3 Lessons I'm Remembering
1) Tears Are Still Absolutely Essential.
I've had my fair share of ups and downs this year. Joy has been abundant and continuous. I have grown immensely as a professional teacher, an active participant in family and community, discovering more of who I am. AND, this year the tears have been plentiful. I encountered deep sadness and anger over losing an amazing teaching job that I loved. I have mourned the loss of my last grandparent, and I was shaken by the diagnoses of skin cancer this year. Tears were were a part of the process in each of these experiences. I'm grateful that I’ve lived through it all. I have a new job teaching; I have a new scar and a deep appreciation for those I love that still remain. Most importantly I have a constant reminder that it’s my responsibility to remain spiritually vigilant and feel my real feelings about everything.
It does take a certain sincerity and responsibility to cry - to encounter those things at the heart of one's brokenness. The really sloppy, snotty cries are so often disturbing and almost always painfully lonely. My grief is my responsibility, no one else's. No one can cry for me. My friends and family could feed me, help me drink water and clothe me if I became unable to accomplish these tasks without aid, but crying, my grief, my healing is mine alone. It's more akin to forgiveness or love or death in that way. No one can love for me, forgive for me or die for me. My tears are my wounds to bear and my process with them, the healing that comes through them, is my gift to receive.
Perhaps my the greatest gift I have is my recovery. I’ve spend a number of years in recovery from an addiction and so much of my recovery has involved tears. Getting sober from our addiction involves a grief process; it’s like losing a best friend. If you have the courage to stay present with the process, connect with others going through the same recovery and develop a relationship with a higher, fuller self through honesty and acceptance, the healing naturally comes and all the grief and all the tears flow from it. Spend time in the rooms of healing and recovery. Start to notice the faces of addicts and alcoholics. Written on their faces - faces warped by unexpressed, repressed, drugged pain - are faces baring the absence of tears. Years worth of unshed tears will literally kill you. Though, if you watch closely and stay present you will also witness those faces heal and literally grow younger. Tears and the grief they represent are one of those indispensable opportunities to shed pain and connect deeply with our lives. In fact, I don't believe there is any other substitute as powerful for healing the mind and body. Tears are still absolutely essential.
2) Detach From Others Expectations.
I’ve spent years being intimidated by the thoughts of others expectations and attempting to manage their feelings towards me. It all started with my father. Not so long ago I remember leaving a dinner with family and falling into those worn out roles we’re all used to playing in my family. My father's role was to constantly remind me that he's waiting on me to become the breadwinner of the family; that he’s secretly disappointed that I haven’t quite lived up to his expectations. I didn’t go into the military after all. To this day all he has to do is bring up my career and though I've become a teacher, it’s still not quite good enough. I’m easily bated and instantly transported back to the little boy intimidated by the demands of his father: "When are you going to get a ‘real’ job, Adam?” As if that was ever my vision in the first place.
I don’t recall getting out of that conversation skillfully; I’m sure I was reactive. I hadn’t quite learned what is meant by a posture of detachment, and I definitely didn’t have any practice with it. Detachment is not an attitude as most assume. Detachment, as I’ve been working with it, is a behavior, a posture with a plan of action. All my life I’ve been attempting to compensate my lack of courage and my fear of disappointing others by mastering the right words. All those around me were exhausted listening to empty promises over and over, and I was exhausting myself attempting to control others reactions and emotions. Practicing detachment has shown me that it’s not my responsibility to convince my father or anyone that my path has value. After all, it’s not really my father’s fault. I’ve spent my life resisting dominant masculine roles I found oppressive. I have been in pursuit of an integrated expression of my gender, a balance of both masculine and feminine principles. In doing so I have fallen far short of anything my father’s generation would recognize as traditional masculine values, yet I have set myself up as a model for my students as one who lives joyful and fulfilled.
Practicing detachment has gives our lives an opportunity to speak and grow toward a fuller expression of authenticity and empowerment. I’ve always loved the line so many old-timers in the rooms of recovery have spoken, "I would rather see a sermon than hear one." It’s our responsibility to continue working to detach from others expectations of us. Who would we be if we allowed those closest to us to experience the consequences of their actions? I know I’m still working through my co-dependent posture those my love ones. Though, I really want to, I can’t ‘save’ them or change them to make it better. I can change myself. When I making a mess of it, as I often do, my mentor will gently remind me, “Don’t worry! The good thing about detachment is all the opportunities to practice.”
3) You Become What You Think About.
I'd like to say I came to this idea out of an intellectual inquiry, but no. After depressions, bottoms, and multiple humiliations, this is a tool I need to survive. If you haven't ever taken the idea seriously, let me attempt to sway you. One of the most powerful talks I've heard on the subject is called "The Greatest Secret in the World" by Earl Nightingale (easily searchable on youtube). Earl’s talk resonants with deep tonal authority and communicates the fundamental principle that, "We become what we think about." Or in the words of the famous 20th century philosopher and psychologist, William James, "Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind."
Most of us have heard this idea in one form or another. Negative thoughts attract negative experiences; positive thoughts attract positive experiences. “You reap what you sow.” “You get what you give.” In the past I've associated the idea that we, "become what we think about," with those fascinated with "The Secret." I've been really critical about the entire matter for some time: "So poor, native Sudanese should use 'positive thoughts' to bring themselves out of poverty!?" Without reducing the awareness that comes from understanding how race and class play a role in who succeeds and who doesn’t, it’s been interesting to take an honest look at the evidence for such a claim in my own life because there's plenty. I could site the years I was consumed by fear of becoming a pothead and how that fear came true through the art of attracting. I could talk with you at length about how my obsession with life’s unfair and unjust nature put me in a constant state of self-pity and victimization. Suffice to say that over and over my experiences consistently mirrored and confirmed my state of mind - another lost job, another abusive relationship, victimization all over. Positivity worked the same way. For years I have been working to surround myself with recovering people, students and colleagues in education - growing, healthy things. It’s no wonder that I’m growing. It comes to me with ease today. I do not fight to stay sober; it is a non-issue; the struggle does not exist for me. I’m not obsessing to be a better teacher; I’ve set myself up for success by entering graduate school.
Whatever they are, our lessons revisit us for a reason. We’re all in school and it’s up to us to remember to practice and relearn the same lessons again and again this upcoming year. Mastery is our calling. The spiritual principles we’re working with are not forces subject to our whim and want; their ego crushing and lawful - more physical like gravity. I'm only beginning to practice living upon this foundation and so far it has been much like gravity - attractive. It really is up to us to apply and practice spiritual fitness on a daily basis to maintain and grow our little spheres of influence. When I align myself with spiritual principles they work or they work me - not some of the time, every time. And the degree that these principles work are in direct proportion to the psychic and concrete work we put forth. I know that what I think about, how I focus my attention, will eventually seek expression in physical form.