Tag Archives: compassion

Wellspring of Love

A few weeks ago I wrote about romance and in that blog I confessed that at this point in my life I’m not sure what love actually is. A strange admission from a reasonably intelligent, well-educated, middle-aged broad with two marriages and two children in her history.

Writing that post enabled me to clearly separate romance from love; though I suppose love might include a little romance from time to time. I’m convinced that romance is not synonymous with love, however. I began to make a mental list of what love is not, as I often approach things from the back door first. Love is not a synonym for:

  • Romance
  • Sex
  • Slavery
  • Control
  • Possession
  • Obsession
  • A suicide pact
  • Abuse
  • Fear
  • Duty
  • Obligation
  • Enabling
  • Obedience

All right. So what is love? My Randall House Collegiate Dictionary says it’s “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for a person” or “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection.” This definition doesn’t satisfy me at all. My rewrite is that love is a feeling of warm, tender connection and deep affection. I don’t think love is always passionate and I don’t like the word attachment. If anything, love implies to me an attitude of nonattachment.

But what about unrequited love? What about failed love or withdrawn love or love as a weapon or a tool? What about the inability to accept love, or feeling unloved though being told we are? What about those who make us feel our love is ugly, twisted, shameful or inadequate?

I’m always playing with words in my head. This week it’s “What is love?” and “What is a crone? and “What are the differences between compassion, empathy and sympathy?” I lie down with those inquiries and wake up with them. I turn them over while I shower, cook bacon, wash dishes, take my morning walk, practice Tai Chi and drive to town. I’m constantly scribbling notes.

I gave a neighbor a lift this morning and asked him to talk to me about compassion, sympathy and empathy. Poor man. He didn’t know what to make of me.

Yesterday, during my frosty morning walk, I dove into a stand of staghorn sumac below the barn and went to visit the spring. This is a daylight spring that comes out of the hill on which the barn and house stand. A long time ago, someone dug a well there, and at one time a pump and tank were installed, along with a system of black plastic outdoor lines to carry water to and from the barn, the garden, and down through the woods to, presumably, crops in the fields below. All the equipment is many decades old now, fallen over and covered with leaves and moss. The well is protected by a round cement cap, much too heavy for me to lift alone (drat!).

Spring 10/2017

This spot is hidden in a thick tangle of vine, briar and trees. We rarely go in there, though it’s in close proximity to the barn.

It’s fall and it’s been dry, but the drainage where the spring emerges is clearly marked by rocks and moss. The ground underfoot felt soft, and when I brushed away the leaves I found moist earth. A yard or two below that is mud, and then a trickle of water and then, at the bottom of the hill, a quiet film of water, barely moving, reflecting the tree-laced sky. Right now It’s full of apples dropped from a wild apple tree that grows alongside it.

As I slipped and slid, tripping over vines and getting scratched by hawthorn and raspberry bushes, feeling the velvety moss coating the rocks and stepping cautiously on rotting wood, it occurred to me that love is like this spring.

I’ve always thought of love as an action verb, something I do to another in exchange for receiving the same. I thought I knew what I meant when I used the word, though I was never challenged to define it exactly. For me it’s been a catch-all term, synonymous with dozens of other, more specific actions: Want, need, desire, honor, trust, respect, care about, listen to, defend, make excuses for, enable, protect, support, believe in, etc., etc.

But what if love is just being? What if it has no object, but just is?

Spring 10/2017

This little spring is absolutely true to itself. Water drains off the hillside above us and carves a path through the earth and rock until it emerges and runs down the surface at the foot of the hill. We pay no attention to it whatsoever. It’s reliable, predictable and faithful, but not because anyone is looking. Its unobtrusive, quiet presence has created a lush pocket of life, a complex system of plants, fungi, animals and insects, but ten yards away on the open hillside it’s invisible.

What if I make a choice to allow my feeling of love to run through my life in the same way the spring runs through and over the ground? What if I carry within me a wellspring, a hidden cleft, moist, fertile, filled with life, rich in sensuality, simply because it’s an expression of self? If others find their way to it, sit a while, bathe, drink, and allow it to nourish and refresh them, they’re welcome. If others can’t see it, or don’t value it, or dislike the perfume of rotting wood and leaves or the feel of plush moss under their bare foot, it’s nothing to do with me. Not everyone chooses to make their way through raspberry and hawthorn bushes, after all.

What if I don’t need anything in return because I’m giving nothing away? Perhaps the act of love can be a simple state of being, not a totality, not a hurricane of passion and lust, not a romantic fairytale, not a prison and torture chamber, but a spring, a waterway, a shining thread that I can share without depletion. Can I allow it to seep quietly up through the roots of my experience, even if no one else ever finds it, wants it, returns it or deems it acceptable?

Our spring is part of a landscape of field and forest, river, pond and stream, rocky hillside and bog. The landscape contains many forms and embraces many systems of life. Birth and death happen on this land. Disease, erosion and flood happen on this land. Prey and predators carry out their sacred dance of balance here. Blood, bone, fur, feather, antler, musk, urine and feces are all here.

I, too, am a complex system of history, memory, belief, thought and feeling. I do not feel love for everyone and everything. My experience of love is that it’s a wild thing; it seeps up where it will and trickles away without warning, taking no account of rules and expectations. I can’t command it and I don’t choose to hold it back. My love doesn’t need anyone’s reception, appreciation, validation or praise.

Love is. I reserve the right to love as I will. I am the keeper of my own wellspring.

I love. My daily crime.

Spring 10/2017

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Tolerance

I recently read a brilliant essay on tolerance that clarified for me why I haven’t always experienced successful outcomes while practicing it! Here’s a quote to think about from that article:

“[Tolerance] is an agreement to live in peace, not an agreement to be peaceful no matter the conduct of others. A peace treaty is not a suicide pact.” –Yonatan Zunger, ‘Tolerance is not a Moral Precept’

I’ve found that one of the many unpleasant effects of pleasing people, trying hard, being compliant and demonstrating unfailing compassion and kindness is that it’s stunted my emotional growth. It’s made me weak, naïve and dependent. It’s taught me to be powerless.

At this point in my life I’m making different choices, and as I do that I’m losing my fuzzy-headed, goody-two-shoes, sweet maiden aspect and becoming much clearer about who I am and what I believe in.

I’m not the only one, either. My second-hand exposure to social media through my partner, as well as my own reading of blogs, articles and essays, demonstrates loud and clear that many of us are in the process of refocusing our beliefs and values. Just yesterday I read an article about the devastating impact of the presidential election on close relationships and social media communities, as well as the way it’s opened up new connections.

As I listen, watch, read, write and think about it all, I return, again and again, to the conclusion  that we’re all dealing with the same underlying ideas and issues. I know there’s a lot of heated and poisonous ideology out there about race and ethnicity, sexuality and gender politics, religion, and even what we eat, but underneath all that distracting noise are the same issues of tolerance and intolerance, power and identity, and fear.

I’ve written previously about reciprocity. When I read Zunger’s blog, I immediately understood why my practice of tolerance has had, in some cases, quite devastating results. Once again, I was extending something I wasn’t receiving in return. Having been well trained (and slightly dim) it didn’t occur to me before that it’s not my responsibility to meet intolerance and disregard for my own boundaries with continuing tolerance. I’ve clung to the dangerous belief that if I just model and demonstrate well, the other party or parties will get it, and want to live in a more peaceful and effective way (my way, of course!)

After all, I don’t want to stoop to their level!

Ick.

This is a pretty effective set of shackles. Like many women, I’ve accepted them meekly for most of my life.

I’m bored with that now. It’s never worked well. It’s always left me terribly and painfully vulnerable. Turn the other cheek sounds like a lovely ideal, but in practice it sucks. In my study of combatives, I’ve found another option: Go in peace, but if a predator attacks you, be so explosively aggressive that you become the predator and they become the prey. Take them out of commission as fast and effectively as possible and get away from them. Permanently.

I know, I know. Unattractive. Not nice. Being part of the problem rather than the solution. Violence solves nothing.

That’s all fine, if it works for you.

It hasn’t worked for me. I’m not sure why it’s unattractive and wrong to defend myself (or others), except, of course, from the predator’s point of view.

I don’t care what the predator thinks. Predators have to take their lumps, just like the rest of us.

It seems these days going in peace means having no opinions, asking no questions, voicing no disagreement, stating no beliefs and citing no personal experience. There’s sure to be someone who will step in and try to shut us down with violence, abuse and threats if we speak up.

I love the idea of tolerance as a peace treaty. It gives me everything I need. It accommodates my intention to seek and support connection. It allows me to continue to be completely disinterested in someone’s religion, sexual preference, gender experience, physical anatomy, race, ethnicity, diet or reproductive choices as a criterion for judgement. Tolerance as a peace treaty leaves ample room for the things I do care about—authenticity, compassion, power with rather than power over, the desire to connect. It’s a peace treaty I can honor whole-heartedly.

Right up until someone tells me to shut up and sit down, make myself small, stop asking questions. Right up until someone tells me what to believe, what spiritual framework to use, what to think, what agenda to accept, what to do with my body and what my boundaries should be. Right up until I feel uncomfortable, in fact. Then the peace treaty is broken, and I give myself permission to exit, quietly if allowed and like a fighting tigress if hindered.

Tolerance is not an expression of weakness. It’s not permission to use and abuse. It’s not an agreement to abdicate self-defense. It’s not a suicide pact.

Nobody is entitled to tolerance.

Tolerance is a gift that must be both given and received. Let’s be worthy of it.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Boundaries 3: The Chaos of Transformation?

I’ve been thinking about this week’s blog for a couple of days now.  There’s a lot more to say about boundaries, and maybe someone else can shape the many complex pieces into separate, coherent blogs, but that person isn’t me.  I can sort out a few points, but the rest is just chaos, and that chaos contains all kinds of inflammable issues, such as parenting, corporal punishment, our justice system, religion, sexuality, morals, ethics, rape culture, racism, entitlement and patriarchy.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these are important discussions and ideas for all of us, but the purpose of this blog is not to have a shouting match or explore the different ways we can criticize, judge and belittle one another.

I suspect that most of us agree that boundaries are necessary, but after that point I see potential for endless violent disagreement about how and why we create and manage them.  I do believe it’s safe to say that our understanding of boundaries is heavily influenced by our experience of childhood, by our culture and family, and by technology and media.

I have no answers.  I notice that what I call my boundaries don’t work very well at times.  I notice the conflict between what works for me, what others expect and what I’ve been taught.  I notice a generation gap around boundaries.  My 20-something sons see the whole issue differently than I do.  I think some of this is due to differences in our relationships to technology, but I don’t know how much.

I also notice that a lot of my boundaries are around fear.  As a single woman, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of being hooked into GPS and map information via technology.  It doesn’t feel safe to me.  Likewise, I’m uncomfortable discussing my spirituality, my parenting beliefs, my political beliefs, my dietary choices and the color of my underwear.  I’m not ashamed of who I am—I’m afraid of being victimized.  I don’t want to deal with mean people, hateful people or dangerous people.  I don’t want to attract the attention of a psychopath or a sociopath.  I don’t want to lose connections and relationships over something like religion.

Then there’s the part of me that simply isn’t interested in what I call oversharing.  I mind my own business—why can’t everyone else mind theirs?

On the other hand, surely we have a right to be who we really are.  But where is the line—the boundary, if you will—between that right and violating someone else’s boundary?

A highly topical example of this is the debate over Native American team names in the public school system.  Many Native Americans find this offensive and racist–and say so.  The other side hotly denies they’re racist and cites tradition and their intention to honor the Native American people.  It’s a ding-dong argument.  I’m hurt and offended and this feels racist versus I am not a racist, back and forth, on and on, with both sides becoming further divided with every iteration.  Broken connection, broken relationships, divided communities, hurt and rage are the result.

At bottom, it seems to me these are all boundary issues.  Our boundaries don’t appear to work well.  What do we do about that?

This very morning, I had an interesting discussion with one of my sons about this.  We were talking about privacy in regard to technology, and he suggested that soon we may have to accept the idea of 0% privacy because of our increasing reliance on and use of technology.  Everyone (at least in this country) will be equally exposed and we’ll have to figure out how to live with that exposure as a culture and move on, or we’ll simply self-destruct.  I’d never considered this point of view and I’m fascinated with it, as well as slightly appalled.

Perhaps the chaos around boundaries is present because, as my son suggests, we’re in transformation.  Transformation is inherently chaotic, after all.  Maybe my generation’s ideas and beliefs about boundaries aren’t working because they’re outdated.  Our world, our culture, our understanding of things, technology and science are dynamic, always changing, always correcting and expanding.  Perhaps the world we live in today requires different boundaries and we’re struggling to shape them.

At the risk of sounding like an old granny, however, I think healthy, effective boundaries must contain elements of respect, compassion, authenticity, dignity and kindness, not only for others but also for ourselves.  I think it’s important to remember that boundaries are about ourselves and what works and doesn’t work for us.  It’s not our job to choose boundaries for others.   We may have to defend our boundaries and others will certainly try to violate them, but that’s the only place our power is.

Interestingly, I’m reading a book right now that relates to this.  It’s called Being Wrong, by Kathryn Schulz.  It’s a great book—well written, funny, intelligent and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend it.  The reason I mention it is that so many of our rules, expectations and yes, boundaries, are based on our beliefs and we have a tendency to make our beliefs universal laws.  We all do this, one way or another.  But take one of your central beliefs, a hot one like politics or diet or religion, one you argue about on Facebook, block and unfriend people for disagreeing with.  Now just imagine, if you can, for one minute, only 60 seconds, that you’re wrong.

Pretty uncomfortable, right?  Now everything changes, including your rules, expectations, stories and, inevitably, your boundaries.

In other words, effective boundaries need to flex and change as we learn and grow.  Otherwise, all we create is a jail cell for ourselves.  We can’t change, we don’t admit new information and we keep ourselves small and rigid.

On the other hand, if we have inadequate boundaries our power is leaking all the time.  We fall prey to all kinds of dysfunctional relationships, our integrity is broken, we fail to take care of ourselves and our lives don’t work very well.

I’ve been talking with people about boundaries lately (in the real world) and reading about them online.  Here’s the best article I’ve found, along with a really helpful table to aid in discerning what healthy boundaries look and feel like.  If you know of helpful resources around this subject, please share!

http://lifeesteem.org/wellness/wellness_boundaries.html

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted