integrity

Open House

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I can understand why people find it so stressful to move.  My inner perfectionist has been awakened by the need to have the house looking spotless for prospective buyers.  We have decided to list our house ourselves for a short time to try and sell it to someone who is like minded.  As a result, we hosted an open house this past weekend.  Getting ready for it made me realize just how comfortable I am now with a bit of mess.  Feeling the need to ‘impress’ other people gets my dander up every time.  My poor children had to suffer through my demands to keep toys put away, keep their hands off the freshly painted walls, and not dig holes in the back yard (which I think was the hardest for them, since we’re experiencing an unseasonably early Spring).

I can also see how my attempts to control the state of our space has pushed my children away.  The effects of attempting to micro-manage them can be seen so clearly in this time when we push up against a new (unhealthy) way of being.  Actually, it’s more like returning to an old way of being, one I hadn’t realized just how glad I was to let go of!  My inner landscape isn’t as calm, and neither is my children’s.  The work, the chores, and the state of the house has taken priority over our relationships.  This doesn’t feel good.  What has been lost is our connection, which I am now having to work hard to recover.  The process is difficult because my inner resources are depleted due to my own emotional processing over leaving this home.  We have been working hard to ready ourselves for this transition.  Now that we’re living at the edge of public and private life, I want this process to be over quickly so that we can move on with our lives in the way that is meaningful to us…to be with each other again.

Creating illusions is not what we’re about.  We have had to put our values on hold for a while to meet the values of the world at large.  In fact, I feel like I’m a hypocrite for creating the consumer driven illusion of  perfection.  This has not been an easy task, since I take my decisions and my integrity very seriously.  Life doesn’t stop just so that you can sell your house, but the expectation is that it should, since a home needs to appear as though it is easy to always maintain unsustainable levels of cleanliness and order.  In effect we are commodifying our lifestyle in an effort to sell this home.

The people who came through our home didn’t see us scrambling to wash the windows on Saturday morning, or compromising our integrity by throwing out the paint rollers to save time over washing them thoroughly for reuse.  They also couldn’t see me feel the void of not having the volume of my children fill the space or the starkness at seeing all of their books neatly lining the shelves rather than the surface of our sofa.  Homes are meant for living in.  Selling a home is a prime example of how our culture thrives on the outward appearance of perfection as an attainable and desirable goal.  But what this experience has made so very clear for me is that there is always an expense.

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Needing a Break ≠ Failure

We had a crazy hour around lunchtime yesterday.  Over the summer we have fallen out of the rhythm of tidying up before lunch and dinner, which has put us right back into power struggles over the issue as we try to reestablish our routine.  The children did not want to begin tidy-up time, despite several warnings it was coming.  They began running around getting out more things and generally getting into mischief.  I cleaned for what would usually be our tidy-time then shifted to make the children’s lunches in order to get the baby eating (and stop getting more toys out!).  I returned to tidying up, encouraging the older children to help, as it would take much less time to get to eating our lunches should we all work together.  This was generally not accepted, although they did help with a few things.  As we finished, the final task was for my three year old to put away the costume he had just taken off that was now on the floor.  The request threw him into complete melt-down that ended in a fight with is brother and a broken bowl.  When I got that cleaned up (I would normally have them clean their own messes, but in the case of broken dishes, I will do it for them) and people settled, my five year old asked for some crackers.  I decided to oblige for fear of creating another eruption…the children were clearly very hungry!  I put the crackers on his plate, which threw him into meltdown.  He didn’t want them to be wet by touching his pickle, and proceeded to throw them all over the kitchen.  My response was to leave, saying, “I need to leave because I feel like I’m going to yell at my children, and I don’t want to.”  I went into the next room, sat down and took some deep breaths.  What I heard from the kitchen was a return to happy conversation and the noises of children enjoying their lunches.  I could have chosen to address the behaviours right then and there, enforcing their need to clean up after themselves, but I didn’t. I chose to leave the situation rather than escalating it.  When I went back into the kitchen, everyone was fine again.  The food was being eaten, including the crackers that had since been picked up.  It is really hard to leave conflict in the heat of the moment.  For some reason the fight instinct is much stronger than the one for flight.  I ask my children to do this all the time – in the middle of conflict, I suggest they leave before they get into a fight.  This time I was able to model it, and more importantly experience what it feels like to leave in the heat of the moment.

The past couple of months have been very stressful for me for a number of reasons.  There has been a lot going on.  As a result, I have been stretched, pushed, and generally stressed out.  There was not time or space to properly process all that was happening due to the pace of life with three littles and the circumstances of the situation.  I am finally feeling like I’m recovering from what has been a very dark period in my life.

In the middle of it all, I didn’t know what to do to help myself.  I felt lost, and frustrated.  I was not parenting the way I wanted to be, or how I knew I was capable of.  But I had no way to be any different.  There was not space to make it so.  But what I didn’t think of in the throes of the chaos was to ask for help.  What I really needed was an opportunity to walk away, to have a break from the conflict.  In retrospect, I now realize that if I had asked for a day off, there are many people in my life who would have stepped up to provide the relief I so desperately needed.  I am so blessed with loving family and friends!  But what held me back was an inability to care for myself, rooted in my pride.  I didn’t want to admit that I was finding it all to be too much.  Our culture has such disdain for people who ask for what they need.  We suffer silently, afraid to ask for help.  But a break, even if it were just for a few hours would have helped me to return home to myself!

This past weekend I had a full day away from the family.  The yield from being apart for even just a day has been amazing. The past three days have been much more enjoyable for everyone in the family.  I have been able to restore my inner calm so I no longer feel the need to nag the children.  I now have more capacity for patience and compassion for myself and my children.  Although I hate to admit it, my children have benefited from the break as well.  Since we spend all of our time together, it is helpful to clear the air every once in a while.  The result of taking time apart has been that this week we have been much more respectful, more loving, more cuddly, and generally it has been more enjoyable to be around each other.  Now that I’m beginning to see the light at the other side of the darkness.  I can honestly say that I have learned an insurmountable lesson from this journey.  I know now that what is best for everyone is for me to have self-compassion.  Allowing myself to recognize that the journey can be difficult sometimes is alright.

I have been learning in many ways that sometimes the best conflict resolution is to walk away.  A break can bring such clarity.  Time away offers the space to stop reacting to it.  Asking for help does not speak of failure, but in fact the opposite.  When I ask for the support I need, I have in fact succeeded.  Having the courage to take time for myself allowed me to gain perspective about the ways in which I was trying to grasp at the illusion of control.  Without that oppressive old paradigm thinking, I have been able to reacquaint myself with what’s really important to me…my family.

Having Patience in Desperate Times

I often get so impatient with the amount of time it takes to change.  I often feel the need to have things already ‘just so.’  Our culture strives for and cultivates illusions of perfection; something people can never attain.  What this elusive striving leaves me with is a sense that I’m not already doing great things!  A feeling that there is something better out there, which inevitably takes me away from the present moment and the beauty that exists right here, right now.

Conversely, the striving from improvement (rather than perfection) allows me to grow.  Like a plant transfixed on reaching the sun, growth through and around obstacles happens when I set goals for myself.  I have so often watched myself parent my children in ways I don’t want to, ways I know aren’t helpful.  Shouting and doling out punishments are not solutions.  Another example would be how I hate using plastic, yet still make purchases at the local grocery store that are wrapped in it.  I have not put the effort into finding a complete alternative.  We will not compromise on buying organic in our home, and as a result, I often end up coming home with vegetables and fruits packaged in plastic.  In addition we have a need to find a dairy that doesn’t use plastic containers (cheese and yogurt are staples around here!)

Awakening to new ideas and having the gumption to follow my inner voice is what is helping me to make progress.  But how do I maintain integrity?  It sure stings to watch myself repeat patterns that I no longer subscribe to, as I feel they belong to a paradigm I’m shifting away from.  But this interaction is part of the process.  I still belong to the culture that established the paradigm and the people around me still function within it…including myself.   Similar to how I’m able to view myself as part of nature, I must also recognize that I am part of the culture at large, and even though I push back against it, many aspects of my life still subscribe to it.  This is not inherently a bad thing, because descending toward a less oil dependent future definitely takes time.  It’s such a blessing to have a staircase to use!  What I must remember to so make sure I respect myself on the journey down.

What I have noticed is that getting down on myself for my inability to make the change will not actually help the change happen.  In fact it often becomes a hindrance, because I’m not supporting myself through the change.  What I actually need to do for myself in times of inner conflict is to trust.  To be gentle with where I am knowing that I am moving in the right direction.  I take a deep breath and observe.  If I can tune into myself in that small window of feeling, perhaps I will find an answer.  How does it make me feel when I treat my child in a disrespectful way or come home with bags of plastic wrapped food?  What alternative solutions do I have? Although the second question rarely offers up any stellar solution to a usually large and consistent problem, asking it acknowledges that I’m open to alternatives.  If I stop asking the question, an answer will never come.  I am waiting for an opening to appear.  In my searching, I also often stumble upon small shifts that I can make toward a larger change.  Many smaller shifts in consciousness combine to make a large one so any shift in the right direction is a good one.

Here I am reminded of a story I read not too long ago of a man lost on a mountain climbing trip after falling down a crevasse.  His climbing partner thought he had died in the fall and descended the mountain to save himself from the bitter cold.  The injured man, still alive but unable to walk, was determined to make it to safety.  Rather than consider the entire journey, he began to set small goals for himself.  Things like, I will make it to that rock in the next three hours.  With incremental goal setting, he was able to see his successes and ultimately save himself.  I only hope for the same courage to save myself.  There will always be another goal to point my attention toward in search of change.  What there won’t be is another chance to live the process…that thing we call life.

Meet in Action

We are often defined by what it is that we do.  Now that my role is a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, I don’t think that really defines me.  Come to think of it, I’ve always had a problem with being asked what my job is.  What I do is so much greater than my ‘job.’  Here is a another area where it is easier to categorize, classify, sort, delineate and define someone by something external from themselves.  Some people do work they do not care for, so should their job still be judged as a reflection of themselves?  Then I think about all the people I have taught with over the years and how much variance I’ve seen in personality, aptitude and approach to the very same role.  So why do we try to define someone by what they do?

In pondering how we come together with other people, I started to think about how it is that we come to know each other.  In a way, all we can do is infer, gathering data through clues over a span of time.  The longer the ‘study’ the clearer the results.  What people say, how they act, tone of voice, body language, and what they do…all action.  It is at the point of action that we have a chance to express ourselves and where we have the opportunity to try and understand another.  Sometimes our actions are misinterpreted and our intent does not come across.  But then I think of all the times that I can get a sense of someone or a situation before spending much time with it.  I feel this connection reflects my mammalian instinct and skill that I rarely call upon.  I use these instincts along with my logical mind to piece together my version of reality.  This is a skill I’m trying to hone since I would love to be able to trust my instincts more.  Through many means we are taught not to trust our inner voice within our culture.  Ironically, it is my instinctual understanding of the world that has more likelihood of providing a truer picture of reality.

So, if action is the portal where our separate realities can collide, then it makes me consider how important my actions are.  How am I meeting the world with what I do, and is it in line with how I want to be perceived?  I cannot change how my actions are perceived, but I can change what it is that I’m doing.  In an effort to maintain integrity, I try to think very carefully about how it is that I interact.  How do I spend my time?  How do I spend my money?  How do I make my money?  How do I treat those around me?  How do I treat myself?  And ultimately, how do my actions reflect my inner experience, or do they miss the mark?  Being honest with myself is the only way I can present any level of honesty to the world.