Relationships: Why U R Doin’ It Wrong

Steve brought me a book we’d sold. “There are a few light pencil marks in the quiz section. Could you please erase them before we ship this out?” I glanced at the cover. Getting To “I Do”: The Secret to Doing Relationships ‘Right’ by Dr. Patricia Allen.

Oh, dear.

I breathe a sympathetic sigh. I grieve for our culture, for social creatures with neuroses fueled by the media, insecurities about whether or not we will be loved, cared for, valued, mated and saved from personal extinction. Our fears are inflamed, and then ‘experts’ step in to tell us the magic or the scientific formula that will save us. Just take a look at the Yahoo! “Dating Tips & Advice” section: How to Stop Falling for Ms./Mr. Maybe, Happiest Couples, Tips to Get the Love You Want Instead of Settling, Traits Unhappy Couples Have in Common, etc. I imagine it’s big media business. How many of these articles simply recycle the ‘statistics’ from identical studies which probably report varying results? We are in a research culture that strives to control and predict, a desperate attempt to apply a balm to those neuroses that we irritate with obsessive attention.

Let’s take a step out of that arena, shall we? Let’s take the relationship out of the Petri dish and place it back into the organic garden. How do you learn about a growing organism? Attention, observation, action and response. Over time, the bloom becomes less a ‘specimen’ than a personality. It is unique. It is dynamic. It is not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It IS. And the more honest you are in your interactions with it, the more you trust it…to be itself.

And where do we find guidance in this garden of real relationships? In stories. There are billions and billions of relationship stories out there. Some are fact, some are fiction. Many of the fictions center around the magical or formulaic as well, but the ones that really inspire are the ones that are singular and sincere. They give us the hope that our own inimitable story may be just as satisfying.

delicate

I have relationship stories of my own, and they are very important to me. I have a yearning to share them, with my children and with anyone else who may be listening. Why? Because I hope that my practice of observing and appreciating the slow unfolding of a delicate bloom will spark the same in someone else, that our posture in relationships will become less that of a victim on the couch, more that of a poet in the garden.

© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

Winter illumination

Winter illumination

 

Weekly Photo Challenge

My New Year’s resolutions have been made and clearly stated.  First, “Stop shaming myself”.  (read my post “A Cup of Kindness” for more) Second, “Stop spending so much time playing Solitaire”.  I realize that organizing cards and Mahjong tiles is not a bad thing necessarily.  I get a certain satisfaction out of putting them all to rights or trying again until I do.  But it’s kind of an OCD thing, too, so I don’t want to get sucked into doing it when I could do something else.  Like bring chaos to order.  I’ve been researching right brain/left brain behavior a bit (I recommend Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk “My stroke of insight”), and I’ve decided that I need to exercise my right brain more.  My creativity — expansiveness, inclusion and collage-thinking.  Here’s an exercise I came up with:  take a familiar, well-known and memorized quote and mix it up.  Use the same words in a different order, add new punctuation.  Voila!  Chaos out of order poetry.  Here are a few:

“What twilight’s proudly gleaming light,

Early hailed by the dawn’s last ‘Oh’

We can see, so say at you.”

 

“The forefathers, four score and seven, conceived new, created and brought forth years ago,

dedicated in proposition to all men on this continent that a nation are equal – our Liberty.”

 

“No other shalt have me, before thou gods.”

 

“The beginning: the word, the word, the word.

God was God. And was. And was with.”

My daughter Emily tells me that Facebook provides a random generator to make something new of words you’ve posted, too.  Hers are quite poetic.  So maybe it’s not an entirely original exercise, but it’s a start.  A beginning.  A way to set off on a new adventure, to shed habit and convention and embrace the unpredictable nature of life unfolding.  Stepping off into 2014 — we can create and uncreate a new beginning.  What will chaos bring to you this year?

A Cup of Kindness

New Year's 2013Today is my mother’s birthday.  She is 79.  She is one of the most positive, enthusiastic, intelligent, and wise women I have ever known.  She continues to inspire me.  A week ago, she moved from her home of 36 years into an apartment at The Meadows, the assisted living facility where my sister and I worked as college students and where my father died in 2010.  She is having an absolute ball collecting stories from the residents, entertaining dinner companions, playing the piano in the chapel and lobby, and making connections within her collage of life.  She says that her Bucket List has been reduced to a Shot Glass List, and she’s grateful and content with all that she has enjoyed.  She told me that she doesn’t ‘make’ New Year’s Resolutions, she allows them to ‘surface’.  She shared that the phrase that is surfacing for her this year is “Live peace; take joy”.  That conversation made me think of what is surfacing for me.  What is surfacing is Shame.  And I’m resolved to do something about it.

I have been thinking about shame for some time.  Listening to Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame has brought about some introspective reflection on my history and patterns.  I was raised by a very authoritarian father, a devout and dogmatic Christian.  He was an intellectual, and my mother very candidly told me last night that although he could understand rationally that our behaviors and social constructs must evolve and change and that they weren’t based in any ultimate reality, he didn’t know how to navigate the emotions involved, and so he would fearfully nail those down into a ‘safe’ corner to protect himself.   What he then communicated to me, his daughter, was that we are all fallen creatures, sinners whose nature it is to be not good enough, and that we couldn’t be trusted, so to be saved, we must follow a carefully prescribed path and check ourselves frequently for deviation.   Our wills are suspect; God’s will is perfect.  My deepest desire was to please my father and to be loved by him, so I became a very compliant child.  And I bought the idea that whatever I wanted was probably not good, or good enough, and that I would fail to be good most of the time.  My best hope was to be obedient, and so I did that to the best of my ability.  I became accomplished in being obedient.  As I grew up and my father became less central in my daily life, I transferred that obedience to God, the Church, my husband.  Finally, after my husband died, I think I took that authority and transferred it to myself, but I ended up carrying out the same message.  Now, I tell MYSELF that I am not good, or good enough, and am likely to fail to be good most of the time.  In other words, I have taken over my dad’s role in shaming myself.

Needless to say, this is not freeing me to take risks, be vulnerable, be creative, be self-determinant or self-reliant.  Instead, it is keeping me in ‘customer service’ when Steve is itching to make me a full partner in a home business (or series of them) so that we can be self-employed and embody the values and lifestyle that WE find important.  How do I make the changes necessary to gain this freedom?  First, I have to stop telling myself that I can’t.  Or shouldn’t.   I have to stop shaming myself.  I have to become aware of the times when I do it, and I have to let go of them.  Like the bubbles surfacing in my champagne.  POP!  “So, here comes that shaming bubble.  I don’t have to analyze it, give it power, or trace it back to someone to blame.  I will just notice it, watch it pop and let it be gone.”  That’s my resolution for this coming year.  Take a cup of kindness, and stop shaming yourself, Priscilla!  Then move on.

I am also posting my blog summary for 2013 today.  I want to give big cyber hugs to my Bestest Blogger Buddies – Helen, Stuart, Jamie, Naomi and Elena.  Thank you for supporting this vulnerable venture and helping me trust myself to create something.  (Something ‘worthy’?  Something ‘good enough’?  STOP.  You don’t need to judge it.  Create something.  And just leave it at that.)

And here’s a sample of what I’ve created on this blog this year.  If you’re new and see something you like, please browse around!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Joy

“Joy to the world!  All the boys and girls!  Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea!  Joy to you and me!”

I had to wait until after my holiday celebration with my kids to post this contribution.  I knew that there would be plenty of joy to photograph when we got together.  My kids have great, big, laughing faces, exuberance, enthusiasm, and loads of energy…and they always have.  But now that they’re in their 20s, they also have the ability to focus on a serious philosophical conversation and communicate deeply personal insights…for a while, anyway.  The spontaneous laughter, the spontaneous song with harmony, the spontaneous dance around the room – these are part of every Galasso get-together.  Costumes and hats frequently make an appearance as well.  It is really a privilege to be related to these young people because we all genuinely like each other.  We are good, kind, positive, broad-minded folk, to be honest, and I am grateful for all the circumstances that helped that to happen. 

And food!  I have to mention food.  It is such a joy to gather to prepare and eat from the marvelous bounty that sustains and delights.  Wine (in a long-stemmed sippy cup, no less!  Sometimes preschool isn’t so remote, even after you’ve grown up), cheese (truffle gouda & goat cheese, espresso hard cheese), roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and pickled watermelon rind, potato salad with fresh tarragon, broccoli & kale salad with bacon vinaigrette, Mediterranean spaghetti squash with feta and olives, mince pie, and Fireball whiskey bread pudding.  Next morning: creme brulee French toast.  So much tasty!  Very goodness!  Wow!

I wish you all joy and peace in the coming year, and an increasing ability to take joy in every moment of being alive.  Celebration is an attitude that can be part of every single day, no matter what.  I like to remember that.

Advent Day #23 – Peace

Peace On Earth

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.

Advent Day #21 – Passion

Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm

Happy Winter Solstice, everybody in the Northern Hemisphere!  As the sun hits the lowest spot on the southern horizon, it seems to stop in a lyric caesura for a moment.  Now the earth begins to doe-Si-doe around its stellar partner, coyly tilting the top of her head toward him.   The night is long, and the dance goes on.  Passion builds towards the summer solstice when the sun will caress the earth with daylight for 24 hours at the North Pole.  Humans have celebrated these celestial events with festivals for centuries, and we still do.  As I write this, Strauss polkas punctuated with small, percussive explosions and various train whistles play in the background.  It is riotously fitting.  (Steve is cleaning, stacking and re-stacking his books.  We are expecting company for the weekend.)

The door marked 21 bangs open, and the gift unveiled is Passion.  Enthusiasm!  Energy!  I contend that this is another Universal endowment.  The word ‘enthusiasm’ has at its root the Greek ‘theos’, meaning God.  To be enthused is to be filled with God.  “In the throes of passion.”  See Bernini’s sculpture of “The Ecstasy of St. Theresa” for a marvelous visual example.  (We watched a video on this narrated by Simon Schama: “The Power of Art”.  Highly recommended!)  Is this kind of experience available to all or just the sainted few?

I believe that if you are open to the energy of passion, you will receive it.  And I believe this fact scares a lot of people, especially those in authority who are working to gain and maintain control.  Do you want to live in a passionless world?  Do you want to live in a tempest of energy?  Do you seek some Middle Way, a quiet infusion of God?  How have you marshaled and channeled energy by your own choices?  Have you felt someone else’s hand tempering your energy?

 

Excited to be back in Massachusetts (Photo by my oldest)

I think I was a pretty enthusiastic kid.  I was often told that I was loud.  My facial expressions were pretty dramatic.  I loved theater and the chance to “act out”.  My third grade teacher wrote in her notes to my mother that “the play’s the thing for your youngest daughter”.  I did feel that my parents were always asserting a more reasonable response.   They were intellectual and Anglican and well-mannered.  I wanted to please them, so I didn’t allow myself to be wild.  When I began voice lessons in college, one of the first things my teacher said to me was, “You sing as if you’d been told all your life to modulate your voice.”  How did she know?  So I had become outwardly prim and proper and covertly silly and animated.  My passion for my husband was greeted initially by my parents with the same kind of circumspection.   After all, I was only 15 when we met and 20 when we became engaged.  Gushing about how I “knew” he was the right one for me was unconvincing.  I prepared logical and practical reasons why I should marry before I graduated from college and while we were both unemployed.  His father was not at all persuaded.  My father had seen us courting and knew more intuitively that our determination was real, fueled by much more than reason, and that in a marriage, that is a definite harbinger of success.

I am still hesitant to show emotion and passion.  Steve is always delighted to see my enthusiasm about something, and frankly wary because it doesn’t assert itself in important decisions.  I was brought up to be very serious about decision-making, and to mistrust my enthusiasms.  Steve seems to approach the issues from the opposite direction.  He feels that the best reason for doing something is because you REALLY WANT TO!  In some ways, that seems like a no-brainer.  Problem is, I have esteemed The Brain far too much, I think.   So, I am learning to try to listen to those exuberant voices without shushing them so much.  And I am learning to be more open to the zeal of others.  My children, especially.  My parents modeled the “voice of reason”.   I can’t deny that I play that role in my parenting, but  I want to model the fervent voice of encouragement, too.  (This goes along with the ongoing safety/adventure discussion that I have with Danger Mommy.)  I keep trying to get away from dualism and embrace the dynamic whole.  “Don’t be so worried about ‘supposed to’,” says Judy Dench’s character in the movie “Chocolate”.

Is it possible to be both wise and passionate?  Is it possible for me to be both wise and passionate?  I’m hoping so.

Advent Day #18 – Honesty

Honestly!

Where is there dignity unless there is Honesty?  — Cicero

Today I’m parading Honesty around the block, free for the taking – a gift for December.  Does it cost to be honest?  There definitely are consequences to being honest.  Integrity, for instance, but sometimes something much more harsh.  Here’s a Socrates Cafe question: is it ever morally defensible to tell a lie?  Here’s a Biblical philosophical question: what is truth?  (For 3 pieces of cheese, tell me who asked this question to whom?  For all the cheese in Wisconsin, tell me why that person never answered?!) *n.b. – My father used to play a game with us that we called “Bible Questions for Cheese”.  He would quiz us on our Biblical knowledge after dinner and reward us with bites from his cheese platter as he finished off his bottle of wine.

Which kind of honesty is the most difficult for you and why?  Telling yourself the truth about yourself, telling someone else the truth about yourself, telling yourself the truth about another, or telling your truth about another to that other?

Self-deception can be pretty intractable.  How do you even know that you’re not telling yourself the truth about yourself?  Do you have to depend on someone else telling you the truth about you?  How would someone else even know the truth about you?  I suppose I approach this by going the second route first.  I try telling someone else the truth about myself to see if they can believe it’s the truth.  This would seem like madness to some people.  Why are look looking outside yourself?  Why wouldn’t you trust yourself to know yourself?  How could anyone else know you better?  I have heard quoted many times, “Lean not on your own understanding”, and I suppose I took that to heart.  So now, I’m working on trying to be honest with myself and to trust myself.  This takes some courage and a lot of forgiveness.

Telling the truth about myself to others is something that I want to do.  It saves me the trouble of having to come up with a lie.  It allows me to get that feedback I need to find out if I’m deceiving myself.  But sometimes, I detect that TMI reaction.  Too Much Information divulged to your own offspring, for example, is not at all welcome.  Especially when they’re young.  I’ve done that a few times.  More often, I told them the truth about things, facts, at an early age that others did not think was appropriate.  For example, I told them that Santa is fictional.  I told them the correct names of body parts.  (My oldest was 4, I think, when she gave a word for the letter ‘V’ that rather shocked her nursery school teacher.)  I told them that their father had coronary artery disease.  (Again, my oldest could draw an anatomically correct heart from memory at the age of 6.)

 

Ducks can walk on water. It’s the truth!

Telling myself the truth about another has been difficult only on a few occasions that I recall.  Telling myself that my father was not God and was not perfect was one.  Telling myself that my husband was dying was another.  However, in those situations, the truth was very valuable, and the difficulty was well worth it.  I guess that means I defend more delusions about myself than about those whom I love.  I believe that shattering delusions about myself will be similarly painful but beneficial, so I’m willing to keep at that.

Telling ‘your’ truth about another to that other is what Steve likes doing the most in relationships.  He doesn’t usually “tell” so much as he questions in order to draw out an opportunity for the person to tell the truth about him/herself.  He calls it “being challenging” or “being intense”, and he considers it a supreme act of love.  And he does it kindly, in my opinion, but more importantly, he is conscious of trying to do it kindly.  It isn’t always received that way, though.   Sometimes, no matter how tactful and kind you try to be, that ‘other’ is not going to want to hear your truth.  Hopefully, that reaction is only temporary.  Getting to the point of engaging with truth in a relationship is an important step to intimacy.  It’s what being ‘truly loving’ is all about.   It takes grace to invite someone to that point in a way that is non-threatening.  I appreciate therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists everywhere who take up that practice in the name of love.

Advent Day #8 – Imagination

The countdown of free gifts continues – Imagine!

Imagine That!

Do animals have imagination?  Do they think in concepts or toss ideas around?  Or is that strictly a human thing?

Animals have some pretty incredible artistic skills.  I think of weaver birds or bower birds, birds that display their expertise in foiling predators and attracting mates.  Does that indicate imagination?  Cats, chimps, elephants and others have created art with paintbrushes or paws dipped in colors.  Is that imagination?  Maybe.

What good is imagination?  Why is it a useful skill or a precious gift?

It keeps us from getting bored.  It motivates us to engage in possibility.  It fuels hope.  But I suppose it could also be said that it fuels depression or despair.  So, it’s a tool that we have in our skull-shaped kit box.  We can use it however we want.  We get to be creators.  And it’s free.  You don’t need electricity to run it; you don’t have to have an account or a password.  This is one of the greatest gadgets ever!  Do we celebrate it?  Encourage it?  Teach it?  Or do we try to corral it, censor it, mold it, sterilize it?  Well, historically we have done all of these, to be truthful.  What have you done with yours lately?  Do you have a secret place where you put the workings of your imagination?  A journal, a sketchbook, a doodle pad, a workbench, a tape recorder, a music staff, a photo album?  Do you unwrap these presents for yourself sometimes?

When I was in college, I worked summers at a Christian camp.  I was in charge of the arts & crafts area.  It was called “Imagination”.  Over the doorway in blue paint and gold glitter, the name hung like a talisman.  Each day, I wondered which kid was going to come in and blow my mind with something s/he created.  I remember one tall, skinny, shy kid with a speech disorder, named Devin.  He was 14.  He would come in and look bored.  I gave him some clay and googly eyes.  He joked around, embarrassed, and then made a pretty good likeness of E.T. from that summer’s most popular movie.   The next day, five campers came into the shop asking if they could make an E.T. head.  Not that the art was original, it was completely derivative.   But the idea to create something started a fad, like the kids were just waiting for someone to allow them to explore their own imaginations.

Steve came up with a book from his bookstore collection called Artful Jesters by Nicholas Roukes.  “Innovators of Visual Wit and Humor” it says.  Here’s the cover:

001

The artwork is by Willie Cole; it’s called “Burning Hot I – Sunbeam iron with yellow and red feathers”.  I would love to raid all the recycling containers on my block, set up a workshop in my garage, and make “Imagination” come to life again.  I’d invite all those shy, awkward kids and the ones who pay too much for entertainment, and see if they’d engage in this wonderful ability we humans seem to have inherited from somewhere.  We are co-creators in this world.  It’s a pretty nifty gig.  I appreciate all my blogging friends, my musician friends, artists, knitters, chefs, actors, gardeners, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers…thanks for opening up your shops and showing us it can be done.

I’m still alive

Hebba-lubbo, frebbends! (Does anyone remember the PBS show Zoom?  Ubby-Dubby language?  Anyone?  Beuller?)  Are you wondering where I’ve been?  Why I went AWOL?  Have you missed me? *looking up, fluttering my lashes*  Well, I feel a need to justify my absence anyway.  Silliness aside, I need to take time to write again. 

I am anticipating the end of the season for my job at the living history museum, Old World Wisconsin.  By the end of next month, I will need to make up those wages by doing something else.  Fortunately, my previous employer still values my skills as a proofreader, and I have been able to contract with them for some work I can do at home.  Hopefully, I will be able to pick up some new voice students as well.  I have been spending my home days working on those enterprises and helping Steve with the book business.  So, I have not been spending my home time in leisurely rambles of creative writing.  And the memory card in my camera is full, so I haven’t been taking pictures.  I have been thinking, though….

Steve and I will soon be hitting the 5-year milestone in our relationship.  Our first date was October 4.  The evolution of our partnership has been an intense journey toward maturity, and keeping that energy going is quite a commitment.   The other day, I went back to some of our early e-mails (yes, I still haven’t deleted them) and came face-to-face with my former self: a grieving widow struggling to be a single Mom for the first time.  Yikes!  The more dramatic e-mails were the ones I exchanged with my 17-year old daughter.  Our grief, our survival, was such a strong agenda that we were hardly communicating anything besides our fears, our wants, our upset feelings.  It was very hard for us to listen to each other and be generous.  Steve stepped into that gap and calmly spoke his observations without judgment, even when my daughter’s anger was focused on his role in my life.  A metaphor that he uses is “clearing the windshield”.  We often have so much mud covering up the clarity of what life is and how we want to live it.  Steve has always come back to articulating his vision, one that he’s known since he was very young.   He’s been very patiently illustrating it over these past 5 years, and I’ve only recently felt that my windshield has been clear enough to see it. 

I have been reading a little book he gave me — Finding the Still Point: A Beginner’s Guide to Zen Meditation by John Daido Loori.  Here’s the nugget I will keep returning to:

“From birth we have been conditioned by different events and people — our teachers, parents, country, culture, neighborhood, friends, and peers.  Everything we cherish — our positions, attitudes, opinions, all of our attachments, all the things we think give our life identity — is found in our conditioning.  Now here we are, decades later, trying to live our lives out of this random programming we call “my life”.  We feel so strongly about parts of the program we are ready to die for it.  And it is all created in our own mind.

There is no escaping the fact that getting beyond this accumulated conditioning is a long process.  Thirty or forty years of programming takes time to work through.  We look at the thoughts, acknowledge them, let them go, and come back to the breath.  Day by day, we uncover what is underneath all of the conditioning.  What we discover is called freedom.  It is called human life.  It is called wisdom and compassion.  It’s the nature of all beings.”

Living freely is the reward of maturity.  Cleaning the windshield is an arduous, stinky task at times.  I am tempted to hide behind the caked-on guck and call it my safe cocoon, expecting my partner to join me there.  He will not.  Is that ungenerous?  Or the most loving thing a friend can do?  Sometimes I have a hard time deciding.  Even when he doesn’t join me there, he has waited for me to emerge.  He finds that very frustrating at times.  He would like to see me free.  He would like to see all people free, including himself.  His sadness and disappointment when we are not free shows in his face and posture.  I think of where my daughter and I used to live.  We have emerged joyfully from that place.  We know freedom.  But we are still cleaning the windshield.  There is more to be done, and the view from that one clear corner is my inspiration to continue the work. 

I am alive.  I am maturing.  I am working on my life.  And I enjoy taking time to write about it every once in a while.  Thanks for listening!

 

Examining Entitlement – the “Feed and Frustrate Formula”

I am working on finding The Middle Way in my life and on communicating what I can of that journey to anyone who might find that helpful…with my own children in mind as always.  The other day, I came up with a phrase that I am finding useful in describing the continuum of experiences needed to grow and develop as a person:   “Feed and Frustrate”.   We all need a certain amount of feeding, starting in infancy when we are in our most dependent phase, and continuing through adulthood.  We have physical needs, emotional needs, and intellectual needs.  How do you determine what is a ‘need’ and what is a ‘want’ and what that certain amount actually is?  That’s a good question and leads to examining entitlement, which I will get to in a moment.  I want to take a look now at the other end of the continuum and describe our need for frustration. 

Frustration, challenge, resistance, a force up against we must push is a very necessary part of development.  Consider the emergence of a butterfly from its cocoon.  Many well-meaning folks have discovered a curious thing.  If, in their effort to be kind to animals, they assist a butterfly in its struggle to free itself from the structures surrounding it, the insect will weaken and die.  The butterfly needs the activity of straining to get fluids moving to its wings, to strengthen them for flight and to dry them out.   A similar thing happens if you facilitate a chick in hatching from an egg.  The work to chip away at the shell, the time and effort it takes to accomplish that task on its own, is vital to the chick’s health and makes it more robust.   Without that hindrance, the chick remains weak.  We need to frustrate our children and ourselves enough to stimulate our ability to access our own strengths. 

Working out the balance of feeding and frustrating is a lifelong endeavor.  I find myself looking at my adult children and wondering how I did as a parent.  I became a mom at the tender age of 22 and felt all those biological and hormonal urges to protect, provide, nurture, and “spoil” my kids.  I also had a pragmatic sense of limitations.  My mom might say that’s the Scotch in me.  I am frugal.  My kids call me “cheap and weird”.  I’m not sure I had a notion of the value of frustration, even though I’m sure I frustrated my kids unintentionally anyway.  So, they didn’t get everything they wanted, but I’m not sure I taught them a “work ethic” or a “frustration ethic” very well.  I am not sure if my parents taught me that, either.  Regardless, the responsibility of developing that ethic is my own.  It is the responsibility of each individual to examine their ideas of entitlement and challenge themselves to develop the resources necessary to achieve their goals. 

I like to learn through story and art.  I think of examples of characters who live out their “feed and frustrate” scenarios and find some tales to be inspiring, some to be cautionary.  Too much feeding as well as too much frustration can lead to helplessness and hopelessness.  One story I’ve been following lately is that of a young man who is an NBA basketball player in his second year as a pro.  I like watching Jimmy Butler play.  He has the kind of untapped strength that seems to increase with the number of challenges he’s given.  While his teammates recover from injury, he gets to play more minutes, and he seems to be growing up before my eyes.  I did some background checking and learned that he was abandoned by his father as an infant and kicked out of his mother’s house when he was 13.  A friend’s mom eventually took him into her home and gave him some strict rules to follow…and he blossomed.  The feed/frustrate formula made him confident in his ability to improve himself, which he keeps on demonstrating on the basketball court. 

This idea is not only pertinent to individual lives, but also to systems.  Politically and economically, how are we balancing the feed and frustrate formula in order to support a robust society?  Are we giving too much assistance?  Are we giving too little?  It’s a good thing to re-evaluate over time. 

So, perhaps I’ve given you something to think about.  How do you see the feed/frustrate balance in your life?  Where do you think an adjustment might help?  If you’re a writer, what is happening on this level in the story you’re working on now?  How does that dynamic work in your characters’ lives?  Thanks for listening to me hash out my thoughts! 

And one more point.  “Ahem!  This theory, which is mine…” footnote reference to Monty Python sketch featuring Miss Ann Elk...I own it and it’s mine.  I might use it in an article or something.  If this gives you an Aha! moment and you want to share it, please reference this blog post.  Thanks for your respect!