& a prompt on doing better by Carmen Radley
This reminded me of something a therapist said to me, many years after I stopped seeing him. He had held space for me as I recounted years of neglect and abuse and helped me through a time of serious falling apart...a decade of anxiety and depression issues...the suicides of my brother and father. Years later, I married again and it was an abusive man. I felt I should have known better, since I was now "all healed." i had such tremendous guilt for making that decision. I ran into him and told him how stupid I felt for doing that. He reminded me of just what Carmen writes about...that many things led up to the decision to fall in love with...and marry another abusive man. I had done the best I could with everything I knew up to that point. Soon I will be celebrating my 30th anniversary with a wonderful, caring, gentle man. I did learn...and I broke a cycle.
When my second marriage finally fell apart, I spent years wishing I could get a “do over”. Not a second chance to get the marriage right. A second chance to get the ending right.
Shortly after I moved out of my married home and into an apartment of my own, I started dating. It was an unconscious attempt to distract myself from the heartache and everything that felt painful and difficult. I picked up dating like some people pick up drugs or drinking.
The fact of my dating was convenient ammunition for my ex. He laid all the blame for the failure of our marriage at my feet.
I wanted to be beyond contempt. I wanted to maintain my status as the victim. I had given that up with my compulsive dating.
What did I learn? So many things—notably my need to be “right”, to be blameless, to be justified. My sense of worth was so fragile that I could not afford to be challenged—I would fall apart like a house of cards.
What’s different? I accept that I am flawed and guilty and that I cannot escape being human, but I also learned that I am good enough, that I am worthy. Worthy of love, compassion and forgiveness, from others and from myself.
I believe very deeply that we deserve, and have every right to practice, self-compassion. I believe we are doing our best, even when that best fails terribly, and does harm. And, I believe we must take responsibility for the harm we’ve done, rather than hide behind “I did my best.” And we need to apologize, and work to change. Maya Angelou said it best: do the best you can until you know better. Once you know better, do better.
I know from personal experience that one can deeply wound loved ones while doing one’s best (because we ourselves are wounded). I believe that self compassion, taking responsibility and apologizing, and changing all go together. And I think that no matter how much one changes for “the better,” there is always grief that one couldn’t have changed sooner (if one has done harm). Self compassion and grief. I believe we have to hold them both. 🙂
The raw authenticity of both essays touched me deeply. I replay the moment two summers ago when I became broken. I had held it together (I won't go into the details) for so damn long, accepted what others said was "the best they could do" while I suffered, and continued my 24/7 caregiving. My therapist saved me and said, " Two things if I may. Ask yourself two questions: 'Am I doing this from the goodness in my heart? Is this the best thing for (insert name)?' If the answer to both is a resounding 'Yes," then proceed. If it isn't, hang back for a bit and sprinkle compassion on yourself for the unknowing."
My father was dying. He was in the ICU. After my mother’s death six days earlier, Dad showed us that he had hung on just for her. When news reached him in the hospital that mom had died (she was at their home in hospice care), his body became infused with carbon dioxide. My sister, brother and I flew into town to be with him. He rallied briefly for several days until the carbon dioxide took over again. Following his legal wishes, his life support machines were disconnected. During that time, I called his childhood best friend. Floyd cried. I told him that I would put the phone by Dad’s ear. Floyd spoke to Dad. That resulted an incredible occurrence--Dad made sounds from his throat in reply to Floyd. Dad actually heard Floyd’s words! Ironically (and somewhat comically), a nurse who had entered the room admonished me to let Dad preserve his energy. For what?!
Looking back, I’m grateful for the decision I made to have these eight-decade friends share their love for each other one final time. And it taught me that as life is ending, that person still might hold an awareness of the people and love enveloping him or her.❤️
Buddhist concepts just always make sense and give me ‘aha!’ moments. I too have started to interrupt my tendency to assume the worst and realise most of us are just doing our best with as good intentions as there is capacity for - the issues arise when people aren’t doing their best to our standard (shout out to the disgruntled perfectionists!) and really a lot of the time that’s something we can change about us not the other way around.
People-pleasing. That jumped out at me. I was raised in a house with an ineffectual mother and narcissistic sister. Ever since I can remember, I was expected to carry the burden of their shortcomings. My sister said to me once, “You’re too nice to people. I only tolerate them if they can do something for me.” Another time after a hectic event, my mother said to me, “I just don’t know what to do with you.” She crushed me a little with that remark.
I could go on, but you get the idea. I felt as though everyone’s happiness depended on me and I never felt that I was doing enough. Thankfully, my dad and his mom, my grandma, were there for me. It has taken me my whole life to understand and accept that I am enough. I am enough. My best efforts towards others rise and fall with the many variables of the moment, but I know my intentions come from caring.
Thank you, Carmen.
Suleika, thank you for sharing the Buddhist concept of right action…without attachment to the outcome…I’m going to focus on that. I love you girl. ♥️
When I read this I think of my 7 year old when he had cancer. He had to go for the measurements for radiation and it was difficult, but he got through it as he did lying perfectly still through hundreds of MRIs and Cat Scans. This time I said to him "You did really good!" and he said " Isn't it wonderful when your best is THE best."
“Try...fail; try again, fail better.” Learning both humility and courage, day by day.
All is grace.
Oof. I too have been trying to untangle my perfectionism and how I use it as a tool to (try to) control things. It feels like safety and it’s taken me until my 40s to realize it’s not.
I’ve also been doing a deep dive into Buddhism the last six months and have found so many of the principles to be grounding. It’s helped me get clearer on what’s my business, and how to keep my eyes on my own paper so to speak. It feels like a form of liberation. When I let go of control, there’s much more ease. Who’d have thought? 😬😂
What if the phrase “doing one’s best” is itself fraught with limitations? In the parlance of Ego talk, “my best” is restricted by the Ego’s grappling with me and my choices. There could be another dimension to this story. When I compose music, the Ego must lie down, allowing a single tone to take me on a journey beyond what I am familiar with, what has become the daily “I know myself”. This journey into the unknown, this flight beyond the familiar, is often what becomes the best(or, better). Who’s best? Mine? I don’t entirely think so. Is this channeling? I don’t know. Is this greater than “my best”? I think so. Is the universe calling me forward? Could be. There lies the mystery. The best I can do is get out of the way. Give up control in the moment. Then, and maybe, only then, the best occurs, leaving me quietly intrigued and humbled.
Before COVID I played flutes for people in our local hospitals. When I stood before someone and thought about “doing my best”, a self-consciousness dampened the music. Sometimes, when I surrendered to Music, to serving Music and the person before me, I found myself swimming in a “magical” sound beyond my understanding. I would even forget that I was holding a flute in my hands. A life-lesson in walking on this earth and,
at the same time, surrendering to the experience that “holds us all, and together”.
My iPad is just about out of battery so I just want to make a brief comment before it dies---- I LOVE everything about suleika and Carmen--- the writing, the authenticity, all the gifts that they are always sharing with the community ✨I am so grateful for their love and friendship even though we have never met in person....but I’m thinking that may happen in the future ❤️meantime I wanted to tell you both that I bought myself a black and red checkered shirt, just like the one in the adorable picture of the two of you. Whenever I wear it ( I live in miami‼️) I feel cozy and warm and I feel like Carmen and suleika are wrapped around with me.... it’s very sweet. ❌⭕️❌⭕️big hugs to all
My beloved tiny Chihuahua Mommy Mayhem passed quietly at home last night. At the time of her adoption she was either 1 or 9 and I think the latter. This would make her about 21=22 at the time of her passing. I had hoped, when I saw the end was near that it could be at home. My former dogs made the trip to the vet and I usually carried them through waiting rooms full of pet owners. The privacy accorded to Mommy Mayhem seemed right and she looked peaceful. However this is my perspective of course.
A great exploration of the things we are meant to pay attention to but often do not. In a culture as cluttered by delusion and fatal attractions as ours the stance of Buddhist Right Action, of spiritual guidance, becomes in reality a survival tactic. But if only we could learn to follow this path of spiritual grounding as individuals and as a culture at all times. Because as you point out that is the path our lives of suffering point to.
Here’s something that helped me a lot when I was ill. The epiphany that came my way was a long time in coming and I suffered deeply before that magical “aha” moment that Carmen described happened.
I wondered why some of the people whom I loved and cared about were behaving so strangely when they learned that I had cancer. Did they think it was contagious? That it was somehow bad luck to come too close to it? to come too close to me? I wrestled with their reactions and tried so hard to figure out what was going on. My go-to answer is to make excuses for other people’s bad behavior. My brother-in-law was worried about his own health; therefore, he couldn’t cope with my illness. Sallie would freak out if she saw me bald. Harry’s dog died last month. People I had known for years and kept up with regularly suddenly vanished off the radar. Shona was absent, Philippe went awol and on and on and I could come up with a valid excuse for every single one of their hurtful no-shows.
And while I was busy trying to defend my friends and family’s inability to cope with me… I realized something else was happening. People I hardly knew, caregivers whom I had never met before, fellow cancer patients at the clinic, the lady at the boulangerie, my mother’s hairdresser… all these kind strangers started to bathe me in a sea of love and kindness. It became clear that even though I wasn’t going to receive Shona-love or Harry-empathy --- care and concern were, in fact, all around me. I think that once we realize that we won’t always have the “person-specific” affection we crave, we can start to appreciate the fact that kindness and empathy and compassion are out there in abundance. It is what makes us human.
So many failures over my lifetime. Because I tried. I tried to do my best often using tools I learned in a very difficult childhood. Clumsy tools which often made the situation work. Then as often happens I asked for help. From a therapist. From a twelve step program. I learned to be kinder to myself. I learned to question my own motives before impulsively jumping in to “help” another person. I learned to ask myself if I could show up for fun and for free with no hidden agenda or expectation. If learned that compassion was not codependency. Especially important I have learned to accept myself. And others. I don’t have to like an unacceptable situation. But I do need to accept it. Because it is so. I have learned to live in the reality of this ever shifting life we share. And for that I am forever grateful.