Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"No"

This is my first blogoversary. Actually, I missed it; my first post ever was on November 26, 2007.


This blog is one manifestation of a need for introspection that actually started long before there was even blogging. But about a year before I started it and continuing to this day there has been a need that has been so intense I've found it nearly painful to be doing anything else.

Mrs. Spit talked about the 'binary nature' of suffering. This reminds me of something I heard on the radio as I was driving somewhere. The speaker said that basically humans are binary creatures; at the very core of our being and interactions with others is a 'yes', or 'no' decision.

For several years I've had few whole-hearted 'YES"s. Among the few is writing in my journal, writing here, reading the reflections of other bloggers, solitude. Most of my 'yes's have been in the "if I have to" category. Dutifully cheerfully if cheer is part of the "have to". Yes, I'll drive some kids on a field trip. Yes, I'll read with a child at school on a regular basis. Yes, I'll volunteer in Scott's classrooms on Wednesdays. Yes, I'll meet a friend for coffee.

And YES I'll feed this place inside that needs silence, and solitude, and reflection.

But I just realized that there's a deeper application of yes/no.

I guess it started a couple summers ago when my mother in law hurt her back and wasn't going to be able to go to Alaska to see her granddaughter get married. She'd given Gary the money to buy her ticket and asked me if I'd take it. The seats were not transferable, and the price was non-refundable. When I called to inform her of this she was crushed to learn that go or not, she was forfeiting the $600 or so that was the price of the ticket.

I was crushed too, because Gary was planning to take the boys, and I was going to be home alone for 5 days. This was to be my island of sanity in the shipwreck of summer vacation. Gary had booked flights on 2 planes, one for her and Scott, one for himself and Connor. If she didn't go, neither would Scott. And of the two, he needed the most from me; and I most needed the break from being needed. She realized this, and asked if it was my "depression" that made me want to have time away from the kids. "Wouldn't most mothers, if plans changed and they had to be with their children, be glad to be with their children and not be disappointed?" She actually did say that, and beneath the words was the undercurrent that told me she was spoiling for a fight. What enabled me to sidestep the bait was a realization: a Feeling is a Feeling. It's not subject to 'shoulds'. Someone could just as easily be telling her that her back "shouldn't" be hurting. So I was able to tell her the Truth, without rancor: "Well, no one can tell another person how they 'should' feel in their body. And if someone is looking forward to something, it's normal to feel disappointed if plans change."

It laid the groundwork for me, to realize that the bald message behind the question is: "You should feel something different from what you are feeling. A normal mother would not feel disappointed. You should be a different mother."

It's sort of an obvious lesson, that a feeling is a feeling and not subject to the same rules as those for behavior. But I think that's the first time I understood this on a visceral level.

So fast forward a few years later when I've got Scott enrolled in a school that involves a commute. I try to set up a carpool, and some families express interest. As we start going through the process of mulling over schedules and looking for the shape of things, one family has a need to step up the pace of the decision-making process. In essence, they're asking that their urgency become our urgency, that the timing to get it set up be adjusted upward to fit their need for speed. They need a ride two days a week to an afterschool care for their 3 kids.

In the meantime, I'm intensely involved in Scott's special education process, and when I start to prepare him for the idea of riding with someone else some days, he adamantly balks. As we've been having some quality time in the car together riding to school, I decide to just go with that and withdraw from carpool participation. I offered to take this one family's 3 kids, though, one day a week, to the after care. It seemed like a nice thing to do, and not difficult, since they're not terribly far out of the way of my route home. I did reflect a bit on a sort of imbalance in the system, since I wouldn't be participating in the benefits of carpooling, and set my mind to do it anyway.

I don't know what they worked out for the other days of the week with the other families. I just get the kids to daycare on Wednesdays, as I've been doing throughout the month of November.

Yesterday I found an email from this family. It was to the general carpool group but essentially asking me if I'd take the kids on Mondays too.

This is an opportunity to reflect on a Bigger Picture of when people want something different. At the very basis of this is the question of whose will shall prevail? On a macro scale it looks like, "Who gets the bigger piece of cake?" Do I deny myself, or you? What it comes down to is whether my priorities and self-interest is going to be subordinate to yours, or yours to mine. A choice.

If we don't have a 'good reason' to deny the Other their will, there seems to be a strong pressure to acquiesce. If my reason would not hold up in a court of law, then I am obliged to comply.

When I examine this further, I see the components of this dynamic are thus: "Because I don't want to" is not a good reason. "Because I don't want to and-nothing-else" implies selfishness. An unadorned (with 'good reasons') "because-I-don't-want-to" is flying in the face of what 'should' be. I should be an open-hearted person. I should be a person who is generous. I should be a person who gives and expects nothing in return. And I should not feel reluctant. If I am reluctant that's being a person I should not be. I will override my reluctance, since it is preventing me from attaining the state of being this generous person.

OK, so there is this 'person' I'm 'supposed to be' and a person I am not (supposed to be). If I see the situation from the perspective of the other party involved, I see me as someone who is driving in a certain direction anyway, who has plenty of room in her rig. I see that I have a need, and there seems to be no reason to deny it.

Back to my own perspective where I realize what a reflexive thing it's been to see the world through other perspectives besides my own. I see in some ways it's a gift, yet it's two-edged. Because while I've been willing to see a situation from another's perspective, no one has been willing to see situations from mine. Or, I've been surrounded by people who simply didn't have the ability to take anOther's perspective. So this hasn't really been a level playing field.

Yes, and No.

When I look further beneath the Guardian at the Gate of thinking of myself as 'Selfish", when I see that there's a sort of general human consensus of this person we should not be, I find a calm place. There is a place deeper than this person I should not be. Instantly it's calmer. All the turbulence is caused by the anxiety of trying to avoid this specter. I see a place where there is Yes, or No.

Another component of the turbulence is the need to 'defend' myself from the specter, prevent it from being attached to me. This defense can take the form of denying it, overriding it, making excuses, or making the other person wrong for asking for something. Or defending myself in advance from their disappointment and possible anger. In the Deeper Place all that falls away. There is Yes, or No. And, No, all by itself is enough. It's its own reason. If pressed to answer, "Why not?" I can say, because at the heart of my being, that's What Is.

So the reply I sent to Holli and the message group was that for now I'm going to stick with the schedule I've got, and maybe increase participation later when Scott is more able to participate.

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Updated:

P.S.

My cuz planted her foot in my nether parts in my comments several months ago. Just wanted to give credit to the inspiration and thought that's gone into this post. I've been thinking about it for months, Lori!

6 comments:

Aunt Becky said...

Wow. Humans as binary beings. Totally interesting concept. This whole post was totally great to read, so happy blog-versary and I'm so pleased to have met you.

Lori said...

I'm so rarely an a$$-kicker. I kind of enjoy it!

You have an amazing ability to see through another's eyes and empathize. I think that is probably what makes you a really good mom, and something I so admire about you.

Good job with your email to Holli. The pool of "good reasons" is growing!

excavator said...

Hi, Aunt Becky! Thank you, and I'm very pleased to have met you too.

Oh, Lori, are you getting a taste for this? Soon you'll be wearing cowboy boots and a fierce expression. Time for me to find a pillow I can shove down my pants.

(Thanks. For all my whining about parenting, it's so important to me to do well by my boys. Eventually they'll have to be the judges of that, but for now the encouragement of other mothers gives me strength.

Mrs. Spit said...

This left me thinking. What if the yes and no is also us looking at another person and saying "yes, you are like me" or "No, you are not."

And how does our tendency to look at what we would do, look at how we would act, assume that is right, and judge others based on this. How much we assume that those like us are "right" and "good" and those not like us are "bad" and "dangerous".

I wonder how many of our interactions are based on this? When we say no, and that no forces us to confront that we are "other" to someone else, something happens to a relationship. Perhaps if we are smart, something happens to ourselves.

When I think of a situation with a set of friends, where I looked at their conduct, and objected to how it affected me, and I listened to their feelings saying "you thought we were horrible because we did X", and I was left thinking, "well, yes, I did. You are so much not like me, and your values are so totally different, and I'm left not sure what to do."

I wonder how much of our struggles with others result from our iron incomprehension to understand that we are all different, all unlike each other.

I'm re-reading CS Lewis' Problem of Pain, and he talks about the failure of our society as rooted in our insistence as kindness, where we mistake feelings for kindness. And then we are surprised when someone intersects with us and prevents us from going where we want, and then we struggle because we no longer feel kind.

This was thought provoking. It's one of the many things I appreciate about you - out of your need for solitude, you present these wonderful gems, that leave me thinking and pondering and wondering. The ability to reason and cause others to think is a rare thing in our microwave convenience, bigger, better, faster, more type of world. Thank you for sharing it.

Happy Blogoversary.

Martha said...

Happy Blogoversary and I will thank Lori for sending me over.
Wow, Great post, and yes, I am embracing the Power of No.
and that feelings are just that, feelings and thankfully don't last forever.
I have faith that folks can figure stuff out without me. Also, learned, no good deed goes unpunished, right?

excavator said...

Very interesting thought from C.S. Lewis, Mrs. Spit, as well as the expansion on "No."

I think "No" may be the very beginning of distinguishing ourselves from others when we are very young. If our developmental task is differentiation, then that "No" is the first understanding of 'not-me'.

What usually happens when a child says "no"? My parents treated it as disrespect and it was clear I was not to tell them No. I'm sure I'm not the only one who had this experience. Intended or not, it does create a confusion about whether or not it is ok to distinguish ourselves. And certainly disagreement in our culture ('not-me') is often cause for discomfort. So I agree there is strong pressure socially to not dissent. There is strong pressure to override "no". I wonder if that's what Lewis meant.

And, thank you! I sure appreciate you too.

Thank you for stopping by, Martha. LOL on the 'no good deed unpunished' comment. I have a feeling if I'd had this epiphany a few weeks ago I would have withdrawn completely from the carpool and not offered to drive the kids on Wednesdays. Where are my epiphanies when I need them!