Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mind the Gap

We had a Rilke reading at our wedding that I often go back to when I get frustrated about our differences and the difficulties that come with being married to someone who is so vastly different than me.

“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances continue to exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

Marco and I are, indeed, vastly different. We were discussing this the other night. I was making the argument that perhaps he’s not as smart as he thinks he is because he chose me as a partner - not because I am bad but because I provide for him so much difficulty (and vice versa). Let’s put it this way, I don’t think we’d be matched on eHarmony. But he made the argument that perhaps we are even smarter than we realize because we chose partners who push us and make us grow. We sought out that which challenges us. I’ll have to remember that the next time we’re arguing and I get overwhelmed by his lack of empathy and ability to manipulate emotions and think I may have married the worst person in the entire world and he’s frustrated by my torrent of emotions and inability to converse reasonably. No, I married the right person to guard my solitude and the right person to yank me out of my comfort and make me see the world in a new light. It’s terrible and amazing.

But the gap can be so great sometimes, with him and with others in my life. And it’s hard to determine when my attempts to close the gap between me and another person have become too dangerous for me and for them. Sometimes a gap becomes a chasm and the reaching across becomes treacherous. Marco and I have managed to find a nice gap to live with, one that doesn’t trip us up too much, but I haven’t found that balance with everyone.

Distance can make a chasm. Lack of effort can make a chasm. Life events can make a chasm. Emotions can make a chasm. Mental illness can make a chasm. Schedules can make a chasm. Work can make a chasm.

And sometimes we utterly fail. We choose the wrong way to communicate. We say the wrong words. We get the wrong timing. We let too much time pass. We forget. And suddenly, the train has left the station, and we’re falling. And it’s too late.

And sometimes others fail us. And they cling too tightly. Or they push us too hard. They expect us to make all the effort. They don’t meet us halfway. Or they mistake our struggle for abandonment. Or they misunderstand our words. Or they take everything the wrong way. And suddenly we’re on the train alone, wondering what happened.

For true friendship, for the healthy, moon-viewing, expansive sky, loving space, we need real compassion. But so often we (and I mean me now mostly), confuse more dangerous qualities with compassion.

  1. We pity, which puts us in a place of superiority and not a place of empathy.
  2. We enmesh, which puts us in a place of codependency and guilt.

One separates, and one hems us in. I tend toward the second. I let fear of confrontation, fear of separation, fear of abandonment, keep me from speaking truth appropriately and setting appropriate boundaries. I take others suffering and make it my own, which is really just selfish. I want them to feel better so that I feel better, and, instead of hastening comfort, I just postpone discomfort, making it much, much worse.

But the first can be just as dangerous. Pity can cause us, thinking we are cultivating an attitude of acceptance, to curdle compassion into resignation or indifference. Pity is a wedge where codependency is a choking bind. And both are entirely self-centered instead of other-centered, which is what compassion is in essence.

The gap is there for a reason. The train cannot run without the gap. But we can’t ignore its existence. And sometimes, the train has derailed and all attempts to leap the chasm have left both parties injured and apart. It happens. And it hurts.

And we feel angry with ourselves. We feel angry with others. We are resentful. We get hooked by anger.

“Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. “  Buddha

The other day at the gym I was complaining that my hip continues to hurt and that every attempt to do my normal workouts is resulting in more pain. My friend asked if I’ve been doing what the doctor told me to do. I looked sheepish. I complained, “But I don’t want to. I want to just get back to normal.” She said, “If you want to get better then you have to do the work. It’s YOUR life.”

Minding the gap in a healthy way means a new normal. There’s no going back. That is the way of pain. Sit with the damn feelings. Do the damn exercises. Let go of the resentment. Love people with true compassion. Love the expanse. And mind the damn gap! It's YOUR life.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A little better

“I sometimes react to making a mistake as if I have betrayed myself. My fear of making a mistake seems to be based on the hidden assumption that I am potentially perfect and that if I can just be very careful I will not fall from heaven.”
Hugh Prather

I have to continually remind myself that there is no heaven. There is not big punishment waiting for me for any of the absurd things I have come to believe are “wrong.” Sure, there are consequences. But often, if not always, my perception of what the consequences will be is grossly misjudged. What, for instance, is the consequence of eating chips before bed? Well, if you could read my thoughts, you’d know that in my brain, the consequence is being a fat, worthless piece of crap who will never amount to anything (I am rather harsh). I will try and tell myself that I didn't eat a big dinner, or I should love myself as I am. I try and do the cognitive dissonance dance of figuring out a way to live with the shame of having done something I believe/perceive/know to be “wrong.” But I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. The consequence for eating chips before bed is probably thirst, which leads to drinking more water, which leads to peeing more often and sleeping less. This then results in a grumpy mom, a disgruntled household, and low productivity. It is added calories. And it might make me heavier. But I’ve even got that wrong too. Being heavier is not a moral wrong. There are consequences, sure. My knees might suffer. I might feel worse.

And that’s really what I’ve got to work with, isn’t it? How do my actions affect me and affect others? Am I making things better, or am I potentially making things worse?

“By approaching my problems with “What might make things a little better?” rather than “What is the solution?” I avoid setting myself up for certain frustration. My experience has show me that I am not going to solve anything in one stroke; at best I am only going to chip away at it.”
Hugh Prather

I have been pushing my feelings around lately - scooting them aside with food and alcohol and social engagements and phone use. I haven't wanted to take a good hard look at things. That’s a lot of pressure - going through rather than passing over. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be an excellent person. I fail, obviously, and then feel bad all the time. Well, this morning I took a little of Mr. Prather’s advice. What might make things a little better? That seemed doable.

I got up a little earlier. Not a lot but a little.
I meditated for five minutes. Nothing more.
I started the laundry before sitting down at the computer. Simple.

As I sat down at my computer I heard the voice in my head say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” I felt this overwhelming sense of gratitude toward myself and gave myself a little pat on the proverbial back.

That phrase is part of a verse from the Bible. I looked it up to try and remember its context.  It continues with, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21)
Wow. Well done, Minter. Well done. Share in the happiness that comes in the faithfulness of small things.

“To live for results would be to sentence myself to continuous frustration. My only sure reward is in my actions and not from them.”
Hugh Prather

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Good Company

If I had not bottomed out and dropped out of college and gotten that job through my cousin at that engineering company and if Marco had not switched to a different middle school and met his friend and if he had not come to the States for college and gotten that job and if his friend had not moved to Arizona and met his wife and then moved to Maine and then gotten divorced and if another woman had not gotten divorced and if she had not rented that apartment in the mill, I would not have gotten to be with these three amazing people.

Life is twisted.

One woman’s struggle to give her kids up for adoption is another person’s dream of having children. We come together and we fall apart.

The hard part, the essential core of getting through this life, is to wake to each time, each moment, whether horrible pain and grief or immense joy and relief, and embrace it.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. it’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” - Pema Chodron

Ah, but I don’t like knowing I’ve hurt someone.

I think that is the worst feeling for me. I will do anything to get out of it. I will apologize even when I know I am doing the right thing. I will drink or eat or have sex to avoid feeling guilty and awful.

But the truth is, I am guilty. I fail at friendships. I fail at marriage. I fail at motherhood. Every. Single. Day. But that is because I am human, it turns out.

“I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.” - Edna St. Vincent Millay

This past week I got to spend time with some of the most amazing humans. How grateful I am for all of their valuable mistakes that led to all of us being there together.

Today, as I sit with my feelings of regret, I will try to also hold gratitude. They walk hand-in-hand. When Pandora had regrettably let out all of the nasty vices, she was grateful to find hope at the bottom of the box. It didn't take away the horror she had let into the world, just as gratitude will not wash away my achy feelings of sadness and regret, but it will keep my pain good company.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Make. Do.

We played hooky yesterday. I let Maya skip school, and we went to my sister’s house to lounge by the pool. This was one of the best decisions I have made lately.

While sitting there, my nephew and I got to talking about passions and our desire to do art and how we don’t have time for it.

This is a complete falsehood I have told myself for many years.

I do have time. And I waste it. But not for the reason you might think. I often don’t pick up my brushes or my jewelry-making supplies or my felt because I don’t have a specific “project” in mind. I can spend hours perusing Pinterest looking for just the right idea, but then I don’t do it. I search for classes to take that will make me do it, and use my lack of funds and lack of time as an excuse to keep me from making “bad” art or “bad” music or “bad” writing. I want to pick up brushes and paint a masterpiece. What hogwash.

On Sunday, I was walking down the street and saw my neighbor on her porch playing her guitar. We started chatting about music and instruments. She showed me her studio. I was geeking out about Marco getting together with her and playing. And then her partner sent me this fantastic article about The Art of Focus. (My neighbors are the coolest.)

David Brooks writes, “The lesson from childhood, then, is that if you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”

And just now Amanda Palmer’s song Ukulele Anthem came on.

“Quit the bitching on your blog
And stop pretending art is hard
Just limit yourself to three chords
And do not practice daily
You'll minimize some stranger's sadness
With a piece of wood and plastic”

I mean, talk about stars aligning.

This isn’t about feeling guilty that you’re not doing it.

This is about giving in to the “terrifying longing” and just going nuts without worrying about what will result.

Yes, I am super busy. That is never going to change, and if I keep waiting I am going to miss all my opportunities. I have to make and do with what time I have.

In honor of Maya Angelou, who lived every day of her life vibrantly, I will leave you with this:

“I believe the most important thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”

Go. Make. Do.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Climbing Out

Depression is stupid. It's insidious, like a secret lover. You don't want it. But it is like erosion within. You're watching the water rise, and suddenly you're in a landslide. Oh crap. And then it's tempting, to just go, washed along in its flow, folding in to the dark, sleepy warmth. You can see the thoughts cycling downward. Yes, you are really depressed. Yes, you are really sad. Yes, this is happening. It's like a fog had rolled in, a drug-like fog. And you're fumbling around for the regular things. But everything is piling up. Oh, dammit, the laundry. Oh, shit, the papers. And there are the dishes. Wow. Didn't I just do them? How can it be this bad already?

Well, today is my friend's birthday. And on Friday we talked for 2.5 hours on the phone. She is battling breast cancer with courage and stamina and strength. When I told her I was so amazed at her positivity, she said, "What choice do I have? Being upset about it doesn't help." She spent much of the conversation inspiring me because that's what she does. She cares for others. She is generous and giving and lets so many people borrow her strength. And for this I am grateful.

Well, this morning I found that she posted this on my Facebook wall:

She had told me on the phone that, yes, we sometimes stumble back into struggles we thought we'd already finished, but that obviously there was something more to learn from it. But the important thing to remember is that we already did it. We are already victorious. And to just figure out what we need to learn and get on with the learning because, "What choice do we have?"

So, this morning I was all mopey putting on my shoes to go work out, and I just thought of her heading into another round of chemo, and it was like a shot in the arm.

I already did it. I survived. I was strong, even at nine. I did it. I can do it again. 

Bobbi was like the Puddleglum from Narnia who remembers that Narnia exists and uses his bare foot to stamp out the witch's fire so that everyone else can get out of the fog and remember too. 

He says:
“I don’t know rightly what you all mean by a world,” he said, talking like a man who hasn’t enough air. “But you can play that fiddle till your fingers drop off, and still you won’t make me forget Narnia; and the whole Overworld too. We’ll never see it again, I shouldn’t wonder. You may have blotted it out and turned it dark like this, for all I know. Nothing is more likely. But I know I was there once. I’ve seen the sky full of stars. I’ve seen the sun coming up out of the sea of a morning and sinking behind the mountains at night. And I’ve seen him up in the midday sky when I couldn’t look at him for brightness.”
Thank you, Bobbi. So, for you, here is a song to commemorate being strong, to honor where we've been and where we're going and to say:
"Fuck yes. I am exactly the person that I want to be." - Amanda Palmer

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