Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

In the Small Hours

February 18, 2018

What is it about the small hours of the night (somewhere between 2:30 and 4:30) that allows our deepest fears to surface and torment us? My acupuncturist has spoken of how energy patterns shift through the various body meridians at different times in the 24 hour cycle, identifying for me which pathways are activated around 3 AM. Certain emotions are associated with each of the organs for which these meridians are named, including the emotion of fear. I will not be surprised to learn that the meridian and organ linked to fear is energized in the wee small hours. A healing system that has been effective for many more centuries than Western medicine has existed is certain to continue to give good answers to silly but nonetheless life altering questions.

( A check after I wrote the bulk of this essay confirmed that the meridians engaged at that time are lungs, associated with grief and loss, and kidneys which are indeed associated with fear.)

Life altering, because the course of a life can be determined by the way in which one handles the sleeplessness, the stark terror, or the merely nagging discomfort of the fears that arise. Tough it out until it passes? Make Plans C through F for how to deal with what one fears may happen? Pray for escape from the threat? Or for understanding of how to transform the fear into acceptance? Look for the spiritual lesson hidden in the fear? Identify the origins of the fear and how one’s circumstances have changed such that the fear is no longer relevant?

Intellect can interpret, redirect, calm, reason away irrational emotions. It is not very effective at reasoning away rational feelings, like the fear experienced by a military spouse left behind when the partner goes into a war zone. It is eminently rational to fear the loved one will come to harm in a dangerous environment. No matter how well armed, trained, clever the spouse may be, there is always the chance of the proverbial “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Reason also does not seem to work well, for me, against fears that are ultimately rooted in inner experiences, whether or not they express themselves as projections into our common outer reality. I have come to understand that my early conditioning by a mentally ill and abusive mother set me up to expect that good things would not be granted to me, and that happiness is not a state of being that I would be allowed to enjoy for more than snatched and brief moments in a life otherwise fated to be a harsh struggle against negative forces determined to block and overwhelm me.

Writing that last thought out, I recognize it as exactly what my mother believed and felt, and made into the truth of her own life. Sometime after she died, when I was already approaching my own middle age, I read a diary my mother had written at the age of fourteen, as she traveled to a boarding school in what was then Palestine, now Israel. It showed me a girl already lost to reality, living in a fantasy world filled with both a gallant Prince Charming and horrific ogres doing battle for her attention. She appeared to have been more convinced of the reality of the ogres than of the existence of the princes in those writings. She certainly manifested that orientation to the negative as I knew her. And she apparently instilled that expectation of the negative more deeply into me than I had realized until a very recent 4 AM awakening.

I have been reasoning away the discomfort of not receiving an expected call over the past 46 hours, with sufficient success that I was able to complete a productive day of work, relax and go to sleep at the usual time – but not to stay asleep through the meridian shift that occurred about 3:30. Awake in the dark, I allowed myself to feel the despair of loss in order to trace back its cause, and then started writing to externalize the feelings, a technique I’ve found most helpful in the past. And there, on the page, is the statement about my mother and the realization – not just an intellectual knowing but a deep-seated understanding – of how I have been affected/infected by that same expectation that the ogres will win.

Scant minutes after writing the lines about ogres and princes, the awaited phone call came in. And I learned that the sequence of events I had rationalized to explain its delay had indeed taken place. More importantly, I was shown yet again that realizing the truth of a situation is transformative. My spiritual Teacher frequently reminds us that we do not have to “fix” what we perceive to be out of balance. “Recognition is enough” he tells us. Once the elements of an issue have been recognized (re-cognized, seen from a different point of view) we are directed to take our attention off the subject matter and place it back where it belongs, on our spiritual purpose in this life. “Attention is food, what you give attention to grows, what you deprive of attention withers and vanishes.”

I was initially distraught at least partially because I couldn’t tell if my fear arose from a prescient foreboding of an impending calamity, or instead from a deeply ingrained and unconscious pattern of expectation (what on the MasterPath is called a sanskara). As indicated above, my experience of the emotions and subsequent contemplation of the experience put it squarely into the sanskara category. Releasing the sanskara’s hold on my attention and imagination came (is still coming) next. New insights arise daily, as I do my normal chores and also those that have fallen to me during my husband’s unexpected absence. I see that I am being gifted with opportunities to completely reassess my experience of being unsupported and, of necessity, totally self-reliant throughout virtually all of my life, until four years ago.

Knowing now what it feels like to be in a loving, mutually supportive and caring relationship, I begin to realize that – should my worst fear be realized – I would not be cast back into the unfulfilled void of my earlier years. I am not that same person, or perhaps more accurately I do not see that person through the same eyes as before.

For that change, as for so many other new insights connected to my initial 3 AM panic, I am most deeply grateful.

Dayenu

March 9, 2014

Have you noticed how subtly, but pervasively, some of us become conditioned to be happy with crumbs, accepting far less from the banquet of life than we may want, or even than may be available?

In my case, I recognize that this training began in my earliest childhood, as the result of my mother’s severe psychological problems. Anything I looked forward to, anything I really wanted, she found a way to make unpleasant or to turn into an unhappy experience. You think your birthday should be special, maybe a few playmates over for a small party? Think again. “I don’t choose to accept responsibility for anyone else’s children in my house.”

If I admired some small item in a shop window, wishing someone might think enough of me to buy it for a present, I might very well find it at home – on my mother’s dresser, after she bought it for herself and preened over her lovely new figurine. Primary school graduation, all the girls dressing up in pretty new clothes and patent leather party shoes? “It’s a school day. You wear your sturdy Oxfords, no buts and no arguments, do you hear me!”

I learned to be grateful for a day without being repeatedly slapped, for an hour alone with my grandfather, just going for a walk around the neighborhood (“You haven’t earned the right to go to the zoo with him this week, you’ve been far too much trouble to me”). I learned to accept that only grownups got new clothes from the store; mine were roughly sewn together from one of three basic patterns and handed to me with, “I worked hard to make this for you, don’t you dare complain that it looks like all your others. It’s a different color. That’s more than enough. The children in Africa are lucky if they have any clothes at all!” Those children in Africa were lucky if they had food, or a warm bed, or a place to get out of the rain, or…

I wanted to visit those children in Africa, to see if their lives were really so bad. Somehow, even at only five or six or seven years of age, I suspected that many of them had loving parents and enough to eat and maybe they even got presents sometimes, and hugs and kisses instead of punishments.

If we’re diligent about maturing, about taking responsibility for ourselves and who we become, we grow out of a variety of early conditions to become decent, engaged, thoughtful people. We stop blaming our bad decisions on our parents’ inadequacies, we learn from our mistakes, and we move forward. But underneath, all too often, we retain a fundamental attitude that we must feel satisfied with crumbs.

Don’t misunderstand – I fully support approaching each day with “an attitude of gratitude” for the many small positives to be found in it. I’m amused by the antics of the rabbits in the pasture. I smile at my confused (or misnamed?) Christmas cactus which stayed plain at that holiday, but is now flowering for Easter. I’m quietly, inwardly thankful for the opportunity to work once more at a job I enjoy, after years of toil in a less rewarding environment.

At Easter

At Easter

At the same time, I recognize that I spent many more years in that previous, stressful workplace than perhaps I “should have” done, because I was (am still?) conditioned to accept a small salad plate from life’s banquet rather than grabbing a big dinner plate and seeing that it is filled. The latter behavior is so often called greedy, selfish, and thoughtless of the needs of others.

If what one is going after falls in the material world – money, possessions, power – then yes, trying to get as much as possible for oneself may well be greedy and selfish. Lord knows I can’t comprehend how people already making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year can think they are also entitled to bonuses! Some, like Bill Gates or Michael J Fox, turn around and give back a generous portion of what they acquire, and thereby help the rest of us. I am thankful for them, and their charitable foundations. Too many others grab for, demand, and keep outrageous salaries, even insisting they be paid after they’ve been asked to resign. The public face of this activity is labeled “buying out a contract.” I think it is purely obscene. We working folks who don’t perform to standard get fired, not paid to leave. Why should it be any different just because one has an exalted position with an already very generous pay rate?

But I’m not talking about the material world, when I say we’re conditioned to settle for less. I’m not even talking about the emotional world, or the necessity of accepting that very few relationships are perfect, that we cannot count on another to “make me happy.”

I’m reflecting instead on the extent to which we cut ourselves off from fulfilled happiness by telling ourselves we do not need, are not entitled to, don’t have the right to, should not want or expect that fulfillment. In a portion of the Seder, the Jewish celebration of Passover (and the ritual being observed by Jesus at the Last Supper) a litany of blessings is recited, and after each step in the path to freedom the sentiment is expressed “Dayenu = It would have been enough.” If God had done just X, it would have been enough. If God had done just X+Y it would have been enough. If God had done just X+Y+Z it would have been enough.

I learn from this ritual that being grateful for what I have need not prevent me from welcoming more into my life. That I want more does not say I don’t value what I have. Only the subtle, pervasive, underlying conditioning of unworthiness so many of us have absorbed dictates that I should not try for gold, now that I have silver in hand.

I have silver, and rubies, and ambrosia, a wealth of gifts of the spirit. Dayenu. I appreciate how much that means to, is sought after by, people who have less. I happily share my blessings as best I can. And I’m going for more.

Reaching for a full platter does not mean I appreciate my present plate any the less. It does mean I’ve decided not to hang back, not to duck and cover, not to “settle” before I must do so. Maybe I’ll trip. Maybe I’ll fail. Maybe I will, in the end, have neither gold nor silver. But as a former prisoner and student of mine once wrote, “Mighty Casey, he struck out. What does it feel like to get into the game?”

I’m going to find out! And whatever the outcome, it will be enough. Dayenu.


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