Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #49:

“Our tradition is that of the first man who sneaked away to the creek when the tribe did not really need fish.”

                                Roderick Haig-Brown, about modern fishing, A River Never Sleeps, 1946

For starters, we are pretty much utilitarian people. We focus mostly on the practical and doing things efficiently. In fact we mostly focus on the doing, period. Once again I contend there is a better way to live: being calm.  To do this we first and foremost must become conscious of the way we are being. Being has to do with awakening our entire energetic self so we are fully conscious, some would say fully awake. This is a radically different state than what we normally find ourselves in.

Being is about awareness and a capacity to be fully present, or to live in-the-moment. From such a place one is able to live intentionally. From such intentionality we do things very differently; namely, we do them from calmness and collectedness. It’s difficult to put Beingness into precise words as it is an ontological notion, nevertheless I will keep attempting to clarify it more.  

I’ve mentioned before the importance of being a non-dualistic thinking person. This has to do with one’s capacity to see the whole picture, not just some part or piece of any given issue. It is also about taking a systems approach, rather than a linear, black or white, yes or no perspective. It is more of a both-and way approach. This way of thinking appears “problematic” for those that seek simple answers to complex questions.

“One-issue voters” are people that find non-dualistic thinking quite difficult. They, also, are people that would struggle to be contemplative, and even discount its value. They are people who, instead get locked into one idea and then write off or discount all other aspects of the given issue. They pick their solution and then have no openness for any evidence that does not support their conclusion. They will not or cannot look at the whole. This is their way of being.

Contemplation is what allows a greater openness to new possibilities. Contemplation, besides doing many positive things, gets us to first calm down enough be able to access our greater thinking capacities – or in other words, be able to respond rather than simply react.

There is a tremendous difference in seeking knowledge or information about a particular topic when we come at it anxiously rather than when we come from curiosity. Even in the midst of this pandemic we can still do things smartly, while not being smart toward others. Being so-called smart, or harsh, toward others is an indication of our own anxiousness. Ironically this is not smart at all since it creates added distress.

Smart or intelligent actions while treating other people with kindness can only be done when one remains calm and alert. To be smart AND kind requires coming from a different way of being than that of someone who is perhaps doing similarly smart actions but is also reacting harshly. These two different ways of being produce very different results.

This is obviously a very tense, and yes, a scary time. People that tend to remain calm during less stressful situations will, more likely, be able to manage and cope during this heightened time of uncertainty. However, those that react easily or over-react and who haven’t developed a practice of being non-anxious, this is good time to get to work on this. Spoiler alert: Focus on your way of being first.

To be able to focus on our being requires we do regular and consistent self-reflection. Contemplation and/or meditation are great helps in this endeavor. But be forewarned: This will open up and confront you with various internal assumptions that we all carry around. These assumptions have been formed over a lifetime. They eventually become our fixed way of being. Once formed we rarely question them.

These built-in assumptions become an automatic already-always-way-of-thinking. I think of them as our factory-default that has become hard-wired in us. We don’t even notice this, but when we become anxious or are frightened these knee-jerk, automatic reactions are what we get thrown into operating from over and over again.  

We use our automatic thinking to help simplify life to cope with the vast number of complexities we’re confronted by every day. What this does, however, is cause us to instantly react to so many things, and this rapid response on our part blinds us from considering any new possibilities. We are blinded from other ways to proceed. Instead of being creative we’ll crank out our same-old, same-old patterns. By developing a contemplative practice we have a much easier time being reflective. It becomes then more difficult to blow off our inner voice and not be confronted by authentic self-awareness. There are greater chances we would be inclined to look at how we operate with our automatic givens and “shoulds.”

“I should or should not do such and such.”

Over a lifetime we develop unquestioned expectations primarily based upon what we think we should or shouldn’t do, as well as, what we think others should or should not do. We go through life with very particular, and often rigid, sets of attitudes and behaviors. Then we live from these unyielding – spoken and unspoken – rules regarding what passes for acceptable or not, without even questioning this.

“It’s just the way it is.” Our “it” might be our marriage, relationships, parents, children, politics, work, self, life itself, etc.

Not only do these unquestioned internal rules and mores get internalized as a given way of being, we usually go about finding agreement. We find other people that agree with us so that we can justify ourselves with just about anything. Folks often feel pretty strongly about whatever their particular list of “shoulds” consist of. You could say we should on ourselves.

Here’ a just few typical kinds of comments:

 “It’s terrible that that young man has a hat on in this building. He should know better.”

“Jeff should have called to thank me for the gift we sent him.”

“Mary should have offered help when she saw how huge this project is.”

“I should stop having anything to do with those people.”

People caught up in their expectations and perceptions of reality will come to see their way as the only possible way. They’ll then block out other people who they judged as simply wrong, ill-informed or not credible. They find it difficult to even be friends with someone with a different view point. Hence our sharply divided country over politics. It’s “my way or the highway” kind of thinking.

Perhaps this is the worst part: Ultimately such rigid and self-imposed expectations cause an impediment to our very own passions and desires. We forget them and we end up living a life based solely upon what we think others expect, not what we want or may have wanted at one time. Those things fall by the wayside. We live accordingly to an artificially imposed way and we do so without realizing what we have forfeited.

It’s as though we don’t have any right to live out of our very own and deeply held desires – all those things that make life actually worth living, and where we feel most alive. Instead, over time, these desires get shut down; subverted; denied. They are replaced with a stronger need – a need for being right, for looking good, or pleasing others.

Living this way carries a huge cost. Because we have let important dimensions of ourselves go awry we’re left with confusion, resentment, and anger. It’s not always noticeable. We can bury this most of the time as we acquiesce to the conventionality of life, while subverting our desires. But anger flares up, often getting displaced toward certain people and/or things. Eventually we can also become cynical; someone filled with resignation, depressed even. Cynicism and resignation are signs of unhappiness and discontent. It comes from a prolonged stance that I am a victim and am powerless. Blaming others for my discontent is a part of that factory-default thinking. It’s just the way it is.

Toleration can seem like a decent quality. It has its place but I largely view it as not very admirable. Even if I mostly tolerate you, toleration isn’t sustainable. Far more importantly, toleration is a form of superiority. I’m only tolerating you because I hold you as having “sub-par” thinking. I judge you having, therefore, “inadequate behaviors.” In other words I judge you incapable of doing better.

For the most part unhappy people blame others for their unhappiness. When I cannot see a part of myself that I am judging to be in you, then I more readily am able write you off. Whenever I am able to recognize I, too, am actually a like you – possibly more or less so, or at least in this particular way – my heart is then able to soften. I am able to connect with our shared common humanity.

Disconnected toleration breeds victimization thinking; it’s a poor-me approach. Even if I convince myself I have to put up with inadequate, sub-par people, this is still a form of poor-me thinking, and a guarantee for unhappiness.

It is not a great leap to lead one to self-medicating. Food, drugs, booze, affairs, gambling, becoming overly busy, living a frenetic life, and much more, all become convenient distractions. They are designed to take over our lives. We won’t have to look within. We’ll remain convinced we’re powerless. We tell ourselves we can’t do anything about our sorry lot in life.

The fisher people that go off to catch fish in order to relax and enjoy nature and thus slow down, are not the same people with T.Vs. or radios playing non-stop. They don’t need to fill in any potential silence that may foster self-reflection. They welcome this.

Some people tell me they have a radio playing while they’re in the shower. They eliminate quiet even there. I personally find a shower to be an excellent opportunity not only for good hygiene, but mentally helpful, as well. Within the confines of the shower are potential eureka moments – an Aha – one that may suddenly come about by my thinking two desperate, or crazy, or even disconnected thoughts about something I’ve been pondering. Then, suddenly, it all comes together and I am provided with a creative solution – a totally new possibility.

Calm parents will or won’t get their children to successfully do all the assignments that schools are pumping out during this pandemic. But by offering each other and to our children a calm and collected, adult voice – a confident voice – one that communicates we are going to get through this tough time – this is going to do more positively for our children in the long run. They may need to catch up on geography and with multiplication, but they will through this historic time not traumatized by parental and societal fears. Our way of being is what’s most critically needed.   

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that I’ve made a case that fisher people are hardly unique in pursuing a contemplative way of being. Those who do so usually aren’t sitting around discussing it – they are out there doing it by being it.

With the present pandemic, and with so much shut down, we have two ways of being. As we take on our communal efforts to lessen the impact of the coronavirus Covid-19 by social distancing and by following the guidelines we have, we can minimize its spread. How we can do this is up to us.

  • An anxious state

Or from,

       (b) A calm state.

We have an unintended opportunity for each of us to become more like fisher people, and to take advantage of this slowing down. We can utilize as a healthy resource to grow in our capacity to love, and to make a difference. In our own ways, each of us can utilize this time for greater personal reflection and start to see the amazing good that is being done. We are blessed with a vast number of heroes and courageous people in every arena. We are all being carried by and lifted up by so many toward common goal.

This is a time our nation can and will shine. America is greatest when our goodness pours forth as we are already seeing happen. You and I have a chance to be also counted as an expression of this goodness, as well. We will get through this pandemic; we will also great through the ensuing recession. And we will do so because we did it together.

There is no such thing a cheap grace. Be assured, this is a grace-filled moment by how we are choosing to be