Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Field Beyond

Over the last month or so I've been working deeply on responding to inter-personal issues with love and compassion, rather than my habitual frustration, anger, and judgment. As I work to regain connection - or to really achieve it for the first time - I have found this to be my biggest challenge, and perhaps the root of an entirely new way of being in relationship.

As I do this work, I continuously think of something my minister told me a couple of months ago. She offered sage advice about considering others (particularly a congregation that I find frustrating or challenging) with a "gaze of blessing." Look beyond the petty disagreements and things that are irritating or annoying, and look with love upon the people you see. I recently encountered a very similar message in a book I'm reading by David Richo, someone I would call a "Buddhist psychologist." Richo writes about "the glance of mercy" - looking at other people with acceptance and understanding. It's the same thing as Nancy's gaze of blessing.

Last week I got an e-mail from a friend in California, who wrote
...one day I was flipping thru a mail order catalog and I came across some jewelry which was inscribed with the words of Rumi, "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." Upon reading these words I felt so moved I was paralyzed for what seemed to be a lifetime... talk about being in the moment!
Rumi's words tell me to use my gaze of blessing - my glance of mercy - to look beyond my perception of who's right and who's wrong in a relationship, and find the common place of love and compassion beyond; to meet others there in right relationship with mindfulness and presence. Ahh...it's all coming together now.

As I learn and grow, I realize that often doing the "right" thing - in terms of relationships and responding with love and compassion - is often contrary to my first (habitual and acculturated) impulse. For example, my son Ryan has been suspended from school for three days because he took a pocketknife to school. I really don't think he did anything wrong - that is, his intent was not to do harm - he wanted to take a tool to carve sticks with his friend during the lunch hour. Unfortunately, of course, the school rules forbid any kind of weapon, so when the knife was discovered by a teacher, Ryan got to visit the assistant principal and spend a few days at home.

Yesterday afternoon I came home to be with Ryan because my wife had a meeting to which she couldn't take him. I was unsure how to spend the time. My first (habitual and acculturated) impulse was "he's been suspended, so I should support that suspension by making this time if not a punishment at least not very pleasant." That thought was soon replaced with "What am I thinking? What does it matter that my son broke some arbitrary rule? His intent was not to harm. He is suffering the consequences already, and we've discussed the importance of following rules that are in place to keep others safe, so why punish him more?" In all of this I realized "aha! here's an opportunity to practice love and compassion - to look beyond ideas of right and wrong and just be mindful about our relationship!" So we went to the forest park for a hike, because out in nature is where I feel closest to my son.

At the beginning of our time together, I decided not to worry about the time, to let him lead me, and to just be present with him and the beautiful surroundings. I am always amazed how much more I notice when I let go of time like this - looking at the world through the eyes of a child who has not yet become a slave to clock and calendar.

We saw so many things together: a box turtle who obliged us by showing how he retracts into his shell (but was willing to wait longer to come out than we were to see it). A detached butterfly wing that fluttered and flitted when blown from my hand with a puff of breath. An enourmous fungus that was warm and tan and wrinkled. A pink leaf to take home to little sister Katy. A complete set of dragonfly wings with the head-shaped exoskeleton still attached.

We stopped at the creek to play and rest - him to play, me to rest. I watched the clouds through the gently moving trees and listened to his humming and happy chatter in counterpoint to the gently sounds of the stream. He told me a fantastic story about a giant and a dragon boat and castles that turn to sand and heroic rescues and so much else I could barely comprehend it all. I felt nothing but pure joy at his presence - love and compassion at meeting him beyond right and wrong.

As we approached the car, it began to sprinkle. We were hot and sweaty from our hike, so I said "do you want to sit in the rain for a while?" He agreed, so we sat on some wooden barriers between the parking lot and a grassy meadow and enjoyed the rain. We found rough-surfaced leaves with drops of water that could be collected with the tip of another leaf and aggregated into one large magnifying drop. We played with our leaves together and enjoyed the gentle rain. The meadow smelled of fresh rain and glistened with wet fallen leaves.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, we found our field together.


At 9/27/2005 12:57 PM, Anonymous Mary Kadlubowski said...

How does this balance with aspirations to be better people? I can look with a merciful eye on individuals, understand they might come from hurt or anger and still hold them responsible for their actions. Where do mercy and justice balance?
I like your hike with your son. I often tell my children, when something must be done, that we can do it the hard way or the easy way. I used to think that I was responsible to make the hard way hard. The truth is, If I let them, in choosing the hard way, determine how hard it is, they are directly in relation to consequence. So I don't carry my son to bed any less gently when he chooses the hard way, it's his struggles that determine exactly how hard it is.
But in a group, a church, a committee, office, I haven't got the ability to step back from the consequences of the behavior of others. I always get sucked into the suffering.
Thank you for being here, a significant striking chord in each of my days.

At 9/29/2005 8:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Greg, This reminds of the Celestine Prophecy books... reading them I was intrigued by the theme of "seeing beauty". I am a true believer in "meetings" and being with and seeing beyond what is physically obvious. Seeing beauty is a great challenge for me when confronted with a highly emotional situation, but when I begin to alter my focus as a human"doing" to a human “being", I notice that I am no longer feeding the emotional tiger in the situation and I am more grounded.

A very simplistic example in my life (that comes immediately to mind) is a time when my children discovered "bad words". To be driving along and from the car seat in the back comes "sh...", my primal physical reaction was either laughter or an angry "no!". This usually resulted in a flurry of "sh..."s or a complete emotional breakdown. When I remained grounded and gave no response (not disguising my response, but a true non-reaction), the lesson was learned quickly. The power of the use of "bad words" faded away without much confusion or damage to the child or our relationship.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, there is little risk in experimenting with this parenting situation, but what I gained was faith - faith in the results of "seeing the beauty" of a situation which was thrown rather abruptly before me. It is all about faith for me... faith that there is beauty and that if I can see it, I can move beyond the obvious and reap the rewards of the lesson.

Another example (again with the parenting) was a time when I, as a Marine’s wife was on my own for several months with our children (two at this time). I was at my wits end and the kids seemed to get more and more needy (as I did). I found myself constantly trying to “give them their space” and “let them play” on their own. Or even, put them down for a nap, just so I could have a break! One day, in all my desperation, it occurred to me that their neediness was a direct result of my wanting to push them away. It was like a light switch, literally in my mind. I suddenly lay down on the floor among them… they crawled all over me, touching, pouncing, hugging, resting – I gave in completely! And in about 10 minutes they left – they left! They crawled away and found other things to do and play with… I lay there, totally relaxed and content. It was a miracle, one that I will never forget.

My faith carries me through the unknown, the scary, the shocking, the inconceivable... I cannot protect myself (or others) from any lessons, I can only cling to the faith that there are lessons (gifts really) at every turn and in many unexpected places. Opening myself again and again to this beauty is perhaps the most painfully challenging and blissfully rewarding aspect of being alive.

Thanks for sharing!


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