Monday, April 4, 2011

Ask Joey and the clear-eyed view of others

Joey Garcia of "Ask Joey"
I happily admit it. I’m crazy nuts about “Ask Joey,” the relationships column written by Joey Garcia for the SN&R that persistently urges writers-in to push their “operating level” to a higher plateau. Twice before, I’ve blogged about “Ask Joey” regards matters homeless: “Homeless advice in recent ‘Ask Joey’ columns” [12/1/10] and “Homelessness and shoplifting. Ask Joey, Part II” [12/31/10]. In the current week’s AJ, what has me jazzed isn’t something directly about homeless folk, but something about how we should see others, generally, that Joey Garcia writes in response to a woman’s story of her ragged path in trying to re-connect with a high school gal pal thirty years after graduation. Here, for me [in text I’ve bolded], is the money quote from a swatch of what Garcia wrote, that is solid advice for us all in every kind of interpersonal situation [and as, generally, a high-level manner of experiencing the presence of all others in our life]:
Stop thinking in black and white. Falling in and out of love with someone is not love at all. It doesn’t matter whether the relationship is with a platonic friend, a business associate or a committed partner; extreme emotional swings are a sign of entrenched thinking errors. The work here is to see others as they are with special gifts, unique beauty and distinctive life experiences plus shortcomings, eccentricities and unhealed emotional wounds. After opening your eyes to the truth of a person, your task is to accept that person as one (potential) expression of the Divine.
The words that Joey Garcia uses are carefully chosen and demonstrate a keen understand of the nature of the human animal. I write this (and can write this) with no claim to any such keen understand, myself. Garcia says that we should look at people, whole — with appreciation/acceptance of their talents and foibles.

In Buddhism, there's a similar central idea: that we see others as sufferers. The Garcia and Buddha ideas don't sound all that similar, but I submit that they are. We understand ourself as a complicated vehicle, but often tend to denigrate an other due to an aspect of their character that nettles us, or through the slit of a single incident where we've locked horns with this other person.

The patience that we must have with our complicated, inconsistant, inscrutible self, we tend to deny others. This is a central problem that individuals have. We mustn't limitedly see others "as ourself," (or, as Divine) [I would contest, perhaps in contradiction to Joey's sentiment] -- because that is a romanticised, illusory notion and very much not the clear-eyed splendor of what actually, factually is.

All people are gloriously and ingloriously screwed up in ways that are uniquely squirrelly and charmy. We mustn't deny [nor overlook] all the fluffy and muddy flawedness. Last year, Kirstin Paisley of Trinity Cathedral vaultedly wrote that the SafeGround homeless were a phalanx of Jesuses. [You can read her essay posted in full at the bottom of this Brian Baker blog post.]  Nah.  They certainly ain't Jesuses. That's a romantic, "all-white" notion, with no shades of gray, about us homeless who are each very evidently flawed. In another Baker blogpost from about a year ago, we see Judy LewLoose paintings of many Sac'to homeless paired with pics of Jesus holding his cross.  Yes.  Well.  There's the idea that we each have a cross to bear, but I remind Herr Baker that it's not Jesus's.  To make too literally impossible connections is romanticism.  When he, or anyone, decides that they prefer looking at the homeless through rose-colored glasses [or, through glasses tinted with a gloss of the Savior's blood], then it pretty much means they are refusing to see things as they are, possibly because in their heart of hearts they believe the homeless stink on ice.

Libby and Joan of Loaves and Fishes, famously, always depict the homeless as pathetic. "They may look like humble clay as they trudge along 12th Street towards Loaves & Fishes," was how L&F's newsletter depicted homeless people last June.  But whatever L & J really might think can be lost in their always-on effort to corral donors and sneak away with some of their dollars. The Haters, who come around to post comments to any article in the Bee or SacPress about homelessness, don't let not having any (or much) knowledge of the homeless condition stop 'em from having fully negative things to say, based on stereotypes of homeless people, dating from the '50s, that where probably never valid, even then.

Human beings, generally, are pretty spiffy, and, indeed, so are the homeless subset of that lot.  The great  clear-eyed Thomas Merton wrote in text that has been dubbed "The Vision in Louisville" how terrific regular people are that he saw on the street in Kentucky.  It's not written from a romanticism sensibility; and it is certainly not Loaves & Fishes' smarmy avarice-headedness.  It comes from a grown-up, serious man, writing honestly and with no side effort to say anything that isn't completely truthful. One of the late paragraphs in Merton's "Vision" is this:
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed …I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.
Merton is all too rare in having that "peculiar gift," that Joey, too, seems to have found.  The rest of us should look for it in ourselves. By the way, I certainly don't think it's a Christianity-only thing. The Great Ken Wilber, too, writes, using different lingo, about the "center of our being ... a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth" that Merton speaks about in his "Vision." Wilber suggests that we may find it as the witness [our true self] that watches our very dreams.

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