Birthday morning Wish

Today is my birthday.  I woke up feeling pretty happy after an evening with my group and a warm text from a new love interest.  But when I entered the kitchen, I saw that my teenager had not in fact done the dishes last night as she had promised.  My hope had been a clean kitchen to start my birthday morning.  Making coffee in the early dark hours, a clean sink really makes a difference to my experience.  And there were A LOT of dishes.  True, this was partly because they had made me a cake last night, but really, being home all evening, why was this neglected?  I could see my mood spiraling down.

My youngest child came to eat breakfast and made big efforts to shower me with love, but it was a struggle to show her only a happy, receptive, appreciative face.  I began cleaning the kitchen (not the dishes, the teen was still responsible for that), taking out the trash, organizing my space.  A voice inside my head said, “hey, it’s your birthday! Why are you having to take care of things?  This is wrong.  You are supposed to be the queen.” Another voice responded, “wait– this is INNER CONSIDERING.  Just because it’s your birthday, you don’t need to start expecting others to treat you a certain way.  That will only cause pain, mostly for you, but also for your beautiful daughters, and that’s not a good way to raise them.”  The two sides of me didn’t argue, they just co-existed, neither one winning.  My mood continued to be rotten.  I think it was a third voice that said, “since it’s your birthday and your mood is so bad, the morning after a night with your group, you probably need to take out the garbage and do some dirty work.  Come back to earth.”  So I walked through the piece of yard I share with my neighbor, picking up bits of trash as I dragged the bin to the curb.

Then I was in the kitchen with my 13 year old.  She was in a horrible mood.  Picture day, and her shirt wasn’t perfect.  She stormed around, trying on my clothes, being irritable, crying, yelling at me.  I had to remind her to say Happy Birthday to me.  I tried lecturing her to put on a fake smile and she told me I was ruining her morning.  But then, a little miracle occurred.  The voice that had told me I was INNER CONSIDERING recognized that she was doing the same thing.  How dare her bagel get cold?  She was indignant!  She deserved a warm bagel!  Just like I deserved a clean kitchen…  Hmmm… suddenly I could understand her inner world.  My heart flew open to her, and all I wanted to do was hold her.  I grabbed her and she cried on my shoulder.  She released her grief, we bonded, and I felt so amazing.

Soon after, the teen woke up and began teasing us.  I asked if she was up early to do the dishes?  Early?  she said.  I told her my morning was blemished by the nasty sink, and she was slightly sorry.  Then she suddenly remembered it was my birthday.  So much for Queen Mommy.  But I wasn’t upset anymore.  I was already happy and in love with my family again.  So I just pretended to be sad, and both teens came over and cuddled and kissed me, and everyone felt great.

So what is INNER CONSIDERING?

Mr. Gurdjieff taught Ouspensky this:  ”

“On the most prevalent occasions a man is identified with what others think about him, how they treat him, what attitude they show towards him.  He always thinks that people do not value him enough, are not sufficiently polite and courteous.  All this torments him, makes him think and suspect and lose an immense amount of energy… develops in him a distrustful and hostile attitude towards people…

“The opposite of internal considering and what is in part a means of fighting against it is external considering… an entirely different relationship towards people than internal considering.  It is adaptation towards people, to their understanding, to their requirements.  By considering externally a man does that which makes life easy for other people and for himself.  External considering requires a knowledge of men, an understanding of their tastes, habits, and prejudices.  At the same time external considering requires a great power over oneself, a great control over oneself…. if a man really remembers himself he understands that another man is a machine just as he is himself.  And then he will enter into his position, he will put himself in his place, and he will be really able to understand and feel what another man thinks and feels.”  pp. 151-3, In Search of the Miraculous by P. D. Ouspensky

From my story, it is pretty obvious that I don’t have “great control over” myself.  Yet a miracle happened and my birthday wish was granted.  I came back down to earth, to a place where my children exist, where my love for them abides.  I must give credit to Mr. Gurdjieff for teaching me about internal and external considering, which gave me a framework for understanding my dark mood and thoughts.  I must give credit to my group, for the efforts we made together last night, which gave me space inside for these voices to co-exist without judgment and fighting.  I must give credit to my mentors, who tell me to clean the bathrooms when I’m feeling too high.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

 

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Two Natures

Yesterday was my first day home after a weekend retreat.  I was in another state.  My heart was open and vulnerable.  My thoughts were still processing what we had discussed.  My body was tired and wanting to rest and relax.  Yet I was home with my children.  We had a few interactions that penetrated my heart and made it ache– they are growing up and there is sadness for me and yesterday I had no defenses against it.  I felt my heartache acutely; it was very real for me.  At the same time, I had lost touch with my “conditioned” selves.  No matter how I feel, I need to parent my girls:  organize them, guide them, respond to worldly pulls on them.  I know how to do these things– I’ve been a parent for over 15 years now and I’ve been “trained”.  But yesterday I felt incapable and, to be honest, uninterested.  Thankfully I woke up today with a return to my normal, trained self.  It was an interesting contrast.  I could see the difference, and today I also sense the “inner vibration” from the weekend’s altered state walking alongside the capable me.

Jacob Needleman writes on pp. 13-14 in What is God? “I am saying that if we lose all contact with this inner God-element in ourselves– or, if you wish, call it our inner, wordless yearning to serve the Good and know the Truth– if we lose contact with this inner vibration, our thought and our action in the world will take us nowhere.  Our thought will lead us either to cynicism or to an absurd overestimation of our mental powers.  It will lead us to develop, in an onrushing torrent, inventions in the mind or in the physical world– ideologies or technologies– that, walled off from the impulse toward conscience and truth, can destroy us and our earth.  On the other hand, if we lose all contact and respect for the powers and functions of our socially conditioned self, which is also given to us in order that we may become the instruments of love in the widening world of human beings and the world of nature– the world of nature which needs us to become fully human in order itself to serve the universal Good as a planet infused with human consciousness– if we lose all contact with this “horizontal” half of our human nature; if we unconsciously retreat into self-centered mysticism or self-willed, blind “faith,” we may become like the “gods” of the Tibetan Buddhist teaching who, while possessed of higher energies, ultimately rot and suffer more than any other created being in the universe, and who create more evil and harm than any other force in the universe.”

Wow.  Needleman really puts it out there.

I have been thinking a lot about the question Needleman raises in the second half of this paragraph.  We have our spiritual practices and we have our lives.  Some of our spiritual practices bring us into an altered state.  There is a yummy quality to how we feel.  Quiet, calm, peaceful.  Sometimes alive with sexual energy and focused with mental clarity.  Sometimes open-hearted, loving, connected with everyone around us.  Then, the retreat ends.  We come down, back to our regular lives.  Perhaps we return to our own, individual spiritual practices; perhaps we meet with a group on a regular or semi-regular basis.  But we notice the difference between how we felt on retreat, or with our group, and how we feel in everyday life.  There is a longing for the retreat, the cushion, the yoga mat.  On the one hand, this longing can be the fuel that powers a regular discipline.  We need that discipline.  On the other hand, there is a valuing of the altered state and a devaluing of the normal state.  Needleman tells us that half of our human nature is “horizontal”, socially conditioned.  I am connecting that half of the self with a normal state and life lived in the world.

With a strong spiritual practice, it is possible to strengthen the “vertical” half of our human nature.  The ability to enter an altered state can grow.  It is possible to walk around in life while a large part of one’s awareness is on higher vibrations.  Needleman uses the phrase “self-centered mysticism” and opposes this to becoming “fully human”.  We tend to think of the ego as being connected to our lower, human natures, while mysticism brings us closer to the divine and more free of the ego.  But the phrase “self-centered mysticism” belies that simple division.  I experience the urge to retreat into mysticism instead of facing the demands of parenting my children, especially when they need more than cuddles and warm, loving words.  I wish to sit in meditation rather than tackle a sink of dirty dishes.  Where is the ego in all of this?  It seems very possible to create an idol out of mysticism.

  

Inner Authority?

I asked our therapist Mark last week what he meant when he mentioned “Inner Authority” to me a while back.  Mark replied that to him, “Inner Authority” primarily means a person’s understanding that he takes up space in the world, that his actions affect others, and that he needs to be responsible for his own choices and behaviors.  Immediately I thought of Humility and the understanding I was offered many years ago, that to be humble means to learn to take up the right amount of space in the world for one’s own unique presence.  Mark is helping me and my ex to discover our own individual and unique needs, wants, and fears, in the attempt to find a Win/Win solution to the ongoing conflict that marks my marriage/divorce.  I wrote about this conflict in my blog “My Authority, your Authority”, in which I quoted Gerry Spence.  Recently I also picked up “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey, and learned about Habit 4, “Think Win/Win”.  Covey speaks of seeking a balance between courage and consideration.  New words, same ideas.  Here I am weaving more words around “Inner Authority”.  Somehow this weaving helps me evolve.

When I googled “Inner Authority”, I found a fairly different story.  Posts focused on finding one’s authentic source of true living, in contrast to “Outer Authority”, or society’s demands and expectations.  This focus on opposites attempts to be helpful, teaching people to look inside and see their “True Nature”, so they can achieve happiness.  But the implication is that one needs to reject the needs and expectations of others.  The classic sketch is the tension between small children and their parents.  Children naturally know themselves, know who they are and what they want.  Parents are uncomfortable with many of these wants, especially intense emotional expressions.  In the example of emotional expression, parents typically communicate to their children to “calm down, stop crying, don’t be upset”.  Over time, children learn to please their parents and stuff down their true emotions.  As adults, the task becomes one of re-discovering one’s true emotions.  According to this line of thinking, anyway.

My wise teacher Rabbi Stone taught me that the only true way to grow is to grow for the sake of “the other”.  He encourages a focus within, to see and hopefully change one’s weak character traits.  However he warns that a focus on oneself, for the sake of oneself (or one’s “happiness”), can lead nowhere good.  If I learn to stop caring what “society” wants of me, and to focus entirely on my own inner desires, I will become an insufferable monster.  Let’s take the case of children.  Yes, they have authentic feelings and they do need to feel them, express them, and live with them.  However, this does not mean that they should cry and scream and need soothing every time they feel a negative wave come over them.  One of the lessons we teach our children is that their behavior affects us.  They take up space in our homes.  I, as their parent, have needs too.  I need some quiet.  I need some dedicated time with each of my three children.  I need to be able to earn a living and keep the kitchen operating smoothly so we can all eat healthy foods.  Again, we are seeking a balance between “my” needs and “your” needs.

So what is my “Inner Authority”?  I’ve been thinking about my choices for my life, the consequences of my choices, and the resulting responsibilities.  I chose to marry and have babies with a highly creative, highly intelligent man.  I also chose to create a home with him that mostly excluded our families.  We built a lot together– screenplays, stories, artworks, a thriving business, and a unique family.  We were really very special, but we were also really very insulated.  We worked at home, we parented alone, we lived far from our families.  This worked for a long time, but then it ended.  I outgrew it, for one thing.  But also our children began to grow up and need a wider world.  Today I find myself responsible for three gifted daughters who need to find their place in the world of childhood and teenage education.

I am lobbying for a move to live near my family in order to join the “Village” my sister and my mother have created together.  My ex is not sure he wants our daughters to be raised in this environment.  One concern he has raised, that my father has also raised, is whether I am looking for an easy ride as a mother.  This brings to my plate the question of my responsibilities as a mother.  My girls are young, and they are a part of me.  Every choice I make affects them profoundly.  I am acutely aware that I take up space in their worlds.  They are very smart and highly sensitive and I am their role model as a woman.  I answered my ex last week that being near my family is so good for me; the support they give me, as an adult, makes me a better mother.  I am doing my best to seek this balance between “my” need to be supported and “their” needs to have my devotion as their mother.

This is the primary question in my life right now.

 

Love and Awareness

I just read this beautiful poem:

How to Love Truly

By Anthony de Mello on 02-18-2013

Everywhere in the world people are in search of love, for everyone is convinced that love alone can save the world; love alone can make life meaningful and worth living. But how very few understand what love really is and how it arises in the human heart. It is so frequently equated with good feelings for others, with benevolence or nonviolence or service. But these things in themselves are not love.

Love springs from awareness. It is only inasmuch as you see someone as he or she really is here and now and not as they are in your memory or your desire or in your imagination or projection that you can truly love them; otherwise, it is not the person that you love but the idea that you have formed of this person.

Source: 

This relates to a reading in “Psychological Commentaries” by Nicoll that also interested  me.  “…we see one another by our associations, once we become “familiar”, as it is called, with each other.  What we do not understand is that seeing a person by one’s associations with him or her has nothing to do with what the person really is.” p. 296, Volume I
How can I love someone if I do not see him?  The premise seems strong.
The experience of being “not seen” is also in my repertoire.  I have experienced great hurt when people I love have expressed anger and disappointment in me for qualities they tell me I possess, but which are quite foreign to my character.  I have also experienced a feeling of unease when people I love have expressed adoration of me for qualities I know are not mine to brag about.  This doesn’t quite capture what I am trying to say… Have you ever been adored but also idealized?  There is this sense that the lover is in love with a vision of his own mind.  It’s lonely.  The vision gets in the way of true connection.
I don’t believe awareness is enough.  It is the first step.  The next step is acceptance.  I might be aware that you are weak in certain ways, but if I want you to change, and criticize and judge you for your weakness, then I cannot love you.  And over time, my lack of acceptance will create a wall of denial about this aspect of you.  I will deny that it is possible for you to change, or even to be different at different times.  I may even be angry and resentful and take it personally that you can be weak in this way.  All my feelings will stand between us.
It would be nice to be different.  It would be nice to see and accept each other, fully.  But how can we do this, when we don’t even see and accept ourselves?

Why do Things Fall Apart?

Recently I was writing about “How to Be Married”, a very difficult subject to approach because people are so complicated, so different.  We can create formulas and describe happy stories and implore people to treat each other well, but ultimately we are human.  Most people have experienced the problem that it’s easiest to treat those near them badly.  When a person feels upset, and experiences the urge to “take this out on someone”, more often than not the “victim” will be his/her spouse.  Parents and children do the same thing to each other, but one’s spouse is just so damn convenient, year after year.  Often this will occur mutually, thus the permission to hurt is granted by the fact that he/she is also hurting you.  Unfortunately patterns are developed, triggers are created, and hurts are buried or nursed or both.  I could argue that the longer a relationship lasts, the worse it will grow, in this respect.  One hopes that an accumulation of happy times, loving expressions, and shared accomplishments will build the positive side of the relationship and that this accumulation will outweigh the hurts.  Almost like a scale or a ledger, a relationship’s health and happiness may rest upon a perception of “how I feel treated”.

There are good examples of happy and healthy marriages.  Some people learn to control their mean urges and to treat their spouses with respect and kindness.   Some people follow the examples of their elders, whether a religious leader or a therapist.  Some people accept the bad times and also learn to mend hurts and focus on the good.  We do have power to make things work.

However I want to ask this question, Why do Things Fall Apart?  Despite a very happy and hopeful beginning, whether in a marriage, a community, even a nation, it sometimes seems that most human groupings eventually destroy themselves.  As if there is a natural arc, human groupings experience a growing success and then a flagging success and then one day hit the ground and implode.  I don’t know why this happens.  It’s a huge question.  But since the microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm, perhaps I can look inside myself for clues to the world around me.

My life has brought me into many communities of learning and/or worship.  With each new community, I invariably experience a “honeymoon period” when I fall in love with the community.  Everyone is wonderful, the teachings and the discussions are alive, I can imagine growing and thriving within this frame.  But then comes the disillusionment.  People disappoint me.  The teachings start to seem hollow.  I see hypocrisy and contradiction everywhere.  Often this is temporary, and after some effort to re-frame my interactions, I find a renewed connection.  This lasts for a while, until something in me resists and rebels, both against the bad stuff I see and against the demands on me to find a way to make it work for myself.  Then I am done.  I walk away.  Perhaps I have learned a lot and am ready for the next rich experience of teachings, but perhaps I have just destroyed my ability to go deeper, to reach the next level of learning with these teachers and peers.

Is this a laziness I am discovering?  Do things fall apart because we give up?  The growing challenges overwhelm us and we decide it will be better to walk away.  (Sometimes we try really hard to stick it out, but our spouse has given up and it really is better to walk away.  I believe in the solution of divorce in some situations.)

Lately I have reached this level with my art and my career.  I have learned a lot from teachers, other artists, collaborators, clients, and the process of sitting down with a subject and making a piece of art.  I have created a business that fully describes and fulfills the process of making a beautiful and meaningful ketubah.  I have catalogued my art and seen a lot of technical and visual success.  Yet I am not yet a master.  There is a corner I must turn in my art, and I believe it includes writing and showing my art.  There is a deeper level to this “being an artist” that calls me.  And I am scared.  I feel a laziness pulling me down.  I could imagine, on some level, giving up.  I also know that many artists reach a plateau and never grow beyond it.  To me that possibility also feels like a loss, a death of my art.  Boredom with my art would be worse than losing my art.

A happy and healthy marriage requires two engaged people, committed to each other and to the work of marriage.  A successful community requires strong leadership and committed members.  I am speaking about commitment to the process, to findings ways to overcome the hard times.  I am also speaking about going deeper and working harder as the years go on.  I must have a willingness to bring more and more of myself to the table, because life must evolve if it is not going to decay.  Change is certain, and I must decide which direction to change.  If I decide I have created the perfect marriage or community, and thus I can rest on my laurels, basically just maintain what has been built, we will soon grow bored and frustrated with each other.

It’s a simple answer in some ways– life must evolve if it is not going to decay.  A formula, in a way.  The details of how to make this work are personal, unique to each person, each relationship, each path.  I cannot really hope to teach anyone how to keep things from falling apart.  All I can offer is my own experience, a sharing of my path.  I will try to share more and more deeply as I search deep inside myself for ways to build and grow my life as an artist and a human.

My Authority, your Authority

Yesterday I picked up Gerry Spence’s “How to Argue and Win Every Time”.  I am heading to court in a few weeks to argue for my right to parent my children in my hometown, where I choose to live and grow my business and my art.  Thus this book seemed a good choice at the library.  These weeks preparing for court have dovetailed with the final stages of preparing my new website for its launch.  For the first time, I am designing and describing my ketubah business on my own.  Both processes are demanding that I reach deeply into myself and pull out the most resonant pieces of my inner authority.  What do I need?  What do I have to offer?  Where am I and where am I going?

My ex-husband insists that the children continue to live and attend school in the small town where two of them were born.  For 2.5 years, I have been traveling back and forth between two lives, the life of mother and the life of growing artist.  My ability to travel is ending as my bank account dwindles and my eldest daughter falls apart when she doesn’t see me for two days.  I also miss my children too much and want to increase my involvement in their educational lives as they grow older.  The lawyers tell me that my best bet is to pack up and move back to this small town.  I have been looking this idea in the face, imagining myself living here permanently, away from my family, my oldest and dearest friends, my new artist opportunities, and the energies of a thriving big city.  What do I truly need?

Spence begins his book by stating, “The art of arguing is the art of living.  We argue because we must, because life demands it, because, at last, life itself is but an argument.”  He continues, “The key, of course, is permission, our permission to peer out of our closets, to step out– one step– to look around, to ask questions, to demand respect, to share our creativity, our ideas, to speak out, to search for love, to seek justice– to be.”

Yes, this describes my journey right now.  Here I am, sharing this process in my blog– my ideas, my creative responses to the challenges in front of me.  Here I am, searching for love in the faces and lives of my family and dear friends.  Here I am, speaking out, demanding respect, seeking justice for my right as a modern woman to pursue success and happiness while also raising my own children.

My web designer, Chris Mireles, began our process together by speaking to me about my artistic gifts.  He believes that my artwork is beautiful, a reflection of my soul, and that in order to better connect with those who view my art, I must also share my inner world, loudly and clearly.  In other words, I must write, and write often.  I agree with Spence when he describes ones’ authority as necessarily coming completely from oneself; I attempt to live from my own truths, from my own inner requirements and un-foldings.  Yet to be willing to share these truths and un-foldings, in real time, with a large audience of potential supporters of my artwork and my life– can I really do this?  I feel tugged to do this by my gift with words; by the responses I have received from friends who listen to me describe my journeys; and by a real need to connect with people in order to grow my meager income.

Perhaps my writing, such personal writing, is an essential piece of my argument, my life.

Yet I am afraid.  So much seems to be at stake.  What if I am laughed at?  What if I reveal too much and destroy my credibility as a ritual artist?  What if I offend or insult people without realizing?  What if I fail?  In addition to writing, my plan is to begin showing my artwork more widely.  The key word is “exposure”.  How can people fall in love with my art if they don’t see it?  Yet exposure means being laid bare.  Here I am, come see.

Courage is required, courage is demanded as I move ahead.  This is true with my court argument too.  I am faced with the challenge to affirm my own needs, to speak of my own path, the authority of myself, while not stepping on the needs and authority of my ex.  He has his position too, that he wants to live here in this small town and to raise his own children.  I grow scared so easily, that he will prevail and force me to surrender my dreams and my support for another 10 years.  Why do I feel that my dreams are so fragile?

It often feels that my struggle to affirm myself is a struggle against negativity.  Yes or no?  My achievements to date help me feel confident; my failures to date help me feel weak.  I can draw upon either side in order to frame the possibilities for my future.  Court battles imply winners and losers; this is part of their nature in our contentious society.  But family court is really meant to be a sounding board for all sides in order to construct a solution that best serves the interests of minor children.  Rising above negativity, in this case at least, requires a relinquishing of the concept of winning or losing, of yes or no.  My ex has his authority; I have my authority.  We are looking for a way to converse, to have an intercourse between our two lives and our two sets of needs, in order to re-create a viable family structure in which all 5 of us can thrive.

Perhaps this lesson should be applied to my journey as an artist and a businesswoman.  Rather than looking for answers and support, I can seek conversation and connection.  I am an artist and I have a place in this society, this economy.  The key is to put myself out there and allow that place to call for me.

Family as Ground

Growing up in the United States, I was taught by my culture that my greatest goal as a woman was to find my Prince (husband) and to leave my Castle (home) to ride off with him into the sunset.  This is such a simplistic image, but simple images are the most powerful in influencing children.  Plus this image is in almost every story; it definitely affects our expectations as we are growing up.

Okay, this is old territory.  We’ve heard about this from so many feminists.  We must be empowered as women to write our own stories, to be our own Princes, to rescue ourselves from the towers where we are imprisoned.

But wait, I want to talk about something else.

There is a basic assumption in this story that is not being questioned in the typical re-writes of fairy tales.  We assume that my goal is to leave my Castle (home).  I must do this if I want to escape the prison of my evil step-parent (or witch or weak parent), who has trapped me in the Tower or left me to languish.   If I succeed in leaving, I will be free to travel the wide world, find security and/or love, and experience an incredible sunset for the first time.

In other words, home is a trap, a dead-end, a place with gray skies and love-less years of loneliness and boredom.  I read these words to my daughter yesterday in a “re-write” of a fairy tale where the Princess has to rescue the helpless, hopeless Prince.  She had been waiting for years, in “loneliness and boredom”, for a Prince to rescue her.  So finally she became the hero and escaped into freedom and power.

Why do we have to leave home to claim freedom and power?

Personally, as a single mom of three daughters who depend on me and love me with endless adoration and devotion, I am experiencing the happiest, fullest, most love-filled days of my entire life.  I don’t want them to feel that they have to leave me to find love.  We love each other fully and constantly.  I have never experienced such constant love from a man.  I wonder if they will, either.

What? You are afraid that I will try to possess them, to keep them from flying off to find their true destinies in the wide world?

Yes, this is the subtext of this entire story.  Our Western society and our economy are based upon mobility.  Workers since the Industrial Revolution have needed to leave their rural homes and move to the cities to find jobs.  Staying with one’s family once meant living on a farm and depriving the cities of one’s skills and energies.  Cities and industries cannot be built without a labor force.  People must be taught to leave their families behind in order to follow their dreams.  The promise of “true happiness” is thus connected with leaving home, from our youngest ages, in our stories.  These stories create culture, which supports the economy.

Not to imply that I would ever hold my children back from their dreams.  My hope is to be able to lend support (through smarts and strengths) to their strivings.

Ever since I can remember, probably since early adolescent, I was certain I would leave home to find my own way in the world.  I rejected my traditional Indian father’s insistence that family is more important than friends, that family will always be there whereas friends will not, that blood is thicker than water.  I went off to University far away, leaving Texas and my family behind with no intention of ever going back.  I made lots of close friends who became my framework for life.

Yet even with close friends, the wide world could be a lonely place.  Thus I also attached myself to my boyfriends.  My school years’ boyfriend was not ready to get married, so he left me.  My post-college boyfriend was happy to leave his family too; together we created a home and a new family.  We proceeded to keep our original families at arms-lengths.  We were certain that we could create a happier, healthier life together, without their old-fashioned influences.  We experienced their love and concern as oppression, criticism, and limitation.  Little did we realize that we were following the expectations of our culture, of our Western economy.  We were young artists, forging our own paths through the world, broke and mostly lost, and yet we still believed we could make it best on our own.

Here I am today, a divorced woman of 43, and I have to admit that my father was right.  Blood is thicker than water.  My ex-husband has turned on me.  My friends are interested and caring but not reliable in a regular way.  I am now responsible for three little girls and the only people I can truly trust are my parents and my sister.  I say this not because my family members are old-fashioned saints or because we have the most wonderful relations on the planet.  In fact we struggle.  I say this because  my family has truly supported me and been available to help me in these hard times.

Even so, I want to admit out loud that I have resisted being dependent in any way upon my family.  As I was leaving my husband, I was also actively looking for a new man to support me and share life with me.  I did not want to be close to my family and I kept my guard up.  Yet fate had other ideas for me.  The man who caught my interest was living near my family.  I began to spend more and more time with them.  Our relations grew more comfortable, the more time we spent together.  As this new man became unable to partner with me, and my divorce process grew more difficult, I found a real need to depend on my family.  On lonely evenings I would camp out in my sister’s house on my niece’s floor or spend the night in my parents’ guest room.  Their company was not romantic, but it was loving.  It desired my presence.  I was wanted, I was even needed as Aunt Nishi.  I belonged.

My marriage has been over for almost 3 years.  My grieving and my healing are almost complete.  I feel more and more ready for a new relationship.  Yet as I truly accept my family as my rock and my ground, and truly embrace the incredible love I am surrounded with through my daughters and their cousins, I realize that I don’t need to go anywhere in order to realize my dreams and experience the sunset.

How to Be Married

I am reading a fun and insightful book called How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo.  I have spent most of my life inside a marriage or a monogamous relationship, but I enjoy her stories and also her exploration of the experience of love.  Love is relevant to me, whether I am single or coupled, and I appreciate the opportunity to visit, with her, so many aspects of this experience.  Love is such a core emotion that it touches all aspects of being human as well as being in relationship to others.  Two of my favorite subjects!

Romantic love is also the subject of the movie I watched last night:  Crazy, Stupid, Love with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore.  The consensus of movie and book seems to be that romantic love sweeps you away, is unstoppable, but also is not very intelligent.  Embraced by the experience, characters behave without thinking or reasoning, and overlook their own self-protection.  Adultery, mismatched ages, teen pregnancies, affairs that cannot develop, affairs with unavailable people, attachment to someone who has rejected him, defiance of parents– these are a few of the stories.  Yet these stories are not sad and hopeless; rather they are full of life and hope and joy.  The experience of falling into romantic love is worth the costs.  According to these two creations.

The most hopeful story is the relationship between Steve Carell and Julianne Moore.  Together in love since the age of 15, their 30 years have been full of love.  Yes, they have recently broken up and are struggling to re-find the spark they have lost in mid-life.  But as they look at each other across the abyss of their separation, they remember the love that powered their marriage, which began at age 17 with their first unexpected child.  And the love between them is a force of nature.

What is this love?  Is it an essential piece of a good marriage?   I would speculate yes but I would want to know more about it, how to recognize it and nurture it.  Is it a gift of grace given to a chosen few lucky people, or can it be found or developed and subsequently kept by everyone?

The philosophy of arranged marriages, which has been explained to me over the years as an Indian woman, states that love grows over the years between people who are a good match to each other.  The hope is that caring parents arrange the match, with the help of the gods and a good astrologer, and the suitable couple is then capable of growing a romantic and loving relationship.

Many writers have pointed out the difference between the initial throes of romantic love and the long-term love that comes after, for the couple who sticks it out.  There seems to be an implication that only mature people are able to love beyond the initial gratifying period.  One can also look at the difference between two enmeshed people and two individuated people.  In cases where a couple stays together despite immaturity, co-dependency is often the result.  And writers on co-dependency tell us that it is NOT LOVE.  In fact it is probably closer to hate, and hell.

So how to be married?  One aspect of a good marriage must be maturity, individuation.  Another is to be careful to marry a good match.  But the question of love, of love that is romantic and powerful and full of joy– can we develop this, or is it a gift?

The attraction and the excitement about one’s spouse tends to wax and wane.  This was my experience and I never heard anyone say I was unusual.  The love of my own child fills me so fully and deeply that I wonder if it touches the same corners of my heart as the best romantic love of one’s spouse.  Both are part of family.

And what about spiritual love, love of God, love that transcends selfish interests?  My rabbi once taught us that the Song of Songs, the erotic love poem that many say is written about love of God, is really a guide to how to love another human as an expression of God-liness in our hearts.  A teacher recently told me, many terrible things are said and done in the name of “love”, yet love can be cultivated if we are very honest and willing to work.

My guess is that good, happy, romantic love is both a gift and the result of hard work.  What do you think?

Single Mom-ing

I have been living as a single mom for the past two years.  Some of this time I have stayed with my parents and they have helped with many aspects of caring for my three young daughters.  Some of this time my ex-husband has taken the kids and allowed me to really focus on myself for the first time in many years.  These are both gifts of divorce that enrich my life in ways I could never have appreciated before experiencing them.  My life feels more full and robust than before, when I lived in a single family home where I was expected to spend the majority of my time and where my parents were visitors at best.  I have always longed for an extended family or co-housing situation, but my husband wanted us to live as a couple without other adults in our home life.  I am loving my new ability to create my family in my own ways.

I have also experienced many many days and weeks and months of being solely responsible for my children as a single mom without any real help in my home.  What a life experience!  I can relate to the feeling of “freak out” that people experience when they first become single parents.  Parenting with a spouse is very different from single Mom-ing.  One can take breaks, one can discuss issues that come up for the children, one can enjoy adult company with no guilt because the children actually benefit from watching their parents interact… one can actually get sick or sleep in when her body starts to give out!  Being alone means somehow (or not) taking care of oneself in the midst of giving selflessly to children, whether by taking some time away from the kids or by learning to have a dual focus on self and other.  These are great skills but they took me a long time to grow competent in.  For many months, I simply suffered.
But this was meant to be a funny blog!  All the moments of making the best of things and enjoying the ride.  I wrote the title 18 months ago, when humor was one of my only friends.  Today, I don’t feel so scared and in need of a good laugh.  Instead, I feel very glad that I have had such a time alone with my daughters, to bond with them and learn to take care of them, without a spouse giving his two cents about every issue and challenge.  I have gotten to know myself in relationship with each daughter, and each daughter in relationship with me and with each other.  I have deepened our connections in ways that were not possible for the years of struggling to keep my marriage alive.  More gifts!

So here I am being such an optimist… what about the negatives?  Surely I do not want to remain a single mother forever.

Well everyone knows that children need more than one parent in their lives, to balance out the perspectives and influences they receive.  My girls have a father, but his speech limitations mean he cannot talk them through most moments.  I can see that a new stepfather would add a lot to their upbringing that is not far from core needs.  I often look at our lives and see that they are more limited than I would like.  I don’t take them out as much as I would with a strong male companion to help me handle the demands of the world.  I can only give one-on-one attention to one girl at a time, and sometimes this is not good enough.  I have my ideas and ways of looking at the world that are not always as balanced and well thought out as I would want them to know.  My attention begins to wander after a few hours with them, and sometimes I need to yell at them or lock myself in a bathroom just to stop the incessant interactions that have taken me past resilient and into “drained”.  My parents are a great addition to our lives; but they get tired easily, they have old-fashioned ideas and ways, and they want to parent me more than partner with me.  Being alone has serious limitations.

Yet we have a lot of fun!  Being their single parent means the girls value and appreciate me like never before.  I get to answer all their inquiries and curiosities, and so they are getting to know me very well.  Being the four females on our own has a special quality of female bonding and intimacy.  We get lots of smiles and help and attention out in the world.  We are very happy together and I count my blessings often.

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