbling being helpless, naked, and raw. We both were, in very different ways.

A friend came to get her and, after she left, I went for a walk to study myself. I realized that she needed her grief, to own her helplessness over her daughter’s death, to expose herself and her pain to me. She has the right to all of her feelings. I have no right to try and take any of them away.

My part? Divine intervention put us in the same place.

That is all I can say.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

Self-help vs. Ways of Being

June 7, 2010

In a recent conversation about don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements, a friend described the book as being in the “self-help” category and claimed that if self-help books worked, we would need only one. This person’s argument was that because there are endless self-help books being written and published, that is evidence that they don’t work and never will.

I never thought of The Four Agreements as a self-help book. I think of the book Heal Your Headache as a self-help book. (If you suffer from migraines, fibromyalgia, constant headaches, neuralgia, or any other chronic illness that is ill-defined and for which you cannot find relief, read that book. It will save your sanity.)

But I digress.

I view The Four Agreements more as a ways of being in the world than self-help. Similar to Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, Ruiz writes with a stream of consciousness style that sounds as if it comes directly from his experience. The four agreements are: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. On the surface, they sound like advice your parents would give you. To live them honestly, though, one must translate that advice to a way of personal being in the world.

That’s the tricky part.

Exactly how can I be impeccable with my word? What does that mean? Does that mean I have to tell the truth ALL the time? How can I not take what happens to me personally? Don’t make assumptions about anything? Really? Anything? And that part about doing my best, well, at least Ruiz makes some allowance for the fact that there are different levels of “best” depending on how my life is going at the moment.

Even if it were a “self-help” book, the application would be the same which is why I think the more books that are written, the more information that is shared, the more we know of the experience of others, the more common ground we can find and the less alone we are. Everyone writes their book from their own personal experience and way of being in the world. They are telling us “this worked for me; it might work for you, but you have to make it yours.”

And that is about as impeccable as I can be in this moment.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass