Deference? and Gratitude

When we got home that night, I asked my husband, “Did you notice that they were treating me with deference?”

He said, “Yes.”

We’d spent the late afternoon hours of tea time with our meditation teachers, and their extraordinary toddler, Lily.

I’d had a painful and frustrating underground journey from Saint Pancras station to Earl’s Court, where our teachers live; one of those frequent tube malfunctions that you take in stride – unless you need the lift; and the breakdown is the lift, in fact, all the lifts, because all the electricity in the station suddenly went off.

So I was in considerable pain, leaning heavily on my cane, when I arrived. Our teachers had never seen me look quite so affected by pain, and the worried look on their faces was touching, but also embarrassing. I assured them that I was all right as I asked for the water to take the painkillers the moment I sat down.

I was still aching two hours later, even after taking pretty strong painkillers , when we made our way to the Union Chapel where Tom Paxton was giving his last ever concert in London. Fortunately, we arrived late enough not to have to stand in the queue, and we found seats close to the stage. It was a perfect last concert, Tom’s voice as full and rich as when he started out all those years ago. He was going out in style, and I wept shamelessly through most of it. I felt drained afterward.

Yet by the time we arrived home, after midnight, greeted by our hysterically happy and hungry dogs, and had fed same, I was wide awake, elated by a wave of love and memory of the fifty years Tom was part of my life; and surprised but more or less happy to know that our teachers hold me in such esteem. I felt deep gratitude for the love and respect I felt in their company and tenderly delighted by Lily, with her devastatingly direct and real affection; and her happiness in her innocent ability to accept and love us as we were.

Unattachment – 50 years getting there

Today, at the age of sixty-eight, I think I’ve finally, finally, finally, learned the value of unattachment; have finally “got” why and how it helps us on a spiritual path. At last I comprehend that unattachment isn’t avoiding involvement or discomfort. It isn’t uncaring or distancing oneself. Rather it is the tool for experiencing life, especially difficult or complicated situations, with compassion and concern but without judgement of other people or oneself; and, thank God/dess, without soul-scorching pain.

Today I learned that no matter how compassionate and caring you are; no matter how calm and comforting; no matter how careful and precise you are with words; there are people who neither understand nor want to understand what you are doing for or saying to them.

Today, I let go of someone whom I hoped was a friend; whom I loved and supported; but who, now, several years after we met, neither needs nor wants what I offer. As usual, this sudden realization was a long time coming, and, as usual, it began with an incident that was mundane, surprising, petty and confusing. After a frenzied exchange of pretty much useless messages that lasted less than a day, I decided simply to drop it. To let it go. I felt completely and absolutely mystified, struggling to find words; she seemed irrational and unable to get what I was saying. It was pointless. The blinding flash in my brain late last night was, “Stop it. Just stop it.” So I did.

Today, this was the discovered lesson: Unattachment to outcome makes life changes bearable. Though the process had saddened me deeply (I had cried while writing e-mails), confused me, and frustrated me, when I accepted; when I sighed and said out loud, “This is what is supposed to happen,” as opposed to what I wished would happen, the pain and confusion stopped.

So today, finally, after fifty-four years, I observed myself letting go without could-haves, would-haves, maybes or any other self-recriminations. I say fifty-four years because, when I was fourteen –I remember this vividly– and stretched out on my bed weeping uncontrollably, my dad knocked and came into my room.

He asked, “Anna-Marie?”

I nodded. “She said she doesn’t want me to be her friend any more.”

Daddy looked at me for what seemed like minutes. He had warned me about her when he met her, but he didn’t say I-told-you-so. What he said was, “You’re too willing to help people. Girls who need someone find you and they take what you give. But they’re never really friends. You’ll be hurt a lot in life if you don’t learn to be more careful.”

He could have gone on to list about half a dozen girls who were my constant companions for a time, sometimes months, sometimes years; then just disappeared as suddenly as they’d appeared. He could have told me stories of his own painful experiences.

But what he said was, “Most people never even have one true friend in life. If you find that one true friend, you’ll be very lucky.”

My mother was more practical and ruthless. “She hurt you. She rejected you. You don’t need her. You’ll meet a lot of people like her, and you’ve gotta’ learn how to spot them.”

It seems pretty pathetic that it’s taken me almost 60 years to learn this lesson. Mama would say that it’s because I’m hard-headed; I got that from my father. Daddy would say it’s because I wanted to help people, and I had no instinct for self-preservation.

What I say is that I am grateful for having finally learned the lesson. Grateful for understanding that unattachment fosters forgiveness. And grateful for my lifelong friends, riches beyond all imagining, because I have many, not just the one my dad hoped I would find.

I do wish that I knew how this episode was assimilated by the other person. What filled her messages were anger, fear, defensiveness, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, vengefulness, disappointed expectations. . .  But these are immediate and emotional responses. I wonder what the longer lasting effects will be. But I will never know.

Friends in Spirit

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about friends, the meaning of friendship, the immense influence friends have had on me, and the possibility that I might have influenced them, too. This mutuality is the basis of friendship, isn’t it? Sometimes one is talking, talking, talking, while the other is listening closely; other times the roles are reversed. Yet the mutual sense of connectedness drives the relationship and keeps it living.

I decided a while ago that I want to give a “graduation” gift to the members of my spiritual companions training course. Closing gifts are a long-standing tradition among theatre people; that only just now popped into my mind; perhaps that’s where the seed of this idea was planted. Whether it is or not, the intuition to mark the occasion with a memento is strong.

But what to give? At first I thought I could make something for each person. Well, yes, I could make earrings for each woman; but then what could I make for the men?  These are not  cufflinks type of guys, nor are their ears pierced. Well, maybe a book for the men. . .

Then I woke up suddenly one night from a deep sleep, feeling that I needed to read Musings of a |Mediocre Gardener again. I’ve read it many times, since it first came to me as self-published, photo-copied booklets, three in all, from their author, my friend of forty years, Dori Dana Hudson. The clear, direct, simple language of her writing belies the profound and deeply spiritual nature of her reflections.

Dori was, in fact, my inspiration to take the spiritual companions training. She became a minister in her fifties, something she had wanted to do for a very long time. She took the plunge, and I admired her for having the courage. Her leap inspired me to jump off the cliff, too, and trust that God would hold me up.

Reading her book, on the train, on the way to see a play in London, I was again brought to tears as I read; and her messages had even more meaning and truth for me than ever before. I was suddenly certain that I had to share it with everyone in my spiritual companions course.

But something else happened. Reading the book reminded me of the deep spiritual connection I have always felt with Dori and, to a lesser extent, but still important, to her husband, Rob. From the day we met, in June, 1971, I knew we would be lifelong friends. (I also knew that Dori and Rob would end up together and said so.)

To be honest, I cannot remember when we last saw each other in person. I remember the visits, but not in any time order. Driving across country, my then-husband and I stopped to visit Rob and Dori and their baby son Andrew in Louisville, Kentucky. (Andrew is now a grown man, graduate of Fordham University, and out in the world.) And Dori and Rob came to San Francisco for a visit once. I have a photo of Dori crossing the arched bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

Even without the face-to-face presence, I still feel a deep, strong connection with them, an outpouring of love, of gratitude for their presence in my life. Our souls keep in touch.

Selfishness and Self-Sufficiency

©2008, RK Silipo. All rights reserved.

Note to a friend:

Self sufficiency is selfish, in that it denies friends the opportunity to care for you. Independence is good, especially for women. But when we try to do everything for ourselves, we get too self-focused. Not only do we become preoccupied with our needs that are not being met, but we also shut people out by denying to them that we have a problem and need their help. Being a friend is a gift, but allowing someone to be a friend to you is an even bigger gift.

Friendship is never a burden if it’s true and deep. Sometimes it might be a test, or a difficult passage that friends get through together, but not a burden. I do know what your teacher means, though. It is very much a part of your insight right now that you need to be out in the world. Start with your friends, the people you know, and then fan out. Your friends love you no matter what, and will make a bridge for you into the wider world where people might not be so kind and caring.

The thing about a bridge is that you can move across it in both directions— outward into the world, but also back across into the homeland with your friends. You can visit both sides anytime you want.