Note: I started this post days ago, and have written it in chunks. It may not be cohesive, but I want to get it published because I have follow-up posts I need to write!
All Fall, I found myself in a cleansing phase, both literally and spiritually. I went on a cleaning and organizing bender all over the house (which the holidays have since completely undone, sigh). At work, I pushed through huge numbers of cases, tying up loose ends that had been plaguing me for months and smoothly transitioned into my new position. Socially, I vowed to stop wasting my attention on negative and dramatic people in my life. I even started cleaning out my social networking lists (though sadly I still haven't finished that particular project). Internally, I tried to reflect these same changes with a promise to myself that I would not allow my thoughts to be turned to negative, judgemental ponderings. If negative thoughts about a person entered my thoughts, I would push those away and devote my energy to gratitude or growth.
Sometimes, it was easy. I am, by nature, a pretty positive person. Sure, I'm flippant, wry, and even sarcastic at times, but it is all with an air of relative optimism. Other times, it was more challenging. Sometimes the emotions would come up and catch me before my thoughts could temper me. So I still did have negative thoughts. I still did say hurtful things from time to time. I still gave in and let the negative people in our lives distract me.
MacGvyer and I have a disproportionate number of people from our pasts who are overly interested in us. I won't go into details, but trust me, it is a very unusually high number of people who show very unusual amounts of interest and interference in our lives. For my part, I'm sure it has to do with the fact that I was a rather strange combination of heartless and optimistic when I was younger. For MacGvyer's part I can only guess it has to do with his strangely magnetic and encompassing personality combined with his impressive powers to shoot right to the heart of people's thoughts and motivations. And his hotness. Of course.
Either way, with the advent of the internet, a lot of people who would not normally have access to our lives have. And I have always sort of neutrally welcomed it. I don't seek people out. I am not the kind to look up those from the past. And frankly, even if I were, it's not necessary. They've all found me. And I just sort of went with it. Call it curiosity. MacGyver has not welcomed it. He is the kind to completely cut ties to his past. Once he is done with something, it's gone to him. Poof. Like it never happened.
I'm actually rather impressed with this ability of his. Maybe even jealous to a tiny degree. I still remember tons of strange and unusual details about former friends, enemies, lovers, and acquiantances. While I have almost no emotion tied to those facts, the memories remain, peices of information within my brain, building my life.
For as long as I have known MacGvyer, I have been shocked by how little he remembers or cares about his past. Even though he has had more serious relationships than I have, he has far fewer memories. I still remember most of my exes' and old friends' birthdays. He remembers only one, and that is soley because she was born on Hitler's birthday (not surprisingly, ahem). He lives in the moment to a degree few people acheive. I once stumbled across some pictures from his past buried deep in the bottom of a long forgotten box of trinkets, and when I showed them to him, he was visibly disgusted. He immediately wanted to burn most of the pictures.
It's a healthy catharsis. Letting go of the past. Never thinking about it. "Ignore"ing friend requests and casting off old relics. I am the opposite. I am a nostalgia addict. I keep all my pictures from the past (even the ones where I look aweful or those is-that-a-finger-or-the-edge-of-a-table? pics), all my diaries, even old blogs lurking hidden on the internet under old aliases. Typically, I only ever look at these things when we're moving, otherwise they sit in a box in the back of the closet, undisturbed. I have no real feeling about them anymore, but I value the memories. I can't imagine burning them.
As with so many things, MacGvyer and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Just last night, he was talking about how we are the perfect Yin and Yang ("With the little dots, too!" he exclaimed, laughing). We pull each other in opposite directions, and so are each drawn to a more balanced center.
And going into my Fall cleansing stage, I thought perhaps I should take a cue from MacGvyer and cut loose many things and people from the past. After all, more often then not, people from the past only bring drama - annoyance, at best. (Remember this? And this?) Sure, some people from the past have popped back up and subsequently become good friends. They are the exception rather than the rule. Mostly, they become random, unnoticed items in my Facebook feed until one day I get some sort of deranged - probably drunken - instant message poking at long healed (on my end) wounds or looking for attention.
And while I had always entertained these instances with a sort of detached amusement - even a touch of flattery, they nevertheless constituted a source of distraction, and occasionally stress, that had absolutely no significance in my real life. So I decided to be done with it all, once and for all. To follow MacGvyer's example and ignore these pleas for attention, living utterly and entirely in the moment.
I got sucked in once or twice, but for the most part I carried forward with my plan, and am still carrying forward with it. But today, recently, I'm rethinking it - to a degree.
The Universe, it seems, wants me to refine my plans a little. Perhaps I misinterpreted earlier messages, because the messages I'm getting now are quite a bit clearer. The messages are coming in words. Three particular books, to be more precise.
In the Pagan Calendar, the Wheel of the Year as I observe it, the Fall is a time for clearing out, wipping away, cleansing. The Winter is for ruminating. Thinking, planning, looking ahead. It is about growth, development, newness - but not in the active way that Spring is about growth. Where as Spring is about shoots, blooms, and birth, Winter is more like pregnancy. It is where the stirrings of new potential start, slowly, thoughtfully, to take shape before bursting forth in Spring.
I did not directly choose any of the three books I am reading now. (I'm technically reading four books now, but I'm only a few pages into one of them). The Universe, fate, forces of circumstance, brought them into my life.
One was given to me by a friend. She suggests books to me all the time. I rarely read them. She is a psychologist and very into "personal transformation" books. I find them too contrived and "touchy-feely" most of the time. This one, she insisted, was perfect for my hyper-rational nature. While it talked about personal transformation, it did so from a very rational, scientific standpoint. "And," she pointed out, "most other people don't like the book because they find it too technical - too much brain and not enough emotion." Well, that does sound right up my alley.
The second book, Pride and Prejudice, came already programmed into my Nook. I figured maybe I'd read it one day, but it was so far down at the bottom of my list that I might never get to it. And really, that didn't bother me at all because it really didn't sound like my kind of book. I have all the romance I need in my day to day life. I don't fancy reading about it. Then, through the most random string of events, I one day found myself with time to read - which never happens - but no books! Which also never happens! All I had was my Nook, but I had already read all the books I had loaded into it. So, perhaps a tad reluctantly, I set to reading P&P. At the very least, I thought, I do enjoy the insight "classic" novels provide. Now, I'm totally hooked on this book. (Update: Have finished it, and absolutely loved it).
The third book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, has already had a great impact on my life. A little more than half way through it*, I already know I will be rereading this book many times. It speaks to me in a powerful and direct way that I haven't felt in a very long time. With Ethical Eating, with my UU Pagan spiritual journey, with my desire to truely make a difference in people's lives through my legal practice, with motherhood, and charity, and a focus on gratitude, I have been for some years now forging a path. I don't know where it will lead. Indeed, I try very little to look ahead on the path as each new step is so potent and full in and of itself. I don't need to know where the path is going, factually. Because I have utter faith that it is leading me to a place of helping, of healing, and of - dare I say it? - Personal transformation. Actually, the entire path is transformative. And at the end of it, I will truly make a difference in the world. Perhaps through the path itself.
* Also finished this one since I started this post.
Ok, so that's getting rather deep and maybe a little self-righteous sounding. At the very least overly-heavy. But it is my dream, and it is where I feel faith at this point.
So back to the books: I have been on this path for some time - a few years at least. Just sort of feeling it out as I go, trying to be a better person every day, to be empathetic to all creatures, to be a source of information for change, and to refrain from judgement. So far, I fail in all those things on a daily basis. But I am getting better.
The first book, Mindsight is like a tool. It attempts to teach a deeper understanding and control of one's emotions through a deeper understanding of the workings of the brain. I am still not all that far into this book because the others have been taking up more of my time, but I love the concept of this book because it is already something I have done for most of my life. As a "hyper-rational" person, since childhood I've always been able to separate myself from my emotions - to step outside my emotions and interpret them rationally. This is a defining characteristic of my personality and contributes largely to my ability to remain calm and collected amidst chaos as well as to my wry sense of humor. This ability, however, tends to glitch in the face of overwhelming emotion. Early on in our relationship, I hadn't the slightest idea how to conduct myself around MacGyver because the strength of my emotion was in conflict with my rationality. I'm sure this has also contributed to my obsessive worry issues when it comes to my kids.
So for a couple years I've been trying to reconcile stronger emotions with my hyper-rational nature, but with only limited success. The two things just don't seem to mesh. This book, it seems, may answer that issue. And it's looking like it will be a big bridge for putting into practice deeper discoveries and revolations from other areas of my life and from the other two books. Because anger and annoyance are also emotions, and lately, being more in touch with my emotions, I've been more prone to harbor anger toward people. Not anger that causes me to really act, other than possibly shoot my mouth off here and there, but anger that simmers in me when other people do or say stupid freaking things (not good when you're a lawyer!). And I don't like that anger being there.
So Mindsight is a tool to put the new themes I'm seeing emerging in my life into practice and an effective manner.
Compassionate Life will be getting it's own post. Hell, it will probably (ideally) be getting a lot of them. Even though the title did NOT make me want to read the book at all, the fact that it won the 2008 TED "Ideas Worth Spreading" prize, AND the fact that the author, Karen Armstrong, was a speaker at General Assmbley this year got me interested. Then the opportunity for MacGvyer and I to read it together as part of a discussion group at church finally goaded me to actually get the book. And I could not be more grateful that I did.
There are too many concepts in this book to boil down to just a paragraph or two, but I will say that much of what it talks about is similar to Mindsight, but on a much deeper, more spiritual level. The purpose of the book is to move people - all people - to live lives of empathy and compassion, to ease anger, fighting, war, and all the harms to humanity that spring from those things. Lofty, lofty goals, but they are put forth in individual step that can be worked inside any human being. Moving doesn't even begin to describe this book. Written from a religious and and ecumenical stance, it discusses points from many major religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Confusionism, Judiaism, Islam - and those are just off the top of my head).
It is exactly what I've been trying to get to in my life, but expressed with so much more clarity and direction than I think I could have ever come to on my own. It's like the Universe looked at me and said, "Oh, that's what you're trying to do? Here, there's
Compassionate Life is the center point of these three books that have communicated so powerfully with me lately. It is the crux. And it may well become something of a Bible to me for some time to come. Seriously, go get this book. You will not regret it - no matter what religion you are.
With the lofty notions and goals of the first two books, how does Pride and Prejudice fit in? It is, after all, a romance and a work of fiction. How does it tie in to the two books that are molding and transforming my thoughts right now? Perfectly. It ties in perfectly. A strong, intelligent lead character who believes herself quite adept at rationally controlling her emotions becomes blinded by her own perceptions and unwittingly stands in the way of her own happiness. It was during my reading of P&P that I had the "Aha" moment of the Universe smacking me upside the head. While Compassionate Life was deeply moving and transformative, it was the degree to which Pride and Prejudice tied in to everything else that made me stop and take notice of all the signs falling into place.
It was as if the Universe were saying, "You've cut away all the negative, now is the time to outgrow it." Now is the time to let go of annoyance and judgement and accept people for who they are. Even the flawed ones who inject stress into my life.
Because as I grow in my ability to compassionately evaluate my own reactions to people and actions in the world, slowly I will outgrow feelings of anger and resentment, even when people take pointless swipes at me and those I love.
So, while I am not quite ready to go back and strike up discourse with all the people and things I decided to cleanse from my life in the Fall, I will harbour no more resentful feelings toward them, either. I will be a friend (though not necessarily a Facebook friend, mind you - for privacy reasons) to anyone who seeks me out for friendship or advice. And I will grow.