Monday, May 7, 2012

A New Tree

I'm afraid to talk to you, my brothers and sisters.  I'm afraid you'll make me cry.  I'm so tired of crying.  I'm so tired of thinking.  And with one comes the other.  Everyone needs a brain break.  That's okay, right?  To put your mind on hold so your heart doesn't explode into a million tiny fragments that cut on the way out of you as they fling into the universe and leave empty places that can never be filled again?  It's dramatic, yes.  But that's how it feels, and I know you understand.  I'm holding myself together as carefully as I can, just as we all are.

For years he and we struggled and then months and then weeks and then days, every hour caked in the mud and torment of dementia, then countless other maladies.  Still, throughout, we fought what was inevitably to come next.  And then it came, the leaving.  All in one breath that no longer sucked in any life.  I know that Daddy is free.  Free to move about this world or the next without chains or pain or struggle.  Just fluidity and air and energy, born of the earth and released above it.  I'm happy for that.  In my head, I am finally at peace with his transcendent and triumphant flight, serene in the knowledge that his energy exists somewhere, unburdened by the weight of suffering.

So why am I afraid to look into the eyes of shared grief, of shared loss?  I feel it may dismantle me, tear me from the solid ground I've finally found after days and days of mourning and raging.  I'm afraid to talk to you because you knew him.  And you know what the shock and finality of losing him means to us.  He's really gone.  We will never hear his voice again or his laugh.  We will never feel his arms around us or his hand holding our hand.  We will never be able to pick up the phone and call him for advice or a kind ear or applause or a compassionate word.

Home will never be the same again.  Will it?

He was our tree, standing tall and strong, always there for us to grip onto.  Even as he withered and grew weak, even as he needed our support to hold him up, our love for him gave us the strength to help him stand.  How is it possible that he still made us strong?  But he did.  And as crazy as it sounds, there was always hope springing eternal at our feet, swirling about in dazzling lights... whispering promises of a miracle.  How tantalizing hope can be.

With Daddy gone, so is our center support.  Yes, today I do feel like we are shocked and shaking saplings, bending thin and weak around a gaping hole in the earth.  Now is the time for solitude, time to grieve and shake and heal from the shock, time to soak up the sun that still rises every morning, that still permeates the clouds and warms us, time to hear the birds and recognize how beautiful their song still is.

They say time heals.  I do believe that.  The winds of time will brush the earth, fill in that hole with new joys and new memories.  We will eventually stretch out our strong arms and reach for each other in mutual love.  The roots of our shared memories are still there and will join us.  Perhaps it will be enough to weave us and bind us together.  My hope, then, is that we will stand, woven as a new tree, one that our children can cling to.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Simple Joys

I admit it.   I am simple.  It doesn't take much to lift my spirits or make me smile or laugh.  LIfe is full of simple joys.

I still remember the inscription on a little white ceramic box that was given to me as a child.  On the lid of the box it said, "Life's greatest pleasures..." and on the inside bottom of the box, next to a little ladybug, it said, "are its small and simple treasures."  It is true.  I feel lucky that I am able to feel joy from life's little things.  Just today, well before noon, I've already experienced such simple joys in the world around me.

I enjoyed a cup of hot coffee this morning, care of my wonderful sister, Cyndi, who gave it to me for my birthday.  It is a yummy caramel hazelnut from Harry and David's.  Mmmm.... what a pleasure it is to sip on a cool spring morning.

A pair of mourning doves visited my tray feeder, only inches from my vantage point at the window.  Though they saw me, they trusted me enough to stay and dine.  One was mainly gray and beige and the other was a peach-gold and gray.  Their eyes, encircled in white, blinked at me.  Their lovely red feet were bright under their soft and muted feathers.

I polished my nails in bright gold-copper, a wonderful "girl gift" from my sister, Diana, (I know, what wonderful sisters I have, eh?) and dressed in a lacy, pale pink top today.  I know I'm not young, and I'm definitely not pretty.  But for a few moments, I felt as close as I could come, and it was sweet!

While I was in the coffee shop, a little boy, around five years old, walked straight up to me without hesitation.  He peered up at me and said, "Hello.  My name is Oliver."  It was a short conversation, but I was struck by the innocence, trust and curiosity that was in his dark brown eyes.  I reached out and tousled his hair just before he turned to leave the shop with his mom.  He waved goodbye with the brightest smile.  I had met a little boy named Oliver, and I felt immense gratitude for that.

Someone let me out in traffic at an intersection which is notoriously challenging to navigate.  To top it off, the other driver flashed me a smile and waved.  That most simple courtesy really warmed my heart.

I hung a hummingbird plate above my kitchen sink this morning and was surprised to see what a perfect fit it was.  It was a plate that my father had given my mother.  She loved hummingbirds.  The plate features a pair of hummers, both feathered in vivid emerald green and ruby red.  To the left of the plate are my dark green dishtowels. To the right are my red pot holders.  What a match and not at all planned or thought of in advance.  Funny how well it worked out, even for someone like me, who hates knick-knacks.

Standing outside in our yard, I felt a fine mist of cool rainwater on my face.  It was delicious and refreshing, one of best natural facials ever, compliments of Mother Nature.
Ariel, my cat, was napping on the floor in her usual corner of my office, always near me as I write.  I kneeled by her for a few pets and kissed her head.  She made a little growl sound, stretched, yawned and reached out one paw, curling it around my fingers and pulling my hand to her face where she proceeded to kiss it.  I am so loved.

I finally managed to find a way to get our three rugs in the front hall to stay down on the carpeting.  It's called Rhino double-sided tape, and I'm ecstatic.  The simple joy of not having to straighten these rugs half a dozen times a day is immeasurable.

As I brought in the mail this afternoon, I stopped and listened to the whispering northern pines across the street.  There is a long, double row of them that borders our neighbor's yard.  Such soothing music they make as their soft branches float up and down in the wind.  A pair of great horned owls often perch in these pines; they call to each other at night. We can hear them from our porch all spring, summer and fall.

It was getting cooler by late afternoon, so I put on my Dad's yellow sweater. It keeps me warm and reminds me of him.  It feels safe, just like Daddy.

My husband, David, gave me an extra long, extra loving hug when he got home from work.  He said, "I love you so much I could squeeze the stuffin's out of ya."  In that moment, I would have gladly sacrificed my "stuffin's" just to return the simple joy his words brought to my heart.

Ahhh... life's simple pleasures.  What would we do without them?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Approval Addiction

Approval Addiction.  Why do we need approval?  Is it good for us?  
By the way, I am going to attempt to dismantle my own spiraling, out of control addiction to approval by inserting really silly photos of myself at various points throughout this blog entry, all for the world to see and judge and laugh at.  
I hereby rescind my desire to earn your approval.  There.  See how I walk the walk?
Approval is the drug of choice for most people.  How is it different from real drugs?  We have no clue we are addicted, mainly because we have no clue we abuse it.  And this is bizarre to me because most of us need approval so desperately, and almost everything we do and how we do it is modeled as an endeavor to garner approval from someone.  Far above all our goals, approval is the priority.  It’s at the top of the list.  If we are honest about it, approval far exceeds love, peace-of-mind, even health.  I think this is proven every time I look around at what people are doing or observe my own actions. 
We will sacrifice our own health to get approval.  Why do you think young people start smoking?  Most of us do not think of cigarettes, at least the legal ones, as a pleasure drug (though once we’ve become addicted, feeling good becomes contingent upon having that cigarette).  No, despite its health hazards, people still smoke to look cool or be accepted among peers.  It’s a social activity.  And it, too, is about approval.
There are many examples of how we seek approval and how much we prioritize it above our other needs, but I think we can all agree that this is somewhat true.  Rather than spend this time elaborating on that, something most of us, if honest, would agree with, let’s look at the reasons we are so addicted to it, and whether approval addiction is good for us?
Let’s dance around the second question first.  Is approval addiction good for us?  My initial instinct is that it is NOT good for us.  After all, it makes us behave in radical, false and often negative ways.  We make a hell of a lot of mistakes in seeking it.  So on the surface, it would seem to be a bad thing.  At least our passionate seeking of it, and maybe it’s like many things, only good in moderation.  We can’t expect the whole world to validate us, but maybe from the ones in our immediate circle, family and friends, it’s not so much to ask.  And wanting approval is one thing.  Outright manipulation of others to get it, begging for it, harassing for it, lying for it, cheating for it, well, these are all obviously negative behaviors that cross the line.  However, it would seem that not needing anyone’s approval but our own, might make life a lot easier.  That’s my initial thought.  What is wrong with being so confident and at peace with oneself that approval from others is simply not important?  Someone can be confident without being arrogant, can’t they?  After further study and thought, perhaps I’ll change my mind.  But let’s revisit this question later, after we’ve delved into the first question.
Let’s explore the reasons we need approval so badly.  Maybe a scenario would be a good way to figure this out.  I recently lost my father and did not go to his funeral.  It was a personal decision that I thought long and hard about.  I wanted to be there for my family, yet funerals are directly opposed to my beliefs.  They downright creep me out.  Instead of going to the funeral, I went for a walk in the woods and bought an ice cream cone.  My Dad loved nature and ice cream.  
I felt at peace with my decision and once the day arrived and passed, I realized it was the right decision.  I knew that had I gone, I would not have been in any condition to “be there” for my family.  Quite the opposite would have happened.  I would have been sick about the whole ritual, making everyone uncomfortable, wishing it was over from the get-go.  In fact, I knew in my heart, had I taken the flight home for the funeral, I would not have made it into the cemetery.  My mother’s bones are there.  Not her spirit.  That is in me, in the trees, in the sun. I feel the same way about my father and his ashes that were buried in the plot next to hers.  So going would have put an additional burden on my family and me.  Okay, I’ve elaborated on this to demonstrate how confirmed I was in my decision and how proud I was of myself for having the courage to go against the grain.  I spent the afternoon in peace and remembering him with love, in silent prayer amid trees and green where I felt closest to him.  It is where I needed to be.
Now the big question… when I tell people that I did not go to my own father’s funeral, what will they say, how will they react?  Will they react in a positive, negative or neutral way?  And how will I react in turn?  My guess is the same as yours…. If they react negatively, I will be hurt and immediately begin to question my decision.  That’s crazy, right?  One moment prior to their reaction, I felt good about it, knew it was right, had no qualms or regrets about my decision.  Yet one word of disapproval from someone, whether that person is close to me or not, would have me second-guessing myself.  It’s quite silly, really. 
What if the person reacts positively?  Of course, I’ll feel a warm and fuzzy feeling rush over me.  Funny, how I will not question that response. I’m quite ready to accept a positive reaction, one that agrees with my actions.  It will tell me I am not alone in my thinking or that I am accepted as I am.  A positive response is what I would want, whether it is, “Good for you.  You did what you needed to do,” or “Funerals creep me out too.  I see no need for them,” or “I’m sure your Dad would understand.  He would want you to do what you believe in and to be happy.”
If that person reacts neutrally, well, that one is more complex.  I will likely still be a little letdown that I did not get unequivocal approval.  And at the very least, I will go on wondering how they truly feel.  Most people are not ambivalent about the big issues in life, the life and death questions.  Would that person have done the same thing?  A neutral response would not give me the satisfaction of knowing how I stack up.  Isn’t life just a series of measurement-taking, of seeing how we stack up against others?  How are we doing?  How do we compare?
So why do we need approval so badly?  I guess because we don’t want to feel alone.  If we think we are different from everyone else, it could be a lonely existence with no one to identify with.  It’s not like we all want to be the same as everyone else.  But we don’t want to be different from everyone else either.  There’s a happy balance.  Personally, I don’t feel uncomfortable being a little different from other people.  But when I find myself getting to feel or act differently than most of the people around me, I begin to feel alone, as if I’m alienating myself from the rest of the world.  I think the big life decisions or big picture beliefs aren’t too hard to agree on.  
Most of us want the same things and believe in the same things, overall. We all want our basic needs met. We all want love and freedom and respect.  We all want to live as good people, being honest and fair and helping each other.  The differences between us are only shades of gray even with these big ideals.  So I don’t think it’s too hard to act within character, to do what is in your being to do and not be apologetic about it if someone else disagrees.  Yes, most of us do crave absolute validation and approval in everything we are and do.   But I think this is flawed thinking that can be transcended.  I do know it’s easier to let go of the desire for approval when it’s a big deal to you, something like deciding if you go to your Dad’s funeral.  I.e. in my case, when it comes right down to it, it was my decision, and though it might bother me a little if someone disagrees, it wouldn’t change how I act in the future.  I would still have to deal with it myself and do what works for me, just as everyone else has to.   When I do something that isn’t right for me, just to please someone else, just to fit into the mold, I don’t feel good about myself.  I don’t feel like myself.  I let that guide me into making the best decisions. 
I think, overall, we seek approval when we don’t approve of ourselves first.  If we are able to truly love ourselves and trust ourselves, then we can accept and approve of every action we take because we know we are good people and we know we will always do what is right in the given moment.   When the world doesn’t agree or approve of something we do, our own self-love will not falter or fray.  It is possible, I do believe, to love yourself enough to withstand any resistance or criticism, to be your own best friend.
I’m sure there are many other reasons why some seek approval so passionately, so unabashedly.  I imagine that for abuse victims, the approval of others, even in later relationships where the abuse was no longer present, would be paramount to happiness.  Again, that would mainly be due to their lack of self-love and self-respect.  Any damage to the psyche would result in the need for more validation from others.  I’m sure there are many other situations where this need would be heightened due to some emotional damage.
In general, don’t we all seek fulfillment outside of ourselves?  If we are not happy, we find something that will make us happy, as if another person or object or activity will instantly bring us happiness.  We need to learn how to be self-fulfilling individuals.  Once we’ve learned to love and accept ourselves completely, we will no longer look to outside sources to fulfill us.  Or at least pursue it less aggressively and staking so much to get it.
So is it good for us to be addicted to the approval of others?  In my opinion, no.  I think we should re-direct the object of our affection inward.  Why not become addicted to self-approval?  To thine own self be true.  More self-love would, in my opinion, be a very good thing for the world.  Because that’s where it all starts.  If you love yourself first, you can be intact and able to love those around you.  Approve of yourself and you can easily accept the world around you and all its opinions, good or bad, similar or contradictory.  It is freedom to love and be loved.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a great guru, once said that becoming enlightened requires a transitioning from being somebody (self-love) to nobody (ordinary, neutral) to everybody (all-encompassing connection and the world around us).  If you don’t accept and love and approve of yourself first, how can you ever accept and love and approve of the world around you?