The Dharma of Conflict

I am currently working with what feels like a sea of disharmony in regards to my inter-personal relationships, and also in some larger contexts as well. And through this challenging time I am learning a lot about myself. I’m also learning a lot about conflict and how there are different types of conflict and different ways to approach it, work with it, and transform it depending on the situation and the person with who I am experiencing disharmony with.

As I’ve been intentionally working on dismantling what I call my mode of “over-caretaking” for the past 2-years, I feel as though the turbulent waters I am swimming in are very much related to this work as sort of a next-leg-of-the-journey sort of deal – a leveling up into advanced practice, if you will. In short, my brand of “over-caretaking” involves trying to meet people where they’re at to the detriment of my own truth, needs, and/or well-being. It involves me trying to go above and beyond what makes reasonable and good sense in order to alleviate or manage other people’s feelings of upset or discomfort. While I am very much interested in remaining sensitive and tuned in to people’s needs in order to be of skillful support, I am working on finding a balance to ensure that I am able to do so without compromising my own needs. It’s been a fruitful practice – and I am very much still in the learning process.

I’m coming to understand how very many different ways conflict can show up and manifest – which also means there are many different ways in which to work with it. There is no one right or particular way to be in relationship with conflict. Some conflicts will never be fully resolved or come to a place of complete closure. Some conflicts are terribly difficult to untangle because the other person involved is unable or unwilling to participate in engaging in open dialog. Some conflicts will fade over time while others can linger for years. Some conflicts point to a need for direct and honest communication and others point to a need to distance one self from certain individuals in an act of self-care. Some conflicts require silence and personal reflection before speaking and others require using our voice in the moment. Some conflicts can be tended to and resolved all on our own and others need to be worked through directly with the other person we’re in disharmony with.

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The importance of reading hard books

There are some books I read because I really don’t want to (like the one I’m seen holding in the pic above). Books that are hard on the heart. Books that need to be written and read by those of us who don’t have a frame of reference or personal experience to add to a particular chorus of people who are suffering, struggling in shadows of silence to the detriment of us all.

There are some books I read because I am interested in being an agent of change in my world-sphere, and an agent of kindness and goodness that resonates throughout space and time; because I am deeply invested in doing my best to keep my love-light shining like a beacon in the darkness.

There are some books I read because not to read them is akin to a kind of death, a sterilization technique where I tell myself I don’t have the time or that reading is only for entertainment or intellectual learning. But I say this: what are words tossed on a page, bound into a book, if not a direct telling of a hard and terrible truth we are not permitted to voice aloud or able to hear with the same ears that subscribe to the old adage ignorance is bliss?

It’s like this: I can either further my jacked-up ego by never pushing myself to grow or I can intentionally choose to face discomfort for the betterment of my people.

Here’s to the books that tow a hard-freaking line; the books no one wants to read for fear of shaking our complacent world view up like a snow-globe; the books that will disrupt our inner matrix, resulting in the inevitable crisis of conscience: how do I dissent from the norm and rally against the system, without descending into an ocean of cynicism and despair?

 

52-Weeks of Thank You’s

For those of you who are a much appreciated devoted follower here, you might recall that each January, in lieu of New Year’s Resolutions (which I’ve never been a big fan of), I adopt 2 or 3 new mindfulness-based practices to weave in throughout my calendar year, which I then switch out for new practices the following January.

This past January, one of my new mindfulness practices was to embark upon an exercise that I read about on the Random Acts of Kindness website: 52-Weeks of Thank You’s.

The concept is pretty self-explanatory: each week, I craft a thank you letter/note/card to someone. I’ve been including friends, family members, and also local businesses and organizations. I’ve done a total of 44 thank you’s thus far, with this week marking week #45 of 2019.

I made labels to affix to each card (see pic above) and my personal commitment was to not send these thank you’s via the less personal route of email but to instead write them out by hand and send them in the U.S postal mail, putting some love into the dwindling art of letter writing.

This practice has been quite an interesting new road I’ve been traveling on, with some weeks harder than others to drum up my next person/business to send a thank you to. Still, even when it’s been a bit challenging or I’ve had the thought Oh man, I have another thank you card to do already? Didn’t I just do that?! angling myself in the direction of sending direct thank you’s to people and businesses has been nourishing to my own sense of connectedness.

Over the years, I’ve invested in a number of different gratitude-strengthening practices and this is what I’ve discovered for myself personally: the more I practice seeing and touching gratitude in my life, the more I see and touch more reasons to be grateful – and the stronger my sense of gratitude becomes, the more joy and ease and sense of connection I feel as a result.

Applying Mindfulness to Systemic Challenges

If you’re interested in checking out this free online series, click here.

I just watched the doc film Feminists: What Were They Thinking on Netflix. I felt the film was well-done, educational, eye-opening, and inspiring.

Here’s a quote I wrote down from the film that I think all of us unpaid/low-paid creative/artistic/musical humans, community builders, change agents, and social activists would do well to hear and take to heart (over and over and over again):

“When you are doing something you love, it’s like throwing a rock in the pool because that love is hitting the pool and starts radiating out. And so, when you’re doing something that you love and sharing it with other human beings, you are doing something of benefit.”

– Meredith Monk
(American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer)

It’s worth mentioning that I watched the film as an intentional act of stepping outside of my comfort zone. When I’m confronted with the word feminist in any context, even if a dear friend of mine calls them self one proudly in a conversation we’re having together, I bristle and energetically and/or physically back away.

I hope this is assumed but just in case it’s not: it’s not that I’m against equal rights for women or feel as though as women we shouldn’t be rallying our voices or stepping into our own power. My issue has to do with the labeling and declaration of being a feminist. And to be clear, this just doesn’t just apply to feminism. I bristle at labels that I judge have an inherent quality of me-against-you mentality built in. If a word used for describing one self or a group of people ends in -ist or -ism there’s a good chance it makes me uncomfortable. I’m not saying this is a good idea or right, I’m simply being honest with where my inner processing is at and the judgements that come up for me.

For example, if I were asked to describe myself using single words, I would never include vegetarian in the mix or even Buddhist. In my view, these words have a high potential to cause separation and propel a certain level of me-against-you self-righteous energy. They are also relatively meaningless categories and distinctions when it comes to conveying who I really am. Labels can be dangerous and degrading. They serve to keep us tucked away in a certain box – and when we use them on our self, we limit our potential and our own power to shine forth our true nature.

I appreciate documentary films that afford me the opportunity to see things differently and gain a new perspective by way of hearing the personal stories of others. This was one such film. And it’s not that I now feel called to label myself a feminist but I do have some fresh grist for the mill, which I appreciate.

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The Dragons

The dragons, standing outside of their first apartment

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I thought temporarily about keeping this room a mausoleum in his honor; a room that even though he was no longer residing in would stand a testament to his place in the world as forever our son. For a few months it stood as he left it and we were content to carry on as we’d grown accustomed to in rarely entering it.

But as I’m not keen on going limp in an effort to make it harder for the future to usher me forward, after a suitable period of mourning his departure, I decided it was time to rebrand his childhood room.

And it’s in here that I am putting pen to paper right now on this gray autumnal Saturday, the opening day of hunting season. Save for a bit of itchiness of energy, I’m enjoying this slow burning day.

His dragon puzzle we glued together, after realizing its completion was a hard won victory we never wanted to repeat, still hangs on the day-glow orange wall, a color he chose when one year for his birthday we gifted him with a room makeover. There’s a PAC-man poster and a Yoda sticker by the light switch. Save for these wall hangings, his bed and a few other small trinkets, it’s all that remains of his 15-year long reign.

Now, Mike’s chain mail and our collective books line the shelves and my writing desk sits facing the south wall.

In less than 2-weeks, in the same year we both turned 40 and my mom turned 60, he’ll turn 20.

I’m glad not to be one of those kinds of parents fixated on reliving the past, unable to meet my stepson where he’s at and for who he is right now. I’m glad I’m not the sort to utter such common phrases as: remember when… and you used to be so _____ when you were younger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a work in progress when it comes to figuring out this new life phase and how best to show up for and with an adult for a stepson. I’m still locating my place in the world of things. But I’m glad to be invested in the process and I trust I will find my footing over time. I reckon it will be like most things: akin to tuning a guitar. My best approach is not to be too loose or too tight but to locate an in between harmony.

One step we’ve taken is to stop referring to our son and his girlfriend, who share an apartment together a few blocks away, as “the kids.” Around the house, we now affectionately call them, “the dragons.”

Don’t ask me how we came up with dragons. There’s no backstory to share. All I know is that it’s working to help us in the process of letting go. And my growing sense is: letting our children go, with love, support and an open door, is one of the best offerings we can give them.

 

Aspiration of Virtues

To have but not possess;
to lead but not control;
to love without holding on too tight;
to do work worth doing without comparing
or competing or praise-seeking;
to know when to act and when to rest;
to know when to speak and when not to;
to be confident but not arrogant,
strong but not rude,
kind but not weak,
humble but not timid –
there are the virtues I aspire to nourish in myself.
To hold steady onto when the whole world shakes,
or I’m standing alone,
or I’m surrounded by the masses,
or the day is calm and clear and uneventful.

Wells of Wisdom

Over the past few days, I’ve interacted with a number of various wells of wisdom. I so gratefully appreciate the digital age we are in and the easy access we are afforded to so many  wisdom teachers and teachings.

I participated in the Being & Doing Summit, a 5-day free online event that featured over 25 spiritually or mindfully based teachers covering a myriad of topics. I am currently taking an online 6-week course on Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness with PhD, writer, and educator David Treleaven. I’ve been watching workshop clips and talks on YouTube given by Marshall Rosenberg, developer of NVC (non-violent communication). And I’ve been watching Dharma talks online, given by monastics in my Buddhist tradition.

And thanks to online ordering – after a failed attempt to locate a particular book locally – I received a used copy of Dream Work by Mary Oliver in the mail just a couple of days ago. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite wisdom teachers.

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