Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Watermark risen

Given the fact that I am a writer, some people may be surprised to learn that I am a very private person. After all, here I sit on a regular basis, tapping out my innermost feelings to be published on a blog that is readily available to anyone in the world...a mere click of the mouse away. Writing those innermost feelings for the eyes of so many 'out there' is a curious interplay. Yet, I am very self-contained when it comes to revealing details of my private life. There are lines that I feel are necessary to be drawn for all of us, with each person having their own personal watermark that is to remain sacrosanct.

For the most part, in social media forums such as Facebook, Twitter and this blog, you will rarely hear me reveal truly personal details about my life. I am happy to share stories from my childhood, and also to open up about topics and experiences that touch me deeply. I feel this is my way of fulfilling one of my life's gifts, which is that of healing. Again, for the most part, you will see me post very positive, uplifting blog articles, Facebook and Twitter posts. While we all have difficult days and negative experiences, I strive to see the positive in every moment and every person.

Today I had a personal Waterloo moment. It was a situation that I have alluded to in recent blogs, (Tend your bucket!) about an individual that I labeled an emotional vampire. This was my way of exercising the frustrations I had about this person. My nature is to forgive, so much so that it can become a detriment. I forgive, I understand, I sympathize, I lift up, I encourage....and in the midst of all that kindness, I overlook the fact that I am allowing another person to literally bleed me empty.

Please know that I am not suggesting that forgiveness is wrong or foolhardy. I will never truly change in this regard; I am a loving, caring, nurturing Soul and this is intrinsic to my nature to see the good and positive in others. However, there does come a day where it is graphically demonstrated that the kindness doled out has been gleefully, and most likely, selfishly consumed while the recipient of your care is laughing at your foolishness.

My watermark has risen. I weathered a very unpleasant experience today as the result of trusting someone who did not deserve that grace. I admit to struggling with the resulting fallout. I was angry, disappointed, disillusioned to a degree...with all of these emotions self-directed. Why did I aim all of those emotions at myself? Because I knew better.

Stepping completely outside of my regular comfort zone, this is what I wrote on my Facebook page:

You know that inner voice that tells you a situation is shady, as well as the people involved, yet you try your best to see the good in all involved? Trust the inner voice FIRST, and avoid the inevitable drama and disappointment in the whole dynamic. People do show you their true colors, and sometimes those colors are weak & lacking in depth and substance. #Lesson Learned

My lesson here is to forgive myself first, this other person next, and move forward with no intention of allowing this person back into my life. I can count on one hand the number of times I have come to this point in my life. It is a sad moment to truly cut ties with someone that you genuinely cared about. It is a death of expectations, possibilities and hopes, if you at one point had intentions for a strong friendship to grow and endure.

I had no idea how people would react to the Facebook statement above. It was out of character for me to the extent that I spoke of a negative personal situation. Hours after posting it, I came back and was surprised to see the response to the post. Thus far, there has not been a single negative comment. To the contrary, every comment was positive, uplifting and supportive - all true examples of people that I am blessed to call friends. This tells me that I was right to follow my instincts with the Facebook post. It also reminds me that this very instinct is sharp and clear; I need but to pay attention to that still quiet voice in the future to avoid similar negative experiences.

I cannot fault myself for wanting to see the good in others. This is actually a trait that I am happy to own. I will continue to do this, live my life this way, and continue to give more second chances than most people probably merit. I say this with a smile, now, hours later in the day when my own heart has lightened from the wonderful support of true friends. I can't change my own true colors, but I can recognize when those around me are displaying conduct and behavior that is a screaming, neon, flashing warning sign. True colors are displayed in abundance if we're willing to recognize them for what they are.

My personal watermark has risen. I have higher, more stringent standards for allowing people into my life. While this may sound judgmental and strident, it really isn't. It is me making a choice to honor myself first. This can be a difficult lesson to learn and embrace, and I daresay I will struggle with it in the future. Today has made a permanent impact and this time I am making changes that are equally permanent. Forgiveness is a conscious choice....for myself as much as for those with whom I have negative interactions.

The beauty of this experience today is that I have shed the weight of a fully grown person who was dragging me down on a regular basis. I have shed the negative emotions of someone who is motivated by selfishness. I have shed the need to feel responsible for a great number of unnecessary ties. The conscious choice to forgive and move forward, while also excising someone requires a lot of contemplation. It is not a choice made easily or with haste. It is, in this instance, necessary and I am at peace with it.

As we all know, when one door closes, God/Universe opens another. When one person exits, that space is left open for a new, beautiful energy to come in. The repercussions of today's events have some ripples. I will be dealing with those ripples for a while, but the wonderful thing to recognize and remember is that this door is wide open. This means that my life and my expectations have no boundaries.

There's another old piece of wisdom that tells us,

            Water seeks its own level.
Another way of expressing this concept is that there comes a time when vibrations no longer match up. In essence, regardless of the dramatic tone or lack thereof, people will vibrate themselves out of your reality. Sometimes we're the ones left behind. In this situation, I am the one doing the walking away. This is not done with a light heart, as I never enjoy breaking ties with someone who once mattered a great deal to me. It is done, however, with a sure heart, and perhaps that is the stronger part of this particular lesson. Of a necessity, I have looked at my own culpability with this situation. I knew better. I knew better months ago, yet I continued to offer those second chances. I wanted to believe that the spark of beauty that I know resides in each living, breathing being was burning strongly enough in that person to eventually negate the unpleasant traits that I didn't want to look at.

While I cannot speak for this person's interactions with anyone else, what I know now is that the interaction with me has been predominantly self-serving. Even as I write this, it pains me. I could revert to habit, forgive and give another chance to this person, but this time, I am walking away. Forgiveness isn't a question here; I will get to that point within a few days. It isn't in my heart to harbor grudges and simmer in resentment and ill feelings. That will do nothing but bring harm to me in the long run, while this other person will blithely go on about their life, not sparing a thought to the repercussions of their actions. I need to implement an equally purposeful action in my life with this decision and move forward with the assurance that I am better for this experience and better for making this choice.

It is curious that I've used water analogies throughout this blog. Water seems appropriate to apply, as it can exhibit physical manifestations of emotions - we call them "stormy seas", or placid, calm, quiet, tempestuous, soothing, peaceful, angry. All descriptive words that can be applied to relationships and behavior patterns. I rode some stormy seas with this whole situation, and today I can admit that much of this could have been avoided had I heeded my intuition months ago and cut ties. I didn't do that, choosing instead to give more chances. That bit me in the end.

Today, with several hours of distance from the actual unpleasant event, I am sitting on the proverbial dock, gazing out at calm waters. The water level is higher than it used to be, but the view is lovely. Peaceful. Calm. Full of possibilities and brighter for coming to a determined, thoughtful choice. I am appreciative for recognizing that this whole situation was truly a blessing in disguise. Occasionally, there come these moments where it is necessary to adjust our own personal watermark. I would go so far as to suggest it is one of the most healthy, loving gifts any of us can give ourselves.
If you enjoyed this blog and would like to read more, you can find me at Healing Morning blog.

The hoopla of marriage

Weddings are a special time.

For most people, it is a time of celebration and parties.

The ceremony symbolizing the union may vary in each culture, but the ethos is the same: it's a time for new beginnings. A time when two families, not just two individuals, join forces.

And society acknowledges, and blesses, the newly weds, congratulating the respective families on this milestone.

But what makes a wedding special for the bride and groom is very different from what makes it special for the parents, relatives and friends.

My wedding was a quick affair.

I had flown in from Iowa City for a weekend...just to hang out; nothing special. We had been having conversations about marriage, living in, social pressure, parental expectations...wondering what the big deal was and why people gave it so much weight.

For the past two years we had discussed the meaning of marriage and concluded that for us the act of getting married by itself didn't signify a binding contract.

A social ceremony is held to validate the couple's commitment to each other -- but why do we need to publicly show our promise? So we can be held accountable, right? But when the two people who made that agreement don't want to honor it anymore, can others really hold them to it?

My life partner had decided early on that marriage wasn't for him. He wanted to spend his life with me, but he didn't need the stamp of marriage to make him carry on that undertaking.

I, on the other hand, wanted the illusion of security that an official document (but not a social celebration) provides. It wasn't that I didn't' trust him; I was just too entrenched in the socio-cultural value system I had grown up knowing.

We decided to walk the middle road.

So, that Thursday when all we had decided to do was sleep and watch TV, we paid a visit to the local court house.

We hadn't intended to get married -- just get some information, find out the process, etcetera.

Seemed pretty straightforward -- fill out some paperwork, present your IDs, pay the 79-dollar fee for a marriage license and decide when you want to have the ceremony. Seeing as it was so simple, we did the needful and took an appointment for the next morning.

We arrived at the courthouse at 10 a.m. the following day -- me a little giddy; he his usual composed self.

We walked down the steps to the marriage ceremony room, were asked if we had any witnesses, and upon answering in the negative were provided one.

The County Deputy Marriage Commissioner asked if we had rings to exchange. Nope.

"Do you have a necklace for her?" she asked, knowing that in Hindu wedding ceremonies the mangalsutra was more important than the ring.

"No," he said.

She shrugged and said, "Alright then, this shouldn't take long."

Eight minutes and 80 dollars later, she had pronounced us husband and wife.

I don't even remember those eight minutes -- all I remember is feeling oh-so-grown-up.

And special -- here I was, standing next to a guy who despite his dismissal of the institution of marriage, had participated in this ceremony to show me he really, truly loved me.

He didn't have to do it, but he did it anyway.

And for me, the gesture meant more than the piece of paper we walked away with.

No one knew we were getting married.

I didn't know we would be married by Friday when I flew in the day before.

And we didn't feel any different. I retained my last name. We told our parents. And that was that.

From our point of view, that is.

Our parents' perspective was slightly different.

Both sets wanted a public display -- mine a little grander than his.

The planning conversations began.

Not with me, but amongst themselves.

For many months prior to my arrival in India, all that mom and dad talked and breathed about were "the arrangements."

I found this handy visual on Dazediva's site to demonstrate what their planning must have entailed.

Breakdown of wedding budget

My parents were planning a wedding and a reception in my hometown, followed by another reception planned by my in-laws in their hometown.

We were flying to India for 10 days during winter break (I was still in Iowa) and didn't want a grandiose celebration -- after all, we were already married.

Not according to my parents.

My folks didn't acknowledge the "paper wedding" for the longest time, because they hadn't "given me away." And until they did that, I wasn't "his." Needless to say, they hadn't mentioned our clandestine court wedding to anyone.

They wanted to invite immediate and distant relatives, friends, extended social circle acquaintances, colleagues -- everyone they knew for their only child's wedding.

I was treating it only as a symbolic event -- so all I wanted was for people I cared about and those who cared about me for the crux of the ceremony.

Traditional Indian Marriage -- Wedding Ceremony in my parents' living room
Eventually, after a lot of heartbreak, crying, and emotional blackmailing, the ceremony took place in my parents' living room. The wedding venue had been flooded the night before.

Only 12 people were present and the ceremony took all of 90 minutes.

Finally -- we had gotten the social validation.

We were done.

The two receptions that ensued allowed for more social acknowledgment -- with the guests commenting on the food, our attire, the decorations, and the entertainment.

Of course, they had come to bless us -- the rest of it was just social norms.

Despite not wanting to, we did it all. Growing up I'd realized weddings are such a waste of money. Money that could be used to benefit so many people who really need it, but I went along anyway because this was the only way I could show my parents, the same way he did for me, that I really, truly loved them.

And they needed to do the whole jing-bang because of peer pressure. What would their friends say? What rumors would their colleagues float? What would our relatives think?

This was their only child -- they had to do right by the society they lived in.

Almost a decade into this relationship, seven of which have been spent as his wife, I can reflect and say we really didn't need either of those ceremonies for us.

We needed them for the people around us.

Even though we are married, our friends will vouch that ours is not the traditional husband-wife arrangement.

We've never been good at playing those roles, and I hope we never learn how to.

For us, being together is all that matters.

Marriage is just a by-product.

Also posted on my blog.

Night of the Grasshoppers

The night of the grasshoppers begins at Khruu June’s house. Villagers start showing up with lamps strapped to their foreheads like miners, hauling empty bamboo baskets. We climb into a pick-up driven by June’s husband and set out through the deepening dusk. The sunset is spectacular, with thunderheads glowing an icy pink-and-blue in the darkening sky.
The truck rattles past the reservoir, leaves the lights of the village behind and heads out into vast, dark fields of Thailand. After a while, even in the dark, I can see that the fields we have reached are full of sugarcane. Abruptly, the pick-up shudders to a halt and everyone pours out. A gate that leads into the sugarcane fields is tightly padlocked. The truck can go no further. Everyone begins to climb under or over the gate, so I do, too. On foot, we pass a shack with no electricity. The three children who live there are standing out front in the pitch dark, silently watching us slip past by like a throng of ghosts rustling the sugar cane. We pass a pond, and we are still tightly clumped together. And then, as if a secret signal has been given, the group scatters in all directions.
The sugarcane towers above us. Most people wear headlamps or carry flashlights. Some carry flickering candles, which they hold up to the sugarcane stalks, in search of grasshoppers. When a grasshopper is spotted, it is plucked from its perch and thrust into the basket. Sweat pours down my body and heat lightning flickers in the distance. The basket I carry grows noisier as the night goes on, rattling with the sound of grasshoppers hopping madly inside. Somebody’s candle starts a small fire which somebody else stamps out. Among the boys, there seems to be a competition for who can capture the most grasshoppers. We roam the fields, which seem endless. After a couple of hours, I begin to feel claustrophobic, trapped among the towering sugarcane, yearning for open space, for a place to stop moving, to rest, and cool down. I’m wondering if we will ever find our way back out again.
Then a quiet young village girl comes and takes me by the hand. She leads me gently and doesn’t bother speaking, as if I am a deaf-mute. Now she parts the sugarcane stalks, bends over and peers inside. She turns and smiles up at me, beckoning. I bend over and peer into the thicket of stalks. Three baby birds are nestled in a row on a stalk, serenading us in the night. We pause in our attack on the grasshoppers and listen to their delicate, trilling chorus.
The reward for all this labor comes later, back at Khruu June’s house. It does not involve money, but food. Baskets upon baskets of grasshoppers are dumped into woks sizzling with oil. The taste is salty and crunchy, similar to popcorn. Some of the villagers won’t eat the grasshoppers until they’ve pulled their stomachs out, because the stomach tastes bitter. I learn, after a few tries, that I won’t eat them until I’ve plucked off their razor-sharp legs.
Also posted on my blog Strange Islands