This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
A quick preface to this one – it grew out of being a written response to a comment left on my blog. And it grew in unexpected directions. I will preface my sharing with the comment that provoked it (and with a deep gratitude for the provocation) –
John, re: your article Quintessence
I was struck by your perception of the field photo having both a sense of solitude and comfort. I think the sense of comfort comes from the presence of the fences. Even though the picture evokes solitude, the fences suggest a sense of control, of other people near enough so that the solitude doesn’t feel like a prison.
I like a lot of solitude, but I like to be able to choose it.
“We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.” Carl Jung was so right. The trick is to recognize those selves, even those selves that dark and unpleasant.
I have not yet seen the film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but I did read the James Thurber story, which to my way of thinking is a comic tragedy. I think so many of us are Walter Mitty, some more, some less; the world trains us to be so. From the beginning, we are taught to surrender to other’s expectations. As children we are taught to obey rules not because they make any sense to us but because our obedience makes life so much easier for others. Our parents encourage us not to follow our dreams, but to get good jobs, marry the right person, and most of all not to embarrass them.
The review of the movie suggests they gave it a happy ending that I don’t think James Thurber meant. In the story, Walter doesn’t change, he just continues.
I feel very attached to the Red Warrior. I need to risk vulnerability.
In response –
I really wanted to personally respond to the comments you made on the Quintessence piece I shared because it really meant a lot to me.
I thought your observation on the field and the fence was simply brilliant. I didn’t pick up on that for myself but the second I saw your comment I realized it was absolutely true. Perhaps you missed your calling as a counseling psychologist? I tested it for myself by mentally removing the fence and you know what? It proved your point. If I imagine that same field without the fence there, I lose the comfort factor. The space becomes too wide open and is no longer “defined”. I lose that control. How fascinating! And honestly, that’s exactly what I do with respect to people. I found, last week, that after two days of being snow bound, I was starting to get a little cabin fever. But when I go back to work, I appreciate the solitude / refuge of my office, while feeling comforted by knowing that people and activity is occurring right outside the walls of my office. So you nailed that aspect of my life perfectly. I do the same thing is coffee shops and restaurants. I enjoy the comfort of people being around, and I get to choose how much I want to interact, or not, with people. Just having that background around me is comfort enough, but I still maintain my boundaries, i.e., my fences. A perfect analogy all around. So I thank you, Raymond Freud!
I also loved your follow-up on the Carl Jung quote. I kind of missed it as being buried somewhere in there, but when you pulled it out to isolate it – the significance of the statement is rather stark and pronounced (and profound). Perhaps what we seek in others, and particularly the ones with whom we wish to share a part of the journey of our lives, is someone who closely mirrors ourselves. I know that was certainly true with Laureen. I always felt comfortable being with her, and around her, because we were absolutely mirrors of each other. She would often say that we were peas in a pod. I deeply appreciated that feeling of familiarity that I had with her. Oh, we still had our differences, but by and large we really were peas in a pod and I think it creates a sense of validation for each person to be connected to another in that fashion. I understand, and appreciate, that some people are driven to take the opposite tack of forming their relationships with their opposite. Whether they see that as a challenge, or as a compliment to their own personal shortcomings and therefore a way of shoring up those aspects of their own lives that feel “less than”, I cannot say. I guess I don’t roll that way. I like that feeling of validation that comes from being in relationship with someone who is on the same wavelength. I think there is less struggle in that sense and it allows each person to simply be who they are and to know that they will be accepted for that. I suppose to some degree it lessens the need for a power struggle, or at least reduces the potential for there being a power struggle, when, and if, you are in relationship with someone who is your opposite.
Re. Walter Mitty – I have not read the story, nor seen the early movie version (1947). While the Stiller version did have an ending that was satisfying, I can’t say that it was a happy ending. For me the satisfaction was that he grew from the experience. He learned something. I think that is an important message for me, and again, a validation of sorts. When Laureen died – I did not ask myself, “Why did this happen to me?” Hell, it didn’t even happen to me – it happened to her so I understood that it would be extraordinarily selfish of me to even ask that question. What I did ask myself is, “What do I learn from this experience? What are the lessons I am meant to learn?” In this sense I am trying to honor Laureen’s experience by accepting that it was “her” experience and that I bore witness to it. And I also realize that it is, in some manner, her final, and greatest gift to me. That realization came to me one day, rather suddenly, and immediately brought tears and they were tears of both grief but also tears of acceptance of the profoundness of her act of dying and of the Sacredness of trusting me to be there for her, to take care of her, and to finally have to release that thing, that person, whom I loved most in life. She entrusted me with all of that and somehow in doing that, she gave to me the courage to be with her and to love her and to cry with her and do all the things we had to do as she prepared to die. I cannot really fully speak to the depth of that experience. I am still processing it. But she taught me that to fear life, to fear living, to fear doing that which in your heart you know you truly want to do, is such an utter waste of the precious time we are afforded in this lifetime. She made the most of every minute of those last few months of her life and they were not glorious, action-filled moments. They were small moments. She always told me, and repeatedly told me, that it is the small things that are the big things. I would always be dreaming up these fancy trips and these grand intimate moments in restaurants, and for her it was never about that at all. She simply wanted to be with me. To sit out on our deck, to enjoy the sun on her face, and watch all her bird friends come by for a visit. She took great pleasure in all of that. It was real to her. The rest was fluff – window-dressing, distractions created for the young souls. For her, just being in the world, being fully present and aware in each moment – that was what mattered. That was what was real. Somehow, that is the message in Walter Mitty that I discovered and I guess I now know why I am interested in that movie – because it touches upon Laureen’s philosophy of how one might live an authentic life – by being present in each moment and by understanding that your presence is not somehow separate from the moment, separate from Life itself, but how each of us is truly the quintessence of life, unfolding in each moment. I think that is her gift to me. In her act of dying, and even in death itself, in that moment when I knew she was gone, she was still such a beautiful, beautiful spirit. She passed from this world with a grace and a beauty that only she could have pulled off – authentic and at peace with the moment.
And now you, my dear friend, have opened the door for me to a much deeper understanding of the lesson for me that was contained in my beautiful Laureen’s passing. I have not been able to bring it this close to the surface before and now I understand better. I knew there was the seed of something in what you had shared with me – which is why I felt like I had to sit with it and let the seed germinate – how fitting with yesterday be Imbolc. Laureen no doubt has a hand in all of this and I see her sitting beside me, smiling and happy with the hope that there may yet be some salvation for my soul in this iteration of my life.
Finally, on your connection to the Red Warrior – it is the same for myself. This concept of vulnerability feels important to me. I had an interesting meeting with a woman this past weekend who facilitates workshops called The Daring Way (content created by Brene Brown) and we talked for a couple of hours about different things. I will be attending her all-day workshop next month. Of course, I have been living the vulnerability path for the past, well, almost two years now. Indeed – two years and one day. It was on February 1, 2013, a Friday evening at 8 PM, that we got the phone call from Laureen’s doctor to tell us that Laureen had cancer, or, as she put it then, a large tumor in her liver. Our lives literally changed forever in that one moment of time. So I have been walking the path of vulnerability for two years now, and much more deeply over the past year since Laureen passed away. Interestingly, during my conversation with this woman on what to expect out of her workshop, I discovered that there is another level underlying vulnerability and that is shame. And I knew there was some attraction to me for all of this – like, there is something that I am supposed to do or learn here. And a part of it is about vulnerability and about learning how to be vulnerable and accepting that as a part of me. But that underlying structure of shame, well now, that is a whole different animal and I realized that’s what I am supposed to be learning about through this person. It is one thing to accept vulnerability, but a whole different thing when it comes to shame. And yet shame has great power over our lives and has the ability to create huge blocks in our lives which derail us from realizing our true potential and block us from truly following our purpose and passions in life. So, I just thought I’d throw that out to you and see if it resonates on some level.
I thank you most deeply for shedding some light into a room that I knew existed but that I did not know how to enter. You have helped me to clarify some things that I did not have the language, or the words for, until now. As in all things, it is an unfolding process of learning, and understanding and accepting.