Some habits are hard to break and some habits are hard to make. In so much else that we have lost in terms of ethics and morality, I think we have lost the idea that there is a difference between a mistake and a sin. And consequently, we have lost this idea that good personal qualities are not a matter of hoping for them but of practicing them.
A sin is anything we know to be less than good or right and something that can hurt ourselves or another, and we do it anyway, purposefully or carelessly. There is also a difference between a feeling, a character trait, and a virtue. A virtue is something that we create, nurture, act upon, not out of whole-cloth, but out of that which every human being has the possibility of knowing and striving for. One of the most commonly known vices is gluttony, and yet while we may easily see it in others, we rarely see it in ourselves until after we’ve eaten the giant bag of Red Hot Doritos, swilled it down with a six-pack and we get the stomach-ache we deserve, at which point we still don’t see it as a sin against our body as much as a “mistake”. A common virtue is patience and yet we judge our boss or teacher for being impatient with our ignorance, while we attribute our own snapping and losing patience with the faults of the other person or just being “tired or hungry”.
We, at least in our Western world of privilege and ease, have mostly lost the idea that while we cannot control the feelings of an instant, we certainly can control the actions that come out of those feelings. But we can only do so, if we have practiced controlling and shaping and substituting bad actions for good actions. Much like working out with weights to increase one’s ability to perform at a sport, we must make the practice of good habits part of a daily routine (with time off for good behavior or Sabbaths or rest). And practicing to be good is important, much like practicing a sport or an instrument is important to be ready to sprint or perform when the moment of action arrives. You can’t hope you’ll win or flawlessly play, you have to have made habits that allow you to respond without thinking. Deciding to choose to live virtuously is a life-long commitment; much as professional musicians never stop practicing scales, we must see our lives as any artist would see her abilities to create. The glorious and divine thing about being human, is that it is never too late to start being creative with who we want to be. Today is another day in which I can see myself as the artist of my own life, worthy of practice in the virtues that make me the best creation I can be. If we focused on the idea that humans are truly creatures of habit, then we might understand the insidiousness of the habits we form for evil and the habits we form for good. Then we can understand the truly divine power we each have to break and make habits.
A bad action, whether it is over-indulging ourselves or gossiping about a neighbor, becomes what we might call a sin against self or sin against another, when we let an action become an un-examined habit. As an example, from my own life, over the past several years I have felt a responsibility to know about the evils and lies of our political leaders and to speak out against those things. However, lately, reading and thinking and worrying and angsting over those things has become a habit, something I cannot seem to stop doing, even with the hope of change around the corner, even as it has effected my peace, even as it has eaten up time that could be better spent in other pursuits. There has become something perversely pleasurable in wallowing in the doo-doo of others. This is ultimately not good for me, so when I keep indulging in it, I am sinning against myself. It is also however, not good for my brother or sister, when I keep beating my head against the wall of their stubborn stupidity or unethical choices to try to change or help them. I am a habitual “helper” but when you try to help someone who doesn’t want your help, it is a sin.
To break these bad habits, I have gotten myself into, I have to try to form different habits. So rather than beginning my morning with the various newspapers I subscribe to, I spend it reading spiritually invigorating books or by some time with silent meditation and prayer. I don’t turn on my computer. I find a space with a small lamp’s circle, a pencil for making notes, and a “teacher” whose written words energize my understanding and determination to make the world a better place and make the places in my own soul better as well. Getting outside and walking in the beauty of Nature is also good. Doing something anonymously for someone who is hungry, in prison, or lonely is also good. Practicing non-aggrandizing kindness, especially to those who make me mad or grumpy or who won’t appreciate it or praise me, is an excellent way to form a different habit of kindness and helpfulness. Actions that help me break habits that hurt me or hurt others are choosing to become ethics in action. Those actions become virtues when they become habits. Otherwise, they are too often “one offs”, reflective of how I feel, what I’m “in the mood for”, how much I care, or whether any one else is “looking”; and so they are not forces “at the ready” when I am “not feeling it”. Virtues are good habits that take over even when we do not will them to.
The other thing that for me is completely necessary is to truly return to an idea that I am not only not alone in the Universe, I am being watched. We have lost the idea of the “Constant Onlooker”. This may be because we think a belief system is enough to “save us” no matter how we behave for some future reality; but of course we should be humbly reminded that “even devils believe in God and Goodness and tremble”. It may be because we have never felt there is anything other than our molecules existing in a particular meaningless space and time with other molecules. But whether it is the foolishness of a morphed and broken religion or the sadness of an atheism, to have lost the idea that there is somehow something Divine that takes notice of us humans and our Earth, is a great tragedy and has much to do with how we have devolved to this place in time on our poor beleaguered planet and our insensitive, insensible, irrational, and sinful treatment of the planet and all creatures living on it.
Whether my Constant Onlooker is a God, or the Cosmos, or my Passed Relative, or the Angels, we have a great throbbing need to feel watched over with care. And when we think we are so very alone and that No One is watching, overseeing, caring, — yes — even judging or orchestrating us to live out a better way — when we choose to idolize the primacy of self-satisfaction and momentary feelings, of one-upmanship or passive/ aggressive complaining — then we truly choose to be alone in a Universe screaming for us to recognize that there is an Onlooker of human behavior, down to the very individual that you are and that I am.
It is often difficult to fight the depression that I feel when I feel that I do not matter, but there is another way. I can form the habit of worshipping That Who, that El Roi who sees me — ME — little old who I am but more importantly who I can BE — ME. To be seen is the first step away from breaking the habits of vice and towards making the habits of virtue.
Vice is about me, myself and I alone in the Universe. Virtue is about a Community of Reality in which I am not only not alone, but I am so important, so valued, so looked after, so much a part of The Whole, that my every singular thought and deed matters. While my individual mistakes and sins may not matter in the long run, the habits I form and whether they are formed for Good or for Evil, matter in a Grand Scheme of that which I can only glimpse and imagine.
To get started: This chart of Virtues and Vices is attributed to Aristotle. I could meditate on just the titles for hours.
We might look at these vices and virtues side by side with the words of that other great sage, St. Augustine, who among other things said, “I “Sin” / Err, therefore, I am”. To be human, to actually be the best human we can be, is to understand that we don’t just “goof up”, but we sin, and sin boldly and sin habitually. When we recognize that there is Someone, that some of us call “God”, who is creative and imaginative enough to give humans the ability to choose Life — life abundant and whole and free — then we recognize that same Being Who Loves us enough to perpetually create in and through us, is a SomeOne Who is watching over us, is looking out for us, is there and here for us, and is trying every which way to point to The Way — The Tao. There is Something in the Universe that cares about my every action; and rather than letting that be a heavy burden or a fear of judgement or a way for those in power to control me as organized religion and political powers have so often done and still do, I can allow that wisdom to free me from vice and habits of negativity that can ruin my life and the lives of others. Then I can open up my heart and soul, my body and mind, and my actions, deeds, and words to replace the negative habits with positive virtues and the good habits that will create new life in me and open up more room for love, both for myself and for others.
It is not enough to recognize the vices in others, even if we have worked hard not to allow those same vices in ourselves. The lack of a vice is simply a lack, a negative sum, not a positive one. I must of course look firmly at any habitual negative action or thought I have and try to pull it out by the roots and toss it in the dung heap. But I must also see any open spaces or blank lines in my ledger and replace the emptiness with virtue. It is not enough not to sin, but we must seize our responsibility for action and make it a habit; for as The Great Teacher said:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The theologians and the leaders in power — go ahead and do and observe whatever they tell you, but do not do the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They foist on others heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, churches, and halls of power; and they thrive on greetings in the marketplaces, news coverage, and being called important titles by others. But you are not to be called by important titles, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no man your father/priest/leader on earth, for you have one Father/High Priest/Leader, who is in All the Universe, all the Heavenly Places. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (paraphrased slightly from Matthew 23)
I have lately retracted the finger I have had pointing towards others and tried to focus more on the four fingers pointing back at myself. Rather than being a negative experience, making me feel bad about myself, I find it energizing, comforting, and oh so very hopeful of all I can still accomplish and be within my very little own self. Much like when the weather changes and I can do some serious “Spring Cleaning”, I am ready to clean out some space in my heart, mind and soul, in order to make room for something better, cleaner, brighter, truer, and nobler; and to practice intentionally the greatest virtue of all — that of loving both self and others. And in this way, I long and desire to become more in tune and loving of The One Who Sees and Cares.
I know it is awfully old-fashioned of me, but to see the tendencies of making and breaking habits as something as eternally important as choosing vice or virtue, makes me feel much less alone in The Universe. The more I see my own sins and broken pieces, the more I hold out hope for Wholeness. The more I see the errors on my life’s page, the more I sense I am a part of a Great Story of Our Humanity, in which I play, if only a small and unknown character, a still quite valuable part. Like the character who is a catalyst in a novel, I hope to not understand but simply obey and do that which is my own ethical, virtuous-leaning part to play in The Story. Like tuning an old piano, I hope to change the dissonance of certain vices and make in-tune new habits of virtue. In this way, I do not play a solo performance, but am part of that great Orchestra lead by the Director of All Directors. Today, I shall practice creating more harmony in my own life, and humbly, prayerfully, hopefully in the lives of others, and I shall listen to and add to The Song.
I needed reminding today that Hope is a gift. All I need to do is hold out my hands and accept it. But I must risk holding out my hand. I must for one moment forget, how many times that hand has been slapped away by disappointment, fear, anger, or pride. Only by forgetting the past moment, can I welcome this new moment of hope. I must remember that I cannot hold onto hope if my fists are closed or my hands are full of selfishness, greed, or vanity. I must remember how lovely it is to hold things lightly enough in one’s hands so that they can be filled with hope. Hope is a gift, but I must open myself up to accept it.
Hope is a gift, but I must listen for it, tune my heart to its sweetness. I must watch patiently for Hope to alight. I must keep my hands open for hope to remain. The minute I try to imprison hope, it will flee from me. Above all, I have to remember that there is plenty of hope to go around. Hope is strongest when it is shared.
Today, I was reminded of the long arc of hope by these artists and writers. I am thankful to them and history, both mine and the world’s, for reminding me that Hope is “the thing that perches in the soul, singing the tune without the words, never stopping at all”. Hope patiently waits for us to remember that it is powerful but meek, self-contained but kind, and that every love ever loved needs hope to help it survive.
Hope is that which inspires me to join the dreamers, believe in the goodness of other people, know that love is stronger than death. And as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, while finite disappointment is real and hard, we must never lose hope, for Hope is infinite.
Keep Hope Alive. In fact, “live right under it”. ~~Jane
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” ― Shel Silverstein
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” ― John Lennon
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
— Anne Frank
“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
— Barbara Kingsolver
“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
— Robert Fulghum
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”
— Pablo Neruda
When the night is dark, may you still see how bright are the stars, Jane
I must begin with a BIG DISCLAIMER: I am not claiming in this post that I do this, can do this, or will do this in my relationships. I am merely setting out to teach myself a thing or two along with maybe a few of you. I can say, however, that the times I HAVE done this in either my most important relationships or my most trivial relationships, I have been much, much the better person for it, and I would hope the relationship has been the better for it too.
We are most of us, in several types of relationships. Whether spouse, partner, friend, family member, or co-worker, we are also most of us faced with times when the relationship goes off course or hits a bump or sometimes, threatens to implode or explode. When this happens, we have a choice to either ignore and let the situation flounder, fester, get worse, fall apart, slowly decay, or even die; or we can try to change the dynamics, fidget with the dance steps, and right the wrong. For this post, I use the metaphor of Righting the Ship — the RelationSHIP; and I would like to believe, that no matter where any particular relationSHIP ends, no matter what the port or destiny, it is very important to learn to make things right, at minimum for one’s own self, hopefully for both of the people in it, but ultimately because there is something BIGGER in a relationship between two people than either of the individuals by themselves. While no man is truly an island, some people do manage to go through life mostly in a little one-person dingy. And while my sailing through life alone in a dingy, can feel like freedom and can keep me from experiencing the rough waters of life that one is subjected to in any relationSHIP; in a little dingy by myself, I can never sail the “Seven Seas”, the great oceans, or ever reach the amazing shores that I can when I sail a relationSHIP with someone else. Sailing any relationSHIP with others is how we best learn to navigate our own lives.
But it isn’t easy to steer any course with someone else. Even just a little day-trip with a coworker can suddenly hit squalls. And those big relationSHIPS? — yowza! So many icebergs to avoid, big waves to bounce through, and irritating mates you have to bunk with! And so we need not only maps, compasses, oars, and life jackets — we need disaster plans, escape routes, and some flexibility amongst the crew. We also must have a huge dose of humility in the face of the unknown factors or uncontrollable elements. We must humble ourselves in any relationSHIP with the knowledge we have about the unfairness of the Fates, the unpredictability of the weather, or the hidden depths we can never truly know in both the world’s deep waters, and the unknowable deep depths of each human being.
By admitting at least to oneself, that one cares enough about both the relationship and one’s own inner peace and joy to do something about whatever happened to un-right or miss-steer the relationSHIP, we can at least keep ourselves from drowning in helplessness or hopelessness. And it is not always an admission of one’s personal responsibility, as much as it is an acceptance of one’s personal ability. In other words, I have the right and the responsibility and the ability to determine the importance of any relationship’s smooth sailing and my own smooth sailing with whomever I happen to be in a particular “relation — SHIP” with. And the longer and better we sail, or row, or steer any kind of relationships in this life, the more seaworthy we can become. It doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing, but it can help tremendously in keeping one from drowning or becoming sea-sick.
Imagine that a relationSHIP is just that — a ship. Ships come in all sizes and styles, and so do relationSHIPS. Think of your friend or co-worker as the other person in a rowboat. When that boat tips over or springs a hole and begins to fill with water, you are both going to be in a world of “wet” — tears and pain, or even a drowning if someone doesn’t do something. Don’t wait for the other person, but get to work on righting the boat. Of course, ultimately you hope that the other person will need and want to help you. No one should keep trying to fix a relationship that keeps breaking apart any more than someone should keep trying to patch holes in the bottom of a boat if your sailing partner keeps hammering holes into the hull. Swim for shore, friend, swim for shore! Abandon relationSHIP if there is no hope, and look for a new horizon. There will be a new person, whether life-mate or work-mate, to row or sail a relationSHIP with, all in good time. And just maybe the person you stopped trying to do everything for, trying to fix and right the sinking relationSHIP for, all by yourself, maybe he or she will stop knocking holes in relationSHIPS in the future, (maybe thanks in part to your own suffering self).
Some relationships are so special, meaningful, deep and large that they are like gigantic cruisers or warships. Don’t try to save the relationSHIP if you know for a fact it is the Titanic headed straight for the iceberg, or the big guns on the warship have started firing at the relationSHIP itself, instead of the enemy; but if the cruiser or the warship are basically seaworthy and your mate trustworthy, then you may have to be the one to be firm with your co-captain that the ship is badly sailing off-course, and take the time and energy to do whatever it takes — batten down the hatches, patch the hull’s holes, mend the sails, change course (sometimes drastically), or fight the pirates.
If the ship is basically water tight and usually sailing the right way to safe harbor, then during those times (and sometimes this may be daily), when the relationSHIP may hit some turbulence or even encounter a big iceberg up head, those should be seen as a time to call out a distress signal, and put all hands on deck, not to abandon the ship. And if you wake up to find you have somehow managed to go badly off course with someone you love, it only takes one person in a BIG relationSHIP to get out a trustworthy compass and to begin steering you both back to True North.
I love the music and lyrics of Joni Mitchel, but in her song, “A Case of You”, when she writes: “Just before our love got lost, you said “I am as constant as a northern star, “ and I said “Constantly in the darkness Where’s that at? If you want me, I’ll be in the bar” — Mitchel only gets it half right. She knows her own limitations in the relationship well, but she doesn’t have enough faith in her own abilities. Most of us don’t have enough faith in our abilities nor enough commitment to our responsibilities; and so we either look for a new relationship and abandon the current relationSHIP, or we stay on board, but we don’t row as hard, or care about how straight our direction, or we stop enjoying the view, and we just give up and just accept things the way they are in the current relationship. And sometimes, tragically, we let the whole “ship” sink without a fight. But any relationSHIP is worth some effort and some are worth a lot of effort.
So, let’s polish our oars and swab our decks and if necessary, learn to tread water a bit better and look at these suggestions on how to right a relationSHIP, for one day, one trip, a long cruise, a working season of fishing or tugboating, or a life-time of happier, more fulfilling, less “hole-y and more “holy”, more seaworthy sailing.
The R’s of Righting a Relationship
By Jane Tawel
1. RELEASE. If it’s a fight or argument or any situation with the other person that is getting out of control, apologize for what you are about to do and leave the person, the area, the conversation. Know that it is a bit of a power play, and do not do it until you absolutely must, but release the situation, and “walk away”. RELEASE the moment of conflict. RELEASE your need to have an immediate solution. RELEASE your power to bend the other person’s will or change their mind. Let go of a specific time frame to fix it. You want to fix it, but it doesn’t have to be right now. RELEASE yourself from your own immediate needs. RELEASE yourself and the other person from your feelings. Go away and on your own, alone, into the void of the universe, (not onto the other person) RELEASE your anger, hurt, fears, confusion, etc. RELEASE your grasp on your feelings and your justifications and your arguments. Let them go for however long it takes to find your center, your equilibrium, your mojo, your spirit, your peace, your words, your explanation, your questions, your identity, YOURSELF. When the relationSHIP has begun to speed out of control, HIT THE BRAKES, take down the sails that have inflated with too much windiness, and RELEASE the relationSHIP’s runaway energy that is steering your ship in a dangerous direction. Then take a:
2. REST. This is not always easy, but completely necessary, even if you are at odds with a boss or co-worker, and it isn’t your break-time. Sometimes we are in a relationSHIP in which we are chained like a slave to the underbelly of that relationSHIP at work or even in the family situation at home. At minimum, take a bathroom break (without a phone so you can’t call some one up to vent to), but if possible, take a walk outside. (Fresh air can clear our minds and rest our souls). After you have released yourself from the situation, REST EVERYTHING. Rest your emotions, your body, your mind, and your spirit. This means you can not do any work on any of them. Stop thinking about anything (use deep breathing or a mantra or hum some silly ditty). Stop feeling (recognize feelings as something you can now control now that you have walked away from their cause). Stop doing (whatever your body is doing it should be “play”, not work for it to feel rested). And Stop “spiritualizing” (if you pray, don’t — you can get help later after you have rested and usually prayer at this point will be about the problem you just RELEASED, so give yourself a REST). If you are stuck at a desk, or next to a sick bed, or with someone you must share space with, at least close your eyes, breathe deeply, and completely empty your mind and relax your body for as long as you can get away with it. If this is a home relationship conflict that you have just RELEASED yourself from, REST as long as you possibly can. Even if you need to read a book or watch a show, or take a walk (without your phone), or sit or lie down (even take a nap) in a private place, do it. The important thing is to DO NOTHING about the conflict, and do nothing that will just detour the stress onto something or someone else. Take an attitude of REST from the situation as long as you need to, even if you have to do it for a day or a week, (longer than that is usually not very helpful for either you or the other person), but REST for as long as you can or as long as you need to. Do not feel guilty; feel instead the toll the problem in the relationSHIP has taken on you, and the effects of the depletion or the added weight that your recent disagreement has had on your emotions and your inner strength, and REST. Regain your strength before heading from your berth back to being on-deck. Think of the recent conflict as if it were the last leg of a very hard race and you have rowed or manned the sails or the wheel, until your arms ache and you absolutely must take time to recuperate before heading back to the relationSHIP to do your part in steering, full-speed ahead. Relationships, no matter of what kind, take work and if yours just involved a lot of work without seeming to “get you anywhere”, then you need to take time before trying to recalibrate your direction and set sail again. You can re-navigate the course much better after you REST.
3. REJUVENATE. This is another way of saying RENEW. This can be either a time when I REJUVENATE my own thinking about the relationship, the problem or conflict, or renew some old thinking about myself; OR it can be a time when I RENEW my desire to see the other person with more kindness, more understanding, more desire, more acceptance, more adjustment, more humility, or just more need to make things right between us. REJUVENATING can not be forced however, and until there is a spark of this RENEWAL or perhaps sense of “wholeness” inside me, I can’t get the relationSHIP righted. Think of this idea of REJUVENATION like fixing the battery of a big boat. It may only take a spark, but eventually there have to be two jumper cables to attach in order to REJUVENATE the source of energy and life. There has to be a spark of energy to get the battery up and running again, but until you have let things cool down, you shouldn’t try to jump-start the RENEWAL process. Until there is that spark of desire or some idea about how to RENEW the energy needed to right the relationship, it is best not to force it. On the other hand, you can’t keep the ship going forward without some new and added energy and whether that is from a jump-start to the old battery, or some new wind in the sails, or some duct-tape on a broken oar, you will want to find the energy to REJUVENATE towards the future journey and up-ahead horizon. On the flip side, you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bilge water or forget all the things you have already learned or shared in your time together in any particular relationSHIP. So — -
4. REMEMBER. One of the greatest ways to REJUVENATE the relationship besides giving it new life, is to REMEMBER. This can be something you do together as soon as you have RELEASED, RESTED, and REJUVENATED; remembering with the other person if you are feeling strong enough to do that, or you can REMEMBER just by yourself. REMEMBER the good times, recall the good things about them, pull up memories no matter how small about shared vision, accomplishments, or tears or laughter. But, you can also strengthen your ability to right the relationSHIP by REMEMBERing your own past accomplishments in your own life, in this relationship and in other relationships that may seem to have nothing to do with this one. Reminding yourself of your strengths, your abilities, your accomplishments, and your successful relationship moments can hone your skills and give you faith and hope in the one you are dealing with now. REMEMBERing the good things and good times in and with the other person specifically, and the strength and successes and good times generally in yourself and your own life, will take away some of the fears about your abilities to navigate these particular waves that may have buffeted or bashed up your relationship in the present. If possible, REMEMBER the fun, the joy, the mutual accomplishments (whether that is a project or a child), the strength you found in each other and together, and let the memories grab like strong arms and open hands, onto each side of your overturned relationSHIP and right it. Then when the boat is right-side up in your mind and hopefully in the other person’s because you have shared those memories — THEN you can begin to bail out the water that threatened to capsize the two of you. Bailing out the dirty water left over after you have righted the ship, means you —
5. REJECT. This doesn’t mean I REJECT the other person, or the other person’s feelings or ideas of how to solve our smaller immediate issue or our long-term bigger problems. What I REJECT is a need to go backwards and REGURGITATE the disagreement. Have you ever tried to row a boat backwards or back a ship into dock? It isn’t easy and it isn’t advisable. This doesn’t mean we will not have to REVISIT the problem in the relationSHIP, but we should first REJECT any notion of picking up the same broken oars or tattered sails or stubbornly sailing in the wrong direction toward a rocky, undock-able shore. Don’t let the Sirens’ song tempt you to prove you were right and he was wrong and lull you into a false sense of happiness or sense that you are “winning”. And do not let your feelings rise up like dead pirates from a watery grave to convince you that there is buried treasure in what you feel or imagine to be “out there”, rather than the true treasure in what you already have — right there in the relationSHIP.
6. RECOMMIT. This is when you begin to bail out the water, together. I can do this alone, and if I really value the other person, and have an understanding of him or her that lets me know they just can’t help bail us out right now, I may begin the hard work of bailing out alone and by myself. Eventually I have found, if I managed to RELEASE, REST, REJUVENATE, and REMEMBER, then I can RECOMMIT and give the other person some time or cut them slack. Maybe the next time they will be the one bailing me out of the mess we got our relationSHIP into, so I want to take the long view and see important relationships as worth bringing safely home to shore, even if the other person can’t “get on board” with that yet. I do hope though, that in any truly worthy relationship, the other person will want to join me in that commitment to the work of mending, recalibrating, fixing, redirecting, and righting the relationSHIP before it completely tips over and sinks. When she does, that is when I know the relationSHIP is worth the hard work it takes to keep sailing forward. When both of us commit to figuring out how to navigate the present and future journeys together, then we RECOMMIT to something bigger than either of us — the relationSHIP. Somehow, then we are not just two deckhands, or two captains of our fate, left to the whims of weather or the world, but there is a THIRD identity that we make together — we are the relationSHIP. This has an almost mythical quality, when we remember that ships have long been personified by sailors, captains and crews. Ships and boats and seas and all that go with them, are symbolic of those eternal ideas and ideals, and crossing all cultures and people-groups throughout time.
In terms of relationSHIPS, I want to mention here, briefly that we are usually most concerned with those we have between the sexes or with those who identify as a different gender than ourselves (our spouse or partner), or in families, perhaps even with those who are the same gender we are but manifest it differently due to age, or power structure, or understanding of identity. But if we maybe step back, and think that in deep, important relationships especially, we can be more aware of both the feminine and masculine attributes each of us has, we can understand the yin and yang, or the push and pull of our individual and mutual needs, desires, and understanding of our destination. For now, can we all just try to channel our inner “feminine” spirits. Think of the mastheads on ships, which are always female. Thinking of my own part in righting relationSHIPS as more feminine in spirit, as opposed to a more masculine understanding of my psyche, can not only help me find the right kind of strength, but can help me look at the other person as more complicated, more mysterious, but also more understandable than I might otherwise do. He or she is just like me, both feminine and masculine — and also completely mysterious to me, depending on my own current balance or imbalance between the two sides of myself. I think, reaching down into our inner “female-strength”, can tell us a lot and help us a lot, if we are willing, (for both those of us who are male or female in gender or character). To right a relationship that has been attacked by the sirens of our need for power or fear of vulnerability or just our plain mistakes or wrongness in what we have done as part of the “crew”; we might all do well to meditate on that “feminine” quality we all have (or should?), that part of us that wants to be both cared for and taken care of, that “nurturing” side that is in all of us. If you can’t do this, perhaps you can at least see your important relationSHIPs as the old sailors saw their real ships. The relationSHIP has its own type of feminine power and its own ability to nurture, just like sailors once thought the ship had its own goddess or mother power to protect and nurture and care for those sailing her.
7. REACH-OUT. Seriously, this is perhaps the most obvious but also the hardest. Don’t let the other person drown. REACH OUT a hand to save them. We all do love to be needed and it is easy to watch a little too long as our partner flails around in the watery depths, not knowing how to get back to the safety of a healthy relationSHIP, while watching us with-hold our hand or refuse to throw our mate a life-jacket. Don’t watch too long, or the person really might decide it’s better to risk drowning or to wait for another relationSHIP to come along so they can board that one instead of yours. But if you are the one that seems to be drowning and you can’t seem to get back on board or find the desire to grab onto the side of the relationSHIP and get back to work on the relationSHIP, at least tread water until you can find your strokes. If you can’t yet imagine wanting to mend the tears in the sails or the breaks in the hull, at least just grab the hand your partner is reaching out to you. Don’t reject that helping hand because it isn’t being reached out in the way YOU would do it, or the life-jacket looks a bit flimsy or dirty, or you want her to jump in the water and risk your pulling her down with you. Just do it, grab on, seaweed and all, and get back on the boat. Don’t float around in the flotsam and jetsam waiting for a better way to stop drowning — REACH OUT. Get back on the boat however you manage to scramble up there. There is time then to — -
8. REASSESS. In a relationship, whether with a friend, a spouse, a child, a parent, or a coworker, we all have to eventually REASSESS. REASSESS your capabilities, your desire, your options, and the seaworthiness of the relationSHIP at that particular place and time. It may be that the crew has changed, and it’s time to let your mate or the once children now grown, have more responsibility in the steering department. It may be that you have had a successful run, and now it is time to retire and take up fishing from the shore. It may not be worth your working so hard or taking the time for this journey you have recently embarked on, but you may want to take a trip with it later. At the same time, the relationSHIP may not be something you want to continue to crew. This may involve looking at the relationSHIP as ultimately unseaworthy, and you need to jump ship before you go down with it. But usually, you have just hit a bad wave, or you have fallen overboard but you can get back on, or you have had some really, really, really bad weather, but you still want to keep rowing ahead with the person who has had the other oar all this time.
The end of a relationship is usually not because the craft has suddenly hit bad weather, or suddenly one of you changes your rowing style. No, usually your relationSHIP has been gradually inching its way off-course. But most relationSHIPS are worth at least some fixing, some help, some learning and growth, even if the crew changes. It is usually, in the end, more a matter of REASSESSing the situation not REASSESSing the relationship.
Before I let a situation irrevocably change my relationship, I should ask: Is it a deal breaker that will eventually cause the relationSHIP to steer into an iceberg of irredeemable consequences? Or is it something that I and the other person can both steer around and recalibrate the speed at which we were going? Is this situation salvageable, with a little elbow grease maybe, but perhaps better equipped and seaworthy in the long run? Is it a matter that will take some hard work together, but can ultimately lead the relationSHIP to a better shore, a brighter vista, a home where even a Crusoe or a family of Swiss Robinsons can live happily ever after? Or is the glitch in the smooth sailing of the relationSHIP really, as so often it is, something so small and inconsequential, something like a pigeon pooping on the deck, but which got all out of proportion, and was blown- up into a “sh*&%$#t storm”? In that case, we just need to say, “well, that was a bunch of pigeon poop! Let’s swab the deck and get back to the sailing ahead, my Matey.”
If we are honest, most of the time, no matter what type of relationship we are talking about, when we hit a snag, we tend to see icebergs when there really are none. The mirage of dangers ahead when we have a disagreement with someone can persuade us to actually steer toward a real danger that we don’t see or imagine. This is the opposite of the tragedy of the Titanic. I call this the Robert Peary- RelationSHIP Conundrum. Seeing something that isn’t there can cause the relationSHIP to go just as far adrift and off -course as not seeing something that is there.
The joy of relationship with my child.
9. Finally, to right a relationSHIP — RESTORE. This last step is the hardest, but also the most beautiful. If one of you ends up with a broken oar, you need to fix it or get another. Don’t make the other person row without one. If you have worn off the paint on one side of the boat by coming in too fast to dock at the pier, you will need to take some time to RESTORE the luster and beauty of that boat. It may be something you don’t want to do, but this is a lot easier than buying a whole new boat. True, it will not be the same as when the relationSHIP was brand new, but working on a RESTORATION together, can even end up making the boat more seaworthy and more beautiful. Even if the relationSHIP however, has truly crashed into the shoals, and there is no saving it, you can still work on some RESTORATION. At first, this might mean you can not bail on the other person and jump on board right away to another relationSHIP. Eventually, you may not both end up on the same ship, but you can still do some RESTORATION. Alone or together.
You may need to restore your own equilibrium, maybe take some courses in how to be better at whatever your last “job” was in a personal or professional relationship, maybe get some therapy to get over the traumas that caused this particular relationSHIP to crash and bust apart. Eventually you may even find you can RESTORE at least the peace between you and the other person. This may involve a long, long wait and it may involve a willingness for both of you to “investigate” the real cause of the shipwreck of your relationship. It will involve forgiveness of yourself and the other person but also at least a RESTORATION to communicating your hopes that both of you will have smoother sailing in your separate futures and hopefully, that your time on the deck of your relationSHIP together has made you both better at crewing and captaining your own relationSHIPS now.
The very best RESTORATION, though, comes when you and the other person RESTORE the relationSHIP together. This should be our goal in all the things and people who matter. Neither I nor the other person can ever really restore ourselves to some idea of our “original -self”, but we can RESTORE the things — the essences — that make up the original intent and purpose and greater good and higher meaning of the US. When we RESTORE, we understand that the relationship is so much more important than either of us on our own.
There is a “holiness”, an “eternity”, a “sacredness” that may exist in each one alone, but to know what is truly all that a human being was created to be, we must accept that true wholeness is when one is with some one other than just one’s self. Relationships no matter the importance, the length, or the circumstances are what keep the true horizons of life and keep us focused on the safe shores and the ultimate goal in view as we steer our own small crafts through life. Being with another person, whether partner, friend, boss, or family member gives me a vision of other vast seas, unimaginable depths, and glorious vistas; and allows me to live into the mysteries that surpass my presumptions. As Emily Dickinson wrote:
“As if the Sea should part And show a further Sea — And that — a further — and the Three But a presumption be — Of Periods of Seas — Unvisited of Shores — Themselves the Verge of Seas to be — Eternity — is Those — “
If you have given up on a relationship or your relationship is truly and permanently busted apart, never to set sail again, I would recommend you at least not give up on other people or on yourself. For a while, you may need to see yourself as a lonely sailor, who will, like a relational Odysseus, have to Right the Relationship of yourself to others, even if it is scary and lonely and you aren’t very sure you have the heroism it will take. And if you are in a relationship that you are afraid has hit a pretty bad shoal, or you seem to have misplaced your oars, don’t give up. Don’t give up hope and don’t give up on the other person and don’t give up on yourself.
Be that which makes each of us the very best person one can be — a sailor who knows she can not sail for long alone. We will only see the highest stars, and set the firmest course, and only reach our most sacred shores, when we keep our relationSHIPS righted and right.
My great teachers about relationships
In closing, I would like to look at this idea of Restoration from another difficult endeavor and point of view — the restoration of a work of art. It is interesting, if you have ever had the privilege, to watch an art restorer work on a valuable painting. The restorer can not of course restore something to its original — that “ship has sailed” for good, passed away into the history of different materials and the original artist long gone. No one can step into the same place in a stream twice, not even a brilliant art restorer. But the art restorer will do his or her very best, using all the skills and knowledge and imagination, history, and creativity possible to restore the beauty and integrity of the original painting, before it was damaged or allowed to decay.
This is our job in any relationship, to use every possible means to restore beauty and integrity to our own life and to the lives of those who choose to share life with us. We can not try to do the impossible and go back in time to an original idea of what a relationship was, and if we can not fix the damage, we need learn to live with the damage, heart-breaking as it may be. We may not be able to restore a relationship and with sorrow but more wisdom, we may need to move on to something we can work on, and restore. The new some thing won’t make the old damaged painting any less special, but will add a new layer of paint to our pallet, and bring a new sense of our own and others’ beauty, and allow us to embark on a different but no less artistic and beautiful endeavor. We should feel sad if we can not restore a relationship, but it can still hang in the halls of our memories and make us better at restoring the art of our lives and those of others in the future.
Our task at present, may be a restoration of the classic art we already have, or it may not. The old can not be made the same but it can be restored. And even if I must paint something new, by that I can restore something within my own artistic, relational soul. Either way, we must RESTORE our faith in our own artistic vision and our abilities to live and love, work and play, and imagine and create.
I hope that by doing the work and these suggested practices to right a relationship, we can set sail with new direction and greater joy in our relationSHIPS.
Welcome aboard, land lubbers. Avast, mateys! Ships Ahoy! — Jane
By John Masefield
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
How to Sleep Better and Maybe Live Your Days Better Too
By Jane Tawel
September 17, 2020
And God said: “Let all creatures on earth have a great need to rest, just as God needs to rest”. And so, God created humans with an overwhelming need each day to turn off their minds and to pause all bodily functions except for breathing and heart beating. And God said, “Let all women, men, and children need to sleep for at least eight hours a night”. And behold, it was so! As God commanded — all humans needed to sleep. And God saw that it was good, and very good. (And then God probably took a nap).
You may stop reading here if you have always had a good night’s sleep every night of your life. And I must make a disclaimer here: I apologize beforehand for this very first-world problem that I am going to address. I know there are far too many people in war-torn or impoverished countries who can’t imagine the luxury of thinking they were able to somehow sleep soundly at night. But it is a problem that has been on my mind recently as my adult children talk about their sleep-problems and I recognize in so much of what they say my own history with sleep issues. Also, let’s face it, many of us are having more sleepless nights lately as we see the onslaught of world-problems come to a head.
Not everyone has as much trouble sleeping as perhaps I have had through-out my life. But because most of us have had, there is a plethora of helpful tips and natural remedies we can all find to personalize our “doctoring” ourselves to get a good night’s sleep. There is of course Melatonin or Valerian supplements for jump-starting a better sleep pattern. Some of us have found we need to wear mouth-guards or retainers at night in order not to grind our teeth. Some of us have found we need white-noise machines necessary for tuning out sounds, or deep-breathing in a pleasant relaxing aroma as a necessity for relaxing and sleeping well. I am someone who has found I need to do all of the above. But I wanted to share a few things that are maybe outside some people’s wheel-house that have been complete game-changers to my sleeping better at night and waking more rested the following day.
There are five things I want to share with any fellow seekers about what is such an important part of our day — our nights! We tend to think of sleep as a negotiable part of being human. But of course, it isn’t. This is why sleeping poorly disproportionately effects living well. It is also why bad people figured out early in mankind’s history that depriving someone of sleep could make them do just about anything. Getting a good night’s sleep is actually an ethical matter.
We have all given up some amount of sleep, willingly at times, to care for a baby or sick family member; or to meet a deadline, or even to celebrate an occasion (think bachelorette party or travel to another time-zone). And we all know that even when we don’t get a good night’s sleep for good reasons, we will pay for it the next day (and often, the next, and the next, and the next — sometimes for weeks or months afterward).
I have put into practice, in some ways almost accidentally, some habits that have truly changed my sleeping restfully and fully through the night. We all know how important sleep is, for our physical and mental well-being, as well as our health in our own spirits or soul and in our relationships. We also all know how impossible it is sometimes to achieve a good sleep. I know there is a lot of information out there, and you should find anything that can help you sleep well — sleep is truly just that important. But here are five things I have personally found to be life-changing in terms of sleeping at night. They are however, also things that should you be one of the lucky ones who sleeps well each night, can be used to good and helpful benefit during your day as well. I use all of them in various ways throughout my day when I can; but at night, they are now a necessity for me, and thankfully, mostly habitual. They have been real gifts to me to discover, and I hope one or two of them will be gifts to you as well.
1.Create a ritual that ends your relationship(s) with your Day, and begins a new relationship with your Night. Think of “Sleep” as a friend just waiting for you to join him or her. Say good-bye to your work and your relationships. Literally — say it and mean it. What very often keeps us awake is “staying” at work, or “staying” in an argument or problem with someone we love or even someone we don’t; someone, we have encountered that day (or last year, or when we were ten, or that we are imagining an encounter with….. you get it).
First, recognize that nothing can be done about any problem, whether at work or with family or friends while you are sleeping. That is your friend, Sleep’s, great gift to you — the gift of doing nothing because you can do nothing but be there — sleeping. So before you think about going to your bedroom to sleep, think of sleeping as a “new job or task” or a “new time together in a real relationship”; and each night say “Hello, Sleep. Glad to see you again”.
Of course we all know by now to make sure nothing work related is in the bedroom, if at all possible. That includes computers and phones, but it also should include thoughts. Make a ritual of entering your bedroom. Before you enter your bedroom, touch the door-frame and leave all your worries or concerns at the door. Say, “Goodbye, Day.” (This is one of the practices that can also be an excellent habit to form, if you are able, before you enter your home each day after a stressful day at work. Touch a tree in your front yard or your front door itself, and leave your Day worries and Day life, and Work relationships behind, and say, “Hello, Home. Hello, Family.” And then let your home as you enter it, be the special place it is meant to be, even if later on you have do a bit more work from some where in it.) Each Night — Think of your bedroom as a sanctuary and your good night’s sleep as a reward for all the things you have done that day. Enter your place of rest with a worshipful or spiritual attitude and let it assume the importance to your life that it is meant to have.
2. Before falling asleep, do something to relax that involves anything other than a machine. Something with paper and a pencil is very good. You might do a cross-word or Sudoku puzzle but not on a device, one on paper with a real pencil that you hold in your hand. You can read a real book, that involves turning pages. Instead of listening to music, you could sing or just hum. (I have written before about the great healing quality of humming, especially in terms of the vagus nerve. But humming is also a great “mindless” practice that can help turn off any thoughts keeping you from relaxing.)
We are discovering the toll devices take on our bodies, everything from our necks to our eyes to our skin are adversely affected. But devices also subconsciously represent the stresses of our day, or the worries of the world, even when we think we are doing something relaxing or fun on them, the subconscious reality takes a toll. Devices involve work and relationships for us, and you want to let those go so you can do the important thing you need to do at night — sleep. Things like relaxing with something that needs paper or pencils are also excellent because they involve a more natural tactile experience; something more in tune with our senses or nature if you will; and that makes our bodies more in tune with the natural rhythm of things. If you go to bed later than the person you share a bed with and can not turn on a light, you can do this step before entering your bedroom, but definitely after you have put all devices and work-related things (even things like doing dishes or laundry) to bed first.
3. Sleep on your back. Period. Doctors and chiropractors had told me for years to do this to help with shoulder and neck pain issues, and I just could not give up sleeping curled up on one side or another. After an illness, in which I literally could not sleep on my side due to the excruciating pain, I had to train myself to sleep on my back. It has made so much difference in my ability to sleep through the night that I have to say — it is the way every human being who is lucky enough to have a bed should sleep. It helps if you can afford a really good pillow; mine is a Tempur-Pedic one which does not elevate my neck but firmly supports it. I also put a pillow under my knees, a soft but king-sized one. This does two things. One, it gently supports my lower back by raising my knees slightly, thereby, “pushing” the lower back down into the bed, level with my upper back. Two, it prevents me during the night from easily turning over onto my side. Because the pillow extends out from both sides of my legs, I can’t quite as easily roll onto my side.
I could go on and on about what a huge difference sleeping all night on my back has made both to my sleep and to how my body feels when I wake up in the morning. My neck and shoulders really are much less adversely effected since I have been sleeping on my back, (although if I could quit bending over a computer or sink or pen all day, they would be even better.)
I will warn you — it was psychologically hard to get over that need to “protect” myself by sleeping on my side, curled up, and if you are sleeping with someone, it can be hard to get used to not “spooning” with them, but believe me, if I can recommend one thing to do to physically help yourself sleep better, and to make your muscles feel better in the morning it would be this — sleep on your back all night.
(NOTE: IF YOU ARE PREGNANT YOU SHOULD SLEEP ON YOUR SIDE PREFERABLY LEFT SIDE, AND NOT ON YOUR BACK.)
4. Have several meditative or relaxing things memorized. There will always be times when it is hard to fall asleep because you can’t turn your brain-off, or when you wake up in the middle of the night and your brain is already munching on your problems from yesterday or trying to gobble up your problems waiting for you tomorrow. Rather than think about them or get up to do something else, I have found it incredibly helpful to have memorized things that I can easily bring to mind and mentally recite.
Memorizing things has a host of benefits for the brain, whether your brain is young or old, and we have ignored doing it to the detriment of many things, but for this topic, I am merely recommending it as super helpful in terms of helping you have a restful sleep.
When your day has some down time, like you are in a waiting room, or manning a telephone at work that isn’t ringing, or on your break, or the kids are napping — memorize some thing that brings you peace, joy, or is just interesting. I am not that great at memorizing, but I have found that writing something out by hand on a piece of paper helps with memorization. Then I keep those papers in a binder or purse to pull out when I have some “free time”. This can be a quite relaxing practice during the day, too, since it is mostly far removed from what most of us do with our work days. Make sure it is something that either uplifts you or entertains you, though, if you plan on using it for night-time stress-reduction. It doesn’t have to be spiritual, but most of us find that at least something we consider good for our hearts and souls can be helpful. I like to have something sort of “mindless” or non-spiritual as well, though.
For instance, I decided I was interested in memorizing the actual NATO Phonetic Alphabet. This has been helpful when giving information on the phone during the days, because now instead of making up my own “M as in Mom” phonetic cues, I can use the correct universal ones, like “T as in Tango”; and I feel a sense of pride when I do that. BUT — it is also super relaxing to recite in the wee hours of the night, so rather than trying to count sheep at night, I simply go through the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Sometimes I will think of my loved ones and use the NATO Alphabet to spell their names, and that is nice too, as it brings those loved ones to mind without really “thinking” or more importantly, worrying about them.
I also, of course, have some “serious” stuff I have memorized; things that not only relax me at night, but also feed my spirit and soul. I have about ten psalms and prayers memorized. These include ones like the Serenity Prayer in its entirety and Psalm 23. I also have memorized poems such as “Hope is the Thing With Feathers” by Emily Dickinson. I am now working on finally memorizing the poem I had read at my wedding, “Us Two” by AA Milne.
Poems and prayers that I can call to mind in the alone hours, help me especially when I am worried about someone I love, upset with God or someone I love or work with, scared about the news or a diagnosis or just reality in general, or just can’t let go of either something I need to forgive or something I need to forget. I think, also, that it is kinda cool to think that I can work on the most important parts of who I am and who I want to be, by NOT working, but by letting meditative words roll through my spirit like water and then to let sleep rock my spirit like a baby, ready to be reborn with the morning. Memorizing spiritual things helps me in that spiritual practice / belief.
5. Each morning, put an intentional and thoughtful end to your “work” of sleeping, just as you intentionally put an end to your work-day the night before. This doesn’t at first seem like something that would help you sleep, but I have found it helpful to make a ritual of waking, just as I do with going to sleep. So, whether rushed or not, I take at least a few moments each morning, no matter how early the alarm rings, or how often I have pushed the sleep button, to make a ritual of leaving behind what we might call, my “Night-Job” or my relational friend, Sleep, my “sleep partner” or my “lover, Miss Sleep” — letting go, giving leave to that part of Time — and making the new part of my day, the “not night/ sleeping part” something I am purposefully and mindfully transitioning to. This not only makes me feel that my waking again this morning is a bit of a lovely thing, but it has, strangely perhaps, helped me sleep better. It also just starts the day as being reckoned with as something different than the night. It becomes something I can look forward to, like I have trained myself to look forward to sleeping at night.
My own ritual in the morning, is to first, mentally greet my friend, the Morning, as I have greeted my friend, Sleep, the night before. “Good morning, Day. I am super glad I made it through another night without being eaten by wolves or forgetting to breathe. I am happy to be alive. Thank you, new Day, and Friend, Morning, for showing up with all your possibilities ready to work together with my own possibilities. We make a great team.”
Then I stretch. Since I am waking-up on my back, like I slept all night on my back, this is easy to do. If you end up not on your back, take a moment to really relax your whole back-side into your bed. Since I sleep with my husband, I stretch quietly and calmly and gently so as not to wake him. But gentle stretching is key to get the benefits, and it is one of those things we should be doing throughout our days for better health, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Starting the day connecting to the miracle of my body’s accomplished feat in keeping itself going through the night without any help at all from me, and caring for the body that will now get me through the day is an act both of productive care for my body as well as productive care for my soul.
This is what I do, and it can take as long or as short a time as I have without stressing about how long I “should stretch” on that particular day. It is also a great thing to do, when you turn out the light at night and prepare your body to care for you during the night.
Starting the stretches for my own body’s needs, I gently stretch my neck to one side and elongate my shoulder and arm on the opposite side by gently pulling down with my fingertips, and then do the other side. I stretch my chest gently up and down all the while taking deep breaths in and out. I stretch each one of my legs by elongating from the hip to my toes, reaching them long, down towards the end of the bed. I flex and stretch each foot and maybe circle it and then I do the same for each hand. It takes all of a few minutes on a busy day and can be a bit longer on days I am not “rarin’ to go”.
Then, to bid farewell to my friend, Night-time Sleep, and to get on better with the tasks I plan to do with my friend, Day-time Work, because of my own worldview, I greet God, and say a quick thank-you for another day and for protecting me through the night; and a quick “help me today” prayer. I mentally pray for my day, my family members, and any thing else that I might want some God-help with and I end with a word of gratitude for another chance at life and perhaps a chance to do a bit better at being a human being.
If prayer is not your thing, then any kind of spiritual meditation on Otherness, or some kind of affirmation, something that makes you feel that you are not all alone as you are going into your day, would be helpful.
I recently read a lovely idea in an essay on Grace Paley that she in turn learned from her father. In Paley’s essay, “Upstaging Time”, she writes about each morning “taking your heart in your hands” — literally taking it in your hands by cupping under your chest where your heart might sit. Then, Paley’s father told her to each morning do something like: “Then you must talk to your heart. Say anything, but be respectful. Say — maybe say, Heart, little heart, beat softly but never forget your job, the blood. You can whisper also, Remember, remember.” I have recently started trying to incorporate this in my mornings, and you can read this beautiful essay in Paley’s collection of essays, Just As I Thought, especially recommended if you are growing older and not sure how to deal with all the feelings, both body and soul, that that involves.
Because that is the Big Idea, the thing I want to end with here– no matter who we are, what we do, what we believe, or where we find ourselves in place, time, and life — we can feel awfully alone and lonely on the best of days. And when we can’t sleep at night, we can start to think we really are alone. Because each of us, no matter how many may be snuggling next to you in your family bed, is in some ways, truly going it alone. The nights that are sleepless can make us feel that that is the only reality. And after a sleepless, lonesome night, we can feel awfully alone and lonely when we charge out to fight the dragons waiting for us on the other side of the dark nights. Some of us even give up the fight.
It isn’t the only answer, but I have found it is a very important answer to fixing the problems of the day — to treat getting good, restful, all night-long sleep as the critical health issue that it is — for physical and more importantly, emotional, mental, and if you will, spiritual health. If we can see sleep as a friend, we can greet it each night as someone we want to be with. If we can see a new day, as better, filled with possibility and hope, because we had a good night with our good friend, Sleep, then we can find the strength to, as the Serenity prayer reminds us, “live one day at a time; and enjoy one moment at a time.”.
And maybe we can also learn, with some good habits formed and renewed love with our relationship to rest, to “sleep one night at a time; and enjoy one restful moment after another.”
And God saw that the creature needed a friend, and God caused the human being to sleep, and took from him a rib, and God created woman so that each human-being might always know, that they would never have to feel alone. And it was good.
And the storms rose with a frightening vengeance, and the followers awoke as if in a nightmare, and they screamed in fright, and The Good Man slept soundly, waking only to calm the storms with a word, knowing that even in sleep, he was safe and that all would be well, because by sleeping, He was doing what he was born to do, just as with the morning dawning, he would rise to do what he was born to do. And it was good.
Sleep, and find hope that all will be well.
Rise, knowing that you are ready, and you are not alone.
Tomorrow will be the anniversary of the tragedy that befell America on September 11, 2001; forever more known as 9/11. Today, I look out on my little Southern California hamlet, after another night of worry about the fires on the hilltops so close I can see the flames from my upstairs window. Last night one “small” jet and a huge airplane — my neighbor knows the names of them but I don’t — swept back and forth, back and forth across the hills and across my town of 38,000 people, most of whom were out on the streets watching. It felt like the allies had arrived. The planes sprayed stuff to keep the fires from my home. These planes also carried the people who were among the first responders to the fires, and they joined the ranks of firefighters across the West Coast, bravely trying to save life, limb (both human and tree-based), and property.
We read a lot about how these fires are due to the disaster we have wreaked worldwide on our planet. Let’s call it what it is — call it climate catastrophe and human greediness run amok. Last week, one short hour from where I live, the temps topped the all-time record charts at 121 degrees, while I merely had to put up with 112 degrees. The skies in Northern California were orange yesterday and the ash on our cars and sidewalks down here was nothing compared to the blanket of ash covering San Francisco and other northern climes. How we wish someone would fix all this, but it’s down to us, isn’t? It’s down to me to get serious about fixing my patterns and habits and attitude and get on board to try to help make right what we have all helped to make wrong?
I cheered when the planes swooped up my hill — to save my life and my photo albums. Tomorrow most of us will give a small nod in remembrance of the horrible day that the Twin Towers caught fire, and so many lost their lives and we all lost a good chunk of our innocence. We will also briefly give tribute to the many people who lost their lives or health or ability to sleep at night, as first responders to that destruction they rushed into as heroes on 9/11. But today, as I keep praying against the imminent danger to me and mine, I realize how easily I forget the constant dangers, dangers exacerbated by our foolish ability to forget and move on.
I am thinking about the world’s brave men and women across this country — not just firefighters, but medical personnel and police and paramedics and EMTs; and I think, we all need to become more like those brave souls. I am thinking about first responders and the heroes who come when planes hit towers, or bombs fall, or pandemics flood hospitals with patients, or fires rage across the country, or bombs fall, or whatever the immediate calamity is, and I think, oh, thank God there are people who are willing to do that. And then I think, well, what about the dangers and looming calamities that don’t feel so imminent but are encroaching, encroaching like flames down a hill or may suddenly be fanned into flames by the embers we carelessly or foolishly ignore? If we want to solve the world’s problems, then we need to stop passing the buck and start doing whatever we can, one little “me” rising to the challenge of the day. And we need to do a better job of remembering those who have risked their lives as first responders, and stop taking them for granted. And most of all, we all need to start responding, and not keep thinking we can sit it out, while the professionals take care of it. We can’t all be fire fighters and we mustn’t try to do surgery on patients if we are not doctors, but we can all respond with everything we have got, to turn-around the fires of environmental destruction, human misery, and out-of-control rage, hate, and greed and to heal the land and each other. We need to all do much more — small or large acts of sacrifice and purposeful actions on behalf of making the world safer and saner for all. And it will help if we can retain focused remembrance of the times that brave heroes and even the lesser beings like ourselves have, in the past, risen to a challenge because we all responded to the need of the hour. That hour is now. Will we respond?
We need to dig deep and find the heroes inside of all of us, and become like the heroes of any current catastrophe that seemingly afflict us now on a regular, every-day basis. I need to see myself as someone who is willing to sign up daily to be a “first responder”; that is if I want to save this planet and save humanity from the catastrophes we so easily think are someone else’s problems to solve. They aren’t — they are mine to solve — one hopeful, kind, humble, brave, and personally necessary response at a time. Because if we are all trying to solve the problems and save the planet and help and protect and care for each other, why then, we can do anything. We know that, because we have done it again and again and again. So let’s respond — again.
I wrote a sort of pledge that I thought might help me commit to this idea. It’s a pledge easily broken and I am sure I will break it almost daily. But pledges are meant to be made, knowing that it is not failure to keep them we should fear, but we should fear never trying to keep them in the first place.
My Pledge to Respond
By Jane Tawel
I pledge to be a first responder,
To that which this day calls me to be aware of,
And to care for,
To take charge of,
And to help out with all that I can,
And to humbly address as my problem,
that which is before me
Because I choose it to be.
I pledge to serve my community
Which is everyone in the world;
And to react heroically to
The moment in Time in which I am called to live.
I pledge to bravely and sacrificially respond
to whatever imperils the planet;
to stand and be counted among those
willing to sacrifice to save the goodness of Creation,
and to delay more of my own gratification
in sight of the urgency and depth of other people’s needs.
I pledge to charge ahead
whether or not anyone is following behind me.
I promise to courageously accept my own responsibility
In taking on the job of being a good human being
and a good caretaker of all created things.
I promise I will keep training
to be a more fit and better person,
And to respond willingly, intelligently,
And charitably to the problems and people before me.
I pledge that I will look on everyone as my responsibility,
Stranger, friend, family, neighbor and even foe;
And I will treat their lives and their property as equally important
As if they were my own.
I will speak boldly to others about what the dangers are
out there and up ahead,
And I will tell the truth,
In order to encourage my fellow human beings,
to turn around, away, or against
That which endangers the very lives of us and our world.
I promise to think of my life’s work
As a vital part of the place in which I live — Earth,
And of the people with whom I live — Mankind;
I will not sit back and expect anyone else
to fix it or solve it or save it,
but I will be glad of anyone’s and everyone’s help.
I will stand shoulder to shoulder with hope
And go forth each day knowing that together,
We can turn ashes to beauty.
But no matter what anyone else does or does not do,
I was asked to write something wise about children, or rather something wise from children. And I thought, well, my own children are all grown now, off exploring the world with all the grace and aplomb that well-fed, well-loved children can muster as adults. I am proud of the wisdom they gave me when they were young, that they now carry out into the world, spreading it intentionally and randomly, like the dandelion fluff and seeds, they used to spread as they blew on the seeded-dandelions’ fluffy grey heads. My adulting children often call or come to see me and their father, and they manage to always blow out some of the fluff from our grey heads and it is good. So very good. My children converse with me now to teach me a thing or two, or just to share their lives, accomplishments, ideas — sometimes even to ask a bit of advice, as they would from a friend — and I feel that a person really can sometimes grow from the seed of parenthood into a flowering friendship. When my children are able to talk to me both as mother and friend, I feel something of me blown out and gone, like fluff, ready to grow something new, somewhere else inside me, or perhaps, something new out in the world; but I also feel something of me grow even deeper roots; learning from my own children makes something take root inside my life as a human being, a thing that is permanent, eternal, never-changing-always-changing, as the love of a parent, or the love of a child, always is.
Imparted wisdom is like a seed, after all; you share it, plant it, but it only grows if the soil is fertile and well-tended and nurtured. Parenting is a bit hit or miss, in terms of imparting wisdom and tending the soil of our children, but most of us try to do our best and then pray or wish on a star or a wishbone or a ladybug or a wish-flower, that somehow the good of our parenting will stick and that the bad will wash away from our children like dirt down a bathtub drain, after a day of hard play. We also have to hope and pray that even some of our mistakes or bad stuff, will grow into something our children don’t nurture as weeds, but will turn into something beautiful like dandelions.
I have written recently of “my” little wee birds at the bird feeder, and how much my time with them teaches me. And this morning, I was meditating on the birds again, and how much I love just sitting and looking at them and listening to them coo and sing and squawk, and I looked over at the array of pictures I keep on a little table, to one side of the big, front-room window I gaze out of. I looked at pictures of my children and the faces and bodies, and hair and clothes styles, from various ages of those dear children once mine; once my chicks, but flown the coop and nesting and soaring elsewhere. I remembered how privileged I was back when they were young to be at home with them. I remembered my four children when we were young, and their loud squawking games outside, and their quiet, cooing games inside in the hallways and on stair landings, and their songs and stories sung or made-up together in the labyrinths of their play-times, and prayers and songs and stories before dream-time at night, and the family road-trips with squabbling and singing in the back of the minivan, and trips to the library and nursing home, and grocery and toy store, and the dinners around the big table and the picnics in parks, and the bedtimes as we snuggled in a big pile, reading or singing, falling asleep like a floating pod of sea otters, drifting off to sleep in our big family bed. And I love to remember all the things we did together, but also all the things I didn’t do but was just able to be.
And I remembered how much I once loved, sitting somewhere in the next room, or nearby but off to one side, maybe doing “parent-stuff”, or guarding over them like the mother hen I was, and being there but slightly removed from their circle of activity, and yet, aware of them, watchful, observant, in tune with their tuneful voices, in my silent acquiescence, and oh, so very present and sometimes needed as referee or boo-boo fixer or to hear something “cool” or funny one of them just said or to see something amazing one had just discovered or to sometimes dry some tears because something incredible they had just made got broken. But mostly, as I thought about children and wisdom, I was reliving some memories of just being with them, doing nothing and being — Just me, with just them, just me alone but not at all alone, listening to and watching my children.
I remembered how almost excruciatingly delightful my whole being felt just to be in the same space as them. I remembered how my heart felt full to overflowing, just to watch over them, and to observe not just their accomplishments in crayon or creative imaginative role playing or the structures they built out of sticks and paper and leaves and tin foil and boxes and a huge belief in their own abilities to create; but I also remembered how incredible it felt to me to just look at a little arm covered in small-person peach- fuzz and often a good bit of dirt or mud; how lovely to see a tangled mass of hair fall over a face bent over a picture book, how awe-inspiring to watch tiny toes wiggle, or mouths open wide with cookie crumbs and laughter spilling out, or the absolute heavy stillness of a child who falls asleep in one’s arms. How glorious it was to hear the small shrieks of delight or giggles of shared “secrets” that of course no adults no matter how close could hear. How awesome even the arguments of dissent over what to play or how to play it were, as they began to navigate how to discuss and how to stand up for what they believed in or how to learn the art of compromise (“Okay, you can go first THIS time, but next time…”); and how I might even over-hear them apologize, and say “I’m sorry”, and how happy I was if they did, because it is so much harder to learn how to say you are sorry when you become an adult. Coos and squawks, laughter and imagination, boo-boos easy to fix, and tears that quickly dry, and the play and hard work of children growing-up, and I, having the best seat in the house — an audience of one mom, listening, watching, loving, learning, becoming more wise.
I think about all the things I loved not about “doing a mom” but about being a mom. Yes, I remember sadly all the things I messed up horribly and did wrong and can apologize for now, but can’t undo. And I wish I could have do-overs on it all, to live more fully all the good, and to at least get a bit of a better score on all the tests I failed. But the bottom line as I sit and remember? — -
I am privileged beyond belief to have within my memory, and within the depths of my heart and soul and mind, the visions and sounds and feels and feelings of all of it — all the fun, all the tears, all the laughter, all the fears, all of those days and nights of living with and loving with children. But the truth is, no one has to be a parent to learn from the wisdom of children — we just have to observe and listen to them and try to be more like them.
What my children taught me, among so many, many other things, but which seems so pertinent to our lives today in 2020, perhaps as never before since we were young because of, well, just because of everything; one very wise thing my children taught me was how full and amazing life can be if we only learn to look and to listen — to everything around us and to each other.
To become like a child, is to believe that love can turn weeds into wish flowers. To find the wisdom of children is to know that being is always more important and fulfilling than doing.
And as we all grow up and hopefully want to become better adults, maybe we all need to see ourselves as imperfect, but loving parents and to learn to delight in how beautiful the world and the people in it are, and then we can choose to take care of the world by truly listening to its needs and when it is at play and by watching-over each other.
We don’t have to be parents to be taught the wisdom of children, because we were all once children ourselves. Our child-like selves have much to teach us, if we will look at the world and each other with the eyes of the children we once all were. But today as I get ready to go play and splash in the soapy water of dirty dishes, and as I zoom around the house pretending to be a superhero, or I imagine what it would be like to fly like a bird as I walk to the grocery, and as I prepare tea for my silver-headed husband and listen — really listen — to him because there is so much to learn when adults talk; and as I cry hard with big tears and an ugly mouth screwed-up, over the unfairness of the games of cheaters and the meanness of bullies and over my own failings because life’s not fair and it hurts to get something wrong; and as I laugh loud and long at a joke I once heard; and as I keep a secret in my heart that I won’t tell anyone cross-my-fingers-hope-to-die-stick-a-needle-in-my-eye; and maybe as I take a nap after reading a good book, or as I just sit and stare at stuff cuz there’s nothing to do; or I just listen to the tick-tock of the clock of time gone-by and memories of lives shared — as I do my day, and live my life, I will try harder and let go more easily in order to let the wisdom of my childhood rise up in my soul and I will just be with me. I will wish on stars, and ladybugs, and wish-flowers, that the world and I and my husband and of course, my best teachers of all who were and are now my very own children, will keep growing like seeds, learning like children, and loving like good parents. I will wish on the wish-flowers of my very best hopes that my children will take more, have more time to just be — listening, observing, and loving what is right there in the same space they are, things that are not them but are with them and that they will know, as every child of the world should know, that they are never alone and they are dearly loved.
I will send seeds of wishes into the world with the hope and prayer that we will all know that we are all beloved children with much to learn, and much to teach, and much to love.
Today’s Wise Lesson from my children, Justine, Clarissa, Verity, and Gordon –
Listen and be filled. Observe and be at peace. Take in to your true self, that which is not you, but is still a part of you, and take care of it and tend it with hope and joy. And let the seeds of love and wisdom, planted in the hearts and souls and minds of all children, just as the seeds of the wish-flower do, go out from you and into the world so that all may flourish and grow and be beautiful.
There is nothing more foolish than continuing to try to change the mind of a fool or the heart of a hater. Better to go ahead and change the world and let all benefit from it. The fools and haters will never thank you for it, but you won’t need their thanks. Heroes don’t need the praise of fools any more than the Sun needs the earth in order to shine its light. World-changers don’t need the haters to love them, any more than the weeds and stones need to love the Sun in order for it to warm them. As the Good Ones say, “The Sun shines on the good and the evil”. The Light illuminates The Path for those who will walk it and for those who will stand on the sidelines and look for any excuse to sit in the dark. Just as the Sun does, we must let the light of truth and the warmth of love touch all, even those who will continue to prefer darkness and coldness.
Let your light shine and let your love warm. Do not fight or worry about those who refuse to step into the light or embrace the warmth. World-changers don’t waste time trying to get fools and haters to believe that the world doesn’t revolve around them, any more than the Sun needs to convince us that She doesn’t revolve around the Earth. Each day, the Sun shines, whether a person believes in it or not.
The Sun will shine because it is created to shine. You are created to shine.
The Sun will warm because it is created to warm. You are created to warm.
And the Earth will continue to exist to revolve around the Light and Love of the Sun as long as there are Good people willing to keep their lamps full of the sacred oil of love and their lights burning bright, conspicuous and bold with the power of truth.
Be a Sun in the world today. Be the unsung, un-thanked Hero of this moment in the sun.
Be the light and even the fools will feel your power.
Be the warmth and you will find that even the haters will feel less cold.
Be the Light and do not let darkness delay you in your quest for a better world. And when you leave the fools and haters behind, you will find that there are many more heroes in our world than you ever dreamed there could be.
And the unsung heroes are the ones that will one day, receive the only thanks that truly matter in a better world where all will live in The Light of the Sun; the heroes of today will receive the thanks of the children of tomorrow.
Be of good cheer; have hope even in the darkness; shine your light; find joy in your journey; and rise to your very own task of being a light on The Way and a hero to others today – Jane (P.S. And remember that all real superheroes wear masks. 🙂 )
Now and then, I can embrace the coming full circle of this season of life. With the coming of the pandemic, there is not even any possibility of even trying to wage a battle against it. My lifetime of early mornings is no longer spent on long runs in the dark before the sun rises and hustling around getting ready for work, but on contemplation and learning and just “being here”. That is sometimes a little frightening — to accept the importance of those things without “guilt” at not doing, but rather acceptance that sometimes just being is enough and sometimes it is all. At other times it is revelatory and just so very, very “Good”, that I feel I finally understand the words: “And G-d said that it was good. And it was good.” It is one of the truly good and restorative things happening against my will but also changing my will to something else perhaps, as I sit with books and birds (and coffee of course). This morning, a special guest arrived for the free breakfast. And it was good.