Allowing Others To Be As They Are

This is me crafting a response to a friend that I thought might prove helpful to post here as well. Recently, a friend approached me inquiring about how I was able to manage the ability to stop trying to control my husband. She had spoken to my husband, Mike, and learned that one of the components in his journey of getting clean and sober 5 years ago, while simultaneously healing from a long bout of depression, involved the work I was doing on myself, centered around, among other things, letting go of being so controlling.

With the crucial support of Alanon (a 12-step group aimed at helping people who have loved ones struggling with addiction), I was able to learn a key element in regards to how to cultivate my own sense of deep-rooted joy and happiness, which was to detach from Mike with love. Detaching with love was an alien concept at first. I was clumsy around it and fumbled with it for a while as I tried to understand what it meant, in a real-life application sort of way. But I slowly started to figure it out, using a slightly adapted version of the Serenity Prayer as a guiding principle along the way (see my own re-worded iteration above).

It is my opinion that most of us do not really and truly know that we are not in the position to change other people. I think we have an intellectual grasp that we cannot change others, but when it comes down to it, we think we’re right and others are wrong on a routine basis. And as long as we think our way of doing things is the right way –  maybe even the ONLY way – then we will continue to try to assert control over others, especially those closest to us, in an effort to get them to change.

5 years ago, the work I was doing on myself could be summed up with this statement: I was learning how to take responsibility for the quality of my own well-being. One of the biggest pieces of doing this work involved coming to see how much I heaped the quality of my well-being onto Mike. How oftentimes my mood depended on his. How I allowed his actions to affect my attitude and outlook. I came to see that as long as my mood, disposition, attitude, and outlook relied on his, I was powerless. If I was needing him to be a certain way in order for me to be a certain way, I was going to be miserable, and stay that way.

I’ll take the issue of cleanliness, as an easy and workable example. I am someone who greatly appreciates, and on some level really needs, a sense of spacial orderliness and cleanliness. However, one look through the window into his truck cab, and you would clearly see that my husband could care less about such things. I spent years and years being the sort of wife who mastered the common and destructive patterns of being passive-aggressive: huffing and puffing my way around him picking up dishes and dirty clothes, stomping around on my way to take out the trash or mow the lawn, and washing dishes or cleaning the house with the manic energy of the Tasmanian Devil. And, of course, no master passive-aggressive would be complete without having their own well-cultivated Tone of Voice, indicating to those that know them best to Watch the F*** Out. I remember my mom’s Tone of Voice while growing up. Like mother like daughter.

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On Relationships


I’d like to start off by saying that this post will be on relationships in the broader sense of the word.  Sometimes when we hear the word relationship we think of only romantic based ones.  But the type of relationships I’ll be referring to involve a multitude of different types from friendships to family members and from co-workers to casual acquaintances.

My husband Mike and I gave a joint talk at our sangha last night – these were the notes I put together in preparation for it:

Last summer Mike and I went to Glacier National Park to attend a wedding there.  We camped for two nights inside the park and seeings as it was June and the park was not fully open yet, on account of snow, it was relatively quiet and sparse in terms of visitors mulling about.  We camped right beside Lake McDonald and the first morning we were there I went for a walk and found a lovely patch of rocky beach to spend time on.  After some scouting around I wandered over to this large log and found a small snake perched atop it.  It was a cute little guy and I was delighted, and quite surprised, to find that he let me approach him close enough to take some great pictures without slithering off.  Not wanting to disturb him any further I walked away after taking the pictures.  Well, the next morning I returned to the same spot to find him once again perched on the log.  I figured it must be his morning routine to come out of the log and warm up in the sun.  I watched him for a little while and then once again left him to his log.  When I went back to our tent Mike was awake and I told him all about this little snake friend I had met and asked him to come and take a look at him.  We walked back to the beach and found the snake right where I’d seen him the last two mornings.  Mike looked at him for a few seconds and then went to pick him up and soon found that it was a rubber toy snake!  I’m pretty sure Mike knew right away that it was fake – but I was totally surprised!  Had it been a heavily populated spot with kids running around and what not perhaps the possibility of it being a toy snake would’ve occurred to me, but there on a deserted rocky beach with no traces of human activity I was convinced the snake was real, even though it never moved or stuck out its tongue or anything that indicated it was even remotely alive.  We have a saying in our mindfulness tradition: Where there is perception there is deception.  Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) teaches that 99% of our perceptions are incorrect (and the Buddha taught that 100% of our perceptions are incorrect).  Apparently Thay gives us a little bit of wiggle room to be accurate once in a while :)

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