We don’t have to know where we are going, or what we are doing. We only have to know how we are going to go, how we are going to do. It’s all about the HOW, not the WHAT, or the WHERE. We are creating a way of life recognizable by such qualities as compassion, and respect, and honor. The means IS the end. HOW we do it determines WHAT is done. This is the reverse of how we generally think. We generally think that we have a goal and figure out the steps required to achieve the goal. We generally think that the end governs, if not justifies, the means. Wrong! “The means always determines the end” (Aldous Huxley). We cannot treat one another poorly and have a community worth belonging to. We treat one another well, and trust that the community will emerge over time.
So, what we are doing here is trying to treat one another well. We aren’t trying to get one another to agree with us. We aren’t trying to get one another to believe, or behave, according to our ideas of how everyone ought to believe or behave. We aren’t trying to choreograph the dance, or orchestrate the sections, or direct everyone’s reading from the same script, making sure that all the players come in on cue and exit on schedule. We’re just trying to treat one another well.
Don’t think that’s easy. We irritate one another. We get on one another’s nerves. We make one another crazy. And we believe the dumbest things. It would be so much easier to treat you well if you were all like me. Which is what each of us could say about the rest of us. We have to understand that treating one another well is not contingent upon anyone being like we are. We are not after agreement on any level. We don’t have to agree about anything other than the importance of treating each other well. That’s the only agreement. Beyond that, everyone is free to embrace her, to embrace his, own perspective on everything.
This is critical. In the church of our experience we all embraced the creeds and the catechisms and the doctrines, and said we believed what everybody else believed. Here, we are saying that honoring one another, respecting one another, and treating one another with courtesy, kindness and compassion is the core agreement, the foundational belief (“We believe that it is crucial to treat one another well”), and that we can believe anything we want to in addition to that, but that’s the only thing we all have to believe (That it’s important to treat one another well).
This means we are free to embrace Taoism, Zen, Astrology, Evangelical Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and any one, or combination, of the ten thousand other ways of structuring the spiritual and physical worlds as long as we treat one another well. What we are after is not converting others to our way of thinking, or establishing the validity of one worldview over that of all the other worldviews. We are after an atmosphere in which people are honored and respected, and treated with courtesy, kindness and compassion. We can believe anything we want to as long as we treat one another well.
But, there is a catch: we have to help other people treat us well. The burden is shared. Other people agree to treat us well, and we agree to help them do that. We have a part to play in our own decent treatment. We can’t be a jerk or a twit and say, “You have to treat me well because Mommy said so!” We all have to be working to be decent human beings on both the treating and the being treated side of the equation. We start here and now in the work to be decent human beings.
I know you are waiting for me to say this so, “Here’s the deal:” If we have never been loved enough in the right kind of way, we will never be loved enough in the right kind of way! If we have never had enough of the right kind of attention, we will never have enough of the right kind of attention! If we have never been cared for in the right kind of way, we will never have enough of the right kind of caring. If we missed out on the right kind of parenting, we just missed out on the right kind of parenting, and there are no surrogate parents to make up for what our actual parents failed to supply. Here’s the rest of the deal: There is no consolation! There is no compensation! There is no off-setting the deficits and squaring accounts and making all things as they should be!
We will never have enough of what we didn’t get when we needed it. Our deficiencies are our deficiencies. Our losses are our losses. Our life up to this point is our life up to this point. If it is to be better from this point forward, and there is every reason to think that it can be, it will not be magically better by virtue of our finding the fountain of emotional wellbeing where we can drink all we need of all that we are lacking and be fulfilled forever.
There are three things we can do to make our life better from this point forward, and to help other people treat us well. The first is name the pain. What did we miss? What are we lacking? What is the deficit? The deficiency? The loss? Name it. Spell it out. Say exactly what it is. Know precisely what the hole is inside that cannot be filled.
The second thing is bear the pain. Don’t run from it. Don’t hide. Don’t numb yourself to it with any of the addictions of the day (alcohol, food, shopping, TV, cocaine, prescription pain killers, the list is really endless). Name the pain. Face the pain. Feel the pain. Bear the pain. You lost whatever it was that you lost, and that’s the way it is. It’s lost and gone forever just like my darlin’ Clementine. But, here’s the secret, ask the pain for the gift. The pain bears a gift. Claim the gift. I’m not saying that’s compensation, or consolation, or that the pain exists in order that you might gain the gift. No. We would be better off if our life had been what our life should have been. But, it wasn’t. And, there is a gift. Ask for the gift. Claim the gift. Make the gift yours as part of the work of bearing the pain.
Another part of the work of bearing the pain is addressing the pain. Write a letter, or several letters, to the pain. Allow the pain to write you back, using your own hand and pen. Talk to the pain—imagine the pain is in an empty chair. Speak to the pain. Then, sit in that chair and allow the pain to speak through you in addressing the things you have said.
Another part of the work of bearing the pain is feeling the pain. How does your body carry the pain. What is the feeling associated with the pain—what does it feel like to have the physical pain of the emotional pain? Talk to that place in your body that feels the physical pain which is associated with the emotional pain. Say, “Hello,” and see what the pain says in reply. Carry out the conversation. See where it goes.
While you are doing all this naming and bearing, you also have to be aware of the second secret for dealing with the pain of what we lost, of what we missed. Not only do we ask the pain for the gift, but we also understand that when dealing with insatiable need (like for the right kind of love and the right kind of attention), it is not a matter of having our needs met, which will never happen, but of being what we need! That’s what I said. If you need to be loved in the right way, be loving in the right way. If you need the right kind of attention, offer the right kind of attention. Be what you need!
You can’t believe how difficult that is until you take it for a spin around the block. You probably won’t be able to get it out of the driveway. We are so deficient and so focused on our needs that we can’t see anyone else, much less hear them. You can make a quick assessment of the neediness of any group by talking about a problem you have. Make one up. Talk about having your leg amputated when it seems to everyone that you have two perfectly normal legs. It won’t matter. In the space of about two seconds someone will take your problem away from you and start talking about their problem. “Oh, that’s nothing,” they will say, “When I had the flu and had to go get the paper and check the mail, I didn’t think I would make it back to the house.” And they will go on about their difficulties and leave you and yours high and dry. That’s what you have been doing to other people, up until now.
Now, you are teaching yourself to focus on them and their needs—the most unnatural thing you will likely ever attempt. But the rule is inviolable. Be what you need! When we care about others the way we need to be cared for, we move ourselves out of the center of our own concern, and become concerned about the needs of someone else. When that happens, everything is transformed, and we discover that we have actually helped others treat us well by not being so desperate for their love and attention that we scare them away.
It’s like this, you’ll have a better chance of having a Grandchild climb into your lap if you don’t try to get the Grandchild to climb into your lap. By being what you need, you stop thinking about what you need, and you look up and there is a Grandchild in your lap. But, you really have to stop thinking about what you need. You really have to not need it in order for it to work. By then, you don’t care if it works or not. That’s the key. We can only really care when we don’t care if we get anything out of caring. Isn’t that how it is, though?