Find Missing Pieces
(This is a step-by-step, progressive course; if you arrived at this page first, please back up and start at the beginning, HERE.)
When you begin breaking your problems into parts, you’ll discover there are parts you are equipped to deal with, and parts you aren’t. Yet. So, what is missing in you, what’s missing that, when found, can be used to help with the parts of your problems that you don’t seem to have the tools or the strength to deal with?
Each person, if you had an ideal, balanced upbringing, would be fine in the world. But there’s no such thing. Our parents or guardians all had faults, problems in their lives and minds they were not able to deal with before they brought us into the world, and probably not able to address even while raising us. And at least some of their problems will have fallen from them down on to our lives and our minds. After that, there are the people all around you, teachers, co workers, friends, that also influence you with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Just as your parents did, you yourself may have grown up and had children, and, since you have your own faults, your own demons, your own problems, so too will you pass on some of your difficulties to your own childrens’ minds and lives. This is unavoidable; you’re around each other so much of the time, are such an influence on each others’ lives, that to some extent your problems, issues, prejudices, will ripple from you and soak into your children, like your parents’ deficiencies and strengths also soaked into you.
We all grow up with missing pieces, and maybe some more pieces were gouged out of us by happenings along the way. Sometimes those missing pieces are so huge, a large area of pain or emptiness begins to overshadow all other areas, to the point where we can’t seem to cope. Or we maintain an appearance of coping on the surface and the front we project to others, but inside we are crumbling, breaking down, crying, dying.
You need to find your missing pieces. Create them, or find them, or if you have no energy left to create or go looking, even just open to LETTING those missing pieces appear.
Here’s a rather long-winded story about myself. There’s a lot of reading to this chapter, but it is very important; these tiny details are the fiber of your being, the small happenings of your everyday growing-up life that add pieces to your personality… and deprive you of pieces.
When I was around four years old, I learned to care, in a certain way, for the first time.
It was a small incident: our family had a cat, Sammy. One day I blew a gasket and became completely insane and irrational, as four-year-olds are wont to do. Sammy was sitting on our porch railing, and for no reason other than sudden-toddler-insanity-syndrome, I had the urge to push him off, which I immediately did. The porch was only three or four steps up, and the railing was a few feet higher, so this wasn’t a huge fall for a cat, maybe seven or eight feet to the ground.
As cats do, Sammy landed on his feet, though he landed hard. He didn’t run away or take a swipe at me, as cats since him have done in reaction to my slightest transgression, he just stood where he landed, not quite sure of why I’d gone batty and shoved him off, since I’d never treated him roughly before.
But to me… this was amazing fun! A cat flying through the air, twisting and landing on his feet, neato! So I ran down the steps, picked Sammy up and carried him to the top, sat him on the railing, then shoved him quite violently again. He looked wary and a little frightened of me during all this; even now, decades later, I remember that look as I ran down the stairs to collect him and do it all again. He just looked at me, like a cornered victim, his trust destroyed. I still don’t know why he didn’t scamper away, he could easily have run, but perhaps his kitty mind was unable to process this strange new event and respond accordingly, and I don’t remember whether I was on my third or fifth shove when I heard the shriek, “What are you doing?!”
I was having so much fun in insane-kid world, I wasn’t aware of anything or anyone outside the sphere of me, Sammy, porch, shove. Nor did ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, or ‘causing pain’, ever enter my mind. I guess I’d have done it fifty more times, as long as Sammy didn’t run away or swipe at me. I wasn’t feeling cruel or mean, but I also had zero compassion; I saw Sammy’s look of fear, but in my feelings receptors it didn’t register, his fear-look might as well have been drawn on cardboard for all the impact it had on me.
The shrieker was my mom. She rushed down the stairs and picked up Sammy. Now, this next little moment is the stuff of legends. It’s the kind of moment that can alter the course of your life, steering you towards being a saint or a serial killer. The famous people we hear about… the really good and the really bad… do not become that way due to any one singular event. It is a series of daily events, often the ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ events, that over decades add up to influence our personalities along a certain direction.
If my mom had been like so many parents and had yelled at me over events like this, cuffed me upside the head, called me stupid or crazy and alienated me as a ‘bad boy’, or even simply ignored me and showed no care over me or the cat or what was happening, I would have grown up differently. Maybe angrier, more resentful, maybe fewer boundaries, maybe I’d have hated the cat, or mom, who knows?
But she didn’t. After her initial shriek, she comforted Sammy. She picked him up, kept him safe, held him against her breast, cooed and kissed him, soothed his frazzled kitty-nerves and brought him back to everything-is-okay-again mode.
And she didn’t treat me like the crazed monster-kid I’d momentarily zombied into, she was gentle with me too, explaining ‘You were hurting him’. She just poured love and concern into him, and poured patience and understanding into me, while explaining that I was hurting the cat.
That’s all it took. I got it. A minute ago I was crazy boy, having a great time shoving the cat off the railing over and over, fascinated by my feeling of power and fascinated at watching the cat twist in mid-air and always land on its feet… and now a minute later I see that I was hurting Sammy, I wonder how I could not have known I was hurting him… how was I so blind? And now I’m also feeling deeply ashamed, remorseful, compassionate. It’s like a switch was suddenly thrown: blind, crazy, uncaring… into ashamed, caring, compassionate, remorseful.
That moment didn’t stick with me consciously, you don’t really think things through deeply when you’re four; but that FEELING began then, and stayed with me. That feeling of care, compassion, to think about what I was doing whenever I might be hurting another being. It was a tiny moment in a normal day, never talked about again, and mom could have scolded me and I wouldn’t have learned a thing except to be angry and resentful right back. But instead, she poured her care into the cat, she SHOWED her care for a sentient being that I was hurting, and that incident clicked a feeling into place for me:
CARE. Love, compassion, the desire to not hurt any other being. How many people never learn that feeling? I learned it at four; what damage would I have done if I hadn’t learned it until I was ten? Twenty? Fifty? Eighty?
As I grew up I’d be playing with other boys, and they’d do ‘normal boy things’ like throw rocks at frogs and birds, shoot gophers with pellet guns just for fun, they’d grow older and hunt and fish just for ‘fun’, handling anything they did catch with uncaring callousness, no empathy or compassion whatsoever for a fellow sentient being, simply because it wasn’t ‘human’. Even in relationships, and with animals, people purposely hurt each other, really get caught up and obsessed with malicious games, going past simply being uncompassionate and actually taking great pleasure in hurting each other and other beings.
I’d like to say my ‘Sammy moment’ made me a saint… but it didn’t. I learned to feel care and compassion for animals, and after that I cared so much that I could never indiscriminately kill frogs or birds or gophers or animals just for fun, and I would be upset when my friends did. But my compassion was still spotty. I could still fish for fun when I was younger (fish don’t feel anything, right?), I’d still have great fun collecting a bunch of caterpillars into a big pile and then I’d ride my bike over it to watch the guts skoosh out to the sides (bugs don’t feel anything, right?).
But compassion sinks in to you, when you think about the world enough, when you see people suffer, when you consider the right to life and safety of every living thing. Let it sink in enough, and you learn to cherish the feelings of every living thing, great and small.
Now, as the man I presently am, you might laugh at me: when I’m walking, I pick worms off the sidewalk and put them back in the grass, so they don’t dry out or get stepped on. In the house I’ll trap spiders and flies and mosquitoes in a glass, and put them safely outside the house (though, yes, sometimes I do swat them as a last resort; like I said, not a saint. But usually I try to save them). I had to poison an ant infestation in the house; I remember how slowly they died. They would slow down, lie in one spot, gyrating and jerking, for more than twenty-four hours. What a long time to agonize! I remember lying on the carpet once, watching a single ant in its dying suffering, and I cried so hard at this tiny ordeal of life’s end, realizing that, to that ant… this was the end of its entire life, existence, universe. We’re brought up thinking that insects ‘don’t feel’… but they have nervous systems, they respond to pain, so they feel pain. Maybe not at the same level as we do, maybe not with the same intensity or complexity… but it’s there, it’s real. And animals can definitely feel great pain and suffering, just as we do.
One winter I found a dying duck out on the lake ice, on a particularly cold day. I don’t know if it was starving or ill or freezing or just old, but it was splayed out, couldn’t even raise its head, though it was still breathing. I was freezing my nuts off just walking to town (sorry — do spiritual writers talk like that?), but I picked the duck up, turned around and walked back home anyway. I laid it on a towel on the bed, tried to feed it a few small bread crumbs soaked in milk, suggested by the bird rescue center lady I’d phoned.
But in half an hour it simply stopped breathing, still looking at me. I gave it – don’t laugh – mouth to beak resuscitation. Okay, you can laugh, everyone does when I tell them this story. I pinched its beak closed, breathed in through its nostrils and could see and hear its little lungs filling and emptying. But I couldn’t bring it back to life.
Again, I cried at this ending of a being’s life. I cried hard, over a duck, after giving it mouth to beak resuscitation. Yeah, I know, it’s a laugh, afterwards I laughed really hard, at the ridiculousness that I’d cried over a duck and that I’d given it mouth to beak. I figured if I let that story out, no one would listen to a word I said ever again.
You get old enough, you see a lot of life, suffering, and death in the loved ones, strangers, animals, insects, plants, world around you. Sometimes you cry about it, sometimes you have to laugh. And not necessarily at the times you think you should.
You still with me? The point of all this is to illustrate one tiny part of me that was missing, but which was fortunately learned at a very early stage due to the kind of people my parents were. It’s made me into this person who can say: I care about you. I’ve never met you, might never be in contact with you, and yet all the large and small happenings of my life have converged into this person I now am who ‘just cares’ about you.
You could be a total stranger coming up to me… I’d still want to grab your face in my hands, look at you, see what you’re about, get a feel for what you’re going through. I just love you, I care about your life. I have deep compassion for your suffering, deep awe and respect that you’ve made it this far in life, and a powerful urge to do whatever little thing I can for you, even to simply bring you a better hour than the hour that drove you to ask ‘help me please’.
I now have many memories of instances where I took what I learned from that one incident with Sammy and my mom, and applied it elsewhere. I remember, in my late twenties, being on a beach when a boy came along and started throwing rocks to hit a large jellyfish that was floating near shore. I didn’t want to just yell at him, scold him, I remember that I wanted him to think about what he was doing, but not be made to feel ‘bad’ or ‘mean’ for what he was doing, since he simply wasn’t thinking about how his actions were hurting another being. So I pondered for the best way to do this, then said to him, “Is there a good reason to kill that jellyfish?”
That one question was pregnant with many meanings and possibilities to think about, and it wasn’t an attack on him. I didn’t scold him, instead I drew his awareness to his actions, to the fact that care, awareness, were ‘missing’ from him in this circumstance, and he was hurting or killing a living being, for no reason other than ‘fun’. I did for him, what mom did for me. He didn’t say anything, just stopped, looked a little sheepish and thoughtful, became quiet, and eventually wandered away. I’ll bet that boy, even decades later, is making some better decisions based on that moment, and I’ll bet he himself has used it to try do the same thing with others when he sees them mindlessly hurting animals in ‘fun’.
Another time I was staying with people who had a small aquarium with a few little fish in it. Over the next couple weeks the aquarium water was getting murkier and murkier, greener and greener, and the fish were beginning to spend all day at the surface, gulping air, trying to survive in this water that had become toxic from algae and their own waste. Just tiny fish, but I could see their stress, every minute of every day, up at the surface, gulping air, unable to pass the toxic water through their gills. And the people who had these fish ‘loved them’, told me how much they loved the fish, how pretty they were. This is a widespread horror, to me, because I see, on a global scale, people who say they ‘love their pets’ but don’t realize they are giving their pets horrible lives. In that case, I just had to offer to change the aquarium water, I so intensely felt the suffering of those fish.
So what do you call that? What do you call people who aren’t evil, who think and say they love their pets, their children, their friends, their job, their world, who don’t even realize they may be responsible for causing a huge suffering to a life, like a pet kept in too tiny a cage, kept somewhere without light and view, kept without other pets for companionship, left alone for many hours each day, left without true affection other than a quick shake or pat once in awhile? I’ve seen people who are very aware of their pets’ needs, but I have also seen very good people, nice people, who simply don’t realize the terrible life they are giving these pets they ‘love’.
Their care is simply spotty, as mine was as a kid. They care for some things in their lives, some people, but don’t feel true care or empathy for others. And they don’t even think about that or realize it; if you try show them how they may be causing suffering in their own pets – or family, kids, friends, neighbors, world – they might even become very angry and defensive because, in their minds, they ‘love them’.
But this care I’m talking about has to be learned, in all ways and for all things. If it’s still spotty, if you care for some things but don’t really think about how you affect other things, there are still those missing pieces of care in you.
And so we’ve come full circle: back to ‘missing pieces’.
I have only mentioned a teeny tiny miniscule part out of the mass of missing pieces that people can grow up without. One small event, only minutes long, changed the course of my entire life in caring for other beings. What if I’d missed that event? And what other parts of me were never ‘triggered’ into my awareness, triggered into becoming a healthy, utile part of my personality?
What is missing in you? Do you have patience in some circumstances, but other circumstances press all your reactive buttons? Are you skilled in working, but not at playing or doing things that bring you great joy and fun? Are you skilled at having fun but have no skills that help you pay the bills and live a comfortable life? Are you skilled at conversing with people who are ‘on your level’, but you feel uncomfortable and tongue-tied when you’re around the super rich, the poor and destitute, kids, the elderly, someone who is sick or dying, someone who is famous? Do you feel love for family and friends, but hatred, or simply lack of any care, for certain people of certain other countries? Do you have the strength and courage to talk in front of millions, to face and fight people of violence, yet feel empty of any power to overcome the feelings implanted in you from some childhood abuse?
As I mentioned, my parents are kind and loving people, and they gave me a wonderful upbringing. But they also had their own issues, missing pieces, things they hadn’t – and haven’t – dealt with, healed, strengthened, and those issues naturally had to impact me. And as an adult, I’ve been peeling back my own layers, finding those missing pieces that I don’t want to be missing any longer, and figuring how to heal or strengthen those pieces within myself, bring them up to a higher level in my awareness and actions.
You see, these missing pieces are largely responsible for any and every problem you ever have. If you are loud and overbearing and overconfident and arrogant, that will get you into many problems if you don’t find your missing pieces that involve gentleness, humility, receptivity. If you are only gentle and passive and hesitant, that will get you into many problems until you learn some resilience, strength, assertiveness. If you are skilled at work and not relaxation, that will bring you the problems of stress, overwork, breaking down internally, narrow lifestyle. If you are only interested in personal play and are missing any accomplishment, that will bring you problems of self esteem, lack of fulfillment, lack of contributing to anything worthwhile, lack of being taken seriously or thought of as being useful.
If you are obsessed with your dreams, goals, plans for the future, or are living in angst about your past memories, that will get you into health and relationship problems if you can’t find your missing pieces that involve enjoying the here and now, feeling present with each moment, feeling care about current happenings with yourself and those around you. If you’re sacrificing safety and are not listening to and obeying your gut instincts about things, that will get you into many problems until you learn to fill in the missing pieces of really hearing what your senses are telling you, and obeying them.
If you only work to pay the bills and have no ambition to do anything more, that will bring you financial problems until you fill in the missing pieces of having some irons in the fire, keeping an eye towards trying something that may move your finances ahead somewhere in the future. If you only work hard at whatever makes you the most money, you will encounter the problems caused by committing so much of your life’s energy towards a lifeless goal, until you fill in your missing pieces that involve sacrificing money sometimes, in order to pursue what really ignites your soul to feeling alive, even if that thing doesn’t involve making money.
I can go on all day. No matter how good or bad your life has been, no matter how skilled you are or how much you care about things, you have missing pieces. And the void of what’s missing in you… is where almost all problems inject themselves. Think about it: in areas where you’re strong, truly skilled, deeply aware, experienced and practiced… if any problem arises to challenge those areas, you know how to fend them off, what to do about them, right? Where the problems nail you, is in the areas you are lacking, in your weaknesses, your vulnerabilities, your missing pieces.
This doesn’t mean that you have to learn how to do everything on earth well, that you have to become both a warrior and an enlightened monk, a job expert and a relaxation expert, a sportsperson and a scholar, a mathematician and an artist.
But it does mean that you can perhaps take a good look at the basic qualities, the basic strengths and virtues available within us as humans, draw out an accurate list of these and draw out – even using a bar graph if you want – how strong or weak each of these feels within you, and how much they might be improved.
The wonderful thing about the human mind, is that these missing pieces are mostly thought- and emotion-based. You can think about them over time, as I thought for decades about my lesson with Sammy. Once in awhile you chew them around in your brain over the years, like a cow chews cud, and your rumination of them will help fill in the missing pieces that have been causing your vulnerabilities, opening you to many of your life problems.
I can’t save every worm on a sidewalk. But I can save a few. And if every person walking there would put one or two worms back on the grass, almost every worm could be saved. I cannot save every pet from a suffering life, but I can make their lives better while I am there visiting them. And if everyone learned to feel that way, almost every pet could be saved from a suffering life. I can’t help everyone, or even everyone who reads my articles on this website. But I can help a few, in some small ways. And if everyone tried to help everyone else even in small ways…
…You get the idea. You don’t have to save the world. But if you don’t WANT to try find your part in saving the world, that’s another missing piece waiting for you to find. But let’s slow down. Back to this little essay, and perhaps its little part, in helping some little part of whatever problem has brought you here. The more missing pieces you add to your mind, emotions, life, skills, the more complete you are to deal with each separate part that comprises your main problem.
Hint: this whole essay is a paradox — there are no pieces missing from you. They’re already inside you. You just need to wake up to them, as I woke up in my Sammy story.
Sorry for the long one. Let’s wrap it up:
There is no problem that is not caused to some degree by some basic and important human element that you are missing, or weak in. Please begin looking clearly at your missing pieces, bring them to the surface, look at them in the daylight of your mind, because the strengthening of your any and every missing essential piece will create a huge and beneficial impact on any problems you ever have, and will stave off many future problems from even taking hold on you.
So you’re becoming open to finding any missing pieces, and you’re learning that they’re all already inside you and that YOU’RE the one who’s been missing seeing them, and you know that the more of those pieces you find, the more whole you will feel to take on the different aspects of your problems, and prevent future problems. What’s NEXT?