Personal history

We can’t change our personal history, only the stories we tell of it. We can say something different about what happened and what we now feel about it but we can’t change what really happened that day or how we felt then, nor how we grew around the emotions of it. In a search to reconcile with out past we retell our stories changing this or that. Often we start by giving a benefit of the doubt to one character of the other. It is too great a burden to keep blaming. It hurts to much to be angry, to feel rejected, to take it all personally as a reflection of ourselves. We have to find a way to explain things that lightens the burden of responsibility we carry. Going around blaming your mother/yourself is just so tiring.

It’s a long journey around all that. You start feeling angry and unloved. She wasn’t nice, she was mean. For 40 years she did that shit and she even admitted it. But now you have to forgive her because it’s you who carries the weight of not laying it down. It has to be someone’s fault. After all it was choices people made, she and I, I think. She didn’t have a mother, she was impatient, she had unrealistic expectations of what children are, she didn’t really like being a mother, she expected children to wait on her, she expected girls to be dainty dolls she could dress up in frilly finery, they would never get dirty, or make a mess. She didn’t know that children fight for who they are, they aren’t as plastic as she thought. It’s not her fault she didn’t know, is it? Not to fight meant to lose, to lose cost even more. So, it’s my fault for fighting, hers? Maybe I could have changed things earlier or faster. Is that a question or statement? I wasn’t brave enough to ask the questions she seemed to be willing to explore.

I’ve noticed as I work this through that my sadness expands as possible pasts pop up. What if…, what if…? How much is lost? What would I have learned, what did I lose? What could she have said that would have made it worse? I think I was afraid that with the unlocked door, if I responded she’d get defensive and slam that crack back in my face. I didn’t want her to take it back and I was sure she would. I never gave her a chance so maybe. . . As long as I can recall and as long as I live I will never trust her not to take “it” back.

She said she tried with me. I believe her but she didn’t know you can’t just try once in a while. That’s almost worse. You are nice and then you are mean again. Trust  needs a foundation of more than shifting sand. You told me I was a liar so you’d never believe me. You didn’t, it didn’t matter even when mostly I told the truth. It’s the same thing, you asked me to believe you loved me then you proved to my little girl’s heart you didn’t. You didn’t even like me. You were mean. I have to remember that, not to whitewash the past. If I do I’m left believing I’m the only one to blame. I have to remind myself, she was the grown-up, not me. She was the mother, I was the child. It was her job to love me first, to show me how to love and live, not mine to prove my love first.

Could it have been different? Maybe, if we were different people. We were who we were with all the things we knew and felt those days. We didn’t know we could change it. We didn’t understand both of us had to go first to stop the cycle of blame and of pain. But then, I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t have learned I could fight so hard and win. I might be someone not as strong and as happy as I am today if we had done better. So I have to believe I had the best possible history if it lead me here today. But it isn’t perfect and I still mourn the child and the mother who went through so much. At least I’ve forgiven you and see you held in god’s arms with me. We both lay our heads on her breast in equal repose because we are so loved. Now I need to let go of the rest of the stuff that makes my heart so heavy. I see progress but it is as slow as losing weight.

I keep trying to tell the story to turn you into someone who I more than feel sorry for. I do feel sorry for you and for me. I want to instruct the mother and console the child. I can do neither from this end of the string. This is not the end that unravels, the bag opened at the other end. What is done is done, now what’s left is to tell the it and explain it so that it is a story I can live with. As I travel to the end of my life I see you in the mirror and wonder how close we will come.



Search For Wisdom

I wasn’t such a bad looking girl, just overweight so figured I’d never be beautiful. My sister was a lot prettier than I was but I was smart. That was what I had going for me. But I was harangued by my parents for my bad judgement. I they convinced me that this was something I could get better at. How do you make better decisions? I didn’t know. I needed to know.

I have alway had a deep, tender heart. I’ve had to exert control over what I showed outside. I was so easily manipulated by those who knew how much I cared. I had to make sure they didn’t know. But I knew. I had this feeling that good judgement came from wisdom. Since I saw myself as so smart, I figured what I needed was to become wise. How do you become wise?

Anything I’ve ever wanted to know about I read about. This was the 1960s and the rise of the self-actualization movement. There was the women’s lib movement, the rise of the use of drugs like LSD and mushrooms to get in touch with your inner being, the rise in groups that met to support each other in their journeys of self-discovery. I read Hugh Prather, Carlos Castinada, Heinlein, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and all those cool books of the 60s, 70s and 80s. I found them fascinating but wasn’t sure I was getting anywhere with this search for wisdom. It occurred to me that maybe my problem was a lack of clarity about what it was I was seeking. What is wisdom?

I can find definitions of wisdom in every dictionary. Wikipedia says: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise. OK, but something is missing. When I meet someone wise I know it. I hear it as they speak. I know lots of people with experience who are just plain crazy, not wise. I know people with what is called good judgement who are the most boring people in the world. They don’t make mistakes because they are so afraid of making them they are mummified by their constraints. I know plenty of people who know a ton of stuff but seem a bit out to lunch. So who is wise, how are they different from others with these qualities?

When I meet someone who seems wise they appear to know a lot, their understanding of the interplay of events and feelings is deep. Tell them a story and they can predict the outcome and more importantly, why. They have a special gift of syntheses. Their vision doesn’t make them afraid but curious.

I was about 50 years old when I finally recognized what I was looking for. I had wondered in passing for years and years about this idea but only in my late 40s did I actually make it a priority task, to identity wisdom. We talk about it like it was some fixed point that you could just hike to and it would be yours forever. The idea that I could achieve or capture wisdom was probably the thing most in my way of recognizing it.

What I’ve come to believe is that wisdom is a nexus that creates a synergy. With all the things that happen to us we come to an understanding what those experiences meant for us. I’ve come to believe that everything has some meaning, even the small things. Often that meaning is as simple as that I’ve found something that gives me joy or pleasure or disappointment but there is something to be recalled.

It took me 2 years of some consistent thought about it but I decided the definition that worked for me is, wisdom is the intersection of knowledge and understanding. That means everyone has some if they learn from their choices. Making good choices really isn’t wisdom but the result of wisdom and discipline. It is like the really great doctors who smoke or abuse drugs. They know better but can’t get a grip on themselves. Knowledge becomes wisdom with the addition of acceptance of meaning and consequences. That requires the heart.

Heart-wisdom demands deep listening, deep silence, and space between thoughts and words. It isn’t judgmental, doesn’t stretch too hard to make assumption outside of what it knows. Watching people closely over time is essential to being able to take true meaning of experiences, yours and others. We know from our experience that certain things hurt, certain things are frightening, certain things comfort us, and each of those feelings can manifest in a whole range of behaviors from running and screaming to deep stillness.

At this point I feel like I’ve reached the point of being closer to the heart wisdom I seek. With age one has to hope. No one can be totally wise because we can’t know enough. We can know some, extrapolate some, and guess at some but we never really have the whole picture, even of ourselves. Wisdom doesn’t assure good choices but it can help. It makes you more cautious about hurting others and hopefully yourself. Wisdom avoids martyrdom in most cases. Giving your all is a thing lovers and parents do but that isn’t called wise, only loving or dedicated. It doesn’t keep us from making financial mistakes when we believe the wrong things.

Perfect judgement can’t exist. If perfection is in safety too much is lost. In being perfectly safe perfection is lost because it is in taking risks that we grow and expand. Safe judgement would avoid the decision points, the opportunity to take a risk, situations requiring taking risks. No, taking risks is how we get rich. We take a risks by caring, by competing, we risk loss and pain. But avoiding life isn’t wise. Those who chose to quit taking risks are seen as smart in money, or plants, or some specialized thing. Smart and wise are two different traits. Smart isn’t always wise but wise is always smart. The heart-wise  are willing to take the risks, being open to pain and to joy.

Answering the question about what wisdom is has been helpful because I understand what I’ve done was actually exactly what I needed to do to get better at living. Chasing wisdom is useless, like trying to put light into a box to keep it. Being open to everything, taking it all in is the path. Being an active participant and observer is how we learn to use what we experience. The experience and the efforts to understand those experiences is the way.