This is a personal witness to the role of reading in life, what gets in the way, and how to regain the natural capacity for reading and nurturing empathy toward self and others..
As I young 4th grade I was made to feel (my inference) that there was something wrong with me because I could not read at the same pace as my classmates. I was put in a remedial reading class that only reinforced my fear that this indictment and it did feel like an indictment was true. I read less and less. Actually faked reading often as a way to cover up for this deficiency. I never thought, that if I was able to listen intently in class to all discussions and lectures that I could get enough information to pass tests and write papers, that there was nothing wrong with my comprehension skills or reading. You only get better at something you practice. You only practice something you want or think you can get better at. I deeply wish someone somewhere said, “Don, that was really good you got that and did that well (even if it was slower than others). Maybe they did and I did not hear it. Regardless, I made it through high school and college with pretty good grades, reading occasionally for research papers etc. When I had to do it I did but always felling inadequate to the task.
I recently went through a season (18 months of depression) during which all the inadequacies and incompetency messages of my different parts hammered away at me. I was unable to read anything. I actually shook with anxiety to read anything. I feared that I would read something that would make me feel more incompetent or less confident than I already felt. I ran away and hid. Maybe that is part of what depression is. I never thought for a minute that reading would make me feel competent and confident. As I was going through this negative jungle I recalled the words of my wife, “you are a better reader than you give yourself credit for”. Even as I heard the words I rejected them. I had worked hard, had earned degrees and certifications but none of them made me feel any different. In fact they clustered in the “zone of negativity” far afield from the “judgment free zone”. I was lost in the seas of sadness. The thought, that I was more than “the parts” that felt so inadequate, had not only escaped me, they had so vacated my presence that they were no where in the vicinity of my own mind. Vacancy was the only sign hung over my head. It was all I could see when I looked in the mirror so I stopped looking in the mirror. There was nothing there. So I felt like nothing.
Then on June 30th. Forced by my loving wife to go on vacation to a secluded island with no electricity and only some books to read. I stood at the end of a dock from which we would launch a magnificent boat with the capacity for 5 people and a 9.9 hp engine on massive river.
I stared out into the cove and heard a voice from heaven. No, it did not say, “you are my son in whom I am well pleased”. Maybe that was because I could not hear that. If I could have heard that God might have said that. Today, I believe that God is well pleased in a lot of us who are not perfect because as with David, God sees our heart. In that moment God made my heart see and hear the most tender and soft messages of hope I could ever imagine. I am not sure I can put it in words as it was not in words that night. It was late, the sun was setting, the clouds above were reflected in the still “cove of glass” below, and the sense of calm, compassion, and constancy I felt more than heard, “I am the maker of heaven and earth (just look out and take that fact in and also note that I am lovingly compassionately, calming and without judgment speaking to you a message of love and grace, peace and mercy), so exactly what is your problem”…..(in that tender moment it was not a harsh, “what is your problem” or even a questioning it was more like. If you know which I know you do know that I am the maker of heaven and earth, the sustainer of life, and so on and so on, help me to understand why you even think you have a problem except that you do think that. I thought in the moment: “nothing”. I thought it is not that I am the problem, or that the problem is me, it is the me that I am thinks I am a problem. It hit me in the head with the tenderness of a feather and the strength of iron, “I could, maybe, change my thinking part or exchange it for a new thinking differently part. I could take all that was “in my mind” “on my mind” carried by “parts of me”, all my problems or burdens, and send them to the “lightness of being” (the light in the dark) let them float on the water of peace and cove of stillness, where God is. Where all is transformed and burdens are made light in the light of hope and peace. So onto the “water of all that I am, I set sail that night, not arrogantly but authentically”, I felt my burdens of depression and despair evaporate into the heavens above and dive into the deepest waters below. And Peace began to be a new piece in the sense of me.
The stuff, parts I had tried to bury, work around, massage,that had nearly overwhelmed me not for any other reason except that they wanted to be heard, were finally heard. Things I had covered up for so long began to come into view then float away. Then that which felt so good. I was alive again. Confidence and competency that wanted to do it all, be right in everything, began to take me to another new extreme. At first I thought this is all good so was feeling great. I began to read and felt good about reading. I began to do projects and felt good about what I was accomplishing. I was sleeping less and working more whereas I had been almost sleeping the days away. Then I began, over the next few weeks, more intently the next few months of “I am that I am” began to overtake the timid say nothing, take it all in part. I gradually realized that this was a part that had been smothered and un-nurtured for so long that it was like a bull in a china shop. the problem with a bull in a china shop is that fine china, with all its delicacy, does not go with a bull with its color-blind, insensitive, strength. The Self was just now getting visible in the horizon of these parts polarized parts.
I hurt the wife who loved me in the depression out of the depression no In the next few months I have been able to identify this swing as in a good sense the celebration of coming out of darkness into light but in an another sense as arrogant and self-centered part that while thinking all is better is behaving in a self and others destructive way.
As an illustration of this, soon after I began my recovery, while my wife was trying to tell me I was being belligerent, I was telling her, I was not. I had no sense that I was negating her the way I had felt so negated. In my mind, she began to attack me so I had to attack her with words in a cutting way. Like a “firefighter part” my fearful part had taken over. I did not recognize or realize that I was mutilating the very person, my wife, and the very thing my marriage that I loved the most. I accused my therapist, and her and later the crisis team who wanted to hospitalize me. In my mind they were using my honesty, about my at risk behavior, against me as they wanted to hospitalize me. Self was able to bring in enough calmness for me to realize how my actions might be perceived and more importantly to reframe that they were using my honesty for me not against me. Upon my acknowledging I was able to present a treatment plan that satisfied their concerns. I also accepted the psychiatrist recommendation for a medication change. He was right. It has been helpful. The work is still my work to do.
During this time, I began to read with amazing speed and retention as just one form of this extreme. I read fast and wrote fast but did begin to realize that going 120 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour zone is not good for me or anyone around me. I realized, that I tended to not stay in the moment but want to run to the next moment or m=next thing. While I may get a lot done that way I may also leave a lot of debris and injured persons in my path. that I do not want to do. I did not get all the nuances of what I read. In other words I was reading to read not for the enjoyment of reading. Enjoying and being in the moment are about balance and harmony in the inner system of the Self and Parts. I get that now in a deeper and fuller way than ever.
I am trying even when I write to be more focused, no surprise, as I sometimes go off into a tangent. I am working on that as this blog shows but it also shows I sometimes do not know when to stop or how to mark a finish line.
So here is the dual-finish as I think I have had a dual focus:
On reading: The practice of reading as the practice of listening is an art form that always is increased the more you do it. So read more listen more is my commitment for 2016. What would change if you make it yours?
On Living: The manager parts and firefighter parts need to be given attention. If not they can get in the way of the Self that is always there waiting patiently and persistently to shine forth dispelling or respelling love, peace, hope, justice and faith in new ways for new experiences. Being attentive to all parts in me and others with intention to honor and honestly be present with and for them is paramount to healthiness in relationships.