Happy Thanksgiving for those who in the US who celebrates this occasion.
I'm definitely missing the gathering and the 4pm-midnight dinner, and feeling thankful for everyone who has hosted me in the past.
For everyone else, Thanksgiving is always a great excuse to give thanks to life. It reminds me of a powerful question that Charles Eisenstein posted in the Living in the Gift course (highly recommended to check out). What if you are already living in the gift?
We didn't earn our breaths. We didn't earn our childhood care. We didn't earn our life.
May that spirit of the gift continue to flow through us,
My mother, who is currently a Buddhist nun in a monastery, talked with me the other day (yes, nun can still talk via FB messenger)
The master of the monastery was selecting people to join him on a trip to bless different mountainous regions in Vietnam. My mom wasn’t chosen, which was surprising. She thought that she dedicated a lot in helping out with various work at the temple, so this trip would have been a nice recognition. There was also an a tinge of unfairness where a newer nun got selected rather than her. Most importantly, she really wanted to go on the trip to visit these mountains.
With all that, you’d imagine how disappointed, sad and even upset she might have been. Me too.
Yet, she told me she was fine.
Someone said to her “The master didn’t choose you perhaps for a special reason that you might not have known.” That seems to soothe her a lot.
“I don’t need to go. It’s much nicer to stay in the monastery, cheaper and also less exhausting!” She continued.
The problem with “Fine”
My hunch is that there might be some hidden pain or fear behind her “anything is fine” mentality.
As such, I wanted to probe her further this time, not as a skeptic who is jealous of how accepting my mom is but as someone who cares about the growth of another person who happens to be very close to me.
Sensing resignation in her voice, I asked: “Mom, how did you feel not being able to go?”
“I’m fine. It’s nicer to stay anyway. I’d be too tired going on the trip”, she responded.
Mind you, my mom is not a gungho FOMO-driven young adult like me who needs to have all sorts of experiences in the world.
That still seemed avoiding to me, so I insisted: “Mom, if it’s truly fine, you wouldn’t have told me about this at all. It’s ok not to feel ok.”
Silence. Maybe I hit a nerve.
“I’m not talking about the questions of fairness or who gets chosen and why, which I imagine can cause some bitterness and sadness.” I continued, preambling myself for the coming big message.
“You can believe in what people speculates — that your current karma asks you to stay — if that makes you feel better. I’m telling you though that you must honor your wishes too. I don’t think you have been doing that for most your life, and now is the time. You do want to go visit those places, and you can.”
Longer silence. It’s shocking how assertive and even arrogant I am sometimes to presume how someone must be feeling.
“Yes, I’m sad.” My mom finally said. “You are right. I’m sad. I wanted to go, and I was disappointed to hear that I wasn’t chosen. It felt very unfair.”
She continued to tell me about several other incidents that led to her pent-up emotions. In a way, I just opened the Pandora’s Box that has been holding all of those unprocessed feelings behind the seemingly calm acceptance. It was messy, but at least it felt real. Something felt unstuck in her.
What is happening?
Sometimes, our deeper need is ignored because it just seems too hard. I saw this in my mom, someones who values harmony and getting along.
Too often, it means “everything is fine”, and it comes at the suppression of other need. It’s certainly nice for her to travel and see new places. Yet I see behind that a need for deeper change, perhaps an experiment to adopt a different attitude. What if everything is fine AND there is a lot more that she could strive towards?
As such, I took the risk to impose my agenda. What I told her has introduced the tension between the okay “here” and the potential, desired “there”. I’ve done the blasphemous act of disturbing her apparent peace of mind.
It started with me pointing to the not-so-positive emotion, which made her quite uncomfortable at first. Yet, we’ve got to own it.
What is this that you are accepting?
“Accepting what is”, a common teaching in Buddhist circles, is often taken out of context and interpreted as “everything is fine” and then “no need to do anything”.
This can create some confusion. What is “improvement” then, and how is it even possible? What if my life is quite boring and I need to spice it up? What if my mom is really keen on going the trip but cannot go?
The common confusion happens when this teaching is misapplied to “accept the situation” rather than “accepting our responses to it”.
On the outside, my mom may seem like she has accepted the situation, but I don’t think she has got to know clearly and accept how she feels about it. It doesn’t mean that she has to express everything all over the place with tissue paper to tears and bags to punch though.
In fact, there is another way than the common dichotomy between “repress” and “express” as most Western psychology highlights. Instead of these two, you can choose to process them, first by “accepting what is”.
“What if it’s okay that I’m so mad right now?” “What if it’s okay that I’m just too fed up and just want to burn everything down?”
Then, you can become clear about where these feelings are in the body, what texture they have and only optionally then, what they may mean.
Alas, most of us tend to do the reverse, quickly interpreting in our head with stories like “The world is so damn unfair”, “You always drive me crazy!!!” or my personal devil “This whole thing is so pointless and I’m an absolutely useless loser”.
Read the full post here on Medium.
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Thanksgiving Gift: Inner Critic Assessment
Besides its festivity and overfeast, Thanksgiving can be a challenging time too, especially if you get around family - the closest to us also tend to be the most critical. Lots of issues can come up as you ruminate on the past while trying to handle the messy present and thinking about the future. It's draining.
I've been there, and seeing it again and again in my motivated friends is just painful.
I want to do something about it. As such, I'm going to offer 10 conversations till end of the year to listen to you sharing about that inner critic voice, share my understanding what is going on and perhaps work with you to achieve the peace of mind you've been waiting for.
Read more about it here and reach out to me if you are interested.
Quotes I'm contemplating this week
Kindness "I don't know how much longer those cycles of animosity and anger, of pushing against what should be pushed. But I'm optimistic that it will soon be replaced by kindness. It will be a kindness that comes from people who are exhausted by the battle of winning and dominating."
Seth Godin, minute 44:20, in this great interview with the Good Life Project.
The best thing can't be told.
"The best things can't be told—they are transcendent, inexpressible truths. The second-best are misunderstood: myths, which are metaphoric attempts to point the way toward the first. And the third-best have to do with history, science, biography, and so on. The only kind of talking that can be understood is this last kind. When you want to talk about the first kind, that which can't be said, you use the third kind as communication to the first. But people read it as referring to the third directly."
Gratitude Gratitude is our native state. Generosity is its maturation.