17 January 2018

The Building Of Self, The Fractured Ego

The Building Of Self


The ultimate aim of the ego, I think, is not to see something, but to be something. The ego fails me when I become obsessed with someone who does not love me, and cannot see those who do love me.

Like many wounded, troubled, abused or marginalized children, I always believed it was my fault when I was uncomfortable around people, or when someone didn't like me, or when someone took offense at me, or ignored me, or went away.

I was broken in some ways, saved in other ways, but I have never, in my mind, been whole, and am running out of time.

Later in life, when I sought help for my fractured mind, I learned a different lesson. When people make me uncomfortable, I understand that it is not necessarily my fault. That it is not about me, the bane of ego.

In fact, the older I get, the more I see that very little of life is about me, I am definitely a bump on the road.

When people hurt me, or diminish me,  I do not run to them for mercy or relief. I get away, I run away. If I do not love myself, no one will ever love me. And if I turn to those who hurt me, I will just be hurt and hurt and hurt.

Relationships ought to be affirming, encouraging, nourishing. If they don't feel good, they are not good.

Rainer Maria Rilke suggested that we make our egos porous. Will is of little importance, he said,  complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. "Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything," he wrote.

This was good advice, I thought. Our lives are not defined by the people who like us or don't or who abandon us or stay by our side.

No relationship – no life –  is perfect or without troubles, but troubled children have what Anna Freud called "fractured egos," they did not receive the encouragement or support or safety or affirmation that goes into the building of a strong ego. A healthy ego is not something one can just go out and buy, or some doctor can implant in our brains. We have to put it together, one piece at a time, for all of our lives. This is work that never ends.

But this is not hopeless work, at least not for me.

Egos can be structured, shored up, repaired and strengthened.  They can be rebuilt, at least partly.

That is, in fact, the work of the therapist, the point of therapy, to repair the damage that keeps a person from doing what they wish to do, of being the person they were meant to be. A good therapist specializes in ego reconstruction and repair. I don't know this, but I think the odds are long. Most people do not or cannot do the hard grinding work of change.

I have always had a strong ego about my work, and my writing. My mother gave me that, while gnawing on the rest of me.  I have never had a strong ego about self. I have been working steadily to construct an ego. Sons who are estranged from their fathers or mothers have to define strength and value for themselves, they are never taught or shown it and it and have way of emulating it. In a sense, we are refugees for life.

My work often centers around the force that is called intuition. The magic that attracts the right people and the right opportunities and the right passions into one's life. Intuition is the inner spirit that gives us hope or optimism every day of our lives. Intuition, I think, is the foundation of ego.

Intuition is knowledge obtained from an  ability to know or understand something based on your feelings rather than facts. Every great writer or artist was intuitive, every leader, politician, actor or great political leader. Lincoln often said intuition was his faith and his sword, he could never trust the facts  presented to him.

Intuition is the will and the drive to seek more and more out of life than money and argument or power. In my case, the search for a healthy ego has led me to authenticity. I am learning to be honest with myself and I am honest with others. This does not always make everyone else happy, and it is harder than lying, because I can no longer tell people what they would like to hear, but what I believe.

It's a different world.

But it makes me happy. My ego is a bit like Frankenstein, patched up, I think, with bolts and bones sticking out all over the place. Sometimes people run in  horror or fear. I fight fiercely for the right to speak my mind freely, to make my own successes and mistakes, and to stand in my truth, and I am willing to suffer and sacrifice for that freedom.

It is everything to me, it is my way back.

Posted in Live Your Life
29 July 2013

Tuesday, Therapy Work: Next Chapter – Veterans

Next Chapter

Next Chapter

Tomorrow, the next chapter for Red and me, for our lives together. I am going to meet with some veterans officials and some veterans to figure out how Red and I can help with our new therapy work. As I wrote earlier, I've decided that working with veterans, especially those recently returned from Afghanistan and Iraq, is where we can be the most effective hopefully.

I have been working at this, I have been talking to vets and their families about what they need, what a dog might do to help them, and there is almost universal agreement that a dog like Red can be helpful, valuable. I know to apply some of the lessons of the hospice work I did with Izzy. You are there to listen, not talk. It is not my job to slap people on the back, cheer them up. That is patronizing. I do not believe I know what they have been through, I do not have an inkling. I am there to listen, actively, to help in the ways that they choose or need.

The primary relationship will be between Red and the vets, not between me and them. I don't have much to tell them, just a desire to help them open up and be more comfortable, if Red and I can. Red can do the talking, he can also do the listening.

In this work, I leave myself at the door, I am there to offer help. Animals can open people up, relax them, re-connect them to a sometimes alienated and suspicious world. I think the vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan often have a brutal time, I hear this again and again from them and their parents. The war itself was vicious and murky, it was never clear who the enemy was, there is no common ground on what victory is, let alone whether it could be achieved, there were no safe bases, no safe places.

What can somebody like me offer someone who has been through that? Not much. But I can connect them to Red, he is a spirit dog, a guide. I hope he can help. Tomorrow, my first briefing, a visit to a veteran's hospital, a meeting with some young and injured vets. I'll report back. Red is, I believe, ready. We visited an Afghanistan vet over the weekend, just came into the house where he was living. He shook my hand, asked me some questions, ended up on the floor with Red. I could see the healing, it was physical in a way. Time to learn and listen.

Posted in General, Live Your Life
17 May 2013

Soul Of A Town: What Buying Local Really Means

Nicole and Alliyah

Nicole and Alliyah

My blog has readers in every state and a number of countries overseas, it is not a local blog and I only occasionally write about local things, but some of them are important and revealing, they speak to broader things. Our small town has a magical new cafe, a friendly place with wonderful food – fresh, healthy, great tasting stuff, and it has quickly become the heartbeat, perhaps even the soul of this town.

I like writing about some local things – Momma's restaurant, Battenkill Books and now, the Round House Cafe – because they have driven home for me the importance and power of buying local, of permitting the growth of small businesses with values, the antithesis of most modern corporations – just follow the awful news from Bangladesh. I am not political, I found the labels of the "left" and "right" narrowing and distasteful, but I guess I do feel strongly about places like the Round House Cafe, where Nicole and Alliyah seem happy to see everyone and are cheerful and helpful. I had lunch there today with an old friend, and another old friend from my former life wandered in who I have not seen in years wandered in and we had a joyous reunion – I will go and see her tomorrow so she can meet Maria.

Yet another friend who is sweating out a mortgage application came in and half the cafe comforted her and told her it would work out. It did, she got the mortgage. In between, Connie from Battenkill came in for her sandwich, but Scott Carrino, the chef and co-owner had slipped out the back door and delivered it to the bookstore for her. She was shocked and delighted. I call the cafe in the morning, and Alliyah takes my order, knows which dressing I like. I thought I forgot my money one day and they told me not to sweat it, I could bring it in any time. It seems that the veins of the community just flow through there – from noon to 2 p.m. it is intense.

Buying local means jobs for people like Nicole and Alliyah and the other people hired by the cafe, and it strengthens and deepens a sense of community and connection. People from other towns are finding the Round House.  I had lunch last week with an artist using new technology to market her work, just as I am and we traded good ideas. There are not many businesses large or small that are run as well as this one, or that exude such a sense of good will. Usually I bring Maria one of their very fresh salads, and I have been getting her these awesome blueberry scones. I don't eat there every day but I wish I could. I don't want to see everyone I know every day either, it is a small town. But I think the Round House is worth writing about because it has become the soul of my town, a beacon of light, an affirmation of what hard work, community, and creativity can do when they are mixed together and served on their own menu. Alliyah feels like family, she knows my voice and reminds me when I forget something I usually get.

Buying local has become a seminal political idea for me, in a period when I literally cannot abide politics and the anger and stridence it breeds. So I'll take some photos of the Round House from time to time, and write about. No corporate food chain is anything like this. Corporations are devouring individuality and community and are wreaking havoc on small business. We are so lucky we aren't a big enough town to draw them in. But this town has also struggled to keep it's Main Street hopping. I think it's winning that battle.

I don't know if there is a Round House or Battenkill Bookstore in your community, but if there is, I  hope you will vote for it buy doing your business there. Lots of towns have lost their heartbeats, I am so happy mine has found some again.

This is something to vote for, just like my bookstore, where I will be from 11 a.m. to 2:30 recommending books to anyone who wants to buy them from Battenkill. 518 677-2515. You may not be able to get a sandwich from the Round House, but you can vote for Battenkill and strike one blow for freedom and community.

Posted in General, Live Your Life
11 March 2013

Sly Dog

The Sly Dog

The Sly Dog

Some of you have noticed that Red's color has changed. In the summer, on the sunlight, it is Red. In the winter it turns darker. Red's coat has also changed since he started eating Fromm Food. Shiny, very healthy. He looks like a sly dog to me.

Posted in General, Live Your Life

Monday Morning: Flo And Maria

Flo And Maria

Flo And Maria

In some ways, a farm is series of relationships. They are always evolving. Animals come, go, live, die, get sick, get well. Flo was hiding under our porch a few weeks ago, we don't really know for how long. This morning she was sitting in Maria's lap on the porch, perhaps the best place in the world for a cat to be. This cat has figured it out.

Posted in General, Live Your Life