Years from now, studies will be completed and released showing the status of relationship quality (in many cases, degradation) in 2020, the year that brought us both a pandemic and a divisive presidential election.
Between those two clashes of tension, there’s bound to be cracks in relational foundations around all of us in some form, whether that be within our households as we all struggled through our own personal Real Worlds, within our families, or within our professional relationships.
While my relationship with my husband has truly never been better (which seems weird to say because even my worst days with him are better than my best days used to be before I knew him), I have lost several relationships, for both reasons known and unknown to me, this year.
When you are counseling someone else in a situation that doesn’t involve you, you have that great ability to see things objectively. You have no skin in the game, as it were. Your emotions aren’t tied up, wrapped around, every fiber of the story’s being. You can say, hey, you’re taking this too personally. There are a lot of factors at play, and here’s a quick five things that could be going on that DON’T involve you. You can say, hey, maybe if you called them and just offered to listen. You can say hey, just give it a few days.
But what it comes down to, what every story, every conflict, every situation, comes down to, is that we all want to feel loved and valued. We can be doing the best we can in any situation, just doing what we can to get through it, and have someone else in the same situation see it completely differently and blame us for our actions.
These emotions are what makes us human.
The hardest lesson for me to learn so far in my life is that I can’t do anything about other people’s opinions. If all people just thought exactly the same, we’d be great, right? If people automatically agreed in any given situation about who was right and who was wrong, extended or accepted apologies, and happily went on about their business, man, that’d probably be…great.
Except it wouldn’t. We’d never try new things, forage new paths, learn how to adapt and overcome when a conflict just isn’t resolving. We’d never know anything except the same things everyone knew. Advancements wouldn’t be made. Stuff wouldn’t get invented in such diverse areas.
I’ve long sung (or stated in a non-sing-y way) the accolades of Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet whose words I have turned to again and again, beginning about seven years ago, when my professional life was really beginning just as my personal life was crumbling. It blew my mind that this guy was nailing every.damn.thing 800 years ago in such a timeless way that felt like a still-super-relevant whisper in my ear in 2013. And 2014. And, especially, 2015. And every year since, when I’m feeling my lowest or my most vulnerable, I still absorb his words as I would listen to a wise and trusted friend.
As we run up against those who seemingly seek to hurt, or read words from both friends and family designed to achieve maximum shock value, as we find those we once couldn’t live without making statements that sound like they’re coming from internet trolls, we must remember, and take solace in, one of Rumi’s tenets: that we can only control ourselves.
He says it much, much better, though. Here are a few of his beautiful words. May they offer you as much comfort as they have for so many.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”
“Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
“Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”
And, finally, the brilliant work of “The Guest House,” the first Rumi piece that I found, in the midst of a wildly painful grief and clung to like driftwood in a wild, stormy sea:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Back to this roller coaster of a year – think back to the words that hurt you, the stinging asides that dig into you, the dismissal or discounting of what seemed to be perfectly rational thoughts or reactions to perfectly irrational situations…and meet them at the door laughing. Invite them in, one at a time. Sit with them. Explore each one. Feel your bitterness, or your confusion, or your hurt, or your shame. And know that the people shooting those barbed arrows are each on their own journey.
And their journey is completely separate from yours.
At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, there is precious little that we can control. But what we can is our words, and our actions. What we can’t control is how those words or actions are interpreted by others. And we will never be able to do so.
What we can also control is the absence of our words and actions, because part of us knows when they won’t really improve or positively change a situation.
I think you might be surprised at what a truly full life you can have when you take time to know yourself. And the more you take care of your guest house, the more positive your interactions will be each time you open that door.
And if you know that your guest house is best tended if you find someone in whom to confide your worries, and your fears, and your grieving process, please do that. There are so many resources available out there, and so many good, kind hearts to listen.
NAMI: National Alliance of Mental Illness
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Today’s song of the day is my dad’s favorite song. He’s not much of a fighter, but he’s always referenced this line in times of turbulence. So please give it a listen in these times of not seeing eye to eye. (Due to a miracle, I got to see Dave Mason perform this live in one of the two concerts I saw this year!)