Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Death... and Birth (redux)

Some weeks back, I contemplated "death," following the passing of my mother.

Typically, we associate death with the passing of a person, or perhaps of a beloved pet. But death can mean many things. Death of a company, death of an idea, death of a relationship, death of a habit, death of a paradigm, even death of an addiction. And death-- while often painful-- is not necessarily a bad thing.

In my family, the month of August was always a month of many birthdays. But it has also been a month of many deaths. This particular August has been a month of "deaths" for me.

As August ran out, time also ran out on my affiliation with a large web group I've been a part of, almost since its inception in 1996-- both as "just a member," and as "group management." On some level this symbolic "death" led me to a contemplation of exactly what this death was, and the circumstances surrounding "voluntary deaths." In a sense this was the death of a habit. In a different sense, it was the death of a pattern of not-growing; of not moving on. My point here being, that some things need to die, and should be allowed to die.

Sometimes we grow attached to things, in a not-so-healthy way. And we get stuck, and refuse to allow these things to "die." It could be the relationship we're in, going on year 18, even though the relationship "ended" five years ago, or it could be a habit we keep following, even though it is no longer relevant. Or, take therapy. The point of therapy is that we heal and move on, not that we remain in therapy, for 20 years.

Last night, I contemplated the issues of "moving on," compassion, and the hesitance we feel, when it comes to letting go. It led me to consider the problems we often face with patterns and habits, and how we keep doing the same toxic thing, over and over... somehow expecting a different result, next time around... driven, perhaps, by the belief that we can somehow find redemption "if only" it all works out. Often, there's a metaphorical process of running around in a circle going "The sky's gonna fall," while not actually doing anything to address the falling sky.

On a different level, we often stay in situations that involve others out of an alleged sense of compassion, for them, even though the issue at hand is actually about us. We "farm out" accountability for our stuckness by pointing out that were being "considerate" and "compassionate" towards someONE/someTHING outside ourselves. For me, it was often due to the fear of admitting that I simply wasn't able to make something "work." Each of us probably has a different "monster under the bed."

Pema Chödrön, one of my favorite spiritual Teachers, has written much on the topic of compassion. One of the misinterpretations of compassion seems to be that it somehow requires us to "blindly support" someone, in order to be "compassionate." We mistakenly believe that we must validate and underwrite every bad act and toxic habit, if we are to be truly compassionate. However, sometimes the most compassionate act requires us to be "the bad guy." We struggle with this, because how can it be "compassion," if someone gets hurt?

Sometimes a "house of cards" has to be allowed to fall. Perhaps the most compassionate act is to NOT protect someone from their self-destructive actions, but to allow them to actually fall into the black pit those patterns, so they will fully experience the consequences of their choices. Maybe it's a bit like parenting-- unless we actually take the training wheels OFF the bicycle, and thus expose the child to the possibility of falling, there can be no growth; they will never learn to ride the bike unassisted.

Perhaps part of what makes death (of the symbolic, rather than phsyical kind) "scary," is our tendency to forget that such deaths are more often "passages," than "endings." As one of my Teachers once pointed out: "When a door closes, you BY DEFINITION have stepped through, into a NEW space."

I'm by no means advocating that we should not respect, observe, remember and learn from the past... merely pointing out that sometimes we allow "mourning the old" to overshadow new opportunities to such a degree that we get stuck, unable to see and embrace the beauty and potential of what lies ahead.

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