Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: Old Fashioned

This Brazilian house has in it a book in English, published in the seventies, on how to meditate. I am reading it, in part for the information and in part as a period piece. It says you should not use techniques or continue with teachers that feel wrong to you.

I found this remarkable because in Reeducation we were told the opposite. We were wrong by definition, said Reeducation. Our sense of what was right was necessarily wrong, so things that felt wrong must be right. That is why Reeducation was about learning to be as self destructive as possible, and to disregard one’s internal warning systems about this.

Now, I do know what kind of person Reeducation is talking to and I see why it says what it says. It has no right, however — no right at all — to claim universality as it does.


The book really is quite good.  It says a creative practice requires privacy; that is one thing I find Reeducation and also writing coaches to invade.

It says meditation is “a creative taking hold of and shaping your own life and destiny” (104); Reeducation called this “arrogant” and “controlling.”

It says any serious pursuit (any difficult or challenging pursuit) you undertake will have its stagnant and frustrating moments, its periods in which you feel dispirited, or when you feel you are making no progress or are going backward.


10 thoughts on “Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: Old Fashioned

  1. That is why Reeducation was about learning to be as self destructive as possible, and to disregard one’s internal warning systems about this.

    I am wondering if somehow this tendency (lesson R. was trying to teach) has something to do with a common way in which “strength” is misconceptualised? Reflecting upon the principle, I have seen the behaviour, of ignoring one’s inner warning signals, before. Like I say, it is often a feature of those terming themselves “Nietzscheans”, who revere “strength”, even to the point of misunderstanding Nietzsche to be saying the opposite to what he is in fact saying.

    I think the rhetoric of “strength” can be very persuasive, overwhelming from the pen of Nietzsche, and it is very strange, but if one is susceptible to engaging in such a reading, one may hear a very harsh schoolmaster (in the text) barking orders, from a position of overwhelming strength (think Moses coming down from the mountain with the ten commandments). But I’m not sure that people who hear this have the right ear. I have read The Gay Science, recently, and it seems to me an even-handed confessional, from the point of view of somebody who wasn’t faring well and had a lot of insights as to why. It is interesting that this “voice” of Nietzsche’s isn’t even slightly accessible to most who read him, but apparently it’s not. All they can hear is a booming voice of “strength” — which makes you wonder, is it their own internal voice, particulary, with its shrill and empty “will to power”? The intellectual content of that “voice” seems missing, in that case.

    But the whole attraction to a merely notional “strength” which never actualises itself in ways that others can see, but merely bolsters a failing ego — that is strange, when you consider it.

    There is the idea of a ‘strength’ that merely shouts at others to buck up, but does nothing more than this. And disregarding one’s internal warning systems might even seem like a way to express one’s macho ethic, in the case of those who do not want to risk anything in the actual world.

    I am drinking “Pitchfork” Margaret River wine — a sauvignon blanc.

  2. The wine sounds great, although here it’s only 11 AM (I suppose, had one been up running on the beach before dawn, one could have an aperitif before one’s seafood lunch on some terrace).

    I haven’t read at the Gai Savoir in 30 years; I should really look at it.

    There’s the writing coach and dissertation exhortation to strength, which is also the macho attitude that you should be able to work anywhere, anyhow.

    The Reeducation exhortation was actually to be weak (or perhaps stay ‘strong’ in a weakening situation).

    Reeducation is originally designed for family members of alcoholics, who may not realize that the person really is an alcoholic and really does put alcohol before everything else including other loves; who may, by rescuing the alcoholic from messes he creates, be enabling them to continue drinking; who may also be invested in the status quo and be contributing to maintaining it even while complaining about it; who may not see this.

    The way my mother handles my father’s drinking is a good example of it, and the way I handled my X’s diabetes was, too. I didn’t think I had the right to leave him, and dealing with his illness crises was so exhausting that I would collapse once he was revived and need to be taken care of by him. It was a cycle and I had to stop feeling responsible for him to get away; that was difficult because normally one would help someone in danger/ a sick friend/ etc. Different reactions were needed, and the relationship habits his behavior had trained me to — and that I was vulnerable to because of my own background — were bad ones by any yardstick.

    This X and my father both believe in ‘strength.’

    The thing about Reeducation is, it says it applies to all of life. It assumes that everyone reacts to everything as an alcoholic’s complicit wife reacts to him. This simply is not true and furthermore, the 12 Steps of Al Anon, which Reeducation believed in using, are patriarchal, quietist, put the whole burden on individual women, assume one wants to save one’s marriage, and all sorts of questionable things like that; they’re to be used with extreme caution and they need a lot of contextualization.

    The “not controlling” and “questioning yourself” and “questioning your instincts / questioning what is ‘right’ or ‘natural'” that Al Anon insists upon is for people who really are controlling types, try to control everybody and also to control situations that anyone would fail to control; who are convinced that there is one way things should be and they know what it is and are right; etc. Some of these people are actually pretty cool, just in a bad situation and hanging onto their last shred of sanity and sense of reality; others are egoists with poor impulse control, childish behavior, matronly bossiness, general immaturity covered over by authoritarian behavior, things like this. (It took me a long time to understand these things and figure it all out, as you know.)

    1. Yes, I see re-education is kind of the flipside of the “strength” coin. Instead of maintaining a mental conceptualisation of strength one maintains one of weakness. So it is more Catholic, really, than belligerant, but really both points of view are a step removed from the immediacy of everyday reality. And they are contrived. (I’m not able to think this through in other than a schematic way, right now, since I have lost the original insights I had when I was trying to battle these kinds of people.)

      It says any serious pursuit (any difficult or challenging pursuit) you undertake will have its stagnant and frustrating moments, its periods in which you feel dispirited, or when you feel you are making no progress or are going backward.

      This is really a significant point to recognise. Those who recognise this aspect (the fluctuating nature of existence) are actually engaging in reality as it is. Those who have that strange idealism — that masochism (embracing weakness in the abstract) or sadism (embracing strength in the abstract) — are not participating in reality.

      1. Yes, Reeducation came from an S/M world, that’s a significant point.

        (Al-Anon means to rescue people from such worlds, but I don’t know that it really has the tools to do so.)

        The whole thing was extremely Catholic, yes, and I didn’t get this.

        Removed from reality in from two ends, S and M, absolutely.

        Contrived, yes, that’s why you have to keep going to meetings to keep up the illusion.

        Fluctuating subjects, reality, yes.

        Mental health is the ability to see a bad day as such (and not necessarily as more).

        Another example of inappropriate and futile attempts to exert control: with my other X, the one I just argued with. He swore he wanted to get back together as just friends but really he wants to dominate me in some way and also try to work me towards “fuck-buddy” status. He imagines he can do this. I, meanwhile, imagine I can get him to come through on the friendship deal as offered, and try to get him to do this. So, each is trying to manage the other for their reasons, but the fact is he is not interested in being my platonic friend and I am not interested in sleeping with him, and neither of us is going to change our mind, yet here we are each trying to push the other into the place we want them to be.

  3. I’ve never liked pushing anybody into a place that they need to be in, and that is another reason why I dislike “education”. I’d much rather people be random that feel somehow linked to me in an obligatory way. I had a dream last night, strangely enough, about this topic. Somebody was feeling obliged to dress up as a giant bear or santa claus, and to perform a role more abstract than their actual identity. They were taking it on as a heroic gesture, but they told me that they felt erased by having to take on the role, that I was pushing them towards.

    Now, I think the subject of this dream was me, and it was a warning that I am becoming too ‘objective’, in danger of losing some of the more idiosyncratic aspects of my subjectivity.

  4. Also, I think that that there is something that really perpetuates the reeducation mindset, because it undermines direct and honest communication, which forces you, in turn, to look for other ways of communication (perhaps less direct and less honest).

    It’s when you communicate something in a neutral manner, and its taken as if you had been intent on posing in a moralistic way, instead. (I think it’s because so many people do not understand intellectual rigour, or even what simple honesty could possibly mean in any context, so they understand communication to be a form of moral one-upmanship and nothing else.

    Actually, I have had more problems with this point of view in patriarchs than anything else. For instance to state a general fact: “Life has been difficult — I’ve really had to battle,” maketh patriarchs everywhere turn a shade of green. They don’t like it at all, under any circumstances, and do not care to have it elaborated upon. It’s merely a fact that I have no intention of doing anything with, but they think I’m about to turn it into a moral position, to proclaim myself a suffering martyr, and thereby somehow perform a ritual to make them pay.

    So then they take the position of proclaiming themselves to have looked very deeply into my life, from all angles, and concluded that, no, my life has not been difficult at all, not by any means.

    Having affirmed this to themselves, they then take the next logical step of punishing me for bringing false allegations against any patriarch.

    And so it goes.

    There is a lot of resistance to clear and honest communication.

    1. I think that’s key (the assumption that one is moralizing).


      Where some energy went this morning: turn down a friend at home for borrowing my car. Yes, the key was finally returned by my X, and now a dear friend wants to borrow it. I am out of the country and here I am administrating use of my stuff back home … ridiculous. I had said he could borrow the car but I feel differently about it now and especially given what he wants to do with it today. I feel bad about turning him down because he’s lovely, but I’d feel worse about lending him the car, worrying about it, and resenting this. So how is this for direct:

      “Yes, the key is back. M’s phone number is xxx xxx xxxx.

      I hope you get this before she gives you the key. I hate to say so but I have had second thoughts.

      The brakes on the car have not been good in the rain lately. Were I at home, I’d have had them looked at after finals.

      This is New Year’s Eve and the highways and New Orleans and it is raining.

      I would really rather the car not be taken to N.O. in these circumstances.

      Contributing to my mood on this is the huge struggle I had with S to get the key back.

      Right now a major contributor to my sanity is knowing my car is at home and is all right.

      I’m fine with you driving it at home, just be aware that in rain or with wet brakes it takes a long time to brake.

      I’m not fine with it going to N.O. in this weather / on New Year’s Eve.

      I’m sorry!”

  5. Yes — the Jungian way to read dreams is to assume all the characters are you and then look at the dream from the point of view of each character, I was once told. I tried it and it really worked. (I’m not remembering many dreams now and I wish I would remember more, have to work on this.)

  6. I was feeling slightly guilty (just unclear thinking really, late last night), with a vague feeling that I was pushing somebody into a role, but this feeling converged with my assessment of my own current psychological state, which is that I am becoming too abstract, and not personal enough. It’s a way to try to transcend the patriarchy, but one can take it too far.

  7. You have to stay grounded in yourself. My friend here would say, don’t resist patriarchy by relinquishing Goddess type energy of any kind.

    The point above, about assumptions that one is moralizing, is SO key. It is why I didn’t write my current book earlier, and why my current chapter is so hard to write. Subjective male projection and oppression, bleah. ! 😉

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