the mercer weave

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Archive for the tag “unconscious behavior”

The Terror

There has been a fascinating conversation going on at The Daily Dish  about ‘catcalling’ and it’s influence on women (and some men.) This link references the last in the series of posts but  it is worth reading back through the previous entries. In particular, I was struck but this piece by a reader of the Dish:

“You struck a nerve with this one, as I was just discussing this very thing a few weeks ago with a group of high-school freshmen in my English class. We were discussing homosexuality because of an allusion to it in the book we were reading, and several boys made comments such as, “That’s disgusting.” We got into the debate and eventually a boy admitted that he was terrified/disgusted when he was once sharing a taxi and the other male passenger made a pass at him.

The lightbulb went off. “Oh,” I said. “I get it. See, you are afraid, because for the first time in your life you have found yourself a victim of unwanted sexual advances by someone who has the physical ability to use force against you.” The boy nodded and shuddered visibly.”But,” I continued. “As a woman, you learn to live with that from the time you are fourteen, and it never stops. We live with that fear every day of our lives. Every man walking through the parking garage the same time you are is either just a harmless stranger or a potential rapist. Every time.”

             The girls in the room nodded, agreeing. The boys seemed genuinely shocked. 

            “So think about that the next time you hit on a girl. Maybe, like you in the taxi, she doesn’t actually want you to.”

As I read the posts, I was surprised to feel the rush of  memories of my own experiences as a young teen and what struck me was how my memory wasn’t of anger, but of fear. And one could argue that the fear wasn’t rational – I wasn’t in a darkened alley or parking garage – it was broad daylight, but the discomfort was overwhelmingly real. It happened mostly when I was a teenager, shortly after I began to ‘blossom’ as they say. It was startling, disarming and ultimately left more of an impression than I realized until I took that walk down memory lane while reading these posts.  Although it continued after I moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, the last straw for me happened in Italy. With my family on a crowded bus in Rome, I endured what we in the business refer to as ‘frottage.’  You know the drill; some creep helplessly ‘crammed’ into you by virtue of a crowded bus, has no other options but to rub his crotch against you for the duration of the ride.  Keep in mind, this was Italy in the 70′s. There was nothing to be done. But that was it for me.

When I moved to Seattle, I quickly adopted the look for feministy leaning women with a ‘y.’  Cargo pants and plaid flannel shirts. And that was before I realized I was gay. In hindsight, I think it was my unconscious effort to steel myself against the comments from strange men on the street. It was kind of like cotton kryptonite, if you will. And for the most part, it worked. Now I see my niece-in-laws and how they dress and how they hold themselves and I am so proud of them. Woe be to the idiot who says the wrong thing to them on the street. He’s likely to be tasting his nuggets by the time they are done with him.

And lastly, I was reminded of a conversation with a male friend about his experience in an elevator of his new apartment building in a largely gay area of Seattle. He recounted how uncomfortable he was being propositioned daily (he’s not gay) and I just laughed at him. The look on his face belied his confusion. I simply said, “Now you know what it feels like to be a woman.”

And it felt so,  well, vindicating.

 

Victim of Routine

I had every intention to sit this morning and then I did something I never do; I forgot to set my alarm. Aside from being annoying and jarring, forgetting to do something I routinely do every night before I get into bed, had the potential to set my day off on the wrong foot. Routine saves me. It gives me a sense of control over those things that we do mindlessly every day. I put my keys, my watch, my badge, my ID card, my gun, in the same place every day. Nothing is going to move without human intervention. And in the morning, I pick them up like I do every day and head to work. But I often find that if I leave one little thing out of the order of things, something else will fall out.

The lesson I take from this is that I have replaced mindfulness with routine. Instead of being present when I set down my keys or set my alarm, I’ve counted on my subconscious to kick in and do it for me. It’s a little daunting to step outside that frame of reference, to thumb my nose at doing things the same way day in and day out. But it’s necessary. Without mindfulness, our lives become mindless. We become complacent and lose the ability to find joy in the uncommon place. I’m going to try and be less routine and more spontaneous. Let’s see where that takes me.

What do you do ‘routinely’ that you can try to change and replace with mindful action?

 

High Anxiety

Today I read a wonderful post by Marguerite Manteau-Rao at her blog MindDeep about the nature of anxiety. She quoted and linked to an interview on NPR with teacher Sylvia Boorstein. This really resonated with me:

Actually, the Buddha said we have one of five genetic fallback glitches when we’re challenged. He said some people fret, some people get angry, some people lose heart and all their energy goes and they don’t know what to do with themselves, some people think, “Uh-oh, it’s me. I didn’t do things right. It’s always my fault. I messed things up.” And some people need to be sensually soothed. They think, “Where’s a donut shop? Where’s the pizza?” People have different tendencies. It was very, very helpful for me as an adult to learn that because it completely comes without a judgment. I don’t have to say I am a chronic fretter. I could say, you know, when I’m challenged, fretting arises in my mind and it’s not a moral flaw. It’s very good for people who have a short fuse to be able to think, “You know, I have this unusual neurological glitch.

I tell it to people that my glitch is that “when in doubt, worry.” It came with the equipment. I’m also short and I have brown eyes. If I could see that in the same neutral, it just came with the equipment, then I don’t have to feel bad about it, but I can work with it wisely. That’s really the important part, when we see as adults what it is that our fallback glitch is. You can say, “Uh-oh.” And I think, in a certain way, that’s a sign of wisdom when a person begins to be able to delineate this is what happens to me under tension.”

I’m a master fretter. I own it. The interesting thing for me is that I don’t always know when I’m fretting and I don’t generally talk about what is vexing me. My anxiety comes out in a habit I have had since I was a child – I bite my cuticles (or what is left of them.) It is such an unconscious behavior that most of time, I’m not even aware that I am doing it until my partner (invariably) says, “Stop eating your fingers!”  I always thought this was just an annoying habit until a doctor friend pointed out years ago that it was related to anxiety and I was incredulous. I was incredulous because I didn’t feel anxious. I tried putting awful tasting stuff on my nails as a way to deter the behavior. That just meant I had an awful taste in my mouth most of the time, because I didn’t know I was doing it. I would bet that most of my friends wouldn’t describe me as an anxious person. But that’s a testament to how good I’ve become at masking it.

Learning to sit with silence and in the moment has allowed me to connect with that feeling of anxiety. It has given me the chance to be more mindful about what I do in response to anxiety even when I don’t feel anxious. Slowly but surely I am learning to ‘work with it wisely.’

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