Tag Archives: kindness

Grief: One Breath at a Time

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Today in yoga, when I got to have svasana, I meditated on compassion and the only word that came to me in response was “unfolding.”

Being on the web, with a blog, assures a certain vulnerability. My words are here for anyone to denigrate and yet I find myself buoyed by the kindnesses and trust of strangers.

Christmas is in a week and I miss the idea of wondering what my mother would give me as a gift. Would it be something I’d want? Would it be something she liked and she gave to me? Would it be something she’d give to everyone else or my sisters-in-law too?

I sit here, just a bit more than a year after her death and I feel emotions ranging from pure confusion about death to sadness that people, all of us, die; from deep guilt that I wasn’t a better daughter, to pure anger that she wasn’t a better mother; from a proud awareness that we are each others’ teachers to a sheepish allowance that we are each others’ pupils.

The human ego is such an odd, strange thing. It’s there to protect us from emotional harm, but for me, in the end all it does is delay the eventual pain when it protects too much. It elevates us, falsely, above and beyond our threshold of “value” so that we are uneven with that which hurts us. When we come down, to the reality that we are all connected, that we all breathe the same way, that we all eat with a mouth and chew with our teeth and fart and cry and poop and sneeze … it can be a lot to bear.

Yeah.

It’s a cold reality sometimes.

When I was a child, I held my parents to a godlike status. As I’ve aged, they did / are too and I see their humanity. I use the present tense with Mom, even today, because my perception of her humanity is ever emerging even though she has moved on.

I shared a dream, the only one, I had of Mom after she died with my father yesterday and it made me weep to share it. Not because she’s dead, but because it’s really a gorgeous message.

She was on a shoreline on a familiar Canadian beach on Lake Erie where we swam often. Her sylvan hair was in a chin-length bob. She was wearing a navy blue knit cashmere suit, her red cashmere sweater, a cashmere black, white, red and navy plaid scarf and these little blue leather loafers she loved but I hated for the same reason: because they were so shapeless. She was in her healthy early 70s. She was about one hundred feet from me, walking along the shore, just at the point where a receding wave leaves the sand still slick and wet and shiny. She stopped and looked over some tiny spiral shells on the shore. Her hands were clasped behind her back and her hair would sweep down over her face, I couldn’t see it perfectly, but it was her. The lake’s tiny waves were lapping at her shoes. She didn’t care. She bent over and inspected closer. Her fingers were glancing along the sand, turning over a little shell here, or a rounded, ancient pebble there. The sun had set behind me, behind the trees bunkering the white tent where a festive party was going on behind me, and I called out to her, “Mom! Mom! C’mon! You’re missing the party!” and she turned to me, and she said nothing. Her hair was clear off her face now. Stars were starting to show in the periwinkle sky. She beamed at me, this gorgeous wide smile she had. Her lips were red with our favorite lipstick she bought because I loved it so much. She swept up her arms as the wind swept up her scarf and her hair around her cheeks and she turned to the water. Her face looked up to the heavens and she looked back at me and shook her head “no” and instead lovingly and theatrically gesturing at all the glory of things I’d never understand in this lifetime as if to say, “No. You’re missing the party.”

I turned back to the party, to reference it, to say, “NO! It’s happening here! Mom!” and I turned back to her, and she was gone.

This is the Mom I never allowed. The one who bucked the system yet wore cashmere anyway. The one who I wanted fiercely to somehow morph into a rule-follower. The one who I wanted to tell me when to be home and to punish me when I wasn’t. The one who I needed to help me with my homework when I lied and said there wasn’t any. That one wasn’t there.

It’s hard to have so many conflicting emotions about the woman who brought me into this world. I loved her the only way I could, the way she let me. She used to say to me, “Maaaally, you’re conflicted. You’re ambivalent. You can’t ‘hate‘ me without loving me first.”

I hated it when she said that.

Snort.

Because even though I used to tell her she was full of crap, she was so right. I loved her like … a child loves its mother; with a fierce, fearful, perfect and abiding love. She could do no wrong when I was young. It wasn’t until I was much older, that I saw her humanity … and I hated it. It broke me apart; her fragility broke me apart. She lived on a different plane; where there were no rules and that all of them could be broken. I was brought here to learn that.

I was going to make it with or without her; I laugh at that now. She was instrumental in hardening me for this world I inhabit now. So at this moment, while I miss her, and I miss the idea of wondering whether I would feel rejected or loved by the Christmas gift she would give me, I realize that the gift she gave me, all along, is life. With all its ups and downs, my mom gave me life.

If your mom is around in your life still, and you are in communication with her, tell her thanks from me for giving us you. And if you’re not in communication with her, well … say something nice about yourself because she helped make you.

We do not live one day at a time; we live one breath at a time. This is the ‘unfolding.’ This is the message from svasana. When we are still, things change.

Thank you.

Cutting Off Is Never That Simple

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I have never “enjoyed” the process of letting people go, of making the decision that cuts them out of my life.

It is incredibly hard. Depending on the depth of the relationship, it can be emotionally devastating. But so can staying with that energy, allowing it to cloud your judgement and color your thoughts.

I was once told that I seem to do it with such ease, that nary a thought occurs to me when I execute such a decision, that I seem cold, heartless and missing the bigger picture: that having sandpaper people in our lives can yield in us a softer and kinder person. That the parable of the pearl, created through agitation, can apply to us humans as well.

I get that. In fact, the phenomenon of a pearl’s creation is one of my most favorite analogies in dealing with life and its moments of intense difficulty.

I also think about bridges and how they snap under too much pressure; I think about how load-bearing walls are there for a reason; I think about how hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes and mudslides show us how when enough is enough, it’s often too much.

I have been a jerk to people and they’ve summarily cut me out. I get mad, defensive and feel like they’re insensitive to MY needs, that for some reason, I should be tolerated for epochs and should be able to just chip away at people because hey, “I’m flawed. Love me anyway, ok? Love me for me….”

Why? Why should people love me for me? Are they Jesus? Are they the Dalai Lama? Are they Mother Theresa? No. They are not limitless in their compassion (which means “to co-suffer,” by the way), and often it’s their compassion that needs to kick me to the curb. They need to get out of my way so that I can look at myself in all my idiocy, with all my raw data and no filter to see myself, as I can be: an asshole at times.

Enter nine years of therapy. Being raised by a brilliant, distant, narcissistic, elegant-on-the-outside, tortured-on-the-inside, terrified, caustic parent has prepared me for others like her all my life. I get it now: Mom prepared me all my life to be on the lookout for more people just like her.

Exploiting Kindness

Even Mom said to me when I simply couldn’t handle any further duplicity or hurt, “You have nooooooooooo problem just cutting people out of your life…. you just cut them off because you can’t handle what they show you about yourself… You’re not strong…. you’re weak….” and I used to believe that.

I used to think, “Holy shit. She’s right: I am unable to cope with this, I must be stronger and show myself that I can take it….After all, ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,’ right?” which from my now very-cheap seats, that kind of self-talk sounds a lot like masochism, and self-abuse. It looks a lot like enabling too: if we keep letting it happen, if we keep exposing ourselves to the same people who hurt us or that make us uncomfortable, then we are tacitly endorsing it, we are allowing it. All of this, and many more forms I’ve likely not mentioned looks a lot like putting ourselves last.

When we take a stand, we hear the appeals and the apologies and the boo-hooing and before you know it, you’re shoving your intuition down the tubes and taking care of the offender, by putting them first. You’re suddenly responsible for their feelings. You’re suddenly telling them it’ll be ok and thrust into feeling bad for making them see the truth. (More below.) It’s verrrrrry sneeeeeeaky.

I’m not talking about the discomfort that arises when you do something uncool and someone calls you out on it. I’m talking about witnessing an uncool act and then saying nothing about it. The former is an opportunity for change; the latter is fertile soil for codependency and continued ugliness.

Over time, the bridge can only handle so much load. Over time, the walls cave in. Over time, the bough breaks and down will come baby, cradle and all.

If you’re like me: you were conditioned to doubt what you saw and what you felt and rationalize everything that hurt. You were conditioned to try harder, longer and put up with more, to essentially stand in the lightning storm under a tree, then the guts and the gumption to begin to decide to cut people out often comes at a price: we are bruised, we are broken, we have suffered and we have poured out our spleen on the table — only to have to defend it. It’s madness.

But we still try. We try to keep the broken wagon rolling because we have been conditioned to do ALL WE CAN to abate the pain of the offender. We don’t want the other to feel bad for our exposure of their treatment …

Then there’s the actual decision: incredible self-doubt to make the decision to sit up, to stand up, to leave, to walk and to not look back. NONE OF THIS IS EASY.

Then there’s the weight of the decision, the appeals and the blame and the “but you’re not perfect either and I love you anyway!” music from the person who can’t sit with your decision, who can’t sit with the hurt they’ve inflicted on you, who can’t look themselves in the mirror and dig deep inside themselves to shine a light and look at why they do what they do — and not just to you, but to lots of people. Why they stir pots, why they fight so much, why they pick and tear at people and their psychic fabrics. They have to keep flapping because that keeps the dust flying. If they were to stop flapping and let the dust settle, they’d see the wash of destruction and hurt they’ve inflicted on people.

Another point, and it’s very subtly played out: When person A starts out with an apology, but it morphs into “you’re no prize either, I’ve seen you do some crazy shit…” You, person B, have naively slipped into the defending-yourself-for-no-apparent-reason-when-this-was-supposed-to-be-an-apology-from-the-other-person zone. It’s a slick slope.

I don’t like this feeling when I cut people out: the supposition that I’m intolerant, that I’m hard, that I have no flexibility, that I’m the one who is unkind, that I don’t forgive and forget, that I’m super-sensitive and that I have no compassion.

But is that me? Am I projecting that opinion on to myself and placing it on society? When I’ve heard similar stories from other people about treatment they’ve endured up until a point or whilst in the midst of it, I’m certain I’ve said, “That sucks. You need to cut bait and leave…” So why should I, why should you, why should anyone stick around?

Is there some great grand lesson? Heck yes! The lesson is this: IF IT HURTS, STOP DOING IT OR IT WILL CONTINUE.

This is what we say in yoga, “Take the pose to your edge, no pain. If you feel pain, back off. You are not supposed to feel pain.”

I can’t believe for ONE second that we are put on this earth to suffer; that God or whatever you want to call it is so spiteful that we are supposed to ENDURE needless emotional pain, for that’s what lasts the most.

But I Love You Anyway…

Those people who try to pull this on you, say “I love you for you” and “You’re messed up just like I am…” are again placing their crap on you. It’s subtle and sneaky and I like to believe it’s even unconscious, but they are again saying, “Take me for how I am with all my shit [because I’m unlikely to change] because I take you with all your shit [which is equally screwed up; but even if it’s not*, my misery loves company and I can’t bear to be left alone with myself] and you and I will get along fine… [Just don’t remind me of what I do…]”

Don’t be fooled by it! They are trying to lump you in with their bad behavior; they are trying to point the finger at you; they are trying to play the upper hand, and BELIEVE ME: THEY ARE JUDGING YOU! Right there! They are judging you! It’s very very very subtle, but you’ve just been judged. They’re keeping score, they’ve been watching you screw up all along so that when the freaking hammer falls, they’ve got an ace to throw on the table. *if you’re drawing a line, if you’ve hit your limit, chances are you’re no longer as equally screwed up…

The last time I checked: if I didn’t give birth to you or marry you, I don’t have to take this. I can be nice, I can be civil, but there’s nothing else I need to give to you. Speaking of children, what are we modeling for them if we just keep taking it? To teach them resilience AND self-care, we must model strength in all its forms.

People who are close to self-actualized play fair and  this recent bullying experience has shown me all I need to know: if an adult is an actual adult, and possibly your friend, s/he doesn’t go after your kid to attack or argue with. They go after you. They don’t rationalize what they’ve done as “crazy” and they don’t offer forced apologies to continue to rationalize their behavior.

Any adult who goes after a child is a predator, no matter how you slice it: they go after the weaker and the smaller and I simply don’t have time for that.

God gave me my mother for a reason and I’m so grateful now. Mom showed me that I had to put up with only one person like her, because she honed me to deal with life in a very clear cut way: I must stand up for myself because expecting someone else to is folly. Shrouding abuse as friendship / love / marriage is really insidious.

As Travolta said …

Cutting people out is never easy. There can be community repercussions, you might lose some sleep over the decision, you might want to run back hours or days later and say, “I didn’t mean it! I am sorry I cut you out after you abused me! You’re right! I should’ve been stronger! We all make mistakes!” (DON’T DO THAT.)

Sometimes, it’s the only way. You don’t have to take it. You can’t be a jerk about it, but you don’t have to take it. A clean cut, no matter how difficult and uncomfortable, will also, my friends create a pearl, or brighter yet: a diamond, and that sparkly, shiny thing is you.

Thank you.