(Song Dedication: Don’t look back in anger by Oasis)
The Dalai Lama has a million quotes to pick from if you are looking for inspiration for a shift in perspective. His tweet about peace on March of this year read:
Peace is not just the mere absence of violence or disturbance. It’s when there is a possibility of conflict, but you deliberately avoid violence and adopt methods to solve the problem through peaceful means. That is real peace.
But there are people and groups of people out there who detest his messages of hope and peace. No light without dark, I guess.
Mother Teresa was once asked why she didn’t participate in anti-war protests and she replied that she would never do this, but as soon as there was a pro-peace rally, she would be there.
I align with both of these spiritual leaders teachings. I understand it intellectually. I feel it in my heart emotionally. But to really know it, practice it and apply it to a wide variety of situations, from a deep seated place in my soul, I have come to realize my struggle with mastery. I have thought about peace and I have felt peace in my heart, but I am not always peaceful, even though I act with peace as much as I remember to.
The Tao Te Ching talks about this concept in the 18th verse, which ironically or otherwise, just happens to be the verse I am contemplating right now. When boiled down this verse asks us to “live without rules”. That sounds scary and chaotic doesn’t it? I’m all like, Fuuuuuuuck no, you wanna see a classroom of tiny people or teenage people without rules? Or a household without rules for a 7-year-old-boy and a 5-month-old, 60-pound-and-counting puppy – I imagine it smells horrible for starters…in both situations. I know, my heart begins to palpitate just thinking of the jammer that will likely ensue after 5 minutes in that environment. But the context in which the Tao frames this concept is intriguing at the least.
This is Dr. Wayne Dyer’s summative interpretation of other interpreters of this ancient Chinese text: (I know what I just said…an interpretation of interpretations…stupid)
When the greatness of the Tao is present, action arises from one’s own heart. When the greatness of the Tao is absent, action comes from the rules of kindness and justice. If you need rules to be kind & just; if you act virtuous, this is a sure sign that virtue is absent. Thus we see the great hypocrisy when kinship falls into discord…
And so I keep getting this message in various shapes and forms to stop “acting” and just “be”. As a teacher I repeat a concept, often in as many ways as I can think of (words, pictures, actions, emotions, connections, questions, reflection) when I believe a student needs more practice and depth to better understand something. I guess the universe knows I am in great need of this foundational lesson, as I am just not there YET.
It showed up in many ways the past weeks, as I made my way on my own over the Atlantic through the busy streets of London, the railways to Wales to finally arrive at my biological father’s funeral, and then to hit the rewind button to get myself home to my family I’ve made here in Canada. It was a journey of necessity and closure, it tested me to some of my utmost limits, but I met each challenge as best I could in each moment – lack of expectation and thoughtful presence being my biggest allies.
I found myself sitting in the front pew of the old stone Catholic Church on a brown bench with a velvet reserved sign draped over its back, meant for me, his daughter.
Myself and 12 others. There’s usually not a grand parade when you’ve spent the remaining 30 years of your life sitting inside your ailing and now deceased mother’s mobile home. Never the less here we were the 13 of us, including the priest speaking to who my father was. Most of it was all just stories. Other people’s stories.
I remember arriving at the beginning. I had walked up from my accommodation about 10 minutes away at my choosing to “best prepare myself” for his funeral. As if a brief walk would be all the preparation I would need for something like this?!
My uncle had clearly stated no black as my Father wished this to be a celebration of his life, and so I chose the lightest airiest sundress from Anthropologie I could find…maybe this was a tad overstep in commitment to his requested dress code. Most were still conservatively dressed in dark blues and greys…to a dog it would all have still seemed quite dreary. It was cold which is to be expected in an 18th century stone church I suppose. But no worries there because I also had my trusty jean jacket to insulate my bones from the draft of a fairly cool day! That’s right, surrounded in what we might think of as proper Sunday best, I walked in like flower-power-all-outta-fucks. Which couldn’t have been further from my inner truth, but most of these people didn’t know me, let alone know he even had a daughter.
I sat in the front next to my uncle. Everyone else took positions somewhere behind us out of my peripheral scope so I felt as if it were just me, Uncle and the Priest. And Jesus. It would be rude not to mention him, as his likeness was everywhere as any proper Catholic Church is designed. I remember thinking many things but as they all tumbled around on a gentle cycle in my mind the heat began to rise and I became overwhelmed. I quickly manoeuvred around this mindfuck of being at my father’s funeral and met it with a pragmatic stream of consciousness …Well it’s not like he’s here…This ceremony is for the living…For our closure…He left weeks ago, free of his body and mind which were failing him in tandem…What peace he can rest in. And just as I was about to internally repeat this whole rhetoric for the fifth time I heard an engine cut, the heavy wooden doors open behind me and then the soft squeak of a wheel as his coffin was placed on the pall bearers gurney, trolley, table with wheels? And in he came.
Oh universe! Aren’t you witty… As his body was wheeled past mine disguised as a wooden coffin adorned with the most beautiful flower arrangements I forgot to breathe. Gulping down dry cotton mouthfuls of nothing, like a goldfish falling from its bowl. That’s not him. That’s not really him. All that I’ve been reading and discussing being thrown into my test tube of life. You wanna make peace with death? Then literally sit next to it for the next 45 minutes without recoiling and running straight out the church doors with your sundress trailing behind you. Certainly sobering (funny to think that about a recovering alcoholic’s funeral…dammit I could have used that bit in my speech!)
Oh right, what speech? I felt the compulsion to rise out of my seat and take that invitation that usually no one takes on a whim at funerals and weddings. But there I was standing, awkwardly pausing at the closed casket and standing to the right of his body I took my first deep breath in over an hour and looked every single person in the eye before I began.
I had stuff to say about stuff…I mean I have been contemplating about my life and all those who have shaped me for over a year of blog writing…all I had to do was trust my instincts, speak from my heart and knowing which were all thoughts I’ve had the privilege to sort through as a writer.
I acknowledged all the other people in the room and thanked each one for coming to honour my Father. I thanked my Uncle, his friend Greg and my Father’s carer Vince for all they had done to help John through this difficult part of his life. I then found myself saying something to the effect of how our estranged relationship only held visits every 10-15 years or so after he and my Mom divorced, but as a parent now myself, I recognize the courage it took for him to step down as my Father who was an addict to make room for someone else to raise me the way I needed. I can’t imagine how hard that would have been to make this difficult choice but I am forever grateful for this sacrifice so I could have a better life and the family I have now. (Pretty much that…interspersed with stifled breaths and tears at the utter overwhelming collision of full spectrum human emotion.)
I came, I spoke & I was heard. That brought some peace.
But during most of this big life event stuff, I was a bit ashamed to admit I had something else on my mind. Something that had consumed me enough that my mind and heart would just not let go, no matter how hard I tried. I was in conflict with someone I really loved a lot.
This person knows me, really knows me. Just as I know them. You know what they say about friends are the family you choose.
I had been pulling away for months prior to ever having spoken about anything and it appeared to most that we had just drifted and that was just life. I had other friends I was giving friendship to and was so busy taking care of myself that I forgot about “us” and how much that meant to me on a deeper level.
Today someone helped me understand what was really going on for me and why I was so stuck, especially in the light of all other circumstances. When I explained what I thought was the catalyst for the fallout she asked me to consider what this friend had the courage to tell me when I had asked if there was a problem. She asked me to consider what I was thinking about the friendship, then what I was feeling (both negative at the moment) and finally what did I know about the friendship and what surfaced surprised me with a wash of relief. I said I knew deep down that we were in each other’s lives for a reason, to care about each other and make life better. She smiled and asked me if the feeling of sadness and abandonment was still there? And I said it was. She challenged me with the entire context of the situation suggesting that this friend also felt abandoned by me…and suddenly the combination to that safe I had spun shut, unlocked!
She also offered the idea that I use abandonment in response to perceived abandonment. If I think someone is going to reject me or judge me, I jump ship first. It was like an end of life moment when a bunch of images flash through your mind in rapid fire – except it was all the relationships (familial, friends, romantic) I had abandoned because I thought they were going bad. I never stuck around to work it out, I just acted aloof and moved on with other people or other distractions. That felt heavy. But it resonated.
So here is my mastery that I hope one day to achieve. I hope to live peacefully and ask what would love do when faced with hardship, negativity or fear. I believe I can do this with awareness of my patterns and learning to recognize when my fear of abandonment has been triggered. I am no longer a child, I am no longer a victim, I needn’t worry about being abandoned because I will always have one person guaranteed for as long as I am here. And that person is me. However, this whole using abandonment over others is just shitty. And I am sorry if I have ever done this to you, because I am hyper aware of all the tough situations I’ve chosen to vacate to shamelessly protect myself. Likely if you know me, I have done this to you at some point and I own that. I thank-you if you found forgiveness in your heart for me and you obviously modelled what I aspire to, leading with love.
This more experienced, nearly-40, stand-tall-me knows that I shouldn’t fear being hurt the way I use to. In all this life, I know my greatest learning has come from the most challenging places of suffering. I have learned each time (although it takes me longer in some situations due to old patterns of stubbornness or flat out righteousness) to rise above these limitations and become more who I am meant to be.
I only had to travel about 15,000 kilometers to figure out where the discord sat messing up this urgency for peace and reconciliation. Right here, deep within the seat of my soul. And now I can rest in it for a bit, until the universe decides to test me again to see if I really get it yet. I think I am somewhere between approaching and meeting expectations (you’re welcome teachers).
And the happiest ending of all, I called that friend today as soon as I could and through a messy tear-stained phone call that friend heard me, thanked me, forgave me and cried in relief with me. All love. Big time. Peace at last.