Category Archives: family

Integrity and Right Speech

The slogan I pulled for today is:

“I take up the way of speaking truthfully.”

which was one of my Precept vows.

As a Quaker, we have a Testimony of Integrity that has its roots in Jesus’s command to “let your yea be yea and your nay be nay”. This is a testimony I’ve always felt strongly about and have practiced since I was a child, though I didn’t know about Quakerism back then. I’ve always prided myself on my honesty: I’m the type of person who, when accidentally buying a gift card with 2 envelopes, will be uncomfortable until I’m able to return the extra envelope to the shelf (true story: I felt a huge sense of relief when I was finally able to put the extra envelope back in the store).

But there may be times when telling the truth can be harmful:

Sometimes we speak clumsily and create internal knots in others. Then we say, “I was just telling the truth.” It may be the truth, but if our way of speaking causes unnecessary suffering, it is not Right Speech. The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept.
“The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” by Thich Nhat Hanh

For example, my grandmere (grandmother) is old, traditional, Catholic, and English isn’t her first language. She grew up in a location where the only Christians were Catholics, and the only other religions were Muslim, Jewish, and Druze. Those 4 religions encompass her entire understanding of religion, and she, while a wonderful person, is neither smart enough to understand how Quakerism is different from Catholicism and yet still Christian (I consider Quakerism a Christian religion even though one can be Quaker and not Christian), nor is my French quite good enough to explain the differences adequately under such circumstances. When I first joined my Quaker Meeting, I attempted to explain to Grandmere about my new faith, because I felt it would be dishonest not to do so. This effort led to a lot of confusion and frustration.

But now, I don’t try to explain the differences. When she says things like, “God be with you”, I reply, “And with you, too, Grandmere”, even though I know that her understanding of God is different than mine. I focus on what we have in common–our faith in God, that we are both very committed to our faith–instead of worrying about whether she really understands how my faith is different from hers.

I don’t feel this is dishonest or an affront to my Integrity. Instead, I feel that this approach speaks to the Truth my Grandmere and I share.

There are other times, too, when I can see the truth in a situation, but know that the person I’m speaking to is not at a place where they can hear the truth and that telling the truth when a person is unable to hear it can be harmful. Instead, I try to nudge that person gently towards the truth, step by step, with the hope that one day, he or she will be ready to accept it.

Have any of you had similar experiences?

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Filed under belief, buddhism, catholicism, discernment, faith, family, integrity, practice, slogans, speak and listen with love

My Introduction as a Buddhist Quaker

It’s been a long time since my last post. The last couple of months have been emotionally draining for me, leaving me with little energy to do anything but the necessary. And I haven’t felt that zinging prod from God that would have made posting on here necessary.

In late March, I talked about my spiritual journey in front of my Meeting. I was planning to sit down the day after and write down as much as I could remember, but Monday turned to Tuesday turned to Wednesday… and suddenly, my memory of what I had actually said, how effortlessly it had flowed, had become hazy enough to give me an adequate excuse for continuing the procrastination. In this case, keeping my computer turned off on Sunday was an impediment to ministry; sometimes, we make rules for ourselves and become so obsessed with keeping them that we forget that God doesn’t follow our rules.

Still, I hope to work on that sometime soon. I did use an outline for the talk, but it needs to be fleshed out.

My sister, “Jamie”, was married on May 24th. This should have been a happy occasion, but there was so much drama and anxiety beforehand… It felt like every day was a new drama, a new worry, about whether the wedding should happen or not (as if anyone else but the couple had any say in that).

My husband threw another log onto the fire the week before the wedding by reminding me that her wedding was also to be a High Catholic Mass, which reminded me of my past discomfort with Communion and the decision about whether I should take it or not. At first, I was angry at him for reminding me: “I have enough to deal with right now without worrying about offending God!” And then I realized I’d already made my decision: No, I would not be taking Communion. I would find a discrete way of talking to the Priest beforehand (as the Matron of Honor, I would not have the normal opportunity of avoiding Communion by staying seated, as the Priest would be coming to me). And that was that. After years of struggling with whether to take Communion or not, the struggle was simply not there anymore. The moment of peace flooded me and gave me strength.

The day before her wedding was the culmination of the drama, as my sister lashed out at me. I don’t feel the need to tell the whole story here. But I was very hurt by what happened. I was to be the Matron of Honor for her wedding and felt like throwing in the towel and leaving her stranded on her wedding. Her actions deserved no less. No one who knew what had happened would have faulted me for bailing.

And yet… was that what I was being called to do? Was that what Jesus would have done? Was this the way to foster compassion, by returning hurt with hurt?

I retreated into solitude after the situation had ended (i.e., after my sister had left the house) and gave myself over to prayer and meditation. At first, I just focused on “om ma ni pad me hum”, until I could no longer feel my heart pounding in my veins. Then, I switched to the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

I knew what I had to do. I had to do my duties as Matron of Honor and be there for my sister. I also needed her to know that her behavior had hurt me deeply and was not acceptable. I had to love her, and I had to love myself.

I continued alternating between praying, listening for that still, small voice, and meditating. And as the difficulty of what I would have to do the next day washed over me, a thought rose up in me: “I need refuge for tomorrow.” 

It sounds odd to say that God led me to my next actions, but He did. I felt a strong pull to finally take my Buddhist refuge and bodhisattva vows.

“I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.
I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.
I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.”

“I vow to stay in this eternal cycle of samsara until all beings have achieved release from this cycle.
I vow to stay in this eternal cycle of samsara until all beings have achieved release from this cycle.
I vow to stay in this eternal cycle of samsara until all beings have acheived release from this cycle.”

And I did. When my sister called to apologize, I accepted it, but not without acknowledging how much she had hurt me. And at her wedding, I was supportive, loving, and did my best to honor her and her new husband. I took refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.

And I am no less a Quaker for doing so. I find that so much of Quakerism and Buddhism is complementary. We Quakers have started using the term “right relationship”, “right action”. Right Action is also a Buddhist term. It is part of the Noble Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. “The Heart of Buddha’s Teachings” by Thich Nhat Hanh does an excellent job of explaining these and their interconnectedness.

Point being: how can we have right relationship without Right Understanding? How can I truly follow the Quaker testimonies without Right Understanding and Right Intention?

Acknowledging the Buddhist in me allows me to be a better Quaker. And, for this, I owe gratitude to my sister, for hurting me enough to allow me to meditate and pray at the depth required to realize this.

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Testing

Someone in my family is going through a tough time right now. I found myself thinking last night about whether I should reach out to her or not. It seems like it should always be a good thing to reach out to help someone, but I thought I should test it first. “I want to help her,” I thought. But then, as I let the sentence echo in my mind, I heard something else: “I want to be the one who helps her.”

“I want to help her.”

vs.

“I want to be the one who helps her.”

Not the same at all. And with that realization, I realized that I’m not in a place right now where I can help her, because I’d be doing it to build up my ego instead of doing it out of real compassion for her.

Two weeks ago, I had a scheduling conflict with my Meeting’s Worship and Ministry committee. It seemed very possible that I’d have to withdraw my membership from this committee. I found myself thinking, “I want to serve my Meeting.” Now, thinking back, I wonder:

“I want to serve my Meeting.”

vs.

“I want to be the one who serves my Meeting.”

I’ve been in a period of discernment about whether to take on a second term with this committee (my first term ends this December). While eating breakfast several weeks ago, I offered up the following prayer: “May I do Your will, Lord.” And then I thought about what I’d just said and was struck with discomfort.

What if God doesn’t want us to do His will all the time? I couldn’t help but think that if God had wanted us to do His will all the time, He wouldn’t have given us free will. He would have made us as puppets. Is it even right to ask God always, “What do you want me to do here?”

I’ve found myself recently saying things like, “I’m waiting to see what God says,” or “I’m waiting for a leading about this” when I’m asked a question that I already have an opinion about, but know that my answer isn’t the one the questioner wants. I used to do this with Rob, too: blaming unpopular decisions on him when it was me who made them.

Before I can follow God’s will, I have to be able to stand up for and follow my own.

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Filed under compassion, daily life, discernment, ego, emptying, faith, family, God, leadings, obedience, pride

Gifts from Unexpected People

I’ve been a bit depressed this week about my JRA (Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis). I saw my rheumatologist on Wednesday, and he confirmed what I’ve been suspecting: that my jaw joints are swollen. This means that I have to wear anti-inflammatory patches over my jaw joints on my face. Very fashionable, as you can imagine. After the appointment, I went to have my hands x-rayed. As my hands were getting x-rayed, I was struck by their deformities and it hit me: these are not the hands I had even 5 years ago. And that sounds stupid in a way, seeing as how I’ve had two hand surgeries in the last 2 years, so obviously these hands are different than the ones I had even 2 years ago. But what was really striking me was my finger deformities: how much worse they’ve gotten. The fingers I’ve been ignoring and trying not to think about because there are no good surgical options for fingers. The fingers I’ve been pretending have been stable all this time and haven’t been getting worse–it’s just been my wrist or thumb problems that have been causing my pain.

This led me to be pretty depressed and to resurrect a long-hidden feeling I’ve had that my body is a time-bomb and that one day all that will be left of me is disability and pain.

I still have that fear. I will always have that fear. But last night, I received a gift from a phone call.

My stepsister called me to ask how I deal with being in constant pain. Considering my emotional state those last few days, I found the question deeply ironic and more than a bit darkly humorous. “She’s asking me how I deal with it now? This is such a cosmic joke!” But I made the decision about a year ago to try to be honest and open with everyone I talk to, and I kept it. I answered her honestly, that right now I wasn’t dealing well with it and that I’m still in the process of figuring out the answer. But as I was talking, I remembered something I figured out months ago and had forgotten. So I shared it with her.

“When I start hurting, I have this tendency to panic, to feel like the pain is never going to end. And, rationally, I know that’s not likely, but that’s my fear. But a while ago, I realized that even if the pain I’m currently in never goes away, I don’t have to deal with all of that pain right now. The only pain I have to deal with right now is the actual pain that I’m in right now.”

She wasn’t the only one that needed to hear that. I did, too. So today, though physically I’m worse than I was yesterday, I’m emotionally better, because I’ve remembered that there is another way to deal with my health issues than the cycle of avoidance and depression I’ve been stuck in.

All I have to deal with today is how I’m feeling today. And that’s so much less of a burden than trying to deal with how I fear I might be feeling forever.

So, thank you, Alex, for calling me last night.

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This is the day: A Slogan Post

Today’s slogan:

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad of it.

I can’t read this quote without hearing it sung. As a former Catholic, this was one of the hymns that was sung nearly every Mass. Nowadays I only attend Mass on Christmas Eve, mainly to humor my very Catholic grandmother. And each year, this action of family solidarity becomes harder to participate in. I feel like an imposter. Knowing that many of the people in attendance don’t believe everything the Catholic Church wants them to believe doesn’t make me feel any better. Every year, the message is the same: that the greatest gift we’ll receive tonight is Jesus and we need to take him home in our hearts. Unlike most Protestant churches and Quaker meetings, Catholic children stay for the whole mass. I’ve talked about this before, how I think it’s important for the children to be participants in the service instead of whisked away to another room. But I don’t think the Catholics have it right, either, because often the messages feel “dumbed down” for the kids, which harms not only the kids but the adults as well.

Back to Christmas Eve Mass. It’s ultimately an Integrity issue: do I continue attending Mass with my family to make my grandmother happy, letting her live with the delusion that I’m a good Catholic and a strong Christian; or do I break her heart with a decision that she cannot understand? I’ve tried talking with her about my faith before, and there’s just this barrier that’s reached. It’s not just a language barrier, either, as I fumble in French to try to explain my faith, but a perspective barrier. To her, being a Christian means being Catholic. The only other options are Judaism, which is tolerated because one of her sons married a non-practicing (or at least, quiet) Jew, or Islam, which is rabidly vilified. There is no Quaker option. Buddhism is unthinkable.

And so, I stood and sat at the prescribed times. I recited bits and pieces of the Nicene Creed that I felt comfortable with (“I believe in one God… I believe in the Holy Spirit…” I am bashfully silent about Jesus); I refuse Communion, letting my non-Catholic husband be the excuse (Only Catholics can participate in the Eucharist, and my husband was not raised Catholic), an alleged act of solidarity with the man I love; I watch the “Santa” bow before the Crucifix and pray at the life-size creche, and I wonder about idolatry.

The pomp and the ceremony, Barclay called them “shadows” of the real thing. And yet I have to wonder, have to ask myself honestly: do I participate in the real thing, or have I just substituted emptiness for shadow?

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Class and Quakerism

[EDIT ADDED 1/22/08: After hearing from my mom, it turns out that my perception of my family’s wealth is a bit skewed. So take what I say in here about my grandfather’s and father’s families with a grain of salt, please.]

I’ve been thinking a bit about how classism has seeped into Quakerism since my November blog meme “22 Class Steps Forward”. I’ve also been thinking a lot about my own classism and about my upbringing. When I did that meme, I felt pretty adamant that it was misleading and that I wasn’t as privileged as the meme made me out to be. I’ve since rethought this position and would like to share my current thoughts with you.

What it boils down to is that the experience of my immediate family was a bit different than the experience of my family as a whole. Both my parents come from well-to-do families. My mother’s parents have been here since the Mayflower, on both sides. Until fairly recently, the family had two family homesteads; one in Connecticut on a road named after our family, and one in Byfield, Massachusetts, where our family were honorary members of the “First Settlers of Newbury” club. My father’s family emigrated to the United States from Lebanon in 1969 and does not have quite the level of classy prestige of my mother’s. Still, my father’s father was fluent enough in English to have his career find him a new job here in this country. The fact that my father’s family is multi-lingual (not bilingual, but multi) in and of itself speaks to their level of education in a country where French was considered the language of the middle and upper classes.

So, my background is one that has real class values. As different as my mother’s and father’s families are from one another, they do share some similar class-based values. One of these is education. The assumption is made that every member of this generation (and of the previous generation as well) would at least have a college degree. And that the job we get after graduation will be a career we’ve qualified into because of said degree. There’s a further assumption on my mother’s side in particular that this career will be intellectually challenging. When I realized I couldn’t work, someone from my mom’s family told me, essentially, that because I wasn’t working or studying, my “good mind” was being wasted.

My immediate family situation has been a bit different, though. Because my parents had a long and messy custody battle that lasted something like 10 years (I’m not going to go into details here), both of my parents suffered financially at various times. When my mother became legally disabled when I was 9 or so, we had some really tough times at home. That Christmas we had to return all our presents to pay for groceries the next week. We ate a lot of canned soup for awhile (to this day, the thought of eating Cream of Broccoli soup still turns my stomach) and just went through the food we had in our pantry for a period. My father, though he had a well-paying job as a banker, had to live with his mother for several years because of lawyer fees.

So, in a way, I got to experience both worlds growing up; but I’m writing this to acknowledge the privileges I had growing up. Both of my parents had advanced degrees. My mother’s parents also had advanced degrees; and the sense I’ve gotten about Lebanon in the 1960s is that my father’s parents were well-educated for that time. Though my immediate family struggled financially (and still struggles, actually), that struggle is against a backdrop of financial stability. My parents, both of them, know that their parents have a home they could go back to, if they needed to. There is a foundation there that many people don’t have. And I have that same foundation: I know that I have a house (not just a home, but a house) to return to, if I needed to.

On the entry with the meme, I received in the comments a link to this article about Unitarian Universalism and Classicism in that religion. It took Jeanne mentioning it in this blog entry and again in an email to get me to actually read it. (Sometimes, I’m a very lazy comment and blog reader.) This article is also pertinent to Quakerism; and I very much wish it had been written by a Quaker.

During my last Worship & Ministry committee meeting, the question of why more people weren’t Quakers was raised. One weighty Friend had a simple answer: “Because Quakerism is a religion of Seekers, and most people prefer having answers instead of more questions.” This had me thinking about the following possible theory:

The more uncertainty you feel you have in your life (whether financial, social, physical, mental, familial, etc.), the more certainty you want in your religion. The converse is the more certainty you feel you have in your life, the more uncertainty you are willing to accept in your religion.

The article fleshes this out a bit and states the following (I’m paraphrasing here): that we want our religion to mimic our life. If your life is harsh, your religion needs to be as well.

And, if we accept my theory and the article’s theory as well, we have some questions we need to think about, as a whole Society. First, is this a problem? Is the fact that as a society of Seekers we can’t always speak to working-class people a problem? And if we think it is a problem, then what can we do about it?

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Testimonies

I think it is easier for me to live out our Quaker testimonies vicariously, through the works of other people (i.e., by donating to charities), than it is for me actually to live my live according to those testimonies. This is something I’ve been trying to work on recently, with varying degrees of effort.

First, the Testimony of Integrity. This one has got to be the hardest testimony of all of them; because before one can live a life of true integrity, honesty, and openness, one must first know who one is. And then, having found out who one is, one must figure out a way to share that with the world without starting unnecessary conflict (which would be against our Testimony of Peace). This Testimony is the hardest one for me to follow, partly because I’m bisexual in truth, but heterosexual in appearance. My Monthly Meeting was nearly torn apart several years ago, before I started attending, by a gay couple who wanted to be married under the care of the Meeting.

But today is National Coming Out Day. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered the Human Rights Campaign’s “Coming Out Kit”, expecting a pamphlet or two, receiving dozens of pamphlets, a small poster, bumper stickers, even balloons! I checked with the Testimonies and Concerns committee about whether it’d be alright for me to leave the extra pamphlets and bumper stickers and such in the common room; they said it’d be fine, just announce it after Meeting for Worship.

I was so nervous about leaving these pamphlets in our common room that I decided to put them there before Meeting for Worship, hoping that would allow me time to worship instead of worry. (Instead, I spent a good bit of time worrying about what exactly I was going to say and trying to remind myself to let go and let the Holy Spirit guide me.) I made the announcement without incident; now I’m worried that the pamphlets might have been removed by Meeting for Worship this Sunday.

This brings me to the Testimony of Equality. To me, this testimony says: “You are not God’s only child. You are not the only one worthy of God’s love [when I can get past my pride, I also realize that I’m not the only one receiving God’s love who does not deserve it.] You are not more important than anyone else.” A more positive way to say that would be: “You are part of God’s loving family. You are one of many who receives God’s love, regardless of if you deserve it or not. You are just as important as everyone else.” I try to live out this testimony by treating everyone with as much love and openness as I can (especially people I don’t know or who are societally different than me), and by being a kind, courteous driver. Every time I drive, I try to ask myself: am I driving in such a way that would make other drivers happy, or annoyed? Things I try to do: if I can safely move over so someone can merge onto the highway easily, I do; if someone wants to cut me off, I let them and don’t retaliate; I make left turns without causing fear or worry in people on the opposite side of the road; and I always (again, if I can safely) stop for people who want to cross the street.

The Testimony of Peace has been playing a large part in my life right now, because of what’s been going on with Jamie. To me, peace is not about avoiding conflict, but about dealing with conflict in a way that allows everyone to be who they truly are. And a large part of peace, which is often overlooked I feel by Friends (who tend to focus on things like being anti-war or our government’s aggressive foreign policies), is personal peace. How many of us can say we are at peace with our lives, with our behavior, with who we truly are? And, to take that one step further, how many of us have families who are not at peace with one another? Peace isn’t an outside-in process, but an inside-out process.

And finally, the Testimony of Simplicity. Every time I get sick or am otherwise unable to use my computer for several days, it always feel like work for me to catch up on all the websites, forums, and communities I frequent daily. I’ve made a friend from one of those communities named Ivy. Ivy is what I think of as a serious Jew. What I mean by that is that she takes her faith very, very seriously. I admire her greatly for trying to keep kosher in a world that, frankly, doesn’t make it easy financially or otherwise to do so. I admire her living up to her faith when it’d be easier for her not to. And one of the things I’ve learned about Judaism through her is that that faith has an awful lot of days of rest, reflection, and fasting. It got me to thinking: “I dedicate one hour and change to God per week. Yes, I try to keep him always in my thoughts, but most of the time I’m too busy with whatever it is I’m doing online.” So, I decided to start keeping Sundays holy again: all of Sunday, not just Meeting for Worship. I’ve made a resolution not to turn on my computer at all on Sundays. And it has been one of the best changes in my life I’ve made in a long time.

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Trials

I wish I had something enlightening to say, but the truth is that my life is so full of drama right now (my sister’s in the hospital and Sugar, my 16 year old cat, is having some thinking outside of the box issues) that I can barely think, let alone find coherent thoughts about God and faith. I am trying to follow God’s will, but I’m not sure I have the patience or the attention span necessary for real discernment right now. It’s more that if it’s an urge to do something, especially something I’ve been putting off doing, that doesn’t diminish with time or gets stronger, then I grudgingly do it.

I wish I could say that in this time of trial in my life that I feel God holding me up, but a more apt metaphor would be that maybe God’s the plywood I’m holding onto as I am lost out at sea. That doesn’t make my faith sound very strong, but it’s the truth.

I am struggling to remember to be patient and compassionate because those things don’t come naturally to anyone and my emotional energy right now is really dangerously low. My tolerance for people being so self-centered that when they call, they never ask how I’m doing (if you’re wondering if I’m talking about you, then it’s not you)… Or how she called a couple of weeks ago to vent to Rob because she was “having a bad day” when that was the very day my sister was admitted to the hospital. My instinct is to scoff at her “bad day” and make fun of it.

I’m not perfect, but that’s no reason not to aim towards always treating others with compassion. It’s just that being compassionate is a lot harder right now than it normally is.

But the truth of it is that the people who are the most challenging to behave compassionately towards are no less worthy of compassion than those to whom I find it easy to be compassionate.

My ex, Andy, is an atheist who believes that all faith boils down to people needing something to believe in when life’s not going well. I don’t know if it’s easier to have faith when life is trying or not, but I’m pretty sure it’s harder to act from faith when life is trying. At least, it’s harder for me.

Please hold me and my family in the Light, all.

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Listening

I just finished reading Parker J. Palmer’s “A Hidden Wholeness”, which has a main focus of challenging us to lead undivided lives and a secondary focus of encouraging that change to happen by groups called “circles of trust”. As a consequence of finishing this book so soon after finishing Pema Chodron’s “No Time to Lose”, I feel like the message “truly be present, not only to your life but to those who choose to share their lives with you” has been seeped into my mind. There was also a reprinted article in this month’s Friend’s Journal about listening that I feel said everything Parker wanted to say in his book about listening in one short page.

This has me reflecting on how I listen to family members. As far as I understand it, the kind of listening spoken about in the books and article I’ve recently read focuses on allowing the speaker the freedom to speak while knowing that the listener is truly listening: not judging, not formulating advice to give, not even trying to put oneself in his or her shoes. The reason behind those “not”s is fairly straightforward, but difficult to accept: that each person is capable of finding their own true way if they’re allowed to find it, and that their own true way is not the same as the listener’s own true way. The second reason is really just an outgrowth of the first, but I think its manifestations are sometimes more difficult to deal with.

As a result of the second reason, the listener is encouraged not to try to figure things out for the speaker. I find it’s only possible to do that easily if I really believe that the person is capable of finding their own true way and that they don’t need me to figure it out for them. This is, as one might imagine, quite a blow to my ego. I, like most people, like to feel needed. My ego enjoys imagining that everything would fall apart if it weren’t for me. But if I do not allow the speaker to figure things out for his or herself, I am denying their selfhood by imposing my own self onto his or her life. In return, I am encouraging them to do the same to me.

I’ve grown up with two biological parents who vastly disagree about almost everything. When I was a kid, I felt like I had to choose between the two of them; one of them had to be telling the truth, and the other one had to be lying. When they spoke about controversial things, I would be trying to figure out if they were telling the truth or lying. At some point, I realized that tactic wasn’t working and tried a new one: still figuring out what was a lie and what was the truth, but pretending to agree with whomever was speaking. Eventually, the dishonesty got to me and I slowly began to learn how to listen to each of them without judging for myself whether what they were saying was true or not.

This is not to say that I don’t have opinions about the things my parents disagree about. It would be impossible for me not to have formed opinions about those things. But I’ve come to the conclusion that my conclusions are just opinions. They are just thoughts: they have no body, no substance, and only the power I give them. (This is a Buddhist teaching I’ve come to embrace recently.)

The bottom line is that while my reality is most important to me, their own reality is most important to them. I don’t have the right to try to impose my reality on theirs. Like I stated earlier, this requires my acceptance of the fact that they know themselves better than I do (and that if that is not true, then their potential for knowing themselves is far greater than my current knowledge of them).

When I got the leading a couple months ago to try to work things out with my stepsister, one of the things I was most worried about was how I’d be able to talk to her when the mistakes she has been making in her life have been so clear to me. I had to learn to talk to her without an agenda of fixing her. I had to learn how to listen to her without judging her, or handing out advice. I had to learn how to listen with the sole goal of listening, not of thinking of a response or judging what she was saying or putting myself in her shoes and wondering what I would be doing in her stead — just listening.

This weekend, I am traveling home to a conflicted family. Taking sides is, in a way, inevitable. My goal for this weekend is to try to find a way to let my mom know that I will always stand by her while allowing myself the freedom to listen to everyone else. Written down, that sounds impossible.

All I can do is continue to hold myself and my family in the Light and try to have faith that, through God, all is possible.

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Living Differently

It’s been a momentous two weeks. One of my dearest friends, Squee, has been visiting from Chicago. My sister just turned in her college senior thesis paper today, which I spent two hours proofreading for her this morning. Sugar, my 16 year old Siamese cat, finished her round of antibiotics last week. Tomorrow, I’m participating in the Arthritis Walk for the second year in a row. Next Saturday is my grandfather’s funeral.

I’ve been busy. I’ve treasured each and every moment of silence and solitude that I’ve been given during these last two weeks. For the first week of Squee’s visit, I felt overwhelmed by the busy-ness, by the constant chatter, by the abundance of music. I felt suffocated at times. But slowly, the fullness began to break through my grip on silence. Slowly, I started accepting life as it was instead of life as I wanted it to be.

I’ve been taught by people I never expected to learn from. Squee showed me, gently, how much I enjoy complaining and making a situation worse than it is… how I don’t give my in-laws the credit they deserve and am eager for them to fail in their attempts to reach out to me… how hypocritical it was of me to complain about them trying to change me when I’ve been trying to make them into my own family all along.

And this morning, as I was reading through my sister’s thesis, I was filled with awe and love for her. She and I are outwardly as different as can be, but her thesis is titled: “America’s Consumption and the Long-Term Effects”. In it is the following passage:

From the article titled “Real Simple”, “Keeping it simple does not mean reducing the quality of ones lifestyle; it means putting first things first. It’s fine not to feel guilt over guilty pleasures while keeping your life focused, pleasurable and worthwhile”. In conclusion, simple living is not mainly about spending less, but about living differently.

That’s it, exactly. Simple living isn’t about spending less, owning less… it’s about living differently.

Regardless of the grade she gets on this paper, I’m proud of her for writing it.

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