Wednesday, August 15, 2012
I spent the last two weeks in a cabin in the woods alone, doing my Sacred Pipe prayers daily sitting on the damp earth as the sun rose and the loon’s call echoed down the river. I did a little swimming in the river- but mostly I wrote. No phone, no television, no internet. The silence was spectacular, the isolation was intense, the writing went on and on and on.
And then, I came home.
I’ve only been home three days, but it’s been a busy time of dealing with changing developments in the care arrangements for my parents (both of whom have Alzheimer’s.) There are questions. There are challenges. There is heart ache and frustration. There is a need for action. There are obstacles to taking action. There are accusations, abuses, lies and the opening of old wounds. There is responsibility. There is bewilderment and grief.
Compared to my previous two weeks, there is a flood of interaction, a constant quest for clarity and wisdom, continual use of electronic communication (or miscommunication.)
Taking an early morning walk two thoughts kept coming to mind for contemplation. One is an observation, the other is a belief that has been brought to consciousness. Both opened me to truths that ask me to stretch in my capacity to be with the other.
First the observation: It is much easier to be calm, kind and forgiving, even when on the receiving end of difficult behaviour, whether mildly irritating or blatantly unjust, if we understand something of the story of the other. If a friend is constantly worrying about money, keeping track of who paid for what and exacting the dollar difference in shared expenses, it's much easier to tolerate her obsession, to be patient with her anxiety if I know she was raised in abject poverty, or grew up in a household where money was seen as power and used to manipulate others.
But often we don’t know the other’s history, the back story of the fears that drive them or the beliefs that shape their behaviour. (We're not always aware of this within ourselves!) The challenge is to hold the other in my heart when I don't understand why they are behaving the way they are, to know that in this moment they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with even when I don’t know what old psychological material or lack of resources they are experiencing. I’m not talking about taking or allowing abuse or injustice. I can remove myself (or others) from range when someone is striking out and/or sometimes step in and stop action that may cause harm without making the other something less that another human being doing the best they can. Now that’s a challenge – particularly when the other is swinging at you!
As I stepped out of range of a few nasty swings in the last few days, I also realized I hold a semi-conscious belief that if I am as kind and patient and compassionate as I can be with another, sooner or later the other will be kind and patient and compassionate with me. Sometimes it works. We human beings are very responsive creatures. But sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes we can be kind and compassionate and patient and we still have to be smart enough and alert enough to duck when someone takes a swing at us.
The challenge, the stretch is to be kind and patient and compassionate because that‘s the way I want to be with others (and myself.) Not to get a particular response. Not to earn consideration or love or approval. Not to stop the other from wanting to do me harm. To be compassionate for the sake of compassion- with no expectation of effecting change in the other, but because that is how we want to live, even as we know we will do so imperfectly, as human beings, doing the best we can.
Deep breath, . . . . wide heart-stretch.
Oriah (c) 2012