The Law of Reciprocity

“Every action, thought and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect.  If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect.”
– Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
– Isaac Newton

I missed the eclipse on Monday.  I was irritated at my husband over something and I acted on that irritation and said something to him.  This led me to getting more irritated, and saying more things.  Which then led to further irritation and by the time the cycle was over, the moon had passed right over the sun and I had missed it.  Thanks to me, my husband missed it, too.  The eclipse fell on his birthday and he’d been looking forward to it for months.  I’ll never forget the way he looked when we realized the moon had passed and I said to him in utter despair: “Oh my God, we missed it.”

We missed it.

We’ve been missing so much.

When I read the words of Zukav, above, I knew I was having my eyes opened to the truth of what Christians refer to as the “law of reciprocity” and others define as “karma.” Put simply: intention (or motivation,) when acted upon, is an energy that will return to us.  When we act out of love, love is returned.  When we act out of fear, or anger, or irritation, we receive more of those things.

I think this is why so many problems, especially in relationships, seem circular.  The more we do to avoid pain, the more pain we ultimately feel; the more we act to alleviate our insecurities, the more insecure we become; the more we work to avoid our fears, the more fearful we will be.  In this way, we become our own worst enemy, attracting to ourselves the very thing we wish to avoid.  (See example 1)

But this is where it gets good, because if this is true then the opposite is also true:

If we refuse to act on behalf of these unhealthy motivations (generally rooted in fear), we will begin to experience less of these feelings.  Conversely, the more often we act on behalf of good motivations (rooted in love,) the more of these feelings we will have.  (See example 2)

What’s paradoxically so incredibly easy and so unimaginably difficult about this is that if it’s true then it’s all up to me.  I am the only one who can create security, love, peace and joy for myself and I do it not by changing my outward circumstances but by changing my response to them.  By controlling my behavior, I ultimately have the ability to change my feelings.

Of course, changing my feelings is what I’ve been trying to do all along, right?  But I think this is where I’ve been getting it all wrong:  I’ve always thought that the feelings had to change first.  I’ve always assumed that the solution was to somehow stop feeling fear, anxiety, pain, etc. and then I’d stop acting on these emotions. So I spent all my time trying figure out a way to change my feelings and although I’d try really really hard for a while, it didn’t take long before I’d be right back in the same spiral again.  What I’m just beginning to realize, however, is that it’s not the feelings that need to change (something I don’t always, or even usually, [or even ever ???!] have control over,) but the actions (which I CAN control.)  And, paradoxically, the more often I succeed at controlling the action, the less I will experience the feelings.

So when I wake up in the morning and I see the cell phone lying turned on in a central location and everything in me wants to turn it off and hide it (and smash it with a hammer after lighting a fire to it then flushing it down the toilet) to keep my husband from texting all day, I evaluate the motivations behind the action (in this particular case, fear of being neglected and ignored) … and I leave it on.  By doing so, I simultaneously refuse to act upon the impure motivation (fear) and act upon another motivation: the desire to love my husband.  In this way I not only attract less fear back to myself, but also attract more feelings of love and security.

Simple, but not easy.

It will be 7 years before we get another chance to see an eclipse.  I can only pray that things will be different, then.

No.

I can do more than pray.

I will act (or refuse to act, as the case may be.)

I want us to have another chance.

“For whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
– Galatians 6:7

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Example 1:

Motivation: Fear of infidelity
Action: Checking your spouse’s cell or social media for signs of infidelity
Result: Feeling MORE afraid he/she will cheat

If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time and struggled with this particular fear, you’ve seen this principle at work.  In the beginning you trusted your partner completely.  But then something happened to arouse your suspicions and maybe you checked his email.  Over time, you continued these behaviors and now you’re compulsively checking his phone while he sleeps, driving past his work when he’s away, listening in on his conversations and altogether driving yourself mad.  This is the law of reciprocity at work.

Example 2:
(By refusing to act on your fears, two motivations, and therefore results, take place simultaneously)

Motivation 1: Fear of infidelity
Action 1: None
Result 1: Feeling LESS fearful of infidelity

Motivation 2: Desire to trust your partner
Action 2: Refusing to check the phone, email, etc.
Result 2:  Feeling MORE trustful

Of course, this doesn’t mean that your partner will never cheat on you.  But I think what it DOES mean is that if it ever happens it will be easier to recover from because you haven’t spent years worrying about it, dreading it, and seeking to avoid it.  Some would even say that the act of seeking to avoid infidelity can actually work to cause infidelity, by attracting it to itself.  Although I wouldn’t go that far, I would say that the constant worry over whether your partner will cheat on you can make you just as miserable as if the action had actually happened.  So by refusing to participate in this negative cycle, you save yourself what could otherwise be a lifetime of misery.

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Posted in Contentment, Criticism, Forgiveness, Friendship, Love, Marriage | 1 Comment

Wanting to say “no” is enough

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You want to say “no.”
You want to say “no,” but you feel like you can’t.
You want to say “no,” but you feel that you shouldn’t.
You want to say “no,” even though… even despite… even if…

Yet saying no seems wrong, somehow. Especially when you don’t have an excuse, a prior engagement, a socially acceptable reason for saying no.  Saying no seems selfish, disloyal, unsupportive.  You think that if you refuse, people might not like you, might not respect you, might think you’re a terrible person.  You think that because you strive to be a kind, generous, thoughtful person, you must say “yes.”  You think that being a kind, generous, thoughtful person means you shouldn’t say no.  You think that if you love someone, if you’re the only one who can help, if the cause is a good one, you’d be wrong to refuse.  And so you ask yourself the question:

“When is it okay to say ‘no?'”

This is the answer:

When deep inside, in that most essential, core part of you, you want to

When you have evaluated the needs of the person asking, and you still want to.
When you have considered the alternative, and you still want to.
When you have examined your motives and those of others, and you still want to.

Because wanting to say “no” is reason enough.

Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because how you feel matters.
Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because what you want matters.
Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because what you need matters.
Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because you are responsible for your own emotional well-being.

Wanting to say “no” is reason enough because – ultimately – loving, honoring and caring for your deepest self is the only true responsibility you have in this world.  And it’s from that place, strengthened and liberated by radical self-care, that truly loving care for others can flow.

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(Inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s essay entitled “The Truth that Lives There” from her advice column Dear Sugar, and an article entitled “Wanting to Leave is Enough” by Caroline Garnet McGraw.)

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Posted in Criticism, Fear, Friendship, Guilt, Love, PERSONAL | Leave a comment

Guilt or Glory

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about self-respect.  One theme running through that article was the concept of boundaries in relationships.  Saying “no” when that’s what your heart is telling you, regardless of outside pressure to say “yes” and honoring your own needs as being equally important as those of the people around you.  I mentioned that in many ways I often feel as if there are two “me’s”: the “outside me” that seeks to please and represent myself in a certain way to the world around me and the “inside me” that makes up my authentic feelings.  These two are often in conflict but especially so when I’m asked to do something I don’t want to do, in which case “outside me” generally steamrolls “inside me” and agrees even when “inside me” is screaming no.  In this way, misappropriated feelings of guilt or shame keep me from experiencing authentic freedom.  Many months ago, my counselor and I had a conversation about this and he sent me home with a book entitled Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  This was the first time I began to understand that it was not only my right but also my responsibility to set boundaries in my relationships if I wanted those relationships to be healthy ones.  But only recently have I begun to understand that one of the things boundaries do is enable us to take care of and honor our own souls.

After reading the book Boundaries, my eyes were opened to all the ways I’d allowed the lack of boundaries to affect my relationships and I struggled with anger for a long time.  I understood that my anger was because I felt certain people in my life had been taking advantage of me, but I also knew there was more to the story, only I couldn’t quite see what it was.  In addition to this, or maybe because of it, I also couldn’t understand how to stop being angry.  But last night, I read the following words written by Oprah Winfrey in the introduction to a book entitled The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukov, and it suddenly became clear to me exactly why I was so angry.  She writes:

“My favorite insight [of this book]: ‘When the personality comes fully to serve the energy of its soul, that is authentic empowerment.’  … Using [my personality] to serve my soul – and making sure the two were aligned – changed the way I did everything.  I suddenly recognized all the times I’d gotten off track by letting my personality rule.  I started to notice that the degree to which I ever felt unhappiness, discomfort, or despair was in direct proportion to how far I let myself stray from the seat of the soul.”

In other words, my unhappiness, discomfort, and despair (and in this case, anger) comes from allowing my personality (“outside me”) to speak a different truth than my soul (“inside me.”)  This revelation helped me to realize that the reason I was so angry was because I was expecting other people to take care of me in the way that I am supposed to take care of myself.

Because I wasn’t taking responsibility for my OWN well-being, I was tasking OTHER PEOPLE with that responsibility.  How dare my friend try to convince me to go, knowing (because I had sort-of, kind-of hinted) that I didn’t want to?  How dare my family member repeatedly ask me to do something when I’d already tried (in a wishy-washy, unclear way,) to make it known that I didn’t want to do it? These people were not looking out for my best interests!!!  And, well, if I wasn’t going to look out for my OWN best interests, then surely SOMEONE – especially my friends and family, without any real knowledge of how I actually felt – ought to!  Because, you know, that makes perfect sense.

With this revelation came the realization that the solution to my anger is a simple one:

Speaking the truth.  Speaking those truthful thoughts from the deepest parts of myself that too often scream the opposite of what my mouth actually says.  Because not only has my refusal to give truthful answers been harming me, it’s also been harming my relationship with others.

Doing what one wants to do because one wants to do it is hard for a lot of people, but I think it’s particularly hard for women. We are, after all, the gender onto which a giant Here To Serve button has been eternally pinned. We’re expected to nurture and give by the very virtue of our femaleness, to consider other people’s feelings and needs before our own. I’m not opposed to those traits. The people I most admire are in fact nurturing and generous and considerate. Certainly, an ethical and evolved life entails a whole lot of doing things one doesn’t particularly want to do and not doing things one very much does, regardless of gender.

But an ethical and evolved life also entails telling the truth about oneself and living out that truth.

You can [say no] and still be a compassionate friend.

– Cheryl Strayed, The Truth that Lives There.

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Posted in Friendship, Love, PERSONAL | 2 Comments

Crushed tomatoes with subtle notes of basil and a hint of sweetness on a bed of socarrat with a light, nutty flavor

The children and I have been sending emails to each other lately, just for fun.  The other day we were talking about our kitchen experiments (See Friday’s blog post and also all of these) and that night my oldest daughter wrote the following:

We’ve discovered some interesting things…..Ceaser in soup?? EWE!!!!! Mayonnaise in soup? Not bad! Thousand Island in soup? NASTY!!! Mustard in soup?? Delicious!! And I also think we should put rice with spaghetti sauce on the menu!! I wasn’t here when they tried it, but it sounds good, and I think everyone liked it!

These are the discerning palates I’ve managed to cultivate in my children over the years.  The ability to distinguish between the sharp essence of mustard; the cheesy, creamy, briny notes of Ceasar; and the subtle sweetness in Thousand Island.  It’s a skill I’m rather proud of, really.  I’m dazzled by their creativity in finding new flavor combinations, impressed by their willingness to experiment with different blends of seasoning, comforted by the knowledge that they’ll never die of starvation as long as there are leaves and slugs to be found.  Compared to our typical fare, it shall be fine dining indeed.

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Posted in Bunchkin, Cooking... not so much, The Eigh of 'em | Leave a comment

I Remember

I don’t know my children’s birth dates.  I realize that most parents know these rather insignificant little details about their children: height… weight… eye color… and curiously I’ve also discovered that most parents are expected to know these things.  I’m always being asked befuddling questions like “how old is she” and “what grade is he in” and I so try to seem like I’m being diplomatic when I look to the child in question and allow them to answer for themselves.  I’ve also found it imperative to take a cheat sheet with my children to the doctor’s office because approximations are apparently not medically appropriate answers and “let me call my husband” is evidently not socially appropriate, if the looks I get are any indication.

But that’s what happens when you have eight children (and also when you’re a somewhat unorganized, forgetful, easily-distracted kind of person.)  All those little details just start getting fuzzy. You buy the shoes that are a little too big and stuff toilet paper in the toes, grateful that they’ll fit a few more months.  Cooking with missing ingredients becomes an essential (ie. daily) part of your homeschool curriculum – Creative Cooking 101 – and you consider rice and spaghetti sauce an excellent choice for lunch (extra points for ingenuity!)  Socks become optional and wearing two different shoes out in public is simply a mark of your family’s innovative sense of style (it’ll catch on one of these days, and when it does I say to parents everywhere: you’re welcome.)

But there are some things you do know. Some things you’ll never forget. You remember that your oldest daughter bought you plastic flowers every week for months, because she knew how much you loved flowers (but not how much you hated fake ones) and that your youngest son can kill a fly on the ceiling with a projectile rubberband.  You know that your youngest daughter’s favorite song is The Bandit, by Jerry Reed and her older sisters favorite doll is named after a character in Les Miserables (you even remember which character!) You remember which of your children to hide from when you have chocolate in your mouth and you never forget to dig deep into your meager reserve of courage when your 6 (or is she 5?) year old shoves a closed fist into your face and announces she has “something to show you.”  You know that your kids can process an entire deer in about two hours, milk 8 goats in less than 15 minutes and that your family can work together to sew over 250 pads from start to finish in just two weeks.  You know that when one child finds a new hobby, seven others will follow suit and that your children will always be best friends. Those are the things you know, the things you remember.

The important things.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Boiling the frog

Is it wrong to admit that sometimes… just every now and then… once in a blue moon… not often at all, really… I’m just a teeny tiny bit amused when my super-organized, neat-and-tidy friend with two children complains about her messy house, her broken appliances, her general and seemingly never-ending exhaustion?  Is it wrong that I say to her, every now and then, “NOW do you understand?”

Now do you understand the fossilized banana peels under my couch?
Now do you understand the ring around the bathtub?
Now do you understand the funny smell?

Not that my friend was ever hateful about these things, just that I think they truly baffled her.  She would come over to help me clean (bless her heart) and then suggest “systems” and “schedules” by which to stay on top of things.  These would always work really well… for about two hours before my household descended into chaos once again.

But a funny thing has happened, the longer I’ve been a parent and the more children we add to our clan.  I find that these things just don’t phase me anymore.  The seemingly impossible adjustment in the beginning gives way to acceptance and even pleasure as time goes by.  What once overwhelmed now entertains.  What once irritated now amuses.  And so this is what I say to my friend, so newly on her parenting journey: Welcome to your new normal.  Settle in.  Hang on for the ride.  It gets so much better… no less messy or chaotic, but so much better.

They say a frog can be boiled alive without ever feeling any pain, if the temperature is increased slowly.

It’s a lot like that.

 

Posted in Humor, Parenting, PERSONAL | Leave a comment

Lisa

Six years ago, my Aunt Lisa was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  I started this post with the intention of writing about a fundraiser for the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation but instead I sit here struggling to find the words to express how much she means to me.  Because the thing is, I don’t just want my friends to donate to her cause, I want my friends to know her.  I want every woman I love to be blessed by the knowledge of who she is.

It’s impossible to adequately express what Lisa means to me.  There just aren’t enough words in one short blog post to convey what kind of person she is.  Not enough words to impart her warmth and light on those I wish to see and feel it.  For years, my own immaturity kept me from being as close to her as I wish I had been, but even during my darkest times, she served as a silent inspiration to me.  When faced with a difficulty a quiet voice inside would ask “how would Lisa handle this?”  When challenged with a hardship: “what would Lisa do?” Knowing her blood ran through my veins made me hold my head a little higher, enabled me to face life’s difficulties with just a little less fear. Her courage made me courageous.  Her strength made me strong.

Lisa is one of those rare people who is truly an inspiration to everyone blessed enough to know her.  She is a woman that every woman can be proud of, that every woman can look up to, that every woman can learn something from.  She is one of the most kind, courageous, compassionate, stubborn, strong-willed, considerate, generous, relentless, loving people I have ever known… that probably anyone who knows her has ever known.  She is the essence of what it means to be a “phenomenal woman” and one of those rare souls who touch the lives of everyone she meets.  Lisa has been an inspiration to me my entire life and her words of encouragement and guidance have served as a beacon of light on my path. She’s my own personal Maya Angelou, Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed.  In short, Lisa is who I want to be when I grow up.

And now I’m hoping you’ll help me to give back.  Lisa has been battling ovarian cancer for 6 years.  She has never given in, never given up.  She is a board member of the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation which has been able to provide approximately $546,000 in financial assistance to Tampa Bay area women in need who are suffering from ovarian cancer.  Last year, Lisa’s family and multitude of friends helped her to raise a little over $10,000 for the foundation and this year her goal is to raise $15,000.  This is incredibly important to her and to all those battling ovarian cancer and I’m asking all my friends to please consider signing up as a virtual participant under Team Alfonso.  I’ll be participating this year, and if you’ll let me know you’ve signed up, I’ll wear your name and take you with me.  Please help me to give back to this incredible woman.  It would mean so much to her and to me. Please help us touch the lives, in some small way, of those who are battling this disease.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

If you would like to participate (please do) here is the link:

One Step Closer to the Cure

Virtual participation in the race is $30.  If you’d like to donate a different amount you can donate at this link:

http://www.ovariancancerfoundation.org/donate/

If you use this link, please enter “Team Alfonso” in as the name of the person you’re donating in honor of.

NO amount is too small, and please let me know if you’ve donated!  I don’t need to know the amount, but I’d love to wear your name and take you with me!

 

Posted in Family History, PERSONAL | 4 Comments