“Instead of asking ourselves, ‘How can I find security and happiness?’ we could ask ourselves, ‘Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace – disappointment in all its many forms – and let it open me?’ This is the trick.” – Pema Chodron
I have a friend going through a divorce. It hasn’t been the worst divorce I ever saw, but I don’t think I’ve seen more than two “nice” divorces in my life, so it’s reasonable to say it has been rough. There are a lot of decisions to make, about money, children, property; and more subtle decisions… what words to use to communicate, or how she will choose to feel about any given circumstance that arises.
She has a new relationship that seems promising, but closing up the details of the marriage when someone new has a stake in how those decisions go poses an interesting challenge. She holds firm that the decisions are hers alone, despite who else they may affect. The reactions triggered in others by this assertion have been strong, to say the least, both positive and negative.
Is deciding alone a selfish and hard-hearted act in this case, or is it empowering? Does it have to be cast either way?
Our decisions ALWAYS affect others. Everything we do, or say, or even think, ripples out into a shared experience. Does that make our decisions any less our own? Do we really need to consult anyone who might be affected by a decision we make? Why do certain relationships warrant this extra step? And why do we really WANT to be consulted on the decisions of others that (may) affect us?
We talk with great certainty about our “right” to know what others are doing and planning, especially spouses or other family members. We claim this is not about controlling another person but merely about our ability to react or weigh-in. We get such easy agreement from others about this need-to-know that it rarely gets explored. What is that NEED really about? Why do we believe we should get a say in what affects us? What do we fear will happen if we are not consulted; if we allowed ourselves to be affected, out of the blue?
As humans, we are led to act by love or by fear. There are times that consulting others is a form of love. It is overt communication; it shows we care about the other’s opinions or that we believe we can benefit from their experience or instincts… as long as that is REALLY why we are doing it.
Unfortunately, most of the time insisting on consultation is an expression of fear. If I don’t call my husband when I am out of town for a few days, (and he therefore does not know what I am doing) is this an offense against the marriage? Everyone knows where this goes, right? How hard is it to just check in so I feel better? What if you are meeting someone else? I could be marginalized, not missed enough, cheated on!!! I DESERVE to be made safe and certain that none of this is happening!
In the case of my friend’s divorce, her new partner undoubtedly has concerns about financial arrangements, how some unknown ex might make a move that uproots his new-found happiness. Understandable fears, but do we really have a right to force others to try and free us from fear? Do we actually believe that ANYTHING another person tells us, no matter how advance the warning and no matter how great our participation in the decisions, will quell our fear once we have chosen to indulge in fear in the first place?
We cannot feel love and fear at the same time. We cannot act out of both. We really do have to choose. We are connected beings, but we are ONLY TRULY connected by love. When fear steps in we experience life alone. If we want to experience the magic and joy of loving connection we have to stop expecting others to dole out our security.
Security that is given to us by others is an illusion we grasp at; a search that is never satisfied by finding. We are safest when we stop worrying about safety. We are happiest when we stop wondering what will make us happy. Trust is not “earned,” it is simply experienced by knowing that this life is a wild ride and that we will be o.k.
Sometimes we throw the board in the air, send the pieces flying. We look at others and say, THAT JUST HAPPENED. Sometimes we are the other that sits staring in amazement, maybe in horror, as our playmate has upended the game.
Don’t tell me you didn’t sign up for this. You did. You do. Every day, you re-sign. Can you learn to sit still as order falls away? Let every feeling about it pass through you and mean nothing about your safety?
This is the trick. It’s really REALLY worth learning.