You know those small, daring steps you take that no one else would regard as colossal, but for you, a very deep breath is required as you step out of a super-familiar box?
There was that time you added a belt to your outfit. Prior to that, you’d refused to accentuate your equator because “I have no waistline, why would I want to usher attention there?”
But one day, you noticed a woman with (in your humble opinion) no reason to celebrate her waistline, and she draped hers with something colorful. You were amazed! She looked terrific!
This inspired you to reconsider your opinions about waistlines. You walked into your closet the next morning and retrieved the lovely chain belt hanging in the farthest corner. Buoyed by confidence, throwing all caution to the wind, you decorated the middle of you as if to say, “Look here. This part of me is worthy and beautiful, too.”
For you, it was a liberating moment. A small act of bravery.
Last week you took a bite of food you swore you’d never eat. And no, it wasn’t extreme (no chocolate covered insects or any such thing). You took a courageous bite of okra, and it wasn’t intolerably slime-y after all. And on top of that, this week you tasted (quite timidly, but still….) shirred eggs baked in cream with soft yolks. Until now you’d only said yes to scrambled.
See what I mean? Monumental to you, but not to plenty of other people.
ONE SMALL STEP.
I’m a fall color person (think golds, browns, greens and certain reds) and I’ve (gasp) just traded my old car for a blue pearl Honda Civic. The cover of my upcoming poetry book is (double gasp) blue also — dark blue at the bottom, graduating to a light-filled blue toward the top.
These are quite astounding moves on my part, don’t you think, given my hazel eyes and my preference for dark chocolate brown or deepest-ever green?
Think about it. In the itty-bitty-est way, in my world, I’m turning a corner, stepping out, trying something new.
There’s no question that my “blue thing” is tiny brave. It’s the kind of moment where (I’m quite sure) you’re saying “what’s the big deal, blue is so ordinary and I have a lot of it. I’ve been a fan of blue for years.”
But for me, Ms. Fall Colors herself, I’m having a full-on inner hero experience for welcoming blue more personally rather than keeping it at arm’s length.
Are these small moments insignificant?
I think not.
One small step in the direction of inclusion (an open mind) is — possibly — everything.
Perhaps small steps by individuals influence our world more than we think. Maybe our changes on a small scale help balance the larger scale in the world.
There’s another reason as well.
Do small acts of bravery inspire larger ones?
I believe they do.
Bravery (any size and shape) comes up quite often in consulting sessions with individuals and couples. Typically, we start small and work our way up.
In a couple’s session just the other day (it was their #3) opening to new points of view rose front and center. Both of them had practiced small acts of bravery in previous sessions and they were ready for bigger bravery.
(Also, both the man and woman had breakthroughs in this session, but due to length, today I’ll share only hers.)
After hearing what was upsetting her, I made a suggestion. At first she recoiled. She refused to consider that her current point of view was one possibility among many available to her.
So, we explored. Gently. We poked around in her sense of understanding about their relationship.
We considered questions such as, “What else could it be? What other ways could a person interpret this situation? Could it be there’s more to the story? And if so, what might that be?”
She opened. Considered. Re-thought a well-practiced reaction to her husband. She willingly examined her present decisions about him, and her conclusions.
That was brave.
And that was not small.
PATTERNS SHE WANTED HELP WITH.
One basic pattern. He’s not talking to me when I want him to, and therefore he doesn’t love me. Why are we together? What’s the point of this relationship if we can’t even talk about what I want to talk about?
Here’s another one. He did this _____. Which was totally inconsiderate of him. If he loved me he wouldn’t treat me that way, say that or do that. It’s clear he doesn’t love me, so why should I care about him? His actions (ignoring, not talking to me) feel like punishment. I’m going to punish him back.
Here’s a third. He embarrasses (frustrates, angers, annoys) me in this way _____. He should do this instead _____. He refuses to take my suggestions, though. Because he’s not changing his ways, he doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t love me. Which hurts too much. I’m shutting down and it’s his fault.
Do you think those are pretty important patterns when it comes to having a nurturing, satisfying, evolving love relationship?
(If you nodded yes, I’d certainly agree with you.)
As it turns out, when she slowed her thoughts, when she took time to breathe about her situation, she (at first cautiously) considered the idea that her husband might not be doing what she thought he was doing.
She considered that there might be other ways of interpreting his actions, other than hers.
As she contemplated all of this, she was willing to realize that if her observations of his actions weren’t fully accurate, her conclusions couldn’t be accurate, either.
At one point, she realized with all of her heart that he might not be wrong. Her inner-heart-light- bulb went on.
(Which caused her to reach for the Kleenex.)
Which then caused her to question other aspects of her thinking. Such as — maybe he wasn’t against her after all.
(At least a two Kleenex moment.)
Her heart opened. She softened. Became more receptive.
She also realized how different her husband (naturally) was from her, that he (naturally) had different priorities, different motivations. That he would (naturally) prefer to talk to her, actually…
(On, forget one or two tissues. We’re up to Kleenex by the handfuls…)
Further, maybe he supports and loves her, and there are many ways he expresses that each and every day — and she misses them.
She hasn’t been looking for ways he loves her and shows her his love. She’s been looking for what’s wrong with the relationship — in order to correct those things, in order to improve the relationship.
She’s attempting to do good. Her efforts are well-intended. But her approach naturally backfires because her intelligence finds whatever she’s looking for. She finds what’s “wrong” with their relationship. We’re all good at finding what we’re looking for.
Essentially, she discovered that what she had thought was happening between them wasn’t the whole story. There was much more going on than she had imagined. Most importantly, she was missing out on the good parts of their story by putting the better part of her attention on what was lacking or wrong.
THE RIPPLE EFFECT.
Will there be a positive ripple effect in her world because of her revelations about where she had been placing her attention?
We shall see.
Does this brave change of hers matter not at all?
Or is it everything?
So far, it’s heading toward “everything.”
The healing energy of a personal revelation flows outward. Sometimes it’s a wave of calm. Other times, graciousness, love, compassion.
At the end of the session, this couple’s wave was one of intimacy and understanding. They held hands, kept the Kleenex close, and looked forward to what else they could discover about their love in the coming days.
One thing I know for sure.
The ripple effect of her inner shift, whatever that will eventually be, will offer clear evidence that the foundation for world peace, love and understanding begins in our own home.
From time to time, I like to share writings from others, especially something that’s timely or something I couldn’t say in the way another might say it. I appreciate when people write with their unmistakably authentic voice, and this writer does.
David Foster Wallace was wildly brilliant, and also suffered from depression. He is known for his rather mind-blowing journalistic pieces, short stories and novels. He was best known for his second novel, Infinite Jest (1996), a sprawling undertaking with almost 1100 pages and 330 footnotes. His life-long battle with depression ended in 2008 when he took his own life.
The following is an excerpt from his Kenyon Commencement Address, which he delivered on May 21, 2005 called “This Is Water.”
As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always
shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.
(He goes on to give detail-driven examples of “day in, day out.” You can read them, of course, using the link to the full speech above.)
“The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.
Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.
Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.
But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship– be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has
much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital -T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.
The capital -T Truth is about life BEFORE death.
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.”
“This is water.”
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.
I wish you way more than luck.
Bless you all and may you have an aware and awake week.
Today I’m sharing a poem from my upcoming Poetry Book. As soon as everything is confirmed by Balboa Press, I’ll let you know the title of the book and the publication date. The book will be available in softcover and Kindle, mostly through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (I’ll have copies, too, of course.) Bookstores will buy it through Ingram.
Needless to say, I’m pretty excited! Here is one of the three poems that will be shared on the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
WHAT’S COOKIN’ IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP KITCHEN?
My daughter strolled to the kitchen to get a snack and returned crestfallen. “There’s nothing to eat,” she reported. “There are only ingredients.”
A love relationship is a kitchen full of sweet, savory, salty and spicy. I have ingredients (beliefs, personality, habits). You have ingredients, too.
But how will they blend? Are we good cooks? With what you’ve got and what I’ve got, will we create a wonderful sauté?
Will our relationship be sweet? Or will the cake fall? Today, I’ve got anchovies and you — rocky road ice cream. This will be interesting.