“The symbol of the thing is not the same as the thing itself.” Signlessness.
“Having no destination, I am never lost.” Aimlessness.
My favorite was the last. “Having no destination, I am never lost.” I smiled as drove down the highway. It’s a sense of a lack of attachment to the result of anything I do, and it feels like freedom. I’m not letting go of the wheel and letting life take me anywhere, I’m heading in a direction and experiencing whatever happens along the way.
Letting go of expectations is something you can apply to any aspect of your life.
From a project to a career, even a relationship, we can release the expectations and simply experience what is happening in the moment. That doesn’t mean that we don’t direct our lives. Letting go means we make choices, take risks, see where things go and then make adjustments. Where we end up exactly doesn’t matter as much as the journey.
I have lived most of my life the same way my husband and I have traveled. We decide to do something and then see what happens. There are no hard and fast plans, there are no reservations, no tickets bought. There is only a full tank of gas and a direction. We usually have the first destination picked out. We want to drive so many miles that day and get to this area before dark, but other than that, things just play out the way they do. And we’ve had some amazing adventures.
How can letting go of expectations relate to relationships?
By not setting expectations for people. And by “relationship” I mean any kind: friendships, familial, romantic. I should not expect anyone to act, behave, or respond in a specific way. I simply relate to them and see what happens. That doesn’t mean that I let go of being respected or treated fairly. It means I put my effort in and see what they do. If I am enjoying that response, I continue. If I am not, I communicate with that person and/or try something else.
Letting go of the destination, means wherever I am, I’m not lost. I am simply where I am. That lets me experience the place more fully. I’m sitting in my car looking the map, feeling like a failure. I’m looking out the window, stopping the car, and going for a walk in the place I find myself. If it turns out that it’s not to my liking, I move on. No judgement. No failure. No destination. Just peace and experience.
The best part about all of it is that anyone can start right where they are. Put the map down, look around you, and immerse yourself in the experience.
I have come to the conclusion that “Listen Like You Mean It” will be best taken in smaller doses. I’ll practice some of the patience and trust she is talking about. After all, a book is just a different kind of conversation.
I typically read for about an hour before my mind starts to wander off in need of a break, but while I’m in this book, I started my wandering far earlier, about twenty minutes in. It’s not because the book is boring, far from it. It’s just so full of useful information, that I start worrying that I’ll lose some of it, so I decided to stop at thirty minutes and re-cap in my journal.
I didn’t finish reading the chapter “Stay Present” this morning, but I have mined these gems so far.
“When we name our wandering thoughts for what they are, we can choose what to do with them. Do we need these thoughts interrupting this moment? Are they serving us in conversation, or are they merely a distraction?”
Sometimes we worry that we’ll forget a thought that came up during a conversation. For me, it’s the related story that I want to tell you, that thing that I think will show you that we have something in common and connect us.
“When we can embrace an attitude of trusting what is important will remain with us – that no immediate action is necessary – we can stay calm and simply listen.”
Wouldn’t that be nice? I tend to follow (and voice) every thought that comes into my head. I only recently noticed that. Not everything my brain throws into my path is useful. Maybe I should let some go?
Oh, man, here’s another one. “…we naturally remember meaning better than details, and meaning, for our purposes, exists in empathy – in sensing the feelings, beliefs, and experiences of others. Lucky for us, the brain remembers emotions quite well – better than details.”
In a conversation with a friend, the emotion is what is important. Hearing that my friend is stressed about her husband’s health, or that he is sad over his last date, is more important than what book I read that dealt with those subjects, or the story of how I got through something similar. If I can quiet my mind and stop trying to remember those stories and just be there, I’ll feel more connected to my friends.
A couple other ideas from this chapter that I’d like to remember.
Set aside time immediately after a conversation (lunch date or walk with a friend), to journal about what happened, how we felt, etc. I plan on doing this, but then feel awkward not leaving the parking lot of the restaurant. Maybe I can drive away but know that I’ll be stopping at the next McD’s to take a debriefing moment or two with my journal.
Not every thought is essential. Let some go. The good ones will come back around!
Patience and trust! Give others some space to speak. A quiet pause is ok. No one will die if there is a bit of space between words. I’ve been working on at home recently. I never realized how fearful I am of quiet until now. Even the possibility of being bored is avoided and there is no space between anything I do. I started with doing nothing else while I ate my meals, and journaling for a few minutes directly after. I can do something similar while on a lunch date with friends.
I’m only fifty-five pages into this book, my friends, and I’m thrilled to have picked it up. I want to devour it, but I know I’ll just lose all the good bits that I need. Patience and trust. Quiet. Stay present.
Love & Friendship by Allan Bloom called to me from the top shelf of my TBR pile. It’s just the kind of book I need right now, a long and intellectual treatise type of book on sex and relationships.
Snug in the middle of a stack of books far over my head, I didn’t have the patience to go get a step ladder to reach it. Instead, I stood on my tippy toes and pulled a few books off the stack with my fingers outstretched while my husband watched from his office chair.
I could hear his thoughts as I struggled, “Should I get up and help her? No…let’s see what happens.”
I didn’t drop them, not even a single one. So, there! I thought I would. Several times the thought of pausing a moment and getting some kind of help did cross my mind. But what can I say? I’m childish and impatient in most things, so I kept reaching and pulling books down a couple at a time until I got to the book I wanted.
This one is going to be fun. I read Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, at the beginning of our homeschool career fifteen years ago. Seeing the author’s name is what made me grab this one out of the free book pile back in December and add it to my TBR shelf to read this year.
Looking for a new book to read this week, my eye was immediately drawn to Love & Friendship because it’s a subject I’ve been agonizing a lot over the past couple of years. The past few weeks of having an empty nest have brought it even more to the forefront of my mind.
Once I had the book in my hand, I flipped it over for a bit more information. Is this the book I need to read right now?
“Allan Bloom argues that we live in a world where love and friendship are withering away. Science and moralism have reduced eros to sex. Individualism and egalitarianism have turned romantic relationships into contractual matters. Images of sexuality surround us, but we are unable to deal with the hopes and risks of intimacy.”
Yep. That sounds exactly what I need to be reading right now.
I read the introduction this morning and realize this will be a slower read than usual. My competitive spirit made me hesitate for a moment. If I read this, I may not read anything else this month. My number of books/pages will go down.
Screw statistics! This is where I need to be.
“Isolation, a sense of lack of profound contact with other human beings, seems to be the disease of our time.”
This was published in 1993, ladies and gentleman. Thirty years later, are we any closer to a solution or are we moving further from the sense of intimate community we once created to help us move out of the world of animals?
I’m looking forward to reading this in depth, but I’m also worried that it will depress me further to dwell on how far away from the ideal we have traveled. I’ve spent my adult life attempting to create a better world (in my home and personal relationships) for the people around me. I continue to try to make that circle a little larger, a little more intimate and emotionally close. Is anyone else out there making these efforts?
Love is complicated. We can’t possess people like we possess things. We can’t turn a key and make people love us the way we love them. The key to understanding love starts with loving yourself as a complete individual.
“It’s because I love you that I won’t. Love is hungry. Love is selfish.” “You’re thinking of possession.” He shrugs. “Are they so different? I have seen what humans do to things they love.” “People are not things,” she says. “And you will never understand them.”
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
I’m reminded of one my favorite stories here, The Phantom of the Opera. I always cry for the Phantom. He loves her, but she refuses him. Why? It’s not the ugly she can’t get around, it’s that he misunderstands love. He’s twisted and tortured into thinking possession is love. He twists and tortures her world in order to turn her toward him, to make her love him.
I always wondered what would happen if she decided to love him, despite his evil ways. Would it end up one of those “unconditional love changes people” stories?
That’s what Addie is trying to express here. The Darkness is so removed from humanity, (because he isn’t human), that he is incapable of understanding love.
Writing that I just thought this same thing could be said about the Lucifer character in the TV show. It’s part of why I loved it so much. There he was on earth with humans, learning about them in every conceivable way but love. Lucifer learns to experience love, what it means to be human.
Addie is right. He has confused love with possession, as most people do. That’s why he hasn’t been able to learn the difference. Examples of real love are few and far between. We should know and be able to practice the difference, but we rarely do. It’s easier to possess another than to love them.
Relationships are complicated and there’s so much to do. To experience real love (and not possession), we need to start with ourselves. And loving ourselves is no picnic.
I blogged about “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue” when I started reading it back in January. It certainly didn’t take me long to read it all. I couldn’t put it down! Have you read it? You can find it on Thriftbooks.com if you don’t have it. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments when you read it!
Do you solve your relationship problems with the wrong tools? I frequently do. It’s reactionary. I sense an issue and immediately reach toward the nearest tool. What can I do instead? Wait. Listen. And communicate. Sometimes things just need time.
“The trouble that broke up the Gordon Winships seemed to me, at first, as minor a problem as frost on a window-pane. Another day, a touch of sun, and it would be gone.
The Breaking up of the Winships by James Thurber
Imagine getting up one cold and wet winter workday morning. You come downstairs into the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee first thing. Thank god for coffee pots with timers! Make some toast, drink your coffee, while you stare out the window. Man, it looks cold out there. You glance at the clock, ugg…I better get moving.
Showered, shaved, and “dressed for success,” you grab your car keys as you open the front door and take that first step into the frosty air, only to find the car windshield covered in a heavy frost.
“I can’t drive it like this! What can I do?!”
You grab a hammer from the side of the yard where you were working on the fence over the weekend, walk back to the car and smash the windshield in, gummy tempered glass shards cascade down inside the car, covering the dashboard and seats with a glittery mess. You wipe it off with a mittened hand, letting loose a satisfied sigh.
“That’s better. I can see through it now.”
Only you can’t. There’s a reason that cars have windshields. By the time you get to work, you’re windblown and covered in dirt and ice.
No one in their right mind would do that. We all know that we’d wait for the sun to warm it if we had time, use the windshield wipers to clear it away, or get out the ice scraper in those colder climates where I still can’t believe people actually live. There is a myriad of logical ways to clear the frost and still have the comfortable use of your vehicle.
And yet that’s how we try to solve our relationship problems every day.
An old co-worker that used to like and comment on all your social media posts. A friend that used to call you every week for coffee. A lover that always brought a gift when he came to visit. Your partner seems to not be as excited to see you when you come to bed. Instead of having the patience to wait for a mood or situation to pass, instead of looking into the why and solving the mystery, we break the windshield and attempt to keep driving.
Communication is what’s missing from our relationships.
We all feel and react as if we are operating completely alone in this world. Each of us walking around in our own bubble of reality, believing that the beings that move in and out of our lives are simple non-playing characters in our game. What if we didn’t?
What if, instead, we began to take a breath and wait at first? We could observe, journal our thoughts for a bit. Maybe we’d find it was us that had brought on the frost. Our bad mood or busy schedule has made it difficult for our relationship to go as it had in the past. That can change. Maybe the other person is going through something. We could ask, take the initiative to spend some quality time finding what’s going on.
“I’ve noticed,” you say. “Is there something wrong? Is there something I could do?” And then you listen and respond.
We need our windshields intact to use our vehicles well, to get where we are going. We need our relationships the same way. Sure, we can survive without them, but it’s much more comfortable and safer if we have those people in our lives. Let’s learn to communicate instead of just breaking the windshield.
This book was filled was some wonderful short stories and memoir pieces that sparked my creativity and inspired my thinking. Want to read more? Go back to my first post about it, “The Thurber Carnival” by James Thurber.
If you want to read more about him and his work, check out his website James Thurber.org.
When you think of a walking meditation, you probably think of being alone with your thoughts, quiet contemplation, and frequent stops to just take a deep breath. Mine are something quite different.
I’m a noticer. Go for a walk with me anywhere and you’ll see it. Even in my own neighborhood, I walk along excitedly pointing out plants, animals, clouds, and…ideas. When I have things on my mind, which is always, walking helps me sort it out.
I don’t like to walk alone.
It’s the talking that I need, getting out of the metal loop. I need that the other human that will listen and bounce things back at me.
Yesterday I walked with a friend. We took “the longer route” around the neighborhood. I had things to sort out, conflict that need to be looked at and resolved.
We headed north down the dirt road. I pointed out the place where it floods every time it rains a lot, the kind of mud that you can’t drive through because the tires slip every which way in it when you attempt to climb the driveway. And it reminded me of the track my sons raced at that had that terrible river silt mud that would slip out from under your feet or get so deep it would suck your shoes off.
We met the dogs at the end of the road and I predicted their behavior. The one leaping and barking like she’ll eat you. Rottweilers seem so vicious behind a fence, like Cerberus guarding the gates of hell, until you’re invited inside, and they commence to loving you. The older Australian Shepard runs the length of the fence, chases her tail, runs back, chases again, barking the whole time. The two will get into skirmishes about who is doing a better job and chasing off the intruders, while two goats stand watching and wondering what all the excitement is about.
Making another turn, we find the abandoned razor scooter that has been laying there for several years. I still wonder how it got there. It’s a dirt road full of sandy ruts, not the place some kid would be riding it, accidently leaving it behind.
Dogs bark behind every fence we pass, rural alarm dogs. They warn us that someone is approaching the house, but it’s usually coyotes they are barking at. After a while, every owner knows the different barks. The visitor at the door, delivery truck, large bird, invading dog, coyote, all their barks are distinct. They’ve been doing that job long before surveillance cameras.
We keep walking and talking.
When one part of my brain is busy keeping my feet going in one direction, noticing and identifying all the mundane things around me, another part of me begins to relax and open up. Then I start to talk, ask questions, and listen to answers. My emotions take a slower, more regulated pace so that I can identify them and sort them out, then I can begin to respond instead of react to the things I’m feeling.
It’s a long walking meditation where the good stuff starts to happen.
The same part of me that makes me jump from the car screaming “Real prairie dogs!” is the same part that makes me scream, “You’re not the boss of me!” and “This is the worst day ever!”
Most people don’t tell you to tone your joyous reactions down. Some do, trust me. I’ve heard them. “You’re making us look bad, Michelle. Can’t you settle down?” “Try not to be too enthusiastic. It’s hard to keep up.” They are few and far between, but I know they are still out there. I see them at the grocery store when my sons and I are getting loud about the cost of an item or that there are no Vege Tables (more like Vege Stacks, my son says).
Almost anyone will tell you tone down your anger, frustration, or sadness.
They don’t want to see that part of you. And why is that? Why do we label one emotion as good and the other as bad? Why can’t I say, “I’m sad today and the whole world sucks ass!” without someone saying, “Don’t act like that!”?
I feel like I’ve spent my whole life being told that some emotions are negative and should be avoided. The result of that has been me not knowing what to do with those emotions. Like a small child with no place for the big emotions to go, I end up having a tantrum, yelling, and looking for ways to hurt others the same way I’m hurting.
“I need attention! Help me with this feeling!” I feel myself yelling in my head. What I get in return is a time-out. I’m left alone to deal with those feelings, and nothing gets resolved. I only hurt in quiet or lash out in anger for being a human being.
I don’t blame the people around me for doing it. We don’t know any other way. This is the way we raise our children, and this is the adult behavior we get from it. You end up being good at being alone with your “bad” feelings, avoid them, or start using coping mechanisms to deal with it. None of them are healthy.
Raising my own children through Peaceful Parenting methods (and I can hear people that know me laughing at ME using the word “peaceful”) helped me notice where I lacked in relating to other people. Finding Radical Unschooling, helped me learn new ways of learning. Both approaches to raising children have changed how I develop my adult relationships.
Michelle, you’re doing it again. What does this have to do with going for a walk with a friend?
Everything! Walking with my family is the way we made time and space for the big emotions that lead to the deep conversations and connections. The longer and easier the walk the better. Now that my children are grown and on their own, I’m more focused on my adult relationships and that’s where the walking meditation comes in.
I’ve been doing it for years, but this past weekend is when I noticed the connection. We had a lot on our minds to talk about but never found the time. We’re always doing something or going somewhere. I instinctively asked for a long walk and while we were walking, it dawned on me what was happening and now I can use the process deliberately.
When I ask a friend to go hiking with me, I’m asking them to make time and space for connection. I’m saying, “Let’s talk. I know we all have things we need to get off our minds.” It’s better than a cup of coffee or a few beers. It’s focused “us” time with a bonus of exercise!
Hot Tip:If there’s some reason you can’t walk; weather, health, etc., try a driving tour. It works the same way.
“A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm, but the tree can’t grow strong roots just as the storm appears on the horizon.”
The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
How do get those strong roots? By building healthy habits every day. We prepare for the coming storms, because we know they are coming even when the sky is clear and the air is warm. Suffering is inevitable: an illness will find you, someone will die, a relationship will end, you’ll lose a job, a natural disaster will hit where you live. The list goes on and on forever.
What can we do?
Grow deep and healthy roots.
We read and study, exercise, eat healthy to prepare for the coming storms. We work, budget, and save money for the future. We do preventative maintenance on our homes and vehicles so that they continue to work well for us. We learn to communicate and bond with others in new ways so that our relationships can last longer.
We should always be growing and learning, creating more intricate and developed support systems.
Healthy and communicative relationships help you prepare for the future. Each time we successfully navigate a new relationship, build on a current one, or transition from one kind to another, we learn about ourselves and become stronger for the next stage of our lives.
Parenting is another way we prepare for the future. Building a strong and stable family that loves and supports children as they grow their own roots is the best way to contribute to a happier future generation. Your children are born growing. They instinctively know what they need. Follow their lead.
Giving your children the home and safety that you wanted as a child, helps you re-parent yourself and grow those roots you feel you were lacking. In this way, each generation can build on the last.
Strong roots are built by healthy habits.
Strong healthy roots are developed intentionally over long periods of time. The deeper and more intricate they are, the more likely we are to weather the storms of life and create happiness for ourselves and those around us.
“Only the person who has faith in himself is able to be faithful to others, because only he can be sure that he will be the same at a future time as he is today and, therefore, that he will feel and act as he now expects to.”
Loving others starts with having faith in yourself.
We simply lived without school. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t learn. The outcome proves that.
My sons are both out on their own, living productive lives. One traveled Europe, and now has a good job with potential for growth, along with his own car and apartment. He’s 20 years old. The other has been at community college here in town for two years, working, and has his own car. He’s transferring to university next semester and will be leaving the state to live in the dorm and focus on his studies for the next couple of years.
What did we do instead of school?
Our faith in our own drive to learn led me to believe my children had that same drive.
We lived and learned together. We read books, watched movies, built things, went places. We talked and laughed and loved together. We cried and fought, worked things out as best we could so that everyone had their space and got as much as they wanted without stepping on anyone else’s toes. I rarely said no to things they wanted to try out. I spent a lot of time searching for new experiences, and then making it possible to do them. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
I had faith in them from the moment they were born. I knew myself and so did their father. We didn’t need an authority to guide, protect, and direct our lives. What we wanted more of growing up was less direction and more support, so that’s what we gave our kids. We knew they would find their own unique way to adulthood if we gave them a loving and supportive home, if we led by example and followed our own interests, served our own needs, without sacrificing anyone else’s lives in the process.
I had faith in them because I had faith in myself.
And I have faith in others because I have that faith in myself. I know that others can take responsibility for themselves and their families if they want to. I’m not special. My family is not special. We are not more intelligent or lucky than anyone else. The only thing that is different is that, for some reason, we have faith in ourselves.
Real love starts with you loving yourself, believing in yourself, and taking responsibility for your own life. And no one can give that to you. I believe all of us have the ability, but somewhere along the line we have lost the knowledge of it.
“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence joyous.”
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
When we give, we do not deprive ourselves of anything, we enhance our lives from our abundance, and it comes back to us as joy.
Most importantly, we cannot give what we do not have.
That’s something to remember when you love someone, but they don’t seem to be loving you back the way you wish they would. Everyone loves in the way that they can, unconsciously. They give from what they have. If they feel they have little, they give little. It’s up to you whether you accept their offering of love and continue the relationship, or not.
Love is not a tit-for-tat thing.
We give of our time, our energy, our love, and our finances, voluntarily. When our cup is full and we know it, we feel it, we can’t help but share of it. It cannot be forced or coerced, and it never needs to be.
One little thing that I have to say, though, is that making a law, enacting a tax, using the force of government to make other people share what they have is not love. It’s a lack of faith in humanity, and it spreads that lack of faith. Ultimately, nothing good comes of it. It creates animosity and forces people to take sides against each other.
“The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering.”
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
Let me start by saying, as I did in my monthly “What in the World is She Reading” newsletter, that I got so much out of this little book and I’m still processing it. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says. Some of it was a bit to “far out” for me. But, wow, there was a lot of usable material here. I know…I promised only to post a few pieces per book but this one is going to be hard to narrow down. I took so many notes!
Do you consider love something you work at doing well?
Or is it something that you “fall into” and passionately experience?
Fromm believes they are two different things and I think I agree. There is that immediate attraction to another human that is based on hormones, pheromones, and instinct. And then there is the higher cerebral order that humans are capable of, that of actively loving people. I think we confuse the two, and debase or idolize one or the other, on a regular basis.
Like Fromm, I believe we should be putting more of our energy into cultivating the art of love.
What’s crazy is that we have to define what we mean by “love” since we don’t have separate words for different kinds. Why is that? Why do we lump so many different ideas into one word and then expect everyone around us to know what we’re talking about? Doesn’t that create chaos?
I say to my children, my husband, by friend, the kid that makes my sandwich just right, “I love you!” That’s crazy. What happened? Where did our words go?