Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #55:

“Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught.”

Author Unknown

Bill is a wonderful guy. Sometimes, however, he gets into fretting over a recent or not-so-recent mistake he’s convinced himself he’s made.  He’ll then get on a tear and beat up on himself unmercifully. This is annoying to those who happen to be around him and get caught up in listening to his self-effacing monologue. This is also counter-productive and damaging to Bill. That’s because while Bill frets over some past poor choices or even a past serious screw-up, he missing out on living for today – of living in the present.

It’s all well and good to learn from our past mistakes, just so long as we don’t hang out there forever. Drawing from our past is best whenever wisdom is found from it and we are thus helped to live more effectively in the present. Mistakes are, perhaps, poorly named as such and would be best called learning experiences. If we don’t learn anything from such moments then we are doomed to repeat them. Our so-called mistakes are potentially our best avenues for learning and growing.

This business of the huge fish that got away readily applies to a lot of things besides fish. Also it is more common than we like to admit. I do think we all tend to suffer from our various faulty perceptions by either (a) thinking things are much better than they actually are, or (b) going the other way and seeing things as far worse than they are. Either way is just the other side of the same problem. Option (c) is whatever happened, happened. We are the ones that make up a meaning about what happened. Why not make up a better meaning? At least, we can make up one that is useful and one we can benefit from.  

Dwelling on one’s past or worrying about the future are also very similar mistakes. Both have huge costs: they prevent us from living in the present moment or, as the Zen folks like to say, living in the HERE and NOW. One of the daily quotes in our local newspaper was from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, which reads:

“What experience and history teach is this: that people and governments have never learned anything from history.”

We did have a flu pandemic in 1918 that has so much to offer us regarding the road to recovery. Social distancing and staying at home were key components back then to stem the spread of the influenza. The term we are currently using to describe the long home-stay, or self-imposed quarantine is shelter-in-place. This overall shut-down has gone on for a while and we’re now seeing some people suffering from what is being termed shelter-in-place fatigue.

Most people get that we need to do this as a tool to stem the infection from spreading, at least to some degree. Most people understand this is our best defense against the corona virus until we have a vaccine.  

There are costs to this approach. Mental and emotional issues are showing up. There is real concern about increased spousal and child abuse. Struggling to cope without social contact, especially those living alone is taxing. Using Zoom and other online connections is somewhat helpful, but we are social beings and need contact. Helping professionals are attempting to address these and other problems.

Thinking people know these recommended options are better than death from the virus. And of course there are those who seem solely concerned with opening up the economy. Let the old and the frail die! It is estimated that if we were to continue social distancing into the Fall 1.7 million people would not die and we would also save 3.2 billion dollars.

If our government had subsidized businesses so that companies could have kept their workers on the payroll, and not done relief the way we are doing we’d be much better off. We’d have more people keeping their jobs and nowhere the high incidence of unemployment that we are currently facing.

In Great Britain the government did provide businesses subsidies to be able to keep their workers on the payrolls. Jobs didn’t vanish as much as here. Without massive unemployment uncertainty has been greatly reduced lowering peoples’ anxiety.   

As to those protesting about opening up the economy sooner ignoring the safety guidelines, I think many of them have been drinking the cool aid way too long and are ill-informed. Also they’ve been duped into the delusional thinking that our American economy is God. That it is the all- important perspective, and the only perspective that matters. Profit over people requires getting the working force up again ASAP.

I am all for work and for everyone being paid as part of one’s contribution to toward a better society. I am not anti-economy. I am against making money matter more than people’s lives. We have an anti-science mentality that is showing up in the midst of the misinformation and that pushes back against what medical and science it telling us.

In his book, Deer Hunting With Jesus, author Joe Bageant states his belief that the Democratic Party lost the political support of poor rural whites and how the Republican Party has convinced these people to “vote against their own economic self-interest.” He wrote this in 2007 and it appears to remain true to this day. It is staggering to realize that the stock market, for the most part, has been making money while we also have enormous – unprecedented – unemployment. How does this even make any sense? Labor costs money and this takes away profit from the wealthy elite. Fewer workers means more profits. So much more economic wealth is produced today by not manufacturing things but by stock trading, derivatives, and other non-manufacturing methods. At one time this was a small part of our GNP. Some estimate today it is over 30%.  

Globally, today 40 % of all the world’s wealth is owned by 1 per cent of the population. Just prior to the last economic recession these wealthy elite held slightly less than $80 trillion. After the bailouts these wealthiest individuals collectively had a little over $83 trillion. According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, those with more than $1 million, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth.

We see more of the same tendencies to take care of the wealthiest people again with our government’s relief packages while regular tax payers get a one-time check along with the likelihood of unemployment, not to mention the loss of medical insurance. While corporations are given loans and grants, local and regional volunteers are running around trying to feed the hungry and care for the very poor.

Normal is not the same as Healthy. Our normal has been the economy as God. We need a much better God than this. We need, in general, a much bigger God. For many people we have a God that is too small. This pandemic has caused us to face what we call life and death. This is difficult to do without a religious faith. The trouble today is that many have not found a God big enough for their modern needs of today.

Our experience of life has grown exponentially and with this our mental horizons have been expanded. We are bewildered by all sorts of 20th and 21st century global events and by on-going scientific discoveries. While this has been occurring our ideas of God have remained mostly static.

Many have an image of God from childhood has not evolved into a mature adult one. This child image doesn’t help us make sense of our expanded experiences of life. Some live within a religious practice that they either moat confront they’re outgrown childhood image of God, or they must repress this and pretend it all fits together. Some just abandon organized religion and write it off as hopelessly inept. Whether they leave or stay many live with an inner dissatisfaction. This breeds cynicism and resignation.

There are those that do keep searching for a bigger God. Some of these people will say they are “not religious, but are spiritual.” I’ve heard leaders of organized religion speak down to such thinking. My rebuttal is many of these people within organizes religion are “religious but not spiritual.” Neither way is very helpful. Both seem to be committed to making God in their own image.

William James and others tell us that no matter how large we are able to make God, it is always too small. They would tell us that “God is the more.” “How big is God you say? No, more.”

Perhaps the best we can do is understand the essence of God. The essence of God amounts to these three aspects: Reality, Truth, and Love. I cannot break open these aspects at this time. I also don’t think we need to get some intellectual understanding to understand God. We cannot. What we can do is discover and recognize a bit of God’s enormous – infinite – essence through our world and those within.

We are potentially getting to experience God’s essence within one another as more and more ordinary people are stepping up and acting in extraordinary ways. We can never have an image of God that is too big. Discovering and recognizing God’s essence requires we come at this from our heart, not our head.

When I am working with a struggling couple I sometimes make the case that what they have been doing up until now is not marriage. It is more of an arrangement, perhaps some sort of unspoken, adolescent agreement that allows each one to justify his/her remaining as a child, one that is selfish and totally irresponsible. Then I invite the couple to “try marriage.” I tell them that real marriage is not for the faint-hearted but is for “grownups.”

I make the same case for all of us today. This pandemic is a wake-up call for each of us to also step up; to grow up. To become, if not already, responsible for being an expression of the essence of God with our inner reality, our truth, and our love…and to do so with the realization that we are God’s indwelling. When we know this we also know our purpose – to reveal God to one another.

That is the really huge fish and we ought to not let it get away.

I’d say doing so now is as good a time as any – perhaps an even more pressing and urgent time than ever.