Monday, March 12, 2012

Step 2: Look at Your Own Family

      Step 2 was the February step.  It's now March.  I didn't write anything on step 2 in February, not because I wasn't doing it, not because I wasn't thinking about it and living it and looking at my own world every day, but because of this part.  The Family part.  I really didn't know what to put here.

       My quest to become more compassionate in some areas of my family life began long before I ever heard of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate LifeA million years ago, back in college, it one day dawned on me what a selfish wench I had been as a child and a teenager.  Sure, I was a good kid for the most part - near the top of my class, deferential to authority figures (ok, there were a few particular exceptions to this, but they were completely justified), rarely in trouble.  I didn't rebel in any outrageous way*.

      That said, I was still a selfish wench the way most children are and don't realize it.  I picked on my little brother mercilessly.  I griped about having to do chores.  I was completely focused on my life, my friends, my schoolwork, etc., with little to no regard for what was going on with the rest of my family.  When I was around 16, we moved out of the house I grew up in to a much nicer house.  My parents were very happy about this move.  The new house didn't need tons of work the way our old one did; it was on a lake; it was great. 

     I hated it.  I felt like a sellout moving to an HOA on a man made lake, and I resented moving out of the house I grew up in.  I'm sure I drove my parents nuts referring to the lake as "the Gay Lake" (which I would NEVER, EVER do now!!!  I detest when people use 'gay' as though it's derrogatory, but I was young and stupid and grew up in a backwoods area where people still think being homosexual is a choice).  For the entire time I lived in that house until I left for college, I complained about hating the lake and the neigborhood, even though it was actually a really good situation and a big life improvement for us.  My parents didn't have to stress about fixing things all the time.  The lake made my mom so happy.  It signified something really great my parents had been working toward.  It was a triumph for them.

       Now, looking back on it, I cringe a little thinking of how self-centered I was.  Sure, I can cut myself some slack and say that all kids are like that.  Children don't develop empathy until they get older, and most teenagers are pretty wrapped up in their own worlds.  Everything is SO important when you're a teenager.

       NotDonna and I were just laughing the other day about how surreal it is to talk to teenagers and young adults these days, to just want to shake them and say "that doesn't matter!  Really, it doesn't!  Not at all, I promise."  But there's no point, because they don't get it.  It's one of those things you have to learn for yourself.  So we just sit back and smile.  And yes, we still calmly say, "you don't get it.  This really doesn't matter.  In 10 years, you'll see."  And they look at you like you're so far out of touch it's a wonder you can dial a phone.

      Yeah, everyone's like that when they're young for the most part.  Still, it makes me cringe.  And when it first dawned on me, it didn't dawn on me as a humorous reality.  I was horrified.  I felt aweful.  I still apologize to Boo a few times a year for what an aweful older sister I was.  I was plagued with guilt.  I still am a little bit.

       So I started working to be more compassionate with my family, even though I didn't recognize it as exactly that at the time.  I just knew that I needed to see things from their perspective to be a truely supportive family member and make up for my jackass youth.

      And now that I have a family of my own, that extends even farther.  Because let me tell you, just because I had become reflexively empathetic with my parents, brother, and closest friends, the doesn't mean it came naturally with MacGyver and Punky.

      MacGyver is such an amazing husband that he makes it easy to take him for granted.  He is always doing sweet little things for me, picking up the slack when I'm overwhelmed; cleaning out my car or filling it up with gas; mailing the letter I've accidently left on the counter for a week; ordering the item I keep talking about but never get around to actually getting for myself.  Rarely a day goes by when he doesn't do something just for me to make my life easier or make me happier.

       I actually have to work to avoid expecting him to do those things.  To appreciate every single thing he does.  To fill up my own gas tank once in a while.

      And doing those same sorts of little things for him?  I suck.  Really.  In my head, it's because I'm so damned pressed for time all the time that it's hard to fit in those little things.  In reality, it's because they don't spring to mind for me the way they do for him.  I have to stop and consciously ponder, "What can I do for MacGyver today?"  And sometimes, it's really hard to think of anything.  Sure, that's not exactly compassion, but it ties in.

      I suppose compassion ties in more not when MacGyver is being super sweet to me, but when he's totally fed up with me.  MacGyver can be a little gruff when he's stressed, and he pushes himself to do so much all the time that occassional stress is unavoidable.  Early on, I did not help matters.  When he'd get gruff with me, instead of recognizing that he was stressed out (even though I knew he was), and trying to make him feel better, half the time I'd get pissy, which would only make him feel worse.  Lovely wife, aren't I?

      Now, it didn't take long at all for me to make the stress-gruff connection.  But was my first instinct to help relieve his stress so wouldn't be gruff?  Hell no.  My most serious relationship before MacGyver had been an emotionally and (to a lesser degree) physically abusive one.  As part of recovering from that, I had told my self that I would NOT take any crap from any man, period.  It took a little time (and a lot of patience from MacGyver) for me to clue in to the fact that being compassionate with my partner when he was stressed was not the same as letting someone walk all over me.

      And now I feel like an ass for having gone so far in the opposite direction in the first place.  But I've got it now, and that's what counts.

      Compassion with Punky has been challenging at times, too.  I was never really all that fond of children.  Realizing what a jerk I was as a kid didn't help.  Children are, by nature, needy, self serving little monsters.  They lack reason and empathy.  Lacking reason is a big deal.  When I first became Punky's mom, a psychologist friend of mine told me I was going to have a tough road with her because I communicated on an almost completely rational level.  (That sounds good, but it's actually not really normal; most people communicate with a mixture of reason and emotion; I have been called, by more than one psychologist, "hyper-rational."  Making communication with kids and very emotional people feel un-natural to me).

      She was right.  While Punky and I got along wonderfully when playing games and running around together, I still found myself getting repeatedly frustrated with her irrational behaviour.  "If you liked peanut butter yesterday, then you like it today!!!"  I also thought she was completely spoiled from having been an only child to a freaking awesome single father.  She didn't like to play by herself, and she expected near constant attention from me.

       I had lived quite happily alone with my beloved dog for years before this.  Punky was a big change.

       And as it turned out, she wasn't [abnormally] irrational or spoiled.  She was 4.  And I was an adult.  And I was the one not dealing with it. 

      It didn't take me too long to figure out just what a great kid Punky really was.  I don't know how I ever could have thought she was spoiled (well, I do - because I was being unreasonable and probably a little spoiled myself).  She knew what she wanted and she asked for it because that's what kids do.  But she didn't throw tantrums.  She was sweet and polite and loving.  Looking back, and having a whole heck of  a lot more experience with kids now, I realize that she was actually an amazingly well behaved 4 year old.  At worst, she had a little bit of only child syndrome, but there's not much that could've been done about that.  she was an only child.

      Being compassionate with Punky meant looking at things from her perspective - her irrational, child-world, need-based, not in control perspective.  I STILL have a hard time with this once in a while.  She's 9 now!  The thing is, she keeps changing!  It's hard to keep up with just what her perspective is!  Ha.  I have to remember when she goes on about boys and rants so dramatically about the goings-on between she and her friends what it was like to be that age and to enjoy play-acting these roles and not really knowing what they mean.  I have to remember that maybe when she's 16, I may want to shake her and say, "None of this matters at all!  Really, it doesn't!  Not at all, I promise.  It's not that important.  It's not important at all."  And she still won't listen to me.  But right now, she doesn't even understand what "it" is.  She just modelling; playing at being the people around her. 

      And I have to remember that I'm the person she models most.  And I have to remember to be something worth modelling.  So I have to bite my tongue and nod sympathetically when she tells me that Emma stole Aspen's man.  And tell her that he doesn't sound like a very good man if he's that easy to steal.  And wonder just how long before I can divert her attention with anything caked in glitter.

      This was supposed to be a post about how I am practicing being compassionate with my family now.  About what I saw the last month when I looked around at my family.  About where they stand on compassion and how we can all get better.

      Guess I didn't quite get there.  Maybe in the next post.

*I did get a little while my last year or two of high school, drank a lot on the weekends, was serially cruel to boys, worked hard, partied hard, and made it look easy.  But I NEVER got behind the wheel drunk, stayed a virginal, never touched drugs, and didn't let all this effect my grades.  By most standards in my town, I was a good kid.  I graduated High School with a scholarship to college, excellent SAT/ACT scores, and no babies.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Step 2: Look at Your Own World

      To me, this step is about looking forward and out at all the potential good that could be done with Compassion.  It is also about looking at the world, and my world, with Compassion.

      There are many subjects upon which I naturally look with Compassion:  animals, babies, downtrodden individuals - you know, the easy ones.  I was going to say my friends and family, but, as this Chapter of Compassionate Life discusses, that's not always true.  Sometimes we judge our friends and family members even more harshly than we do others.  I think I'm compassionate with my loved ones most of the time, but I am also certain that I am guilty of the opposite at times.

      Like the previous step, this step is broken up into smaller sections.  The auther, Karen Armstrong, recommends looking at your own world through the varying lenses of the Confusian Concentric Circles:
Family is the center circle inside the Community circle, which is inside the Country circle (which would then be inside the World circle, Galaxy circle, and so on, but the book doesn't take it that far - I will not be writing a post about Compassion for extraterrestrials.).

      While I spent all of the month of February re-examining these various areas of my life and putting this step into practice, I waffled a lot about writing it.  The family step in particular is extremely personal and involves examing percieved flaws in people and relationships.  Not something I really want to be putting out there on the internet.  That said, I think to stay true to the form I am still going to write the 3 posts for step 2, focusing more on improvements than individuals.  If I'm lucky, I'll finish the step 2 posts (which are technically the Feburary posts) by the end of March ;-).