attachment · detachment · spirituality · work

“I am your Density…”

lotus-on-fire-3-lyle-barker 8 12 17

I’m sitting in a booth across from my friend before we head to a 40-minute silent meditation followed by a “dharma talk.”  We’ve done this for the last few Friday nights in a row, and we’re arguing (“discussing”) the concept of releasing attachment.  Our difference lies in the fact that I like attachment.

“So, am I not supposed to love my little brother,” I ask combatively.  Am I not supposed to want things, to want to feel connection or connected?

My friend is clear that this is not what non-attachment means, … but she’s also clear that it sort of does.

This morning, a decade later, I’m listening to the latest of the 21-day meditation challenges put out by Oprah and Deepak Chopra called “Desire and Destiny.”  One point Deepak shared today illuminated this irritation for me:

Desire is often interpreted in spiritual philosophies as a selfish distraction which, when indulged, pulls us away from our connection to Spirit.  I believe that desires are seeds planted within to do just the opposite.

I appreciated hearing this from a “spiritual teacher,” as it’s a departure I’ve long held between myself and (what I interpret to be!) the teachings of Buddhism or practices like it.  I do want to be attached — I want to suffer from grasping at my desires and my relationships.  I want to stoke and spark and rail against and fall apart into the yarn-pulls of my heart and discover what it is they mean for me.

If I don’t attach to them, how can I learn from them?

The subtle-til-they-become-violent nudges of my desires recently led me out of a career that was killing me.  A friend suggested during that time that I stand at the copy machine and repeat to myself, “I am grateful to be standing at the copy machine.”

. . . I was not.

And later rather than sooner I made my way into a new career that fuels, inspires, and scares the hell out of me.  This shift has brought me into a deeper relationship with and authenticity around how I earn a living that I don’t believe “Detach and Accept” would have taught me.

My attachment to worldly things often wreaks miserable havoc on my serenity, but there has never been a time when it hasn’t also led me toward a richer understanding of myself, and my destiny.

anger · detachment · faith · fallibility · family · forgiveness · humaness · serenity · spirituality

The Father-Daughter Dance

My friend found out yesterday that her father is dying in
Switzerland, and she and another friend happened to be at my house yesterday
morning when she got the call. It felt like divine timing that she “happened”
to be at my house, instead of alone in her apartment, when she received this
call, and then had to argue with her phone company to get international calling
added to her account so that she could call the ER where her dad was admitted.
We were able to sit there with her, just to sit in my kitchen
while she paced my living room, on the phone. Able to make her tea and just
set it there, whether she wanted to drink it or could or not. Able to bear
witness to her tears, and her fear and her love and her fraughtness about
timing and money and taxes and passports and citizenship.
We were able to help her talk through her very next steps,
just the ones she needed to do that day in order to prepare to get on a flight
It was a gift to be able to be present with that.
These past two days, I’ve pulled the “Emperor” card.
Shuffled them thoroughly, cut the deck, and again, this morning, I pulled the
Emperor card.
I squick at this card. I don’t like it. In my book, it lists
the traits of this card: Fathering, Structure, Authority, Regulation.
Um, you all know my dad was in the military, yes?
My friend yesterday, between phone calls, told us how much
she loved and admired her father; what a kind man he was, how great a man he
was. It was obvious that she had great esteem for him.
I, do not have the same feelings toward my own. And
strangely, I got an email from him just a few days ago.
We haven’t spoken in months. Not since his brother died
unexpectedly over Christmas.
But, I had been thinking about him, and that it was probably
time for me to send an, “I’m not dead” email, just a check-in, just to touch
base. And then, there was his email.
So, I replied. Reported the generic updates I would tell a
casual acquaintance about my life. And it’ll probably be another several months
until we speak again.
I’m still livid, folks. I’m still angered and betrayed and
astonished at how he behaved when I had cancer, when I was going through chemo.
How he demanded phone calls on his time table, instead of mine, when I was the
one in a hospital bed with chemo dripping into a port in my chest. How he simply told me, when I
asked for this to change, that, “This is how it works.” How, even though he was
newly retired
and was working in
the yard
of his fiancé, he somehow didn’t
have any other time in the day to call his daughter in the hospital.
And mostly, it’s just sad. It just still saddens me that
this man has no idea how to show up for people. That if it isn’t something that
is structured, regulated, and orderly,
he doesn’t know how to address it, and therefore, he simply tries to quash it.
And, unfortunately, people, I’ve grown up too much to be quashed by him
I’ve done a ton of work around him, asking for compassion
and forgiveness. In fact, just these few weeks, I’ve been using a new
affirmation: I forgive my dad fully and easily.
Strange to realize now, after the new email, the
Emperor card, my friend’s ailing father, that this might be part of that process. This doesn’t seem like coincidental
timing to me.
I know that I have more work to do. I know that I feel very
unwilling to forgive him, even at the same time that I have compassion and
understanding for someone who never, ever had kindness modeled for him. Someone
who didn’t have his own father, and only a step-father who demanded perfection and doled out derision.
I know “how” to have compassion for him. And sometimes, many times, I have it.
But, forgiveness is another thing.
And I know that my unwillingness to forgive, to continue to
drink the poison I intend for him, is only holding me back, and is only
creating blackness in the light I want to move toward. I know that my
unwillingness to forgive yokes me to him as surely as shackles, or, perhaps, as
surely as love. 
I also know that it is only in the past few weeks that I’ve
begun seeing this new therapist, and last week, just the mention of my
father, almost in passing, came up. She remarked later that it was clear there
was some work to be done there. Which, obviously, I know, and hope for us to do together.
The last thing, and the only thing that’s keeping me from
burning that Emperor card is the end of the description in my book. It says
this card can also stand in for the archetypal father “in his role as guide,
protector, and provider.”
Surely, mine was not able to be this in a way that was
supportive. But these are the exact qualities that I’ve been seeking and hoping
the “Universe” embodies. That I’ve been praying for, and trying to trust the
Universe to have. That it supports me with guidance, protection, and
Individual, versus Archetype. Reality versus Fantasy.
Compassion versus forgiveness.
I really hate that card. 

addiction · detachment · faith · family · fear · love

On Witnessing the Inevitability of Life

My mom and I spoke yesterday for the first time in a while. As in, really talked, not a quick check-in, how are you, okay, gotta go. She and I can speak for hours, on subjects ranging from all manner of depth to superficiality. 
Yesterday, she wanted to ask me my advice about a situation she and her long-time boyfriend (for lack of a better term for a live-in adult partner) were facing. His son, my age, was having consequences (severed tendons) that seemed to refer to alcohol (after an altercation with a guy at a bar).
This apparently wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, and despite the stories he told about it (he slipped and fell on the sidewalk after the altercation), my mom and her boyfriend were concerned that this pattern of incidents pointed toward alcoholism.
So, she called me to find out what they should do.
I gave the best advice I know for the families and loved ones of someone in an addiction: Get the help for yourself that you wish the person had. I suggested Al-Anon, or CoDA (Co-Dependents Anonymous), which are geared toward the families of folks facing addiction.
Because, I told her simply: There is nothing you can do.
Apparently, the son had texted to cancel a brunch with his dad yesterday morning, claiming he’d not been able to sleep well, and would be a zombie. His dad texted back, Okay, but we need to talk.
I suggested to my mom that her boyfriend change his tactics. If the son is really in the grips of a disease and an addiction, then he needs to know he has allies. And, really, what would another conversation do about it, as they’d brought up A.A. already and talked about their concern? Play the tape: What do you hope to accomplish from a talk with him that hadn’t already been said? So, the son will say (again), you’re right, I’m sorry, I’ll do better, different. The dad will sit back in his chair with relief and triumph. – And then the son will do whatever he was going to do anyway.
I told my mom some things that sound harsh and even crass when speaking about a loved one in a hard place: That ultimately, the intention of a conversation like that is to get the result that the son’s dad wants, that my mom wants: relief and reassurance that the son be happy, be healthy. And if he is happy and healthy, then they two can be as well. Ultimately, these desires are selfish: I want to feel better; I want to feel relief. (And I know that’s a hard thing to hear when speaking about a parent’s love for a son.)
Furthermore, though, their desires for his changed behavior proclaim that they know the best course for the son. And they don’t. We spoke about “not robbing someone of their bottom;” that getting sober isn’t the way for everyone; and that the person very very much needs to come to the conclusion themselves that they need or want help.
You cannot tell someone to get sober. They have to want it themselves, or it won’t stick; and if you demand it from them, they’ll feel pit against you and your expectations, instead of aligned with you against the terrifying proposition of giving up the one thing in the world they know how to do.
To let go of the results of someone else’s addiction is a grave assignment; that’s why there are support programs for the people who are in that circumstance. It isn’t easy for the people on either side of the bottle.
I told her too, that the thing she does have control over is how she chooses to engage the situation. I talked about Loving Detachment, which I haven’t mastered at all, but have less antipathy toward. I told her she could “pray” for him, in whatever way that meant for her (the agnostic Jew), even if that meant sending thoughts of hippie rainbows toward him. I suggested using the phrase, “I pray that he gets the same peace love and happiness that I want for myself.”
Because it may not be this kid’s path to get sober, to stop drinking, to stop getting in bar fights. It may not be his path to live past 35, is the ultimate truth of it. And that’s where the enormous task of Loving Detachment becomes so painful. And, that’s where help for the loved one’s comes in handy. There are people who have been where they are, and some of them are not there anymore.
The thing about 12 step support, I told her, is that you hear others’ “experience, strength, and hope;” you hear them telling the same stories, not from 3rd person hearsay, or generalization: you hear your own story coming from someone else’s mouth, your own feelings being mirrored back at you, and you realize you are not alone in your struggle. That these folks were where you are, and they aren’t (hopefully) there any more. How did they do it? Stick around and listen. There is hope here.
The last thing I suggested was that the boyfriend amend his text to his son about “needing to talk,” and simply say, “You know what, I’m here when you need me, if you ever want to talk. Otherwise, I’ll just see you on Thursday for the game.” (or whatever.)
It’s not that people in their addiction need to be coddled or allowed to behave inappropriately toward their loved ones. They simply need to be given enough rope to hang themselves. To come to their own desperate conclusions in their own time.
And if you have the strength, or the exhaustion, to let someone you love do that – you all have a better chance to be helped.

* Disclaimer: Opinion and interpretation is only that of the person who gave it, and by no means representative of any other group or entity.