Monday, June 27, 2011

Writing a book is hard!

How is it that there are so many? Their sheer numbers make it seem so easy, trivial even, but no! It takes thousands of words, and not just ones thrown at the page. You have to pick and trim each one like a hand made garment.

A book is like a dry cleaner store. Tens of thousands of pieces of loved pieces of cloth, each hung in its own protective bag. Each with its original meaning to its owner, and some different meaning to the publisher, and yet a third to the reading public.

How can I ever get the thin red line of truth through such a process? My thoughts are trimed and dry cleaned and hung out to dry. The blank pages sit by my bed and stare at me while I sleep fitfully. The unwritten words have parties in my head: "Wake up! Write me!" they scream. "Write me, I long to be written."

I love their passion, and I want to write them down, but just as I sit to do their work, they become wild mice, scampering every which way, and jumble their order and laugh at me when I chastise them. "I thought you wanted me to write you down."

"Not down, up" they say, always so contrary at the moment of ink. "You're not doing it right. Not that way, over here!"

My words are so rebellious. They're like the adolescent who refuses to smile as soon as he sees the camera. You can take his picture, hoping he'll see his dour face and repent and smile next time, but like my words, he likes the way he looks in those pictures, they like how unruly they are on the page.

"You can photoshop us later," they say. Easy for them to say. Have you ever tried to use Photoshop? It's not easy.

It takes ten times longer to find the right word in a sentence made up of all the wrong words, then it would have if I could have captured the words as they ran by in my head, like marathon runners. I hold out cups of water, hoping they will stop, but they just tear the cup from my hand, splash it on their heads and dash off. They don't even properly dispose of the cups!

If I leave my computer on a white surface overnight, I'm always afraid it will be stained black by the words which escaped overnight.

And then, once I have most of them pressed into place, more or less, and I show the lot to a friend, they fall into the spaces left between the few correct words, and scrape their chins on the ground or ask questions about the thing they read instead of the thing I was trying to write.

There's an old train station here in Mt Airy which has been taken over by old books, thousands of them. Every spot (and many spots that aren't) are jammed with old books which you can have for a dollar or two.

You can by a miracle for a buck! And instead of a run on the bank, they mold there, words begging to be let loose.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Invisible Third Party

Sometimes a fight can't be resolved because the person causing the fight isn't in the room. We call that the "Invisible Third Party."

The first time we recognized this phenomenon was when we were mediating in Small Claims court during our apprenticeship as mediators. A 14 year-old boy was suing one of the customers on his paper route for not paying for her papers. I think everyone in the room was a little in awe of the chutzpah of this "child" having an advanced enough sense of justice to have filed the suit in the first place.

The prim and upscale woman he was suing kept slipping into that awe and respect, as she listened to him make his case, and if it weren't for the complete difference in her understanding of the facts, I think she would have just paid him the small sum.

But whenever it was her turn to talk, her facts were so different from his, she would slide back her position: she just didn't owe the money.

It seems she had gone away for the summer, and had called the paper and asked them to turn off delivery while she was gone. The paper said they would take care of it, and she left for several months.

However, that same man she had called, kept her name on the boy's list of papers to deliver, and charged him for those papers. When the boy came "collecting" she was so irate because she knew she had cancelled her subscription and so she thought she was being ripped off. She even confirmed with the paper that they had her cancellation on record, the first time the boy came collecting, so now she assumed he was the one trying to rip her off. But the paper hadn't toll the boy or credited him - he had called the paper and they had confirmed that he owed for the papers.

So neither party in the room held the secret to this problem, or the solution, it was the invisible third party.

This pattern repeats often in Marriage Mediation cases. Mothers-in-laws, bosses, irate neighbors, kindergarten teachers, even dead goldfish and pizza delivery boys can show up in marital conflicts as the "invisible third party" which makes it impossible for the two "disputants" to solve "their" issue.

The solution, as always, is to assume the "best possible interpretation" of your partner. Since we are all trying to just get our Universal Human Needs met, and they are always coming from life-affirming, positive intention; if you can't find the positive intention in your partner's actions, then you are missing something, and you need to check out the assumptions behind your disappointment.

Q4U: Are you holding a grudge against someone right now? Can't find the positive intention in their position? What are you missing?

Monday, June 13, 2011

When Is a Car, Not a Car?

A few months before Elise and I started developing Teamwork Mediation, I started to “get it” about being a mediator. Up until that point, I was doing the process, but I never quite knew if I was doing it right or not.

I remember the case which changed all that. I remember that the case involved a couple who were separating.
“This is a simple case,” he said. (They all thought that -  open and shut - finding for their side, of course.) “I bought the car before I met Janet, we have since broken up, and I want my car back.”

I turned to Janet. “And what is the issue for you?”

“Well,” she said, “first of all, it’s not a car.”

That was the moment I knew I had become a mediator. To a non-mediator, this probably sounds like a Zen koan: “When is a car not a car.” But to my mediator’s ears, this was exactly what I expected: difference.

Before I became a mediator, like most other people, I went around believing that while there were plenty of disagreements happening all the time, basically, there was a pretty good agreement about what Reality was.

But at this point we had been mediating for about six months, and that belief had been shattered so many times, I noticed that I had developed the ability to suspend my belief so completely, that even this didn’t phase me. I had become a mediator - unflappable by the relativity of reality. Einstein found it at the speed of light, I found it in small claims court: relativity.

Difference is such a double edged sword! We invite it into our life to make sure we get the benefit of all the different points of view, and then we cut ourselves on its sharp-edged difficulty. We want it all and we want it simple.

But to get it all, we have to deal with the complexity and contradictions. If you like the quiet life, and revel in your aloneness, who do you think you’ll be attracted to? Another hermit? Ney! (You’d probably never even cross their path, much less be attracted to them.) No, you’ll fall for some gad-about who swoops you out of your nest and teaches you to fly. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at first. And then you can’t get enough.

And then, although you love the soaring, and can’t imagine living without it, you also miss the quiet and the calm, and there begins the struggle: which of way is the RIGHT way?

And so whether you end up in small claims court, or divorce court, or just the court of public opinion, the clash of swords can be heard as you externalize the struggle which we all face within: the simple small life, or the large complex one?

Is difference a good thing, or bad?

I had become so comfortable with difference, I almost hated to ask, but this was small claims court, so ask I must: “Not a car?”

“No!” she spat. “A car has wheels, and this one is up on blocks. As car goes places and he just lives in this one in my driveway. He can have his ‘car’ back when he pays me his back rent for living on my property!”

There’s an old saying: “If my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a trolley car.” It came to mind in that moment, but I didn’t think it would help, so I kept it to myself.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Princess in the Tower

Did you ever have one of those weeks, when the same message keeps getting repeated in nearly everyone you meet?

It used to be like that in the vegetarian pizza restaurant I ran in Boulder Colorado in the 70's. One night there'd be a pregnant woman at every table, another night would be teepee night, or out-of-towners night.

This last week, it's been the Princess in the Tower.

It happened with three different clients this week. Each was well versed in the most basic principle of Teamwork Mediation: "Don't judge your spouse - it tears the fabric of your relationship and guarantees you don't get your need met." Even so, all three were stuck in their judgments and the more they struggled, the deeper they sank into that quicksand.

They all knew it, and had made special emergency appointments so I could help pull them out, but they were all too stuck for the thin rope of words and reason alone, to save them. As they told their tales of woe, every word just sank deeper into the quicksand.

So I put a smile on my face and in my heart, and spoke in my best sing-songy voice, the one Kindergarten teachers and hypnotists use and said, "I'm going to tell you a story, a fairy-tale, about you."

If I do this just right, I will see their bodies relax - they settle down and let go of the struggle. I take out my big pad and start to draw the familiar picture of the crenulated castle tower. "Oh good," one of them said, "I love illustrated stories!"

"This is the story of Princess in the Tower. She is trapped in the tower, and is guarded by a warrior who stops all who try to enter. If there is even the slightest bit of war, anger or judgment in their hearts, he draws his sword, and slays them."

They like the tower. It is a picture of their plight. They think the guard is their husband, and that I am validating their powerlessness and victimhood.

Then I draw another tower, this time with a Prince trapped inside.

"And here is the Prince, who, just like you, is trapped in his own tower behind his own guardedness."

The second tower baffles them at first. Then they recognize his guard. He's the real problem. "Yeah! That's the guy who keeps screaming at me!"

But then who is the Prince in the Tower? They recognized the Princess - she is their soft, vulnerable side - the one who wants love, peace, connection.

"Just like you," I say, "the Prince feels trapped by his own guard, the one he hired to protect him, but who now keeps him locked away.

"However, the guard doesn't stop everyone. In fact, he doesn't even see the people who are pure of heart. They just pass through unchallenged. That was how the two of you met. Each of you visited the other so freely you didn't even notice the guard was there. You called that time: "infatuation". You thought it was the fairy-tale. But that was the time each of you was real.

"So what has changed? There are two answers. You know the first: he has. But if that is your only answer, then nothing changes. The answer to your dilemma is the second one: You have changed.

"Your judgments set off the guard's warning system, and so he draws his sword whenever you approach now.

"You've been arriving with war on your heart for so long - and so encountered the guard, that you've forgotten completely about the Prince, and now you think you're married to the guard, which is ridiculous. He's a hired hand. It would be like your mistaking the gardener for your husband, or the mailman. You're married to the man in the tower, who is just like the Princess that you are.

"Remember what it was like to love and be loved by the Prince? Feel that now. Feel it again, fully. Live it, for that is still what is real."

"But the castle walls are so thick!" one of them said. "And the habits so strong."

I pulled down my "Course in Miracles" and read them each the first few lessons:
    "1. Nothing in this room means anything.
    2. I have given everything I see in this room all the meaning that it has for me.
3. I do not understand anything I see in this room.
4. These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room.
5. I am never upset for the reason I think.
6. I am upset because I see something that is not there.

"It is hard to see what is real," I say. "The illusions we construct for ourselves are so realistic. That's why they call them 'miracles.' It's a miraculous thing, to love another person without judgment."

They each left with the assignment to go find the Prince, and feel their love and compassion for him. "Lucky men," I thought. "They won't even know what I've done for them."

I wonder what miracle will come into my life next week?

Q4U: How have you been doing, visiting your Prince or Princess? Anyone out there getting caught at the gate with an impure heart?