Burden says it all
Look past or look through
Choosing lightens now
Burden says it all
I hear the fan whirr
Air of life never still
Swirling around me
Answers are temporary
Hi all – This is an experiment to see if I can post some old talks that I have given. This is one I did at the C.G. Jung Institute of LA a few years ago. Let me know if anyone is interested in such stuff as I do have more!
F is for Fair
“It’s not fair!”
Can you recall when you first began to use that phrase? I place mine somewhere around age 8. The awareness that life was unfair was my version of getting kicked out of my own Garden of Eden, my own loss of innocence. I’m sure there were many losses in my life prior to age 8, but this clear and righteous articulation is one of the great truths of human experience and marked a coming of age for me.
I remember a story I heard years ago about a child who comes home from Sunday School with a drawing. His mother was used to this as they often drew pictures of Bible stories, but she couldn’t figure this one out as it showed a big car with two people in the back seat as someone drives them through a massive gate. When asked about this the child said, “Oh, that is the Angel of the Lord driving Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden.” I have often had the fantasy that the dialogue in the back seat of that vehicle included various versions of, “It’s not fair!”, along with a lot of mutual recrimination as to whose fault the whole thing was, but that’s another story.
Now, many years later I have a question for the 8 year old me: “What did you expect?” In hindsight I suppose it was simply that if one knew and played by the rules there would be a predictable and acceptable outcome. I think this is when I discovered the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: There is suffering. Not liking this fact I did what Jack Kornfield describes as “going to war with the way things are.” I kept trying to storm the gates of Eden. In the process I conveniently forgot the part of the story where God puts an angel with a flaming sword at the gate to prevent such delusional and ineffective regressions.
I then spent a number of years wandering in the Wilderness of Entitlement. Somehow this suffering thing was a mistake that would be corrected any minute now. I even printed up T-shirts that said on the front: “Don’t they know who I am?”; and on the back: “Who do they think they are?” I sold a lot of tee-shirts, but only to other wanderers. Slowly, but surely exhaustion set in and I began to consider another option: maybe I could accept things “the way they are”. I would get a glimpse of something I didn’t quite have a name for and I liked it, but then the required vulnerability and hard work required seemed to be too much. So, it was put on the T-shirt and try to make the same efforts have a different outcome. Have you seen this movie?
This cycle repeated itself more times than I care to remember, but then one day I saw clearly certain consistent themes in my wanderings. There was a difference between reacting and responding. Basically, reacting is a version of my 8 year old: “It’s not fair.” And responding is a based on not taking things personally. When I reacted to the elements of my life I usually didn’t like the outcome. And, when I was somehow able to respond to them there was a kind of peace. I realized that the key to this difference was whether or not I was willing to accept responsibility for my internal and external experience. There was, and is, still suffering. What I’ve come to appreciate is that there is a kind of fairness to life, I’m just using a different kind of measurement. I notice that sometimes I get more than my fair share, and sometimes I get less – whatever that means on any given Tuesday. The difference is that the more I notice and respect these realities the less demanding I am about getting more, and the more I was able to be present with the hard stuff. I wear the T-shirt a lot less often now.
Coming soon: G is for Germ
I had been working on this material for a number months and could not seem to get it quite right. Then I was introduced to the Brene Brown giving two Ted Talks on Vulnerability and Shame – which I highly recommend – and I realized that I was being held hostage by some notion of “perfect”. And if I couldn’t do this perfectly then I wasn’t going to expose myself. Even now as I write I feel self-conscious and exposed and narcissistic. In other words, vulnerable.
What are our experiences of enough? What’s your first response if someone asks you, “Did you get enough? Do you have enough?” One thought is that enough implies a limit, a settling, a compromise. Do you have enough time, energy, sleep, money, sex? Haven’t we all been taught to want, expect, and demand “more”?
Then there’s the always fun question: Am I enough? That one can easily activate my internal Greek Chorus of, “No, not really.” And the list of areas and characteristics and action and in-actions that have been tried and found wanting is instantly available for reference. My internal critic makes the Internet Cloud look like an amateur.
And, enough by what standards? By whose criterion? Parents? Teachers? Priests, Preachers, and Rabbis? God? The right group in school? I’ve observed over the years that there is a stated or implied guideline/rule for every human action and inaction. A deeply imbedded – notice I didn’t say inherent – sense of what is right or correct. In other words there’s always a standard that I’m failing to meet or live up to. Basically we’re up against endless variations and permutations of perfect. As far as I can tell it goes like this in one form or another: “If you/I could only do/not-do X, Y, Z then… we’d be OK/perfect.” I’m pretty sure the game is rigged and not in our favor. So, why do we keep playing? My theory on this is that we have a secret belief that maybe we can actually pull it off and beat the system. If we just worked a little harder, were a little more courageous and creative we could pull it off.
So let’s separate perfect from enough and see what happens. When is the last time you had an experience of enough? It comes up around any of our rituals of giving and receiving as on birthdays or Christmas. The overwhelming obligation to figure out what to get people. The anticipation as people open the gift we have given them hoping that their faces will tell us we did it right. What is it we’re hoping to experience on either side of these rituals of giving and receiving? What “click” are we hoping to hear or see that makes the world ok – for the moment at least. Is it enough? Or, was more wanted, expected, demanded? In the face of all this the idea of enough just doesn’t seem to cut it. Enough seems like settling. We often end up pretending we really were dying for the socks and underwear when deep down we wanted…What? And the real killer is that even when we do get “the thing” we wanted we soon want more.
Here are some things I know about enough:
Enough is not settling, it is completion.
Enough is affirmative rather than defensive.
Enough is often not fancy.
The war of perfection is over – we won.
Enough is what is.
There’s a relatedness/balance/click to the “enough” that knows.
Enough brings a smile, a release of tension, a harmony.
Enough, unlike perfection, is available.
This post isn’t perfect, but it will have to be enough.