Knowing What The Goal Is

Sometimes we suffer from thinking we’ve failed when in fact we are a success. Isn’t this a strange idea at this point in history in western culture? If those of us from the west know anything at all, it’s the difference between success and failure. We are all products of a success obsessed culture driven by the wealthiest economy in the history of the planet. We know personal success! Don’t we?

Maybe not. We know personal ideal, personal best, and personal achievement, but these are all quite different from personal success. Personal success is something we cant know about until the end of our lives. Personal success is about things other than stellar careers, setting records, bank accounts, world travel, waist size, level of education, beautiful homes, or even succeeding in a marriage.

Personal success is about how much we’ve given, not how much we’ve done or how much we’ve gotten. Personal success is about doing no harm to others, forgiveness, compassion, gratitude and generosity.

I read this today, “…when we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, we are reminded that our highest destiny is to face life’s pains and prevail, over and over again.” Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, Beverly Hills, California.

He continued, “Stamina, not giftedness, is the most precious attribute of character. Resilience is the strain of spiritual DNA that distinguishes those who build lives of purpose and beauty.”

I wonder what would be different in western culture if stamina, resilience, and facing life’s pains were the earmarks of achievement instead of money, looks, instant rewards, power, and celebrity.

Rabbi Wolpe wrote more about a hero from another time, Helen Keller. Miss Keller, who was both deaf and blind, but learned to communicate and became world renown as an educator and a pioneer in advocating for people with disabilities. According to Rabbi Wolpe, Helen Keller taught that “the world is full of suffering, but also the overcoming it.”

Many people struggling with disease, hunger, loneliness, homelessness, heart break, unemployment and the possible loss of hope meet each new day with the resolve to continue on (stamina) and offer themselves in service and love to others (resilience). They meet their bad luck with patience and humor. The way of it is that this saintly behavior does nothing to eliminates their struggles, yet they must have some kind of knowingness that their highest destiny (and ours) requires, as Helen Keller said, “the overcoming of it.”

Whenever despair gives way to laughter, happiness, love and forgiveness is a moment of high destiny. When you can prevail over life’s pains and allow peace to break through in this way the Angels applaud you and the rest of us are grateful for your courage, stamina, resilience, and gifts of love.

As we head into the fall season, holidays for some and the transition into the creative hibernation of colder weather for all, may we think on prevailing over and over again in the face of life’s pains and summon more and more stamina and resilience towards achieving our highest destiny.

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Happy Anniversary?

I’ve been putting off writing this post. Beginning again includes having to get through a series of “firsts” where your past and your present collide in some unhappy ways.  Today is my second wedding anniversary.  It’s still a significant day even though my marriage is over.

4th of July was the first “first” that I was aware of. There was a holiday and a birthday before it, but I was still in shock and sailed right through them. I did not feel patriotic or free.  I felt overwhelmed and sad. So after sitting with those feelings for about 15 minutes I turned on the TV and stayed on the couch all day. It was the best that I could do.

So this is my second “first” since my life burned down.  I would have preferred a birthday or a holiday instead of our wedding anniversary. But one doesn’t get to choose in situations like these.

I mentioned my anniversary a couple of times.  It didn’t get much of a response, which confused me.  And then I remembered, my husband didn’t die.   People know better what to say when you are a) still married or b) widowed.  Spousal abandonment is rare and awkward. It’s more along the lines of spousal imprisonment I would think.  These kinds of life implosions are not the type of life passage for which you get greeting cards.  

Frankly, I hardly know what to feel about it.  I’ve been waiting for some spontaneous insight and nothing has appeared. This morning I realized that I was going to have to sit down and feel my feelings. 

“Nuts to that,” I thought as I picked up a book.  It didn’t take me long to get interested in a long commentary on a short prayer.  Six hours later and I am a lay expert on the kabbalistic origins of “The Lord’s Prayer.”  (You can write me if you’re interested, but I’m not expecting to hear from anyone.)  

Afterwards, I ate lunch and read my version of the daily paper online.  I returned some phone calls and paid a bill or two online.  Sound familiar?  It should. It’s what most of us do when uncomfortable feelings show up.  We distract ourselves with thinking, eating, sleeping, computer, TV, drinking, gaming, working, sports, etc. Even though our eyes are open we go unconscious to our feelings. The problem with this is that our feelings are the only thing that are real about us.  Going unconscious is how we have learn to live with what makes us uncomfortable and unhappy.  And staying unconscious is how we make self-destructive choices in their lives.

As I understand it, being unconscious is what got me into this mess.  George Haas, a teacher of mindfulness practices (concentration and insight exercises), here in L.A. has proven to me with neuroscientific research and his own experience that learning to stay present with my feelings is the way to stay conscious. And, that staying conscious is the way for anyone to have satisfying relationships.  

So if I really want to begin again then I am well advised to locate and experience my feelings–especially feelings of sadness, regret, anger, grief, etc.  Apparently, any feeling not consciously felt is stored in our bodies and lies in wait for inopportune time to express itself.  It’s pretty easy to see that it’s this collection of feelings that are responsible for stress, illness, and problems in relationships.  

I really do want to begin again and create a future where I am able to be my authentic self and having satisfying relationships with good, kind people.  But I really don’t want to have to feel these feelings.  Still, I promised myself I would do it and blog about it, so here I am. Ugh. (Is ugh a feeling?)

Here goes:  I’m pissed.  Really pissed. I don’t deserve this. How could he? This isn’t fair.  There should be a law against this. Some days my anger powers me up and I make progress in moving forward with my life.  Other days I’m just mad at G-d, which gets me nowhere.  

Until recently on most days I wanted a ‘do-over.’  That feeling is called regret. And it might be my least favorite feeling so far. Still I feel it when I can. Instead of feeling it I usually want to think about a ‘do-over.’  It’s temporarily satisfying to hear myself think what I would do and say differently if I had the chance.  But I don’t have that chance and then I feel …. well, not good.  

I must have allowed myself to feel that feeling enough because tonight I don’t feel regret about the marriage.  I’m glad I got married. I’m glad for the good times we had. And I’m glad that it ended without having to engage in any protracted efforts to salvage what wasn’t going to work anyway.

I feel afraid, mostly about money.  I have rational reasons to be afraid, which I won’t go into here because then we will all start to panic.  I’m also afraid of not being able to live out my purpose, of derailing my life so completely that I won’t be able to create a meaningful life out of what remains of my time here. 

I feel disillusioned and disheartened.  It is a whole different category of failure as a woman to be dumped when you’re 56 years old.  That it wasn’t my fault does nothing to help me bounce back.  Being treated cruelly when my heart was wide open has taken the wind out of my sails.  I struggle to find any feelings of optimism and enthusiasm about future relationships. Most of the time I can’t.

It isn’t easy to stay present with these feelings either. After awhile I start thinking. What if they don’t go away?  What if I can’t bounce back? These ideas make me feel afraid and ashamed.  Note to the uninitiated:  don’t try to think and feel at the same time.  Thinking will always make you feel worse.  Are we having fun yet?

Nope, because I’m sad, very sad. I loved getting married. I loved being married. I loved being married to him. And now I’m not. It totally sucks to lose someone and something that you love.  And I don’t like being sad.  I’m bad at it.  Even if I was good at it I don’t think I’d like it.  Probably because we aren’t supposed to like being sad. (Genius, right? I know. It’s my gift.)

To add salt to the wound of melancholy (If I were a writing teacher I’d give myself a C- for that last phrase.) people get all wigged out if they know you’re sad. They feel uncomfortable and this makes me feel embarassed. So I try and save being sad for when I’m home or in my car….which makes me more sad. At least I’m feeling my feelings, eh?  I’m going to call George and complain. This staying conscious stuff is no fun at all.

No fun, maybe, but there is progress.  I am sad, but I’m not as sad as I used to be and I have no regret.  I am disillusioned and disheartened, sometimes embarrassed and afraid, but I am grateful.  I am grateful to have been happily married 98% of those 18 months we were married.  And I’m grateful that I found out that I was married to a man who is cruel and punishing at the end of our marriage (as opposed to the middle).

I’m still afraid but I’m not as intensely afraid. I’ve had many moments of comfort and peace that did not occur in front of the TV or otherwise asleep. 

I’m still pissed.  Like the old Dire Straits song says, “Sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug.” In this chapter of my life, I was the bug. What pisses me off (metaphorically speaking) is that my husband could have gotten rid of me by installing a screen door.  That he came at me at top speed aiming the windshield of his muscle car in order to insure my demise is what makes me so mad…..and so sad.

In spite of this, I have felt moments of both understanding and forgiveness for him. Forgiveness and understanding feel better than anger and grief.  I should thank George for this when I’m done complaining about how tough it is to implement his suggestions.  Every moment of relief I’ve had from this horror show is the result of following George’s suggestion to stay present and feel my feelings.

It turns out that when you stay present with yourself and your feelings that the old feelings begin to dissolve and new feelings pass through pretty quickly.  It’s kind of a miracle.

The traditional second anniversary present is cotton.  I’d rather have a miracle.

Happy Anniversary to me. : )