Life as an Extreme Sport

Serendipitous Synchronicity

I have a bad habit. It’s called “reading psychology books” – I blame my stint, now nearly a decade past, as a psychology major for this affliction. But it’s stayed with me, and it undoubtedly influences how I see the world. I always had issues with Freud (it was the trendy thing, after all), but never really thought much about Jung until I joined CHID. That first quarter, the Buffy class had a segment on Jung and archetypes – I will always tie the cheese tray in the Season Four finale, Restless, to Jung’s navel of the dream – and he continued to pop up here and there for short chapters.

At the same time, my interest in genealogies and narratives has grown exponentially, and I read whatever I can get my hands on about the subject. (Yes, another bad habit – I enjoy Foucault. Please don’t stone me alive.) So, it was with some interest that I checked out the book There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives by Jungian psychotherapist Robert Hopke. I’ve been meditating quite a bit on luck and synchronicity lately; we recently watched The Pursuit of Happyness, and several interviews I’ve read or proofed lately have also discussed the power of luck, chance, happenstance. In fact, my very religious mother has even been commenting on it lately, how so much of my life lately has seemed to just fall into place, as if I’ve been blessed by luck.

Needless to say, randomly finding a book about synchronicity while thinking about synchronicity was… synchronis. Naturally, I had to read it.

So far, Hopke is just discussing the mechanics of Jung’s breakdown of synchronicity, but it’s something I find myself much more receptive to than I would have expected. Our lives are stories, and we only notice this story when we are jolted out of our immediacy and can see a slightly larger picture, when we find ourselves adhering to patterns we would only expect to see in narration, because we don’t consider that we ourselves have a narrative. Hopke says that we have a

very human tendency to try to exert and establish control over our lives, as if somehow our consciously deciding what story we are going to be living and doing whatever necessary, come hell or high water, to make it turn out that way, is the best or only way to achieve happiness and fulfillment. Certainly part of the wonder of synchronistic events is the way that such an attitude gets turned on its head. By pure accident, without our willing them, certain events sometimes occur to us which show us that our lives may well be on another narrative track altogether, that the story we have made up for ourselves may not be our story at all, and only our own openness to reconsidering the plot will allow us to use this meaningful coincidence to our own benefit.

Not at all facetiously, wow. Talk about narrative and wonder and serendipitous events – how can I not love it? And how can I not relate?

I started back to school, several years ago, thinking that I would get a degree in journalism and turn my love of writing into a professional career. I tried to make it fit, but kept being pulled other ways and directions – and when I finally gave in, and let go of the mental idea of who I was and should be, life became better. Happier. More exciting and rich and all those trite things. I was only going to get a BA… but then maybe a Masters would be a good idea. No, no, a PhD. I’d stay on the West Coast, in Seattle, maybe California – okay, fine, New York. In many ways, life since returning to school has been an exercise not in academia, but in flexibility, letting go, and acknowledging that sometimes, the control you have is not to shape your life, but your response to the circumstances you find yourself in.

I was reading an interview the other day, of someone I rather admire. And it struck me how much of the story was based on (and acknowledged to be) luck, timing, and being in the right place. I guess it ultimately goes back to being in the world, and being open to what the world brings you, rather than to what you think the world should bring you. Opportunity comes in many guises, and often there has to be a set-up before there’s a pay-off (and while they exist here, I won’t point them out – you can find them if you’re so curious); if you are so closed off to the world to not be willing to have time, patience, and faith, and yes, even trust – then I wonder if you can ever truly succeed, or be aware of your own serendipitous synchronicities.

keep your injured looks to you we’ll tell the world we tried

I’m very angry. It’s a difficult phrase and feeling to admit to – it’s not something I feel very often. Sure, I get flashes of frustration, but one of the better things about Buddhism has been learning to accept the frustration, let it flow through me, and away. Feel the emotion, let it go. Or at least, feel the frustration and then let it go.

In a lot of ways, that’s really helped. A lot of the anger I used to carry with me was just un-vented frustration, pent up and kept inside, allowed to ferment. And in other ways, Buddhism has helped me to understand that most of the time, when I’m angry I’m actually afraid. So I’ve gotten better at taking back that layer of anger to see and deal with the fear.

But this time, I’m just angry. And it’s not one thing, which may be why it feels like such a setback. It’s several things, some recent and some not, and they’ve all added up like straw on Proverb the Camel’s back. I’m angry at things I can’t control, at things I don’t know how to control. I’m angry with people who called themselves my friend and then behaved in extremely unfriendly manner, and I’m especially angry with one in particular, because for all the promises of being there when the going was rough, when the going got rough, said “friend” ran. Yeah, who knew my mother being so ill would be worse than getting divorced – I mean, what a shock. ‘Cept for the whole not thing.

I’m angry with myself for still caring, for still smiling at memories and thinking of these people who made it so clear their lack of interest in supporting me, who dared get in my face because I wasn’t what they wanted or expected (and to do that after the ex-husband and all his accusations of the same).

I guess I’m just angry at a lot of situations I’ve found myself in, and for not knowing how to handle them and not having the people around that I would rely on to help me with it. I can’t be perfect all the time – even most of the time – and this still irks me, going on 31 years. You’d think maybe eventually I’d learn I can’t be perfect, but it just seems to be one lesson that won’t stick.

I feel like I’m operating, for the first time, without a safety net, and I don’t like that feeling at all. …which maybe is the fear, after all. That I’m going to fail, I won’t be perfect, and as I fail I’ll fall, and no one will catch me.

(Do me a favour and don’t assume you know what this is about. You don’t. It’s one of those lovely things where there’s no one, major thing. It’s little facets of everything flying together into a perfect storm, emphasized by the fact that I’ve flown back to Oregon once more.)

trust bound

Sunday night, sitting here along with my beer and thoughts, wind howling outside, occasionally gusting snow against the window with some vengeance. Light comedy on the television, but I wonder if something more sober, or at least darker, might not be more appropriate. It’s not that I’m feeling particularly bad, or even dark and twisty, but I am feeling introspective. It’s been a very long week, a week of chaos, and mistakes on my part. I knew the chaos was coming, and mistakes were inevitable, but I still don’t like either…well, the mistakes, anyhow. I suspect I actually might thrive on chaos.

I’ve been called out on some personality traits, and it was a fair calling out, but it’s still an uncomfortable thing. I realized, talking to Jen earlier today, that it’s been a while since anyone has gotten in my face (nicely or otherwise) and thrown me back at myself, or was so pointed in challenging what I say and why I do/say certain things. I guess…I was the golden child who could do no wrong for a while, and this was an important thing for me to hold on to. It gave a lot of validity to what I did, and helped me get over things, the hurtful things, that came part and parcel with my divorce. And, that’s not here now – which is okay, but it’s going to take a bit of adjustment on my part. It’s not that I’m a prima donna, by any means, but it catches you a bit short when you’ve become accustomed to being treated a certain way, and suddenly that way is gone and you’re getting blunt analysis of your character.

Another part and parcel of that divorce is my utter terror of two words, two words I did my best to avoid in my years at UW, where I did as much as I could alone, by myself, relying on no one, stubbornly insisting I would do it, could do it, alone. Those words? “Trust me.” I don’t do well with trust, something I’m realizing as I sit here with my barely touched beer. I realize that a lot of the issues that have caused me so much stress in the last week soundly rest with that issue, that freaking out and panic in the face of having to simply trust someone.

I did trust someone, and I got my heart and life handed back to me post-paper shredder. I pulled myself back together with a lot of effort and duct tape, and learned that trusting other people is bad. Of course, I also spent a lot of time arguing that trust is good, and can happen again after it’s been broken – have marveled that we can pull ourselves back together and make ourselves vulnerable again. And that’s sort of the whole thing with trust – in opening yourself to trust, you also open yourself to what happens when trust is broken. Alfonso Lingis, in his book Trust, says this so beautifully:

In trust one adheres to something one sees only partially or unclearly or understands only vaguely or ambiguously. One attaches to someone whose words or whose movements one does not understand, whose reasons or motives one does not see.

Is it all the things that are known that encourage the leap, in this one instance, to adhere to something unknown as though it were known? Is it not because of a long past tried and true that someone becomes a trusted adviser? Is it all that one knows about laws, the institutions, the policing, and all that one knows about the values, the education, the peer pressure of individuals in a society that induce one to trust this individual met at random on a jungle path? But the more one knows about a tried and true adviser, the more clearly one sees that every act of loyalty opened an opportunity for disloyalty.

This was part of that summer institute I did, and so I have actually thought a lot about this – and I appear to have regressed a bit from the point I was at to where I am now. Perhaps that’s just a result of new environment, change,..and fear. If I screwed up in the past, no huge deal – just my pride. If I screw up now, I feel like we’re talking career bites dust sort of huge deals.

I pulled out my paper from the Institute – the project that came of it is sitting about 5 feet away, but it’s easier to just read what I wrote. And if I isolate out what I wrote on trust alone, of forming and losing and trying again, it still rings very true – almost insightful.

trust and time are intimately linked. one cannot exist without the other. time is a construct. all that exists is now, the present. we are always in the present, passing through it. we never reach the future, and the past is always behind us. we build trust, and make the decision to trust, based on experiences – events – from our past. these singular events allow us to look at the seemingly endless options in front of us and narrow them down; trust becomes a filter that allows us to make decisions. in the network of life, trust gives us a way of managing what would be incomprehensible.

when trust is broken, our options become limitless, and we are paralized, not in fear, but in choice. we have no way of narrowing down the potentiality of an event or situation without the ability to trust. but we trust – or not – based on prior events, and it is difficult to override those prior events that taught us that we cannot believe ourselves. without the ability to trust, we are everpresent in the now, unable to pass through the present. we become stuck.

to free ourselves from being stuck, we have to take a risk. we have to look at the future potentialities and guess, choose blindly, choose based on what other people offer you. trust is a multiperson experience, and if someone extends you their trust, they do so on the basis of their experience, and what they think of you. what they think you will do. the options become filtered through the actions of another. it is up to us, whether or not we accept that external filter. it is up to us to make the decision that a single anomalic event does not mean we always have bad judgment.

to become unstuck, you must trust.

the only thing that means anything is what we do.

I realize I have the choice to stand where I am, and have the future so open I am paralyzed, missing the trust I need in order to act decisively, to have futures narrowed to manageable potentiality. Or, I just…do what loyalty wants, and acknowledge that with an act of trust comes the potential for hurt, and the beauty of hope.

forced perspective

Interesting evening yesterday. I realized, pouring myself in to bed at 3am, that one of the things I like most about my job is that my boss is what would happen if you took the energy of the dotcom era startup companies and poured it into bioethics. It’s a combination of everything I love about my field and everything I loved about the computer industry – there is a lot of mad energy and joy in the sort of creative energy that exists in that startup environment, and it was something I thrived on. I think it might be why I overloaded myself so much while an undergrad at UW – I seem to do much better if I’m juggling 12 balls at once, rather than 3. I’m not entirely sure why that works the way it does, but there you go. Maybe it’s just that too much down time makes for idle hands; I always feel so slow if I have too much time and not enough interesting things to do. (Of course, therein lies the rub – there’s always a lot to do, but most of it is boring stuff like housework, and why would I want to do that? Much more fun to be swinging madly from the chandelier, trying to grade papers in one hand while write a term paper in the other.)

That, however, was not necessarily the interesting part – that was just the fun part of the night, finding myself back in an environment so familiar, but enhanced with all the things I love of the academe. The interesting part was having an aspect of my personality called out, and being forced to acknowledge that in fact, I do like being in the middle of everything, knowing and watching what is going on. I do continually find myself in these places of watching groups and conflict, and said boss was right – I enjoy it, and need to stop acting like I don’t. There is a definite pleasure in realizing what’s going on, socially, politically or otherwise, and then watching it play out as predicted.

What the boss was wrong about, however, is that I enjoy it all the time. While there’s a definite enjoyment and (I’ll admit it) smugness about seeing things and piecing things together that no one realizes I’ve figured out (a sort of ha-ha, take that, attitude), I rapidly dislike it when I move from being observer to participant. As the song goes, I’m only watching the game – I don’t like being forced to play in it.

The vast majority of the time, I can maintain my observer status and simply watch. But I get cranky, stressed out, and otherwise unhappy when I’m booted off that observing perch and forced to play. Normally, this doesn’t happen, but there are times where by virtue of needing to make decisions, it does. What I am thinking of, in particular, is being placed in a position where someone reveals something to me that will negatively affect someone I am loyal to – because in my world, love, affection and loyalty are powerful, inter-related concepts that trump just about everything else. And if you place me in a spot where I have to come down from the observers tower and interact with the players, it’s because you’ve done something against someone I do have powerful emotional entanglements with.

Unfortunately, I think I generally play those commitments towards others very close to my chest – I have to, in order to watch the game. So the stress then comes from being forced (in my view) to reveal those commitments by virtue of wanting to make sure that the person I care about is okay. Revealing commitments then leaves me open to having that caring rejected – and I think I’d rather just care quietly about people than knowing it’s unwanted or unwelcomed.

All of which I never would have really thought about or articulated if I hadn’t been forced to, which in itself is interesting.


The day started off beautifully, and just did one of those midtempo shifts that left me crying in the SUNY parking lot. I just cracked, much like a certain fairy tale egg, and the final straw (to mix my metaphors wildly) was stepping outside the front door and smelling the rain.

As Genevieve noted elsewhere, earlier today, Seattleites know rain like Eskimo’s know snow. There are different kinds of rain, for different sorts of seasons, and when I walked outside today the scent that hit me, overwhelmed me, made me realize just how out of my depth I am, was that sweet spring Seattle rain. Fresh, light, almost loamy, refreshing – like a forest, damp and warm and just good. My favourite kind of rain to sit outside in, at a fountain or park, the dockside, or even some cemeteries.

I’m having one of those days where I wonder if I can do this. I wonder if I’m truly as kind and compassionate and warm as I want to be. Being back here makes it hard to judge myself against my norm, since back here, I’m several times warmer, friendlier, and more cheerful than other people. (As I told Lisa, it’s a scary place where I am the cheerful one!) And I’m worried. Lack of communication is the one thing that really makes me spin out and freak out (we’ll thank the ex for that one), and I’m not convinced, right now, I can do this.

Of course, today was also probably the worst day to forget to take my medications, and be sans pain control. Everything ached more, and I had the patience of a gnat by 4pm.

I just wish… I realized, when I was in Seattle, that I touched more people in my short (less than 36 hour) stay there than I have since I left Seattle in June, 2006. People back here are not affectionate, not in the same way. In fact, I’m pretty sure today is the first time I’ve touched anyone since I was in Seattle.

Sigh. This is all over the place. That’s because I feel like I’ve been hit my a freight truck and hosed down with a fire hose. But at least I’ll have teflon skin with this is all said and done…

When it rains, eh? When it rains…