Archive for the 'gratitude' Category

Joy of reconciliation

March 20, 2014

I get a real charge out of certain styles of conversation, when the exchange really flies and it feels exhilarating.  It’s the process as much as whatever content we’re discussing that I get a thrill out of.  (I suspect the experience arises out of a flow back and forth between myself and the person I’m talking to.  Of course, the downside is that while I pick up the ideas and good feelings, I also tend to pick up other things from the person, at least temporarily.)

Then there’s another process that can feel real good, too, the process of reconciliation through both people checking in with their guidance (the sort of guidance accessible through prayer and contemplation) and not just mixing it up as social beings.  If I listen for my guidance and they listen for theirs, and we each follow it, we end up, as it were, in the same place — through a process that involves less friction than even following the helpful rules of how to have difficult conversations.  And speaking strictly for myself, I can find the same idea much easier to accept coming from the Universe than coming from the other person — I think because most people coat their ideas with emotional overlays, and as my body does to the base in a vaccine, I react to the emotional coating (sometimes negatively).

There is, of course, something to be said for working out a disagreement face to face or email to email — it can be more satisfying if it works.  But depending on God as an intermediary is very helpful when the social part of the relationship is stuck, especially in what I see as asymmetrical relationships.  The other person just doesn’t want to interact socially with me as equals, and thankfully, there’s a way for me to deal with that without buying into that point of view or insisting that they accept social symmetry.  God provides a fluid interface and a way we can reconcile, if we have willingness.

Sometimes I wonder if the internet is a sort of medium and middle way through which the reconciliation through the spiritual part of us and the reconciliation through our social aspect can meet.  People can write their piece, others can react, and through links and comments and blogs and all kinds of less than personal communication online, things can be worked out.  While I am confident this method can serve a need, I do remain concerned that it leaves a lot of room for confusion and misunderstanding;  but maybe that’s a smaller difficulty than the difficulties that would ensue from pursuing a different method.  I don’t know, I just know my own difficulties with the method — and my own gratefulness for its allowing some sort of communication where, without it, there might not be any, or enough to move forward at all.  And I can always ask the Universe for guidance about how to think about and deal with the method and my reaction to it.

Roast beef sandwich

November 28, 2013

Jordan looked at me sheepishly this morning and said he had something to apologize to me for.

He had eaten a roast beef sandwich he had bought for me.

He had gone out with friends after class yesterday, and at a restaurant they ate at, had ordered a sandwich for me as take-out.  On his way home, he had stopped at the home of a friend he’s known for ages, who was home on break from college, and he stayed there into the evening.

He got hungry while he was at the friend’s house, and “there wasn’t anything to eat,” which was plausible, not so much because of want but because of what I might call “food issues,” so Jordan ate the sandwich he had with him.

I told him, that despite the fact that he doesn’t agree with my “karmic nonsense,” I was going to tell him how this was actually great news to me in a way;  my nagging issue that some guy “done me wrong” and took from me something that was mine, had been reduced to my child eating a roast beef sandwich because he was hungry — that scenario didn’t bother me, and, he was apologetic about it (not to mention aware of what he had done — and he said he plans to get me another sandwich).  I have a very strong sense that this pattern of feeling wronged by a guy who doesn’t give back, and takes advantage of my having given to him first, is a very old pattern for me, or possibly for someone I have been helping (I do think I help people clean up their old and difficult karma when they get too stuck).  When the pattern reaches an innocuous iteration, it’s like the last ripple of a wave, or the boat getting close enough to the dock that one can step or jump out onto terra firma.

So I am quite happy, in a way, to hear about my missing roast beef sandwich.  I like feedback that progress has been made.  I feel like I have successfully let go of something that was impeding me, finally.  And I am grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving

Betrayal and revisiting the past

October 7, 2013

I came across the piece in the NYTimes on betrayals and lying late in the game yesterday, after the comments had closed.  (It’s called “Great Betrayals” and is written by Anna Fels.)  Which maybe is a good thing, because my experience of having to consider a revisit to the past, in order to revise it in light of later information, was not really about lying.  It was about an abrupt change in a very close relationship on account of our having adopted children with African heritage — a close relative of the person in question insisted that they break with me and my family because of them.

In addition to having feelings of incredulity and hurt to process, I found myself wondering how to look at the twenty-five years of history I had had with this person (from the time I was a child, until well into my thirties).  Did I know them?  Had I ever really known them?  All those long conversations over so many years, over so many cups of tea, I think I thought I did know them and had known them.   But clearly there were other aspects to them which I hadn’t known.  Had I known about them, I don’t think we would have been so close, and certainly I would have been more prepared for the relationship to end over the adoptions, and would have tried for it not to have been so abrupt.

Intimacy premised on incomplete or inaccurate understanding — the flaw in the understanding certainly explains why the intimacy ends.  Does it somehow invalidate the intimacy as it happened?  No, I think the intimacy was real, it was just that the person was an illusion.  Kind of like the concept of “Mama’s Bank Account” (by Kathryn Forbes), you rely on something that is not really there but it benefits you to think it is.

(I know, some people think this is what God is, too, but I actually find God a whole lot more reliable than human beings — if we’re going to use reliability as a measure of existence, for me, humans wouldn’t “exist” first.)

Anyway, I do think the intimacy is real, and in the case in question, that the relationship allowed me to experience a love which I am sure helped me grow into a healthier person than I otherwise would have been.  That, in turn, allowed me to handle my life more easily, including when this relationship ended.

To me, the hard part are the transitions, the beginnings of “moving on,” when there is no obvious next such relationship.  I think I’ve actually tried to replicate this past relationship a number of times since it ended.  They all end similarly, with the person’s commitment to me being much more vulnerable to being sacrificed to other needs than either the person or I realize.

What’s the lesson I’m not learning?  Maybe, as my friend Kelley from high school used to say, “Take what you can when you can and be grateful,”  maybe not to expect relationships to last indefinitely, and maybe to try not to give more than I can comfortably give as a gift.

As to what people might learn from reevaluating a relationship after a lie has been revealed, maybe it’s similar to what I’ve described for this other pattern of surprise and hurt.  And maybe both such kinds of experiences serve as ways of breaking the ties that bind, so that we can move on to new relationships or move on to a life oriented towards something else.

Gratitude

November 22, 2012

I wrote in a parenthetical aside at the end of a comment to another comment to a column on the NYTimes website that I tend to translate “gratitude” into something like active appreciation.

Sometimes that appreciation includes a sense of wonder, sometimes a sense of joy, sometimes grudging respect — it varies.  I wrote in the parenthetical aside that I get impeded by (my sense of) the connotations of “gratitude.”  I think one part of my sense of its dynamic is that people who feel grateful often express it as passive partners in the whatever it is for which they are grateful.  I am suspicious of passivity of that sort.  While I’m all for active passivity in having willingness to go along with what serves my greater good and the greater good, passivity in terms of social action or personal spiritual progress, or just in general, I think can lead to paralysis or implosion of the person.  I like an emotional posture that keeps me moving.  My sense of “gratitude” is that we sit around feeling it, appreciation that it inspires our own activity.

On the occasion of the Thanksgiving holiday, I will say that I am appreciative of how everybody plays their role, so bravely, it seems to me.  On a more mundane level, I am appreciative of the help I got in cooking the turkey giblets so that they came out just the way I like them, and for the food itself.  And for someone encouraging me to celebrate this holiday this year in a way that I want to, with whom I feel comfortable, and doing things I enjoy — kind of like the vacation I find hard to find an opportunity to take, kind of like going on holiday.

More on floating

October 19, 2012

I was driving home from somewhere recently and saw a hawk floating high up in the sky, having one of those moments when it looks motionless but easily aloft.  I thought, “Maybe that’s why I’m so taken with hawks, I am trying to figure out how to float (metaphorically).  How to hover easily above or in or otherwise with regard to the moment.”

For me, having a sense of how to arrange my mind to do that has not come through someone telling me about it; that may have set the stage, but actually “getting” what the note sounds like (to mix the metaphor) has come through what has felt like an empathetic experience with someone who has the skill or well-developed ability already.

When my mother was working with me to overcome my mispronunciation of Ks and hard Cs and hard Gs when I was about five or six, I didn’t get for a long time what I was doing differently.  Suddenly I realized it was where in my mouth or throat the motions or contractions or whatever were being done — in the floor or back of my mouth, not behind my teeth as I had been doing.  With this floating and not pressuring the moment it’s a similar issue of figuring out what it entails.

The other day I was waiting in my son’s dentist’s waiting room and there was a baby in a caregiver’s arms (my son thought she was a nanny) drinking a bottle and falling asleep.  I got this really peaceful feeling inside myself and starting feeling sleepy, too.  It was quite lovely.

It was similar when I shared the feeling of floating through a same sort of vicarious experience of someone else’s experience.  The other person may have learned to do this floating through prayer and meditation, I don’t know.  I do know that what was encumbering me was basically anxiety and its sequelae.  But anxiety can be a mindset that seems real, that crowds out all other, non-anxious ways of interfacing with the world.  So changing it through wanting to doesn’t always work, I think, whereas having a “pace car” of somebody else’s floating can.

That’s I think what I did.  Not that I’m doing my own floating continously and wonderfully now, but at least I know what it feels like.  I wrote before about how for me it helps to think about not applying so much pressure to the moment itself and letting the natural rhythm of the situation establish the beat for me to follow.  Having experienced the experience, I can practice it myself, kind of re-find the note to sing after having heard it, and matched it, from somebody else’s pitch pipe.  (Well, at least the last couple of metaphors were both musical, even if I am mixing them.)

I am extremely grateful to whoever shared with me their floating.  I don’t know whether that happens as a gift or an exchange; if the latter, I hope they got back something equally helpful from me, although I’m not sure what that would be.  (Maybe I helped someone else similarly and this is part of a bigger and more complicated system?)  If the former, that too is an ability I would like to develop.

I suspect my recent extra-awareness of things that float, like islands and hawks, is related to my working on learning to float myself.

The goat in the house

June 27, 2012

It’s a parable, I’ve seen it written up as a children’s book, Willy used to tell the story, too.  It’s about a family in a one room and very small home, the kind with a dirt floor, and lot’s of extended family living together in it cheek by jowl.  The husband of the primary couple in the family goes to his local religious leader and complains about his living conditions (in great detail, if you want to prolong the story).  The religious leader instructs him to bring a goat into the home as well, the husband protests in surprise, the leader says do it and come back in a week.  The fellow does, the home is even more difficult to live in, the fellow returns to the religious leader a week later, the leader instructs him to remove the goat from the home and see him again the following week, which he does.  This time he is not complaining, he is “grateful” for the relative peace of the household in within the home.

This notion of “gratitude” has confused me.  It’s not that I don’t understand or haven’t experienced that feeling of relief and adjusted perspective, but I think we probably need to reserve the word gratitude for a purely positive feeling towards something; our total attitude about it may well be mixed, but the grateful part would be the strand of positive feeling — enjoyment, appreciation, positive regard of some sort.

I say this because when I think about things in my life in terms of “it could be worse,” it is a fragile bit of acceptance, kind of shallow and not robust when it does get worse.  Acceptance can be neutral but gratitude I think is more positive.  Both of them I think don’t waver when things do get worse.

For example, if I’m driving and grateful for an open road, it can’t be that I’m glad there’s no traffic, it should be my actual enjoyment of relaxation or ease, the view or the wind in my hair.  If around the bend I encounter a jam, my enjoyment may cease but I think I will feel less disappointed and frustrated if my gratitude was for something positive, not the absence of something negative.  Similarly, if I thought I wouldn’t have to fill out a particular bit of long and involved paperwork this year, I could just enjoy the time spent doing something else — if I try to be glad of not doing the report, when I find out I have to do it nonetheless, I will feel more frustrated.

I do think that the goat-in-the-house routine can help us locate what might be enjoyable in a situation that is difficult on its own, but I think I, at least, need to focus not on the absence of something worse but on the pleasure where I can find it in the situation, however fleeting it may turn out to be.