My Internal Landscape

Sometimes, you can stare at things for a long time, and suddenly realize that some hidden image has been sitting patiently and waiting for you to notice it.  Some of Salvadore Dali’s art is this way.  And also lots of optical illusions.  And they say that those annoying 3-d images, if you squint long enough, that a picture pops out of them eventually, too.  (For the record, I am not sure I believe in that last one.  It has never ever worked for me.)


My internal landscape is like this.  Things sit and wait for me to discover them.  Sometimes, it is a connection I never saw before.  Other times it is a feeling I was busy pretending I didn’t have…  Joy at something sad, sadness at something happy, guilt at something I earned.

I recently had this kind-of realization about my pain.  I was quite shocked to discover that I was upset at others when they did not take responsibility for fixing my hurt.  I told myself what I wanted was empathy from the people who love me.  Because asking for empathy from the people who love me is a pretty reasonable request.  In fact, if somebody didn’t have empathy for me, it would be fair to ask if they loved me at all.

In fact, what I have wanted is something much more.  I wanted others to make it thier own mission to fix me.  As I realized this, I realized something else, kind of interesting:  apparently, to some part of me, a pain-free Jeff is a good Jeff…  even a fixed Jeff.

As I came to this understanding, I realized something about my feelings.  And also, I think, I realized something about your feelings.  (Perhaps you’re a bit wiser than me and have already worked this out.)

It’s not pleasant to experience pain: sadness, mourning, depression.  There is a reason that these are all connected with a condition they call the dark night of the soul.

Yet…  they have a place.

They are guides.   Emotions, perhaps especially the unpleasant ones, are direct lines to our inner landscape.  There is no other way, I think, to get a status report from the very deepest part of us.

If others had some magic word that would take my pain away, they would be robbing me of something so important.  As I spent all this time wishing the pain away, I could have been exploring it, and I think I would have been made better, and wiser because of it.

Today is Thanksgiving.  And so I guess the thing I am saying is that I am going to work on thanfullness for the pain.


There is so much more that ought to be said here, and I think I will be posting some of that in the near future.  But I feel like I ought to follow up with a caveat.

Sometimes depression, sadness, and mourning want to become the captain of the ship.  These things don’t harm us directly; they are like an immune deficiency, that paves the way for other things which very much do hurt us. Prayer, Support from friends and professionals, and medication are incredibly important methods to recover this balance, at the times that feelings want to stage a mutiny and become the captain of our ship.


Pretending the Bloody Nose Doesn’t Hurt

I can remember before I learned how to drive.   There were some things that I did not know.  If I wanted to drive, I needed to learn these things.   I am not a very practical guy.  I love speculation and theoretical possibility.  I love thinking about thinking.  I love learning about other’s deep thoughts.  I love to share my own.

When it came time to learn to drive, I should have determined which one was the break and which one was the clutch and which one was the accelerator.  It was important for me to learn how to turn on the head lights.  At that stage in my life I lived in Southern California, so most likely figuring out how to turn on the wind shield wipers could wait; it wasn’t likely to rain any time soon.

Knowing the history of the automobile?  Even less relevant than operating the windshield wipers.  The kind-of guy I am, it is tempting, in situations like that, to want to explore thermodynamics.  I remember learning the term fitzgig around the time I learned to drive.  A fitzgig is a tiny explosive, the “spark” caused by the spark plug.  In the film “The Dark Crystal” they named a character fitzgig.  That animal is named after this concept.

Learning how to change a spark plug, that is not the sort of thing I get excited to learn.  I paid a lot of money to mechanics.  And I have had way more than my share of accidents.  I should have paid a lot more attention to these practical things.

I am learning that spiritually, I am not much different.  With the car I spent all this time contemplating theoretics.  I should have been practicing pushing down on the pedals.  And in my spiritual life, I have spent all this time arguing theology.  I have ventured to the edge of the sorts of things that can be expressed in words.   Probably, I have spent some time well beyond this point, trying to wrap my puny little human brain around stuff that I just won’t be able to explain or understand on this side of the grave.

I am in the midst of this strange time of transition.  Some of it is connected to my spiritual community at large.  Some of it is very personal to me.  Some of it I am in the center of.  Some of it I am on the peripherary.  And some of it I am only connected to indirectly…

I am feeling lead in a direction on this stuff.  I am learning so much important stuff.  In some sense it is so basic, just as the actual mechanics of driving a car are in some sense so very basic.  A way I can express this is to say that I am called to make peace through this turbulence.

I am learning that there aren’t any right words when people I love are suffering.  Explaining where I think God is can be callous.  Asserting that it doesn’t seem like God is there at all can feed into somebody’s struggles with faith.  Telling somebody that I know what their pain is like can belittle them and turn the focus on me.  Telling somebody that I can’t imagine what their pain is like can isolate them.

I am not saying that we should say nothing.  I am saying that all these words we have are not the important thing.

The important thing is that I am fully with someone who is angry or suffering or lost.   Right there, with them, in that moment.   Don’t we all know, when somebody is with us, in our pain?   For me, that is an incredible gift, when I know that somebody has stepped past their own baggage.  They are not thinking about how it is for them.  They are just with me.

I am probably not much good at this yet.  I am learning that in the past, the things I said to somebody else, they were at least mostly for me.  So often the words I have said to somebody else, they are motivated so very wrong.  When someone I love is hurting, it hurts me.  And I don’t like hurting.  And so in the past, too many times, I have found kind words.  It is less that I want my friend not to hurt because they are my friend, and more that I do not want my friend to hurt because there hurting hurts me.

Somewhere, we know it, when our pain is hurting someone else.  We know it when they are trying to stop our pain in order to stop their pain.  I remember when my youngest was tiny.  We used to wrestle-tickle.  Once (ok, twice, actually) he got his little fingers inside my nose.  His little toddler fingernails scratched up something good in there.  I bled all over the place and hurt quite a lot.

And he was really freaked out.  I found myself covering up the bleeding, covering up the pain.  And that is what a dad should do.

But there have been times in my life that I have been the toddler.  Times that people are hurting are greatly.  And me?  That hurt makes me hurt a little bit.  Perhaps the person hurting doesn’t want to see me hurting; they are avoiding some wierd and dysfunctional feed back loop.  At the minimum, they have enough on their plate.  They don’t need to wrestle with my pain, too.  So I offer up some stupid  plattitude, and they pretend it makes them feel better, and problem is solved.  (I am hoping the sarcasm in those last three words is duly noted.)

The first thing I am learning in this season of my life is that one of the things I am called to do is to walk toward pain, not away from it.  At this stage in my life, carrying my cross means that I put on my big boy pants.  I accept the idea that hurt is going to hurt.

I have been reminded that in this hurt, that is where Jesus dwells.  I have found him, as I have worked at being fully present to other’s pain.  Jesus was with me, waiting for a reason to manifest.  And he was in the other person, whether or not they follow Christ.  And also, he is in that space between us.

When we are together again

When we are together again,

and everything is as it should be

as it was supposed to be

for the first time, again.

When we are together again…

The things that I will say…

At first, they will start with words

like, “I should have” “I could have”  “I wish”

When we are together again

I will tell you about how it is all this time later

That I realized you had this little treasure chest

And you reached into it, and you pulled things out of it and you gave them to me.

They were barely warmed by my hands

before they were forgotten…

And there was so much still left

that you wanted to give me

But it is with you now.

and when we are together again.

I will kneel down, and I will open it with you,

and I will cherish the things that you share with me.

The toolbox

Sometimes, when I’m feeling all depressed, somewhere, deep inside, it’s because I want to be.  I’m not proud of the fact that I can throw some pretty epic pity parties for myself.  But there are times, when I do.

Then, though, there are these other times.  With all my heart and soul, I don’t want to be down.

I have this little metaphorical  tool box, when I’m feeling down and I don’t want to be.  I open it and I survey the trusty options within:

One of my tools is to hike.  One is to read the bible.   I network with family and friends.  I write.  I pray.

Often times, I can find the right tool for the job.

Sometimes, I can’t find which one.  It is too much.  It is too scary to think I might try one and have it not work.  There is this perverse side to hope.  If I hold out the hope that something might make things better, it is safer and it is easier than actually trying it.  Because if I don’t try it, I can always hold on to the belief that things would get better.  But if I actually take it out of the tool box, and do it, and if things haven’t changed… that’s bad.

So there are these times that I just stare into the toolbox, paralyzed.

But the worst is when I reach inside it.  And I try the first tool.  And the second.  And the third.

And eventually?

Eventually the tool box is empty.  It’s contents lay around my ankles.  I am still sad, or alone, or depressed, or whatever.

It occurs to me: if I had more tools in the toolbox, perhaps I’d have fewer of these experiences of staring into that empty thing.

And so the question of the evening:

What are the tools in your toolbox; what do you do when you’re feeling down?