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Repeat after me, I am the water not the fish. On a daily basis however, I live my life like a fish. Oh how precious are my thoughts. Because they’re mine! And oh how very special they are. I hunt for more examples of ingrained thoughts, values, perceptions, and systems to sustain them.

Never mind they’ve been given to me by somebody else. Never mind I heard them on Fox News, MSNBC, read them in the New York Times, Newsmax, the Atlantic, it almost doesn’t matter, from whence they came. 

But of course it does! 

We are all programmed. We come into this world as a blank slate, the water as consciousness, hardware waiting to be programmed, ripe for being written on or formed by parents, by extended family, by society small and large. It gives structure and form to our lives, it provides direction impulses, goals, satisfaction, and pleasures. It can be benign, or odious. In short order we identify as a fish, which is to say, a physical being with a mishmash of content.

Where does it go wrong? As a little girl I went to school and learned many things. I learned about information, some real, some distorted, through no conscious fault of my own, nor my teachers or parents because they learned it before I, from someone and somewhere else. But more than anything I learned a set of rules, guided by how I was taught to perceive, on how to live and how to survive second, third, fourth grades, etc.

And The Hits Just Keep Coming.

I learned how to sit still, clean my plate after each meal, praying beforehand for where that came from. (I was hoping for more at the next meal, in secret, particularly candy!) I learned about comfort and I learned about denial of that comfort. I learned how to tie my shoes, button my shirt, walk straight ahead, finish my lessons.

As I grew, I learned how to absorb information around me, putting it into little cubicles of the mind for later retrieval when necessary. I learned how to tell the truth, but I also learned some form of distortion or self-promotion, as early as second grade! (Got cured when shamefully exposed the same year.) It really has become not just the American way but integral to the human condition. There’s no use pretending.

Subtle Program Shifts

It (the distortion) starts innocently enough—to be liked, accepted as part of the herd. Presenting some aspect of yourself that’s not quite accurate. Or as a member of the school of fish. Because we are communal beings.

Many years later I began to view the world, people, systems, humanity differently. Many years! As we grow we do two things: we become entrenched with old ideas and habits. But we also gaze upon new ones, trying them on for size to see if they advantage us in some way. Some new ideas are suggested by friends, schools, workplaces, mass media. Moving a lot and travel made a big difference in my life. By expanding my horizons, I was exposed to many new things.

Some Ideas or concepts felt/feel quite warm, authentic, comforting in the best possible way, providing peace, love, calmness, expansion of some sense of soul. Others are adopted, driven by a slow seduction of either fear, aggression, self-righteousness, perceived or actual, some threat of deprivation.

Oh I Am So Special!

Do you think you’re exempt? Do you think you haven’t been programmed in one way or another? Think about it. Sometimes it might be a religious tradition that becomes ingrained that serves a person far better than it harms. Still others chuck the idea of God, assuming the position themselves! The great wide middle in between is where most of us navigate. Yet this often is expressed dualistically (in tech terms its binary,) as if compartmentalized, resulting in the inability to see the nuances.

If you know anything about physics, including quantum physics and mechanics, you will certainly understand the concept of energy fields, attractor fields, and aversion principles. Like radar silently looking for atom particles to attach, so too, our thoughts and ideas are either positively or negatively charged to conveniently “dock” with preconceived belief systems. Or create new attachments one can enhance life or rigidly block or entrench old perceptions that no longer serve a new context.

Consciousness Is As Consciousness Does

In human terms, we begin perceiving life as primarily physical survival, perceived needs, and desires. it can include money, things that money can buy, and a means to an end for more money. This almost always includes the concept of power (or lack thereof). Power can be yielded for noble purposes as well as malevolent ones. But as we know, power corrupts, especially when base impulses of we humans drive it.

These attractor fields can also be quite positive, peaceful, calming, spiritual. If we humans over here on this side of the globe were instead born in Tibet as a Buddhist say, we would be subject to a different set of both attractor and aversion fields. Our programming would have been quite different, less outer world driven, more inner world cultivated and expressed.

Enter Mass Media: Tech World

Technology can be programmed for anything, as do the ethics that bind it (or not.) And the repetition. And addiction. Yes, there’s all that! The tantalizing effect of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram is ravenous, lying in wait for the next fix. Notice how it’s binary by its very nature. These are the tools of programming these days, of the drunken monkey syndrome. To imbibe or not. It’s a yes — not yes, a “this doesn’t fit my worldview, or it might.”

I’m not saying technology is bad in and of itself. Like so much in life, it’s to what purpose and to what end. The ability to program people, entrain people, etc. by false information is big business these days. But technology also serves us. The conundrum of its usefulness, its enhancement of life depends upon the integrity from which it is applied or operates from. And its user.

Context versus Content

The inability to tell truth from false is a profound problem in mass media these days, driven by split second technological downloads. And the repetition! Why, even Hitler would be impressed with the massive propaganda contained therein. With enough repetition of falseness a new dynamic takes root. It all too often becomes a kind of pollution from which we are unable to see clearly. A mass brainwashing or kind of hypnosis can result. 

Mixed with not just lies, but add absurd conspiracy theories and the false equivalent of contending it’s protected by Freedom of Speech, and rationality is thrown out the window. The defense of the “freedom” to say what you want and claim it’s protected by the first amendment has become distorted for spurious ends and the need for self soothing.

The Self Soothing Problem

Often self soothing is advantageous when the human organism becomes fearful. I quite like to hug myself at times. While self soothing is inherently benign, it all too often can be externally hijacked for destructive ends. Sadly, fear sells and can be exploited, and some entities are exceptionally effective at preying on those most vulnerable. Thus begins the cycle of puffed up self soothing in the form of self righteousness that is actually anything but, becoming a grotesque distortion of the very act itself.

When presented with a problem that I am fearful about, I forage for as much information as I can get my hands on. From Reliable sources. Facts, anecdotal information, others input who are experts, etc., these have been part of my program from childhood, further reinforced by advanced education. As a child, when I would ask either of my parents, say, what a word meant or about some subject matter, they would more often than not, tell me to look it up.

It was irritating at times but in short order, I became “hooked” on the power of knowledge, my ability to get it, and the inherent capability to expand myself the act entailed. It is no small miracle that I stumbled on some unquantifiable instinct to sort information, a kind of discernment within a “pool of water” in which I swam. It also became apparent that it was my responsibility.

Foraging Vs Being Fed

As I grew I began to notice some folks wanted to “be fed,” to not forage for facts, for information, for new ways of thinking. They only wanted to reinforce the same patterns, not curious at all, instead defaulting to a kind of mental and emotional rigor mortis, relying on what others proscribe as true or false, docking nicely with their previous programs. 

This contrast could be our downfall, the fed (and the feeders) part. The world has gotten increasingly more complex, and America along with it. It is so easy in a fast-paced world, to just let other entities feed us with what we think is true. All too many rely on passively being fed far too much, like baby birds, beaks open, waiting for parental regurgitation. And even the curious among us have a hard time keeping up, sorting and discerning the speed information erupts and accrues.

Rights, Responsibility and Privilege

On the other hand, to be a citizen in America, or anywhere else quite frankly, it’s necessary to forage for facts, to find out from multiple sources that are reliable where in fact the truth of the matter, any matter, lies. Besides legislation to curtail some of the excesses by certain social media companies—but equally by some television outlets—we owe it to ourselves to own up to the fact that not only have things become increasingly difficult to understand and sort out, but to know where the truth of it is is a personal responsibly as well as a collective one.

Confusion Is As Confusion Does

In a world where things move at breakneck speed both in terms of hard information, as well as delivery of that information, we are dizzied, grabbing onto the easiest conclusion that fits preconceived notion‘s failing to update context, let alone verify facts contained thereof. I get the overwhelming quality of it all. It is hard but it is also essential for the modern world.

Our democracy is fragile indeed. Yet if we don’t mature as citizens, taking more personal responsibility in the process, foraging instead of being fed, we will lose the democracy we have inherited. 

I am the water not the fish! Which is to say, I am the consciousness from which I gather information, that primal awareness, the hardware if you will. I am not a fixed set of programs others have proscribed me to think and operate from. This is my and our liberation but this includes our responsibility, individually and as a nation. Do you want to be just fed, not knowing what you don’t even know? Told what to think by others because it’s too hard to think for yourself? 

We all have not just an opportunity but more importantly, an imperative to dig more for truth, information, facts. Opinions are all fine and good but if based on madness we are doomed to repeat history in a way that serves none of us. It’s high time we sober up from self righteousness, arrogance based on ignorance provided by others, for their agenda and not remotely in our personal and group welfare. It is time.

Additional essays, articles and books by Rosalie Cushman available on this website.

I don’t even know what day it is sheltering in place. Maybe day 75. Regardless, I have become very bored, increasingly more despairing about a reasonable and sane recovery.

The medical community including nationally renowned experts, has been trashed by the administration and far right troublemakers. The democracy is in shambles, with little to no check and balance on the Administration. 

WARPING THE CONCEPT OF FREEDOM

It’s actually hard to make sense of it all, the decline has become so precipitous. Forget about going back to an old normal. We will be lucky if we can stagger our way to a new normal that’s fair and just and healthy for the economy, the democracy, and the society at large. 

Just like it’s hard to watch a person die, it’s very hard for some of us to watch a democracy die. At best, if it is to survive, it will take years of rehabilitation just like a body would after suffering catastrophic trauma and deterioration.

GRIEVING: THE MACRO

Even though I have some understanding of the pathology of extremism, the resultant degradation of institutions is heartbreaking to witness, a cause for grieving and despair to be sure. 

It is also hard to stay mentally engaged right now since the focus has been so narrowed to stay physically healthy, sheltering in place. We cross fingers and toes in the hopes that we will survive both physically and economically, pinky-promising with eyes shut tight America will be able to claw our way back to reason as well as health.

COPING: THE MICRO

I’ve done some projects around my little apartment. Including some cleaning and culling of sorts. I’ve called and chatted with friends and family, and I continue to read. And write, at least when I’m clear-headed.

My worst activity has been binging on television and food. Oh God, please help me to stop with my incessant palliative mental and physical self-comforting. Remarkably, not only do I know I’m not alone but sometimes I feel happy at the absurdity of it all. I actually laugh. Out loud. 

These are hardly healthy coping mechanisms. Ironically, I seem to lurch uncontrollably between far better palliative care of the spirit. It is this latest impulse that is my salvation, when I can hitch myself to the vapor trail I actually feel hope, joy. It is remarkable, a wonder. And yet…

THE PENDULUM 

It seems I’ve heard it all—from the right, from the left, from the professional uplifters, and the doomsayers. It’s exhausting. Dispiriting. And while occasionally I really do recognize the absurdity of the human condition, generating belly laughs and believe it or not, an uplifted spirit, I cannot seem to stay there long.

The space between despondency and hope is precarious and narrow indeed. Things are so broken, there’s so much ignorance, so many nefarious players, sadly it all seems to overshadow the potential for regaining some sort of equilibrium. It presses in on the heart. Can’t you just feel the tension?

HOPE, ALWAYS

But I trudge on, knowing ultimately in the end, things will right themselves regardless of how long it takes. Just like when a body dies those that are left behind find a way to not just cope but ultimately to survive and create a new life. So too democratic nations that die, staggering into insidious corruption and decay. They will either rise again, be overrun, or discover a new accommodation in the world.

Time will tell what’s in store for our lot in America for tension always stops when it has been spent. I know one thing: the decline phase is not over and I pray on this Memorial Day weekend we can lean into hope both individually and as a nation for better days. And with that, I’ll say a little prayer. Then I’ll go have a cookie (or three) to celebrate.

What be this thing called hope, this state? To wander back-and-forth between hopelessness and hopefulness, why at times it feels as crazy as the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland. It is amazing how it seems to swing so slowly for a period. Yet at others, it lurches uncontrollably in staccato fashion between the two states. 

THE NATURE OF LIGHT

We sit confined, in a prism of our making. Yes, that’s the correct word: prism. Besides the traditional definitions of refractive light, the case I make for the word thusly is, “prisms can be made from any material that is transparent to the wavelengths for which they are designed…prisms can be used to reflect light, or to split light into components with different polarizations.” These latest words depict a state of both a claiming and rejection of elements of ourselves, as well as the implied polarization that is its consequence.

We will not always be home-bound. At some point we will be set free to roam the social gathering places, like gazelles to a watering hole but will not feel the same. For many, it may pale in comparison to the interior depths of ourselves we have plumbed during confinement, finding solace and comfort in a more authentic manner with those we hold most dear, including our own hearts. 

THE TEMPORARY IS JUST THAT

For others, being let loose will provide only temporary thrills, acknowledging a lack of appetite for the shallow and trite, intoxicating though it may be for a time. Somehow freedom to wing-spread will undergo a new definition, an acknowledgment of sorts. Given enough lack of interior sustenance they will begin to miss what began in their heretofore home-bound state, that unnamed itch for growth that has been awakened.

There will be those that carry on as if nothing has altered their perception of the world (and those in it), behaving like drunken sailors and raucous wenches, repressing the recent sting of social isolation, only to behave as before. Yet a seed will have been planted for future enlightenment, ripening once they have germinated long enough, whether in this lifetime or the next. 

ITERATIONS

Regardless, many things will be redefined, restructured and changed, for a quality left to the living will capture enough people’s imaginations to speak it, to live it differently. The “it” is that intangible and beneficent regard for others that acknowledges the depths of connections we all share as a species, regardless of malvescence by some, dependent on heroism by others. Those that have harmed the herd will endure accounting of it, there is no doubt. But with any luck, the subtle change in the refracted light of our better selves will triumph with enough heat and pressure of the current moment. 

And it is this process, the evolution of us as individuals and groups, having come out the other side to a new order of things that hope births. I see glimmers of it already: in nurses, doctors, deliverers of goods and services, in some public servants, and in the ordinary of us carrying on, socially isolating not just for ourselves but for the good of the whole. We KNOW inherently these acts are “in the service for more than us, they are for others too.”

THE PENDULUM SWINGS

Many will not be able to see this change but more folks likely will than not. Of that I am confident, hopeful even, regardless of the human, political and social “infection” we will have survived. Or because of it? While it may not be loud, there will be evidence. There already is in fact, in that subtle shifts are visible in the compassion shown by some media leaders, medical individuals interviewed, common neighborhood helpers and many ordinary people. The angry ones, the bitter and noisy gong people, critical and venomous will pale in comparison.

Not all moments seem to call for hope. There are times that call for despair, and we will have experienced the state far too often during this pandemic. Yet despair can be temporary at best, ultimately fostering hope from which emerges a slow but sturdy light refracted from the prism. After all, we do know why the caged bird sings.

AND SO MUST WE

And so we stand on the edge of sorrow and joy, despair and hope with the intuition that there will be better days, better angels and greater things to come. 

For we are not just refracted light. We are reflected light as well, created from a nature that in the end claims us all. Whether one believes in the divine or not, nature has its way with life, always continuing onward. Groaning though we may be in the current morass, hope is greater than even itself for it reflects something more. Out of it springs a faith in things unseen, of the promise by and for the living; for life ongoing forever after.

COMFORT

At two and a half, without completely understanding it, I was already heavily identified with the body. Of course I didn’t really know what that might mean. I, Rosalie, was a little person. There were other bodies in my family: my mother, my father, an older sister and a baby sister a bit younger.

I really only have two significant memories or memory shards below the age of five. One was of myself playing in a little sand pile outside our backyard, with toy cars and trucks on an imaginary town or ranch I created. I loved to invent the storyline of me driving around on roads in a truck. Oh, the freedom of it. I’m not even sure where I got the idea of a ranch, maybe from a little story book? or maybe having an imprint from going with mother past farms? Regardless of where it came from, it existed and for some inexplicable reason, it brought structure, organization and inventiveness to my world.

And the sun. I was always aware of light—bright, bold, effervescent light!

Why this memory sticks in my mind at all is mysterious, other than to say the ?????? also included a sense of something else that existed: nameless, peaceful, reassuring, warm. It was more reassuring and peaceful even than my mother although I had a strong impression she contained a solid measure of those qualities. 

But this is from the rearview mirror. Regardless, naming it at the time was not relevant. All I knew was that I felt the scene’s quiet power. It was carried by the sun’s light and heat, existing in the space both within my being and outside of it, separated only by a thin but potent membrane. I was aware of this otherness through not only light and sunshine but also nature, other physical elements of the world. 

Light seemed to be a primary delivery, however, communicating in a wordless language. And as much as I knew anything, it was my first crude memory of a sense of being cared for, by protection that was massive even beyond my mother but included her too. I’d be tempted to call it love with a capital L, maybe Divine, but I knew of no such construct then.

CONFUSION

The other significant memory occurred at around two and a half. I had a lump on the side of my right eye, near the temple. I think my mother had been fretting about it for quite some time. As it happens, she took me to an eye doctor and it was confirmed to be a cyst, a reasonably benign protrusion, harmless in and of itself. While I didn’t understand that at the time, I had a sense of no real danger. If anything, I had an awareness it was of more concern to my mother, which stands in stark contrast to her otherwise unflappable demeanor. 

I was told this particular cyst was problematic because of its location. Internally, it was pressing on my optic nerve and had the potential to compromise vision in that eye. Okay. But events overtook any crude understanding I had of the situation. One morning my mother led me by the hand, purposefully, walking across a large lobby. Bizarrely, I remember her walking quickly. This is bizarre in that it was out of character for my mother to do anything quickly. It simply was not her style—for walking, working, or anything else. Normally her gait was slow, methodical, determined, anything but quick. I’m assuming she had some sense of urgency about this little trip to the doctor’s office. This perception was new information for me.

The next part of the memory is hazy. I remember being in a little room, my mother speaking with the doctor, and him talking to her, then me. But I didn’t understand what either of them were telling me, not really. The best I can cobble together is of her saying I was to have a little procedure. She may have used the word procedure, surgery, etc. I cannot say. What I best remember was that I had to come back to have the cyst taken out.

IT’S NOT NICE TO TRAUMATIZE SMALL CHILDREN

Whether the procedure was the next day or a week later I do not know. Regardless, at some point I found myself again being led by the hand across a lobby and into a small room. Mother tried to explain that I had to stay overnight in the hospital, though I don’t really recall. What I do recall is a gauzy image of her trying to comfort me, that “everything will be fine” once the cyst was gone. She also swears she had explained more about what was to happen, that my eyes would be patched after the surgery but it would be temporary. Did I know what Temporary was?

All description about this cyst and the resultant eye surgery has likely been reinforced over the years while my mother was alive and throughout my childhood when I would bring it up. Even in my young adult years, I would question her about the event, all in an effort to understand why this was so upsetting to me even years later. 

The only reason I questioned her was because I had a lingering fright and even greater confusion as to the event’s meaning, along with the actual events themselves. Memory is a funny thing, the perception of a very small child in particular. It gets filtered through limited language and even less comprehension, as to its meaning. Perception by definition is distorted and memory further distorts what was initially perceived.

THE TURNING

There are two aspects, scenes really, mother could never explain, memories that she was not physically present for. After leaving me in the hands of a nurse the day of the procedure, the nurse put a little nightgown on me. Then she took me to a large room that was very, very cold. There was a lot of light in that room but I swear, even the light was cold. This was NOT like the light experienced in the sand pile. It was its opposite! The nurse helped me onto a very cold table while trying to explain what was to happen.

I recall a man—the doctor?—coming over to the table and saying a word or two. None of what he said do I recall. Rather, the scene is fixed like a cartoon character’s “wha-wha” description from Charles Schultz’s Snoopy before he leaves, goes over to the other side of the room to what I think must have been a sink. The nurse at my side whispers something to me and all goes black.

BLINDSIDED

The next thing I remember is waking up in a bed and screaming. Desperately. Both of my eyes were covered, thick patches obliterating sight, even light! I continued screaming even after a nurse came in and tried to shush me. I thought the doctor had removed my eyes! How would I navigate the world? I was terrified and would not be consoled. 

Evidently, the nurse tried to explain my eyes were there, they were just covered to protect them after the operation. Regardless, I had no faith in what she said because all I knew was that I could not see, believing instead there were no eyes to see from. Distorted as it may have been, my fast conclusion was to rely on myself and not anything she was telling me.

The hospital must have called my mother because I was told later that I kept screaming until she came, that no one else could calm me. How mother convinced me my eyes were still there I couldn’t tell you. I don’t remember her words but I do remember her energy. My mother was never a very affectionate woman but she was calm, reliable, steadfast, to be counted on. I knew that even then as sure as I knew there was a sun and a moon. But there was a change, palpable and real, in how I perceived her and more importantly, myself. A kind of doubt crept in. It was about the world and me in it. 

WHAT YOU THINK YOU SEE IS NOT WHAT’S THERE

At some point I go home. The patches have been removed. I can see again but there is a difference in what it is I think I see. While everything looks the same, my perception has changed, my understanding of what I can count on is off kilter. I am told I have to go back in a week or two to have stitches removed which seems like such a small thing at this point. 

I suppose one could draw all kinds of conclusions from this traumatic event for a very small child. Without entirely realizing it, however, perceptions occurred in my little brain as a consequence of all that had come before. The first was that my mother was cemented in my mind, and I suppose my heart, in her reliability, her constancy. After the surgery, however, the gravitational pull of her felt weakened and, in a turn, the gravity of her love and protection changed, modified somehow. My impression now included some inexplicable need to look to my small self for verification of the world and all things in it.

The second was that I firmly believed—without knowing I believed —the brightness of the sun had dimmed, was remote in a way that turned me into a separate “me” and less connected to that brightness as if I had been cast off from it. A sense of separateness and on my own had replaced the previous feeling of connectedness. No notion of a greater Other existed as comprehensively as the impression I previously held from the sand pile days, and of mother! It was a kind of grief I didn’t understand. Though not completely gone, it would be some years before I felt that powerful presence, and 50-plus years before I recontextualized my life.