A friend sent me a fabulous article on Tiny Buddha called “What to Do When You Find it Hard to Do What’s Good for You.”
Of course I jumped right on it.
This is because I have that problem all the time, with all kinds of things.
I also have all kinds of (very good sounding) reasons for why I shouldn’t work harder to overcome the many obstacles in my life….especially the ones I sort of suspect I am putting in my own path.
Of course the author of the article talks about “big things” – obvious things – things like trying to quit smoking, trying to start eating better, trying to exercise for your health when you really just want to lay on the couch again – those sorts of things.
But I could easily see how the message relates to the smaller things too – the subtler things – things like talking rudely to yourself in your head, or letting fear creep up and tackle you yet again without even putting up a fight, or saying something mean about someone else because you just feel too lazy to restrain yourself.
The article’s author says that both the big things and the little things are a symptom of the same thing – a lack of self-respect.
I totally agree.
February is the “month of love” annually for many people.
Not for me.
And especially not this year.
A month before my birthday (in December) I lost someone who was like a second mom to me and had been slowly passing all during the last year. So….basically, an excruciating wait followed by an even more excruciating loss.
Two months after that (so in January), I went through the breakup of a long-term relationship….and by long-term, I’m talking a decade of not just romance but also true friendship.
It has been a challenging month.
To add insult to serious injury, the dreaded “grief cycle” (thanks but no thanks, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) quickly returned – with enthusiasm – to “help” me through my twin losses.
What its help has looked like on a daily basis feels similar to what I imagine I might see if I was inside a blender as it was grinding up a few heaping cups of multi-colored Fruit Loops.
I’m almost done reading “Divorce Among the Gulls: An Uncommon Look at Human Nature” by William Jordan (I previously wrote about this fascinating book in “Finding Our Niche and Defending It“).
The book is as much about people as it is about animals….and as much about animals as it is about people…..which means it is holding my attention quite well overall (except for the part about cockroaches – my gag reflex required me to skip over that one).
But when I got to the chapter called “Distracting the Snake,” I took a long pause to contemplate. Reason being, this chapter introduces a very plausible biologically-based theory for why human beings hurt the ones we love the most with the greatest frequency and the most lethal intent.
This was a question I have very much wanted to know the answer to for a great many years. So I read each word very, very slowwwwwlllllyyyyy.
Apparently, in college author Jordan had a literal “snake charmer” for a roommate. This odd and interesting fellow could turn snakes into cool scaly puppies, lying across his arms and even allowing total strangers to pass them around in a circle like party favors.
After Jordan witnessed Farley (the roommate’s name) handling an eight-foot gopher snake in the middle of the steaming hot Mojave Desert, he just had to ask. “How do you do it? What’s the secret to handling snakes?”
NOT my favorite topic, this one.
There are just so many issues with it. First of all, definitions. For instance, defining “rejection.” How does one know exactly that what they have received is rejection?
Or defining “love.” What is love, versus need, greed, codependency, etc.?
Then there is reconciliation – as in, reconciling what are often our mixed inner motives for offering our “love” in the first place – aka, what we were hoping/expecting/feeling entitled to receive back in return for our “gift.” Was it really love at all – what we were offering to the other person? Or was it a bargaining chip, a power play, a quid-pro-quo?
If we can sort these preliminary issues out, we might be on our way to really understanding why giving and receiving love feels so death-defyingly frightening…and often so nearly impossible to achieve.
One of my favorite authors, Don Miguel Ruiz, does a great job talking about these issues – me, not quite so much.
But since a sweet reader commented on a previous post and specifically asked me to answer her question (and I would very much like to answer it for myself as well) I will try.
Her question is, “I am still afraid to love other people openly and generously, because I am afraid that love will be rejected, and I will feel like an idiot. How do I overcome that?”
When I first read this question, I thought, “Good question!”
Then I started to think about how often we relate “love” to “romantic love,” kind of forgetting or discounting all the other kinds of love we feel and often demonstrate with more ease and peace. Love for family members, children, pets, community members, those who have fallen on hard times – all of these kinds of love are equally valid and worth exploring and expressing.
I also pondered that previous post – the one that prompted her question – and remembered yet again how Don Miguel Ruiz says that when we reject ourselves, we cannot offer authentic love to others, because we don’t perceive that what we have to offer has any real value.
So, given Ruiz’ wise counsel, and because I am a linear, flow-chart kind of person and I like step-by-step processes very much, it would then seem we might start to solve the problem by proceeding as follows:
The word “flow” first came into my life a year or so ago during a walk at the park.
A friend and I were talking about happiness – how to find it, how to know you have found it, how to make it stay.
He mentioned that for him, getting totally wrapped up in an activity – whether it is one he particularly thought he would enjoy or not – often feels so exhilarating it is indistinguishable from any other kind of happiness.
He said the name for this state is “flow.”
As I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading a new book called “Sheepish.” When I started reading the book, I expected to learn a lot about sheep…and wool….and sheep farmers.
I did not expect to learn about the originator of “flow” too.
So imagine my happy surprise when I flipped the page and read these words by author Catherine Friend:
If I start doing more things with my hands, whether that’s woodworking or gardening or knitting or baking cookies, I might fall into the condition made famous by the psychologist with the impossible name, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. That condition is “flow.” It means becoming completely involved in an activity not for the sake of the outcome but for the sheer joy of it. It means feeling alive when we are fully in the groove of doing something. According to Csikszentmihaly, the path to greatest happiness lies not with mindless consuming but with challenging ourselves to experience or produce something new, becoming in the process more engaged, connected, and alive.
So, for instance, if I completely dive into reconciling my receipts in preparation for tax time, losing track of time (and my sanity) in the process, that could be considered a form of happiness.
I love how sometimes, when I am reading one book, that leads to another and then another book….and before I know it I am four or five books into a cycle I started about a completely different topic for a completely different reason.
Take “Divorce Among the Gulls: An Uncommon Look at Human Nature,” for example.
This slim volume came to me courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Committed,” a book about how humans date, mate, and (often, unfortunately) split.
Gilbert, on the verge of being forcefully hitched as she writes, uses “Committed” as a tool to research the crap out of marriage, hoping to find some kind of magical reassurance that hers (the second for both of them) won’t suck. Or disappear. Or both.
In one chapter, she mentions how incompatibility is now thought to be at least partially biological. The example she cites is seagulls.
Other than the parrot – specifically the cockatiel – the seagull has to be my all-time top favorite bird. So of course I rushed right out to locate and acquire such essential reading.
I enjoyed the chapter on gulls immensely, but found the chapter on roof rats (scientifically, “Rattus rattus”) even more illuminating.
In my last post, I shared my discovery of a new movie mentor in Charlie, teenage hero of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
Charlie inspired me on many levels – and he also made me think.
In fact, I am still thinking about a particular conversation between Charlie and Sam, the object of his romantic affections. In the film, Sam has historically had trouble selecting men who treat her with respect. During this conversation, she asks Charlie why. His answer (effectively “borrowed” from an earlier conversation on the same topic he has had with his English teacher), is simple:
People accept the love they think they deserve.
I heard this dialogue and found myself nodding my internal head, “Yup, yup. So true, so true.”
I neatly catalogued the statement in my mind as a “profound cliche” and moved on. Until the middle of that night, when I woke up asking myself the uncomfortable, inevitable question: “So, Shannon, what kind of love do you think you deserve?”
Crap crap crap crap crap.
Last night I watched “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
I have had the film in my Netflix queue for awhile…..in fact, I have had the film in my house for quite awhile, all neatly sealed up in its little red envelope. I would get to the end of my day, look at the “number of minutes” count, realize there was no way I could stay awake for 102 whole minutes, and put off watching it for another night.
So last night was the night. Now I understand why I didn’t just send it back (sometimes I do this when I get too irritated by the sight of that red unopened envelope).
As it turned out, I could relate to the story in sooooo many ways – except that in my high school, there was no pair of caring senior students who took me under their social wing. Come to think of it, “wallflower” would be a mild description for my particular brand of social skills in high school….and in college….and for the first several years of life thereafter.
As such, the raw kindness of step-siblings Patrick and Sam took my breath away – just the sheer impact of how one small act of empathy can totally transform a life.
I particularly liked that the film was so open about so many issues that so many people still insist on staying so closed up about – sexual orientation, eating disorders, depression, friendship, romance, suicide, drug use, and the actual (not relative) appeal of “coolness” up close. I know I wasn’t open about any of those topics in my younger years, although I wrestled with some and suspected I had classmates who wrestled with others.
At one point, Charlie, the main character, asks his doctor if other people feel so sad as he does upon observing all the pain in others. She doesn’t seem sure – but I am. I too struggle with this. I have always struggled with this. Back in my songwriting days, I wrote a song called “For Me to Hold.” The chorus was simple: “Oh there’s too much pain in the world for me to hold, for me to hold.”
I wrote that song in my 20′s – I am now 42-and-counting and I still feel that way many days.
I am not fond of clutter.
One of my favorite things to do (I’m really not kidding about this) is to go through all my stuff – books, magazines, CDs, clothing, shoes – and select items to donate. Reason being: I aspire to “travel light” – even when I’m not going anywhere.
Yet for some reason a particular issues of Spirituality & Health magazine has been in my magazine basket for years – 13 years, precisely. The title of the issue is: “What is This Thing Called Love?” I have read the whole edition several times and I’m still not sure I know what love is (although I am quite clear that I still have a ways to go to master it myself). So, in lieu of (and in hopes of) eventual mastery, I hang on to the magazine, year after year.
This morning I opened the issue up to an article called “Each Other’s Stuff” by Alison Rose Levy. The article is so old I couldn’t even find the e-version of it online! (wow.)
A particular line caught my eye: “There’s no reason in the world we should know how to have a conscious relationship with another person, because it’s never been done before” (quote by John Welwood, “Toward a Psychology of Awakening”.)
The article opens by describing a scene out of a play I’ve never heard of called “The Bald Soprano.” In the scene, two people sit next to one another at a dinner party. As their conversation progresses, the assumption that they are two strangers just getting to know each other leads to a level of intimate sharing which ultimately reveals they are already married.
The point, of course, is that many, many so-called “intimate relationships” are far from intimate, to the point where we can feel all alone even when surrounded by family, friends, and significant others.
Interestingly, the article’s author, Levy, points out that “marrying for love” is a relatively recent invention – so much so that our expectations for what a love partnership can and should offer at times tend to vary significantly from the reality of what we can ever expect to receive from another human being.
I have experienced loss many times in my life – big loss, small loss, in-between loss.
But every time it happens again it feels like the first time it has ever happened. And I become aware all over again that I am not good at “loss.” I also don’t like it.
So I usually start by panicking (my default go-to reaction for practically everything good or not-so-good).
Then I email or text or call my mentor (sometimes I do all three all at the same time).
After that I will panic some more until it occurs to me I can cry or read a book or take a walk or try do something else to help myself work through it.
Why is loss on my mind right now?
Simply because, at this precise moment in my life, there are multiple losses stacking up on the horizon – some in the form of career redirection, some in the form of (scary) new opportunities, and one particular loss in the form of a human being who appears intent on making her final journey despite my vigorous protests.
So after faithfully completing steps 1, 2, and 3, I recently located a suitable book that sounded like it might help me through it – “Help.Thanks.Wow” by Anne Lamott.