Monday, 29 August 2011

Is there such a thing as unconditional Love?

If love is unconditional acceptance,without judgement or demands, then how do we establish boundaries, standards or civilization?

How do we teach our children if we do not make judgements, have demands, establish boundaries and set standards? And if we are to enable our children to learn, even if we choose not to teach, then we must establish through our actions boundaries and standards and that requires judgement and demands.

Learning to talk, walk, become toilet trained, write, read, eat with a knife and fork, clean up after yourself, make your bed, tidy your toys..... all of these things require demands from parents and the establishment of boundaries and standards. One could argue about those boundaries and standards but whether minimum or maximum they will exist, they must exist.

As human beings we learn to be functional, productive, loving members of society by taking into account the feelings and needs of others. Interestingly those who give the most in this way are also going to be healthy as studies show. We are hard-wired it seems to be kind, considerate and helpful.

And yet, to be any of those things we have to be aware and respectful of boundaries and standards. There are quite simply things which a civilized society rejects. We are called to control our anger and not to take it out on others; to apologise when we have hurt others; to respect other people's possessions; to be mindful of the needs others might have for space or privacy;  to be grateful when things are done for us or given to us; to remember things which are important to people like birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas and any significant family anniversaries.

All of these things amount to standards and boundaries and are in essence rules. There is no absolute freedom in any relationship or in any society because that would create chaos if not anarchy. As human beings we have no choice but to establish and abide by certain codes of behaviur.

Those who do not generally have few friends, limited family contact and lonely lives. Instinctively we know this and that is why we respect those rules, as they function in our culture. When we live in another culture it behoves us to learn the rules of that society and to respect them.

All of which means there is no loving relationship without some sort of rules of behaviour.

Which begins to suggest that there is no such thing as unconditional love and perhaps it is our misunderstanding of what Love is which creates such confusion. When someone treats us rudely, meanly, unkindly, discourteously or without consideration we have the right to state our needs and to tell them how we feel. And in the doing, even if it is done with compassion and an attempt to understand the woundedness which makes them what they are, we are establishing boundaries and standards and we are making demands.

Just because someone is damaged or wounded it does not give them the right to inflict wounds or damage on others and that means, at some point we must take action or speak out, or both, to show them that some things are simply not acceptable in a courteous, civilized world.

One could argue that 'courteous' to some degree is in the eye of the beholder. Indians for instance do not have a word for thankyou in Hindi and yet they have standards of courtesy that we do not understand. One of the first things we do in the West is teach children to say please and thankyou. And this is because they are not just words, they are indicators of consideration, of courtesy and because they are not necessary in terms of understanding, they are symbolic of consideration.

Small children are often naturally kind but they easily become distracted and have to learn to be considerate of others. Most children learn this but clearly some because of nature or circumstance are better than others at mastering this skill; for it is a skill.

Some people grow up to be more considerate than others but most have a reasonable level of courtesy which is automatically a part of who and what they are. But some do not.

My mother was like that and I have met others like her, people who have an almost total obsession with and focus on Self. It is as if to consider the needs, feelings or circumstances of others is too terrifying to comprehend and so there is no consideration given .... all thought, all action, all focus is turned toward the needs of Self.

It is hard to live with people like this because, as I discovered with my mother over many years, it is actually impossible for them to change or to understand how selfish and inconsiderate they are. No doubt to see the impact of their own actions would imply some responsibility which in turn would suggest some need to change and change is something they cannot countenance.

So what do you do with such people if you must interact with them? If they are friends or acquaintances you can choose to see little or nothing of them but if they are family that is not possible. And few of us are saints and will tolerate such behaviour without question.

I would just say if you have difficulty with a person and you are the only one who does, there is a good chance that the problem lies more with you than them. But if you are one of a few or even many who experience the same difficulties, as clearly happened with my mother and with others in my life, then it is clear that you are dealing with someone who is deeply wounded if not irrevocably damaged and you have to find a way to work with them as a part of your life.

In reality the only person we can change is ourselves but generally when we do that, others around us will change.... not so with those who are emotionally and psychologically damaged. All you can do is work to the best of your ability to keep your relationship with them civil and hopefully harmonious. And there are a few guidelines which can help you to do that.

First of all, hard as it is to do, it is important not to take it personally but to see the insensitivity, rudeness and lack of consideration as arising from their woundedness rather than anything you or someone else might do.

The second thing is to establish boundaries and standards which you clearly articulate as and when it is needed without actually demanding that they change.... you merely deal with the situation at hand. This may require limiting interaction to some degree in order to keep the relationship civil, if not bearable.

And the third thing is to use them as a teacher to become more aware of your own thoughts, actions, reactions and responses and your ability to live through any interaction with compassion and with love.

It can be a tall order but if you can remember not to take it personally and to establish boundaries based on courtesy, grace and kindness you can make the unworkable, workable.

I suppose in a way it is tough love. It is also pragmatism and making the best of the bit you are in. I know with my mother I reached a better place once I stopped needing her to be other. She was trapped in her woundedness and the only thing I could decide was how much time I needed to spend with her and how that time would be spent.

Sometimes you just have to do the right thing, the courteous, considerate thing, but you don't have to do any more than that.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Spiritual questions of life and death

The Ides of August or the Winter of my Discontent or just a time of Grief!

There are times when the challenges rise up around us and when so many things are happening at the same time we begin to wonder if we have offended the Gods. 

I am more likely to put it down to astrological influences and the Soul demanding that inner work be done now. I do believe that what appears in our outer world reflects what is going on in our inner world. But that does not necessarily make the process of pain any easier. 

The first week of August, barely a month before I was born, and I remind myself I was three weeks late, does seem to be a 'time of challenge' for me. August 3 marked the 31st anniversary of my father's death; August 5 marked the ninth anniversary of my father-in-law's death and on August 8, a friend, mother figure and mentor of some 45 years died.

 My father-in-law, Roy, whom I adored and who was mother and father to me and even more special on that count because of the difficult and complex relationships I had with my own wounded parents, died on a Monday and was buried on the Friday. Sadly we were flying back from Africa on the day he died and our children were not able to attend the funeral so it was an even more demanding day for Greg and I. Maxine, who was the mother of one of my oldest and dearest friends and who yet, while often mothering me became one of my best friends and one to whom I could at times offer mothering, died on a Monday and was buried on the Friday.

And all of this happened at a time when Greg and I were separated because he was caught up with work in Africa and I was here caught up with work sorting family and watching their struggles and pain and feeling helpless, powerless and confused in the face of it. A bit like our response to death I guess but then any change is also a 'death' and involves grieving. So perhaps it was not so much a winter of discontent as one of grieving; or perhaps it was and is both.

There is one sure thing in life and that is Spring will always follow Winter; beyond the darkness, ice and death there is new life and fresh becoming. Hecate is the Goddess who tends to us at such times and she is a mighty force who protects but does not hide; who supports but does not carry and who tends but does not enable. 

I think and feel that death is confusing because we don't want to believe in it. Things do end and things are destroyed but in truth, there can only be new beginnings if this happens. But sometimes things end irrevocably, as they have with the death of Maxine because with her passing also comes the end of an era. Her home, which she shared with her husband Bill until his death two years ago was an extra 'family' home for Greg and I for 45 years. With both of them gone it will be sold and there will be no more 'dropping in' for a chat, a drink, a comfort at Pine Avenue.

Such finality is even more absolute than the finality of death. All gone, in what seems an instant. Death is so final but when something material like a home goes at the same time, it is an even greater shock. Of course there were slow signs that this way of life was ending, would end, but there is nothing like reality to provide the greater shock. At the wake I stood and looked at the slightly dishevelled garden and it was a sign that things were being allowed to pass; a letting go.

I watched Maxine's coffin lowered into the earth, as I had watched my mother's.... I was not there for my father's funeral and Roy was cremated so a small curtain closed at the end of his ceremony. We did however scatter his ashes a year later, in Spencer's Gulf, as he had requested. And in that lowering, that passing of timber and flowers into cold, wet, tumbled earth there was and is the sense of emptiness, of pointlessness, of how, so suddenly, it all comes to nothing. It is then that we so dearly want and need to believe there is something beyond this world, there is a point to this world and it is then so very, very hard to hold to that belief.

The birds were riotous in that moment; lorikeets, galahs and parakeets jostling in the nearby eucalypts. It wasn't a bad day for a funeral given that it is winter. The sun shone a little, the clouds edged aside to reveal a glorious blue and the winds were stilled. It could have been even more bleak; grey, wet, windy and freezing. But it wasn't.

It was the music which made us all cry, even sob.  It is always the music which touches our very heart and soul. It is said that the universe is made of music, of sound, of holy notes and I can believe that. Music touches us like no other. Many cried during the service and most cried as we stood on the artificial grass at the graveside. It is strange that grass, so green, so plastic, so unreal as if to pretend this is a pretty, easy thing. The flowers, the music, the false grass, the soft words are all there to help us pretend it isn't real..... her body is not in that coffin being lowered into the cold ground; dressed in her best as the physical decay begins to seep and stain .... that she is not dead.

I can tell myself that it is only the body, that the real Spirit, Soul, Self of Maxine is not in there and I can believe it but the truth is that it was her body which warmed and hugged and held and laughed and cried and talked and was and that is absolutely gone. At least for me and those who loved her in this world.

I remember when my father-in-law died, for I loved him dearly and missed him the most, thinking that I just wanted one more hug - a hug from someone with skin on! Any dream appearance or apparition would not be the same as that big, warm, flesh-full, human, living hug.

And when we look into the face of death it is not just past losses which scramble for attention, but future ones which lurk and taunt; the utter awfulness of losing someone even closer like a husband, a child, a sibling.  I am sure it is why so many go into shock at such times; there are realities too awful to bear. It is then, I believe that Hecate, with her black compassion, draws down the shades upon true consciousness.

But there it is and now, after 13 hours sleep and days if not weeks of tears and grief, I am ready to move on, back into life. Until the next time. And that may be a small 'death' or a big one; an emotional death or a physical; a literal or a metaphorical but return I will, as we all do, because loss and grief and death is an intrinsic part of life and of being human.

We cannot escape and we are not meant to no matter how much we may wish we could. We can only embrace life, ensuring our craft is sound and our sails are strong and learning, all the time, to navigate the calm waters and the chaotic. And even as I write this I know I am using images and symbols to describe the indescribable; to distance myself from the reality of what is the worst of times.

But sometimes it helps to see things symbolically, to look at the outer experience and events and to interpret them symbolically for that will show what is at work within. My outer world has reflected back to me issues of loss, abandonment, rejection, powerlessness and helplessness, all of which are sourced I am sure in my Karmic lesson which began when I was hospitalised near death at the age of one and did not see my parents until I had recovered. That was how they did it in those days.

It was 1950 and there was little or no comprehension of bonding, nor the trauma experienced by a child in such a situation. It wasn't her fault, it wasn't really anyone's fault; it was just the way it was. But I am sure the child had no-one to blame but her parents. At such times small children are faced with the most awful of choices; to survive they have to rely on their own power.

Was it one week or two? It doesn't really matter, the sense of abandonment, rejection, powerlessness, loss and helplessness must have been enormous and created, as it does in young children, a feeling of being unworthy, undeserving of love and unwanted.  Such responses have been studied in children and babies in orphanages and clearly show two instinctive responses; surrender which often brings death, or the will to fight and to live which often means the child separates from the unbearable pain and develops, along with the determination to survive, a determination never to be hurt in such a way again - a determination to control his or her world.

My mother told me I was standing in the cot eating a banana when she walked in to get me. She said I looked at her as if I did not know her. I am sure I never expected to see her again. I am also sure it was a ripe banana, probably very ripe and I have always loathed the smell of them. 

And yet again, when I was nine my mother disappeared again - this time into a madness from which she did not return, except in physical form. It was only as an adult that I realised my mother died when I was nine for the woman who returned to take her place, some three years or so later, was not the mother who had left. Yet more loss, more death, more grief and more desire to control.

And therein lies the impossible dream for this world cannot be controlled and Death laughs hardest in the face of such fantasies. Grief is in essence a working through of all such responses and feelings, to greater and lesser degrees depending on one's woundedness; depending upon how solid is the emotional foundation on which we stand. When we are wounded or damaged as children, because so much is subconscious, it is that much harder to do the repair work which is necessary and so it is a process of repair and restoration which takes place with every loss; with every time of grieving.

The work must be done. It is as simple as that and if we do not go willingly to the work it will come to us. I thought I had but perhaps not enough. We are good at hiding the truth of ourselves from our consciousness; some of us are masters of the art. That too was a part of the survival process.

There is a saying: 'Those who will the Fates guide; those who won't the Fates drag! When Death appears, most of us are dragged.

Grief is at times a desperate, drenching process but it is, after all, Life and without Death we would never appreciate Life in the way that we do. Perhaps that is the sole lesson of this world!