Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Receiving Without Fear

Some of us find it easier to give than receive. Since receiving really is a critical part of our first experience (none of us would have survived infancy unless we'd received some care) I'm curious about why this can be such a challenge for many of us.

There's the obvious culprit: a dominator culture that values power-over tends to see the person who is giving as stronger and, by inference, the one who is receiving as weaker. The implication is that if you have something (time, energy, money, advice, insight, support, compassion etc.) to give, you must be doing something right, and if you need something you cannot provide for yourself, you must be doing something wrong. In part, this goes along with the cultural premium that is placed on independence- a fallacy if there ever was one in an inter-dependent world.

I recently heard a news story about a ninety year old woman who committed suicide because she knew that sometime in the next few years she would not be able to live independently. Now, this is the kind of decision re:quality of life I want to leave up to individuals. Still, I could not help but wonder if the collective value we put on so-called independence might not make it difficult for those of us living in affluent parts of the world to see receiving assistance as we age not only as loss, but also as a way to learn something together. I have gone through periods when illness has necessitated relying heavily on friends and family for care. My delusion of self-sufficiency was shattered, and nothing has softened my heart more to myself and others than needing and receiving help. 

Of course receiving, depending on the situation, can sometimes feel unsafe. As discussed in last week’s blog, "Giving Without Resentment," giving is sometimes (consciously or not) done in a bid to gain power over another or as a way to make a bargain- goods or consideration for later unspecified favours. If these deals are vague and unspoken we can end up feeling we owe another, unsure of what exactly is expected. 

But the truth is, as adults, another’s expectations are only our problem if we buy into them. If someone gives me something, my role is to receive it as graciously and as freely as possible. If that person comes back later expecting or pulling for something in exchange that was not agreed to, I need to sit with whether or not I can or want to give what is requested, and to be clear that there was no agreed-to exchange. If this happens repeatedly with another, I will ask that implicit deals be made explicit before receiving. (If you cook me dinner are you expecting something in return?) If this still leaves the other expecting something unspecified in return for giving I may reconsider receiving from this particular person

Honestly, if we stay conscious about and aren’t drawn into obligations we never agreed to, the other will stop trying to create unspoken bargains simply because it’s not working for them.

But what if someone wants to give us something we don't need or want? Well, the first option is to simply say, “No, thank you,” particularly if what is offered is going to create any suffering (Eg.- a visit, even with someone we love, can be draining when we are ill.) We can receive and appreciate the caring intent but let the other know this is not something we can or want to receive right now. Of course, if we know what we need, the next step is to ask for it- post-graduate work for many of us leery of receiving. 

"We accept the love we feel we deserve," is a line from the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Perhaps, if we are reluctant receivers, it is because we have been taught to believe that we are not deserving- a  belief worth challenging as we learn to cherish ourselves.

The sad thing about not trusting our boundaries and our right to say "Yes please," or "No thank you," is that we may develop the habit of being non-receptive, of not really taking in what is offered and allowing it to replenish us each day. This can leave anyone who is giving feeling unreceived and the receiver strangely hungry for what is offered but not really received.

We cannot help but be both givers and receivers every day. And the world we co-create is largely shaped and coloured by how we are with ourselves and each other in our giving and receiving. Both can create knots of obligation and resentment or cultivate open-hearted joy and gratitude.

Today, may we take in with gratitude and without fear that which we choose to receive, and may we give without resentment that which we can offered in a truly sustainable way.

 Oriah (c) 2013

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Giving Without Resentment

Thinking about giving, offering what we have and can give without endangering ourselves (ie.- truly sustainable giving.) Even a small offering of time, presence, material goods, compassion, skills etc. can truly touch and lift another.

Of course it gets complicated if giving is somehow mandatory (ruled by an inner "should.") Was rereading Gabor Mate's wonderful book When The Body  Says No. In it he says something like- if you have a choice between guilt and resentment, choose guilt, because resentment is soul-destroying.

Resentment arises when we give where or when we either really don't want to or it is truly not sustainable to do so. Guilt sometimes arises for some of us when we do not give where we have been taught we should (and some of us were taught we should give all of the time everywhere!) Giving can feel like a slippery slope for some of us if we feel that in giving anything we are obligated to give everything. But it's not true, and believing this leads to truly unsustainable giving (until we collapse) or refusing to give anything in a reacitve effort to protect ourselves (which robs us of the joy of giving and the other of what he or she might have received.)

Of course the catch is we need to stay deeply aware of our hearts and bodies so we know what we can or cannot give without detriment to ourselves or others. When conditions are stressful it's easy to disconnect from knowing what our inner and outer resources really are. It helps to develop a daily practice that brings us deeply in touch with ourselves.

Resentment can also arise where we are making a secret (as in largely unconscious) "deal" - for example, offering something to another in the hopes that we will be seen, loved, appreciated, praised or rewarded for giving. This one is tricky, because we can't be more conscious than we are, but if we find ourselves often feeling owed or misused where we are giving, there's a pretty good chance that we are expecting something in return. Explicit deals (as in- you can borrow my car if you pick me up at the airport at the end of the week) often work for everyone. Implicit, secret, unconscious or implied deals are likely to breed disappointment and resentment. Difficult for people to hold up their end of the bargain when they didn't know there was a deal being made.

Giving without resentment is a gift to both the receiver and the giver and truly one of the great joys of human life when it is clear, clean, without secret expectations or a sense of obligation beyond doing what we can. It is our nature to want to give what we can where it is needed. We are interdependent with each other, the planet and all life here. No one lives without giving and receiving. When we are aware of how frequently giving and receiving are in our lives, gratitude for both naturally arises and enriches our day.

Of course for some of us receiving is a bigger challenge than giving- but I'll mull that one over for next week's blog.

 (Thanks to Debbie Devine whose FB post last week started my mulling on this one.)

Oriah (c) 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Flowering Anyway

As I do my morning prayers and meditation I am brought- once again!- into awareness of the vastness of what I do not control and how much energy I waste in denial of this. Oh, I get that I don't control other people or the weather or many other changing conditions (although, of course, I participate in co-creating the world we share.) But the place where I keep hurtling myself against a brick wall (and then wondering why I wake up covered in bruises) is around my desire to control how things impact me.

Don't get me wrong- my attitude, my inner work to be conscious, my willingness to do what I know helps me maintain awareness (like my morning practise) - all of these deeply effect my ability to stay awake, to choose how I will respond. But emotions, sensations and thoughts arise spontaneously, often affecting me internally even when I am able to choose my external response. The place where I truly go into denial (and after thirty years with a chronic illness that has, at times, put me in bed for months, I am embarrassed to admit my reoccurring blindness around this reality) is in facing how things impact me physically, that this body-self has particular limits, limits that of course are not static and unchanging but never-the-less real.

My mother was always a big advocate of "mind over matter," (which was code for "over-ride your body-wisdom.") Of course, we know how profoundly the mind effects the matter of our bodies. But I have also come to see mind and matter as two possible ways of seeing one wholeness. Insisting that my physical body can do what it can't lands me in bed or the medical clinic with some frustrated and bewildered doctor asking, (voice volume just slightly shy of shouting) "What are you not getting about this? What can I say that will communicate to you that if you insist on doing what your body cannot you will end or housebound or bedbound or worse?"

What am I not getting? That although we have choices we are- I am- not in charge of a great deal.

So, once again I surrender to what is, accepting - albeit not as gracefully as I would have liked- my limitations in this moment. I accepted long ago that hang gliding and seventeen hour work days are not in the cards for me. With more difficulty, I recognize that there are very real limits to the assistance I can offer others right now, that they may be disappointed and angry or may not believe that these limits  are real. I surrender to the possibility of being misunderstood or judged. Because I can’t control that either.

My favourite card in the Xultan Tarot deck is “Strength.” It’s an image of a cactus flowering in a pot. It reminds me that at any given moment we find ourselves in a particular “pot,” a set of of conditions that may be personal and specific to us or embedded in the reality we share, things that shape and limit available choices. 

But there is nothing within the present moment limitations that stops us from flowering, from being all of who we are and offering what we are to the world. The form may not be as we had hoped or imagined, but unfolding and living from our essential beingness is always possible.

I want to use all that I am and all that I have for flowering. I don’t want to waste one bit of time or energy on denial of or fighting with present-moment limitations that are beyond my control. Because flowering, unfolding into the life we are given regardless of present-moment limitations, is what brings us joy. . . . is what heals the world. . . . is why we are here.

Oriah (c) 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Making Boundaries Stick

I keep getting this very strange (as in unfamiliar) feeling that I have reached a new level of. . . . caring for my own life. The form of this self-care is a bit of a shock. Feeling the preciousness of our time here, knowing what does and does not feed my body and soul I am actually finding it easier to say a firm but quiet, “No thanks,” to the activities or people I find draining- without judgement or emotional charge or any need to justify my choice. 

Now, I’ve known for a long time that a lack of healthy boundaries often gets expressed as aggressiveness or judgement (awkward and often unkind ways to push someone away when we don’t feel we have the right to just say, “No.”) In fact, when we feel we have a right to make choices in our own life, we can actually say, “No thanks, that’s not for me right now,” or "No, I'm not able to do that," with genuine friendliness or neutrality.

And here’s the truly magical thing: when we are absolutely clear within ourselves, the other is much  more likely to hear the clarity and, even if disappointed, is much less likely to try to persuade or cajole or try to manipulate or shame. 

If, on the other hand, others are pushing or seem to be ignoring our refusal, if we think to ourselves in frustration, "They just don't get it!" (where the "it" may be a limitation in our lives, or other priorities, or just our preferences) we can bet that at least part of the problem is that WE don't get it! And since we don't get-  maybe because we don't give legitimacy to our limitations of the moment or priorities or preferences- guess what? Others can't "get it" - won't hear it or believe it- either!

Of course, sometimes the other is just picking up on our genuine ambivalence or ambiguity about whether or not we can or want to participate in a particular situation, and our own "shoulds" may be muddying the water. But just bringing that inner uncertainty to consciousness may give us enough clarity to say, "I don't know right now," or "I'll have to get back to you on that when I'm clear about what I can/want to do." Knowing we are unclear is a kind of clarity in itself.
And our clarity about our own life IS the healthy boundary we need to live side by side with others.

Oriah (c) 2013

(Afternote: So, here's what you need to know about this little blog. I wrote it spontaneously a couple of weeks ago, and then forgot about it. I "found" it today. And I am posting it because I need to read it over and over. For the last couple of weeks I have had quite a few moments when I've "lost" what I thought I "got" about what I can and cannot do to the detriment of my body and soul. Sigh. Humbling really. But the good thing about writing this stuff down is that my momentarily-gone-to-sleep self may actually find and hear the wisdom I had, at least once, when I was awake for a minute or two.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Loosening the Clenched Fist

It's been a challenging week around tending my parents' needs (both have Alzheimer's) but it made me remember this little trick I sometimes use when I recognize that I am worrying. Sometimes just noticing is not enough to stop the cycle of obsessing about possible worst-case scenarios. 

Mostly the "trick" is just a way to help me loosen the mind's death-grip on the certainty that disaster is bound to ensue and, on a less conscious level, the unfounded and erroneous belief that bad things can be averted by ceasely reviewing, anticipating and worrying about things we cannot control. The worrying mind is like a clenched fist wrapped around some preoccupation. The "trick" is to get the fist to unclench.

When my sons were young we lived on very little income, and I often found myself worrying about our finances. I am not talking about the mental work sometimes needed to figure out a way to take care of something that needs tending but the mental obsessing that does nothing but wind us tighter and tighter around fears of "What if.. . . ?" What I discovered was that no matter how limited our finances were, the easiest way to stop this compulsive monkey-mind-worrying was to give a little money away- make a small donation or give a little cash to someone I knew needed it. It was almost magical how quickly that gave me some mental breathing room and stopped the cycle of worrying about money.

I suppose it's sort of a homeopathic approach to breaking a mental loop we know is not doing us or anyone else any good and is robbing us of the joy of the present moment. The trick is to match the act that stops the spiral to the imagined fear.

So, if I am feeling ignored or badly used by someone (sometimes it actually happens and sometimes we just imagined it happened- and either way I for one can obsess) and I start worrying that I should have done something on my own behalf or have failed to take care of myself, I make a point of really seeing others I do not know, others with whom I will only have momentary interaction (and may be inadvertently treating as invisible:) I slow down and hold the door for a stranger; look a cashier in the eye and thank her; greet a fellow tenant in my building, asking them about their day and listening with real curiosity; send an anonymous note of appreciation for the tax revenue agent who gave me the information I needed to complete my forms. (True story- made me smile to think how that must have surprised someone!)

I'm careful with this- I was raised to revere martrydom I don't want to go into denial about feeling crappy or having a concern. And, of course, there may well be places where I need to speak up on  my own behalf or be more assertive. But what I am talking about here isn't about strategies to create a better outcome in the situation that concerns me. I'm talking about ways to press the pause button on the monkey-mind obsessiveness by doing something small in the direction of my fear. Fearing economic scarcity I give a little money away and the mind's terror loosens; feeling ignored or misused I acknowledge another anonymously and being invisible becomes part of the pleasure, does not interfere with good self-care or generosity toward others.

So, this week- imagining and worrying about possible future scenarios for my parents (and whether or not I will be able to meet their needs-) I offered to help an elderly neighbour whose family lives far away. It was a small thing that took very little time and energy. My parents' needs are real, and I am in no position to assume on-going responsibility for other elderly folks. But the act of offering small in-the-moment assistance stopped the obsessive worrying, reminded me that no one does this alone, that people everywhere offer what they can, that what can be done in the present moment is all we need to do. As the worrying mind was hushed by a small action, I heard once again the words of Arthur Ashe I often use as my calming mantra: "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."

The thing about the joy-destroying clench-fisted nature of worry is that it often cannot be stopped by either giving it free reign or by pulling away from it. The former just feeds the beastie and the latter just increases the tension and tightens the mind's grip on its obsession. And if it's picked up enough speed and energy, sometimes trying to calmly watch it doesn't slow it down much at all. But sometimes, doing something that echoes the fear- of not having enough, of not practicing good self-care, of being overwhelmed by the needs of others-  interrupts the cycle and restores perspective.

And for that, I am deeply grateful.

Oriah (c) 2013