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April 1995, Volume 2 Nr 8, Issue 20

Isms

Racism, sexism, ageism, supremacism, anti-Semitism: these and other isms are based upon our unexamined assumptions. Many of these assumptions we adopt from the significant others in our lives. They come from the dominant messages that surrounded us at childhood from our parents, caretakers, older siblings, teachers, media (mainly television), ministers and friends.

When JeanneE and I first moved to Vermont we discovered what makes the state so beautiful, mysterious, friendly, independent, safe, clean and wonderful. We made new acquaintances and friends, developed relationships with neighbors, and established professional networks. Perhaps, when we move to a completely different area, we are more prone to notice the assumptions that others make about us and those we make of others.

When our daughter Guinnevere made friends with children at the local village school, we met the parents. One weekend we were playing host to a child until late in the evening. When the parents arrived to pick up their child a short conversation revealed that the father, who was a drug user, assumed that by virtue of my long hair and beard I was one too. Taken aback, I set the record straight in no uncertain terms.

When my mother (decades ago) found out that I became vegetarian, she made the assumption that I had joined some cult organization. She asked me what "club" I had joined that required me to give up kielbasa, snitzel, pork chops, chicken, turkey, etc. No amount of explanation could convince her that this was not the case.

When I mention that I read extensively on spiritual matters, depending upon which book I make reference to, people assume one thing or another about me, basically what they want to tell themselves is true. I like vests and I particularly like to wear the Sanskrit Om pin on my breast pocket as a reminder to return to calm during the day. Often I have been asked what group I belong to that is associated with the symbol. Occasionally, I am asked, by those who know what the symbol is, if I am Hindu.

The Unfamiliar

A few years ago fellow teaching colleagues at a local school were picketing for a better contract. I joined them early in the morning. After spending an hour in the cold, we dispersed. I crossed the street when a pickup truck quickly drove up and skidded to a stop. The driver opened his window and shouted, "Why don't you get a haircut like a white man!"

How often have we heard people judge others? How often have we ourselves judged? Because she wears those clothes, she is this way or that way. He wears combat boots and has a clean shaven head so he must be a skinhead neo-nazi. He looks like druggie; just look at the bandanna. He has long hair, he should get a job. You can't trust anyone in a three-piece suit. These ego-driven messages come from the ego as response to the unfamiliar, or the unknown. We are afraid. This place of fear creates and feeds our assumptions. When repeated, these assumptions become prejudices and isms.

Artifacts

Assumptions are ideas and opinions that we formulate about others and take for granted as being true. These ideas and opinions are based upon the psychological artifacts of our life's experiences and preprogramming. The assumptions that we make, and we all make assumptions, are products of how we see the world. We choose to accept the kind of world that our ego decides, by allowing it to have its way, by allowing its assumptions to become valid points of reference for us. We foist our prejudices and perceived grievances upon the external world. These prejudices are the thoughts we fill our head with. They are a projection of our internal psychic house onto everything outside ourself. We then believe the myriad of assumptions we created to be true. Without conscious awareness of these assumptions, we continually and automatically respond to others (and their assumptions).

When we assume, we judge. As the old saw goes, to assume is to make an ass out of both you and me. We can assume the best and expect the worst. We can also assume the worst and expect the best. Better still, we can assume nothing. We can be still, knowing that we are always safe.

Goals versus Expectations

This school year began very difficult for our son, Dylan. For whatever complicated pharmacological, developmental, psychological and maturation reason, there was a rather lengthy spell where he had some difficulty in school. He would come home complaining how everyone else was to blame for his difficulty. He complained that his teachers would not let him do anything. They accused him of causing all the problems in the classroom and so on. Some professionals assumed we were letting him get away with too much. The behavior became so pronounced that he was removed from the class. A similar pattern emerged at home. Dylan, his teachers, principal, classmates, the classroom and we were in a state of on-again, off-again chaos.

Conferences and meetings were held. Some professionals assumed that Dylan was deliberately behaving poorly. Admittedly, we parents, exhausted and lost for concrete explanations, began wondering the same thing. We were missing the most important ingredient in understanding what this was all about.

What helped turn the situation around was the intervention of two people, fresh from the outside, with no preconceived assumptions, to work with Dylan. In a non-judgmental fashion, Dylan's new support staff member worked with him one-on-one as an advocate, guide and partner for success. A talented special education coordinator, suspending all assumptions, recognized that "this young man's behavior" was a "calling out for help." Dylan needed separation from certain people; space; structure with non-judgmental, consistent consequences for inappropriate behavior and appropriate reward for positive behavior. Mostly, he needed time, space and loving acceptance. We all do. It has been months. Dylan has had wonderful days at school. Recently, he passed two amateur radio exams to become the youngest "ham" in the State of Vermont.

We all have expectations of ourselves and of others. The goals we give ourselves may be very different than what we expect of others. Through projection and unconscious reaction to our own failing, we may "take it out" on others. When we develop expectations for others, we often externalize the inappropriateness of own responses onto others, thus setting them up for failure in our eyes and for our own disappointment. If we expect others to behave the way we want them to, then we are making it difficult for them to succeed.

Contrast expectations with setting goals. When we expect, we are disappointed when we or others fail. When we set goals, we merely readjust our behavior or approach so that on the next try, our goals may come closer to fruition. Expectation and assumption includes ego response. Goal setting incorporates monitoring and adjusting with no emotional attachment to outcome. If our goals are not met, ego response such as anger will not help.

When we combine our expectations with projection we will be seldom happy. Our misery comes from our perception that nothing turns out the way we want. After all, how can anyone or anything live up to ego's, (our god's) script?

Barometers

We are in relationship with everyone and everything, including ourselves. Jerry Jampolsky describes a relationship to be like a sailing ship where most of what we know about the other is hidden below the water's surface. With time and increased interaction, individuals reveal more of their keel of identity. We become familiar with the other person's foibles, strengths and weaknesses. When this happens, our mutual assumptions may create a co-dependent bond.

Some people respond as emotional barometers to the expectations of other people. Some do this more than others. Our son, Dylan, is an example of such a sensitive barometer. Our unrecognized defeatist expectations create a reality such that we see what we want to see. Dylan's unskillful calling out for help and the school's misinterpretation of his negative behavior contributed to our experiencing what we feared, exactly the behavior we did not want. All parties experienced what they feared, and feared what they experienced.

People need not understand the assumptions others make of them before they react. They can sense them. They sense them through inflection in voice, body language, facial expression, muscle tension, etc. Their responses are instinctive. Some of these responses were created through the interplay among: perfection at birth, the split that takes place when the ego is created, and the inevitable collision between it and that of the other's ego. A Course in Miracles refers to this as the separation. It suggests that the mind becomes split when it creates and accepts the false belief that we need something outside us in order to be complete and peaceful. "These related distortions represent a picture of what actually occurred in the separation, or the 'detour into fear." '

Valued Assumptions

Consider the expectations that we are most apt to have. They are the valued assumptions we make of children, love and marriage. Judith Viorst in Necessary Losses writes, "Part of letting our children go is also letting them be, and that means letting go of our expectations for them. For consciously and unconsciously, even before they are born, we dream many dreams about what kind of children we want." Our assumptions, with the best of intentions, are that our children will grow up the way we want. Our children, of course, are destined to become their own independent entities. While our goals may and should include attempts at good parenting, we should not assume that their experiences, successes or failures are the same as our own.

I am an only child. I know not the rivalry nor the camaraderie that takes place between brother and sibling nor among siblings. I grew up for the most part alone in my family of three. When I see what appears to be holy war taking place between my two children, there is a part of me that wishes to fix it. I assume that something is not right between them. I assume that something must be wrong with my parenting skills. Yet, their process of resolution, something I have little familiarity with, could become a goal I simply observe, have faith in and let be.

In marriage, as Judith Viorst puts it, "We bring...a host of romantic expectations...the married state - and the person with whom we are sharing it - must fail to meet some, sometimes all, of our expectations." If we diminish our assumptions and tend to the unfinished business of childhood (which includes the naive notion that our partner completes us, a rather neurotic assumption), then we may find marriage a good path to spiritual fulfillment. We become tolerant of each other's imperfections. We learn from our mistakes. We develop a friendship, camaraderie, respect and partnership that is both part and parcel of the self, the other, and the unified self. We no longer assume the other will satisfy our needs or always meet our expectations. Instead, as Viorst points out, our love will grow into a lasting love filled with gratitude.

Samuel I. Greenberg, MD, in Neurosis is a Painful Style of Living, makes the claim that neurosis "...affects, to a greater or lesser extent, over 80 percent of the population, what is average or typical behavior in our society is to a considerable degree neurotic." Once again we may be trying to quantify something that is simply the human condition.

The neurotic person needs to plan everything beforehand. He makes assumptions and has expectations about everything. Any deviation from the plan causes great distress. The neurotic's assumptions are outrageous requirements of others that cannot possibly happen. The projections of the neurotic then become new assumptions that others have expectations that the neurotic cannot possibly live up to. As the title of Greenberg's book states, Neurosis is a Painful Style of Living.

Possibly, defining people as Greenberg does, as either neurotic or healthy, is an assumption in itself. On the continuum of human behavior, it might be more useful to see neurosis as part of us all. Our diet, exercise, chemical balance, psychic changes, physical changes through aging, maturation, all play a role in how neurotic we currently are.

Attachment

Our attachment to our assumptions, the fervor with which we cling to our assumptions, determine to a large extent our level of neurosis. Most people in western society walk around daily, moment-to-moment, hashing and rehashing, looking back at events, judging others based upon their expectations. We are attached to other people's behavior, and events, taking place the way we want them to.

Dr. Wayne W. Dwyer in You'll See It When You Believe It, says that we are both form (the body) and formlessness (the mind - thoughts). "A large part of our being is formless, a part that includes all our thinking, spirituality, and higher consciousness. Thought is one essential dimension in which we do literally all our living...All our attachments are in form." To Dwyer, attachment is hanging on, "defining our life purpose in terms of things or persons external to ourselves." We expect to have lots of money. We assume our spouse will take care of our needs. We want our friends to do this or that. We expect our students to listen to us or for our patients to follow our care plan. And, if they don't, we feel we are somehow worth less. Ours is an attachment to other's behavior. There is an emotional charge in not having those supposedly sacred assumptions happen or expectations met. A sorry way to live, our well being is at the mercy of everything outside our world of thought, attached to some form other than ourselves.

The Tao States:

"The wisest person
Trusts the process, Without seeking to control;
Takes everything as it comes,
Lives not to achieve or possess,
But simply to be
All he or she can be
in harmony with the Tao.

Detachment

"Detachment is an unwritten fact of the universe which is always operating. The question is whether or not you are willing to tune into it, making it operative in your daily life." When we die, nature lets go of our body. The body disintegrates and is no longer there. All matter and energy changes from one form to another, to other forms of itself, etc. Our formless reality, that of mind, also becomes detached at our demise. Those things which today are so important become inconsequential at the moment of our death. If we can, if we dare, imagine our death, then we can clearly see how inconsequential our present traumas really are. Death then, as the ultimate detachment, is a teacher before it even occurs. "Of all footprints that of the elephant is supreme; of all mindfulness meditations that on death is supreme." Then again, so is everything else that we experience. Whether we learn from this life teacher is up to us. Death suggests what we might do now to lessen our neurosis, improve our spiritual well-being, and improve our lives. In the end, it convinces us to let go the ego's desire to have things go its way.

Transformation

Our assumptions disappear at the moment of death. They become irrelevant. Now is the time to change our mind and eliminate those assumptions. When we do so, we return to the Garden of Eden, where although everything may not be paradise, it is just fine the way it is.

Ken Keyes, Jr. in The Handbook to Higher Consciousness writes, "You were erroneously taught that happiness lies in getting people and things outside of you lined up exactly to suit your desires." We need but change our expectations that people and things need to live up to our scripts, change from an assumption to a preference, to alter the way we view the universe and how the universe treats us.

This small shift in thinking, which is a personal transformation, has enormous consequences. It produces freedom. Dr. Wayne W. Dwyer defines it thus: "So freedom is what abundance is all about. Freedom is the absence of restrictions. Learning to rid ourselves of the freedom-defying belief in limits is one way to create an abundant world for ourselves." Perhaps Dr. Dyer's book You'll See It When You Believe It could also be called, When you Believe it, You'll See It.

This small shift in thinking is the miracle that is referred to in A Course in Miracles. A Course in Miracles teaches that the small shift requires no great effort on our part. We not need work on it. We do not need to struggle to achieve it. We just desire it and it will happen. Our acceptance of the miracle, which is always available, makes it happen. As our assumptions go away, more of our freedom returns.

The Four Noble Truths

The Buddha spent much of life studying the cause of human suffering. His "Four Noble Truths" say much about where suffering comes from and what to do about it. The truths are:

  • Life is suffering.

We suffer because as the universe changes, we do not change with it. We fail to recognize that change is life and growth. Growth comes from living through the changes.

  • Our attachments, desires, expectations and assumptions are the cause of the suffering.

We want permanence and security from a stability which cannot ever happen in a changing universe. We cannot control much. Thinking we can control everything is futile. Our desire to do so brings us pain.

  • There is way out.

The elimination or lessening of suffering is to flow with changes that the universe orchestrates by dropping our desire to control people and events. We dismantle our assumptions.

  • The Noble Eightfold Path is the Way Out

Right Understanding
Right Thought or Attitude
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

Another path might be Right Teaching. A Course in Miracles indicates that you teach best that which you need to learn the most. The teacher "seems to begin to change his mind about the world with a single decision, and then learns more and more about the new direction as he teaches it.

Story

In ancient times, there was a leader who was about to lead his people in rebuilding the village after a typhoon. One day, he stopped at a small roadside altar to pray. "I'm now going to use this coin to predict our fate. If it's heads, we'll successfully rebuild. If it's tails, we won't." Kink. "Hey! It's heads! We're going to raise the village! Let's get started! We'll pick up all the pieces!" Just as predicted, the village was rebuilt from the rubble No one can change a fate determined by the gods. Really? The leader reached into his pocket and pulled out the coin, both sides of which were heads. Heaven looks on all beings just the same and won't help anyone in particular. The one who can help you is yourself.

We Are Lovable and Capable

Years ago, a teaching colleague gave me a booklet entitled, I Am Lovable and Capable. The booklet describes a typical child's day. She gets up, goes to school, interacts with her peers, teachers, parents, etc. She is praised, talked both down and up to, treated fairly and unfairly, etc.

As an exercise we are to pull out a piece of paper and write IALAC for "I am lovable and capable on it." As events unfold throughout the day, we are to rip off a small piece of the IALAC paper with negative events and tape back a piece with positive ones. At the end of the day, we may wind up with a rather small piece of the IALAC original piece of paper. Every day we begin with the same large piece of IALAC paper and start anew. I suggest that being aware of our assumptions is a beginning to controlling how much of our IALAC paper is ripped off with each external world event. Likewise, we decrease the need to tape back the ripped off pieces. No matter what happens around us, we try to remain loving, lovable and capable. The more loving, lovable and capable we remain, the more we are able to help ourselves and others.

Meditation

You are the universe.
You are all form.
You are the breadth.
You are the river.
You are the void.
You are the desire to be enlightened.
You are enlightened.

1995 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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