16 December 2007

Bow Down? And Save the (Birth)Day

I’ve been reading Alan Morinis’ Everyday Holiness, a book about the ancient Jewish spiritual path of Mussar. In the appendix is a soul-trait inventory to “help you identify the soul-traits that are part of your own spiritual curriculum.” It’s an interesting list, ranging through awareness and humility to honesty, kindness, fear, and strength.

Mussar recommends identifying 13 soul-traits on which to focus, one at a time, rotating through them four times over the course of one year. So I went through the list, seeking to name the traits on which I needed most focus. Some of them, I discovered, were traits I’m actually strong in: gratitude, simplicity, order. Others jumped out at me as obvious weaknesses: patience, equanimity, trust… Coming up with 13 wasn’t that difficult.

Except for one trait, to which I responded vehemently: Obedience. What? Hell no, I will not work on being obedient. I don’t believe in obedience, for me or for anyone else. Freedom is one of my highest values. Obedience sounds like patriarchal domination crap, nothing I want any part of. (I have issues with the patriarchal construct of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim religions. But that’s another discussion.)

I know I’m not alone in my reaction to Obedience. My colleague Barbara says she would toss the Obedience angel card back in to the pot anytime she drew it. But if I have such a strong negative reaction to it, I thought, does that mean I must add the trait to my list of 13?

No. If I’ve learned nothing else so far, I’ve learned to honor and trust myself. If I feel this strongly about the rightness of humans not being obedient to each other, then I shall honor my belief. I will not work on being obedient to others.

Oh, but wait! Maybe Obedience doesn’t mean between humans. Obedience can also speak of our relationship to our Higher Power. It can mean listening to and taking direction from our intuition, or God, or the Goddess, or Universe, or whatever we call he/she/it/them. And this I’m not only okay with, I’m actually pretty good at. I take orders from HP on a regular basis, usually delivered in the form of Inspiration. (Okay, sometimes I kick and fuss first, but not too much and not for long.)

I guess my initial reaction to Obedience was a case of kicking and fussing. But once I looked at the concept from a different perspective, I shifted from feeling pressured to include Obedience among the 13 soul-traits of my soul’s curriculum to recognizing it as already being among my strengths.

Anthony’s mom’s birthday is tomorrow, and she’s driving up today for her birthday dinner with us. Anthony’s making spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread and salad. I’m in charge of the chocolate cake. So this morning I made the cake. Followed the directions on the box of Dr. Oetker’s organic chocolate cake, but jazzed it up by mixing in about a cup of little Sunspire chocolate chips. Can’t have too much chocolate, right? Wrong. Once the cake cooled, it collapsed in the center. Too much gooey warm chocolate chips! What to do?

Talk about inspiration… I cut out the middle so that the cake looked like a ring, then spread the goo over the top and sides instead of frosting it with a chocolate glaze. Then I cooked up a package of Trader Joe’s organic raspberries, some Triple Sec, and a couple of (very) heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar (adjust quantities to taste) until the sauce had thickened some. Once it had cooled, I spooned the raspberry sauce over the cake. It looks lovely, and I’m sure it will be delicious. The only problem is where to put her birthday candle (a question-mark candle that has become a tradition with Anthony and me). Anthony suggested filling the hole inside the cake ring with Satsuma orange segments. I like the idea, and the image, so we may do this and balance the candle in among them.

13 December 2007

Shifting Perspective

Anthony was 22 when we got together, almost 23. I am 18 years older. Throughout our years together, I have felt – and said – that I am his “finishing school,” that my role in his life has been to bring him into adulthood, that this was our karmic relationship.

Of course, this has only been one part of our relationship. I love Anthony deeply, and we are truly friends, sharing grand adventures and simple details of daily living. Still, I have carried the assumption that I was his stepping stone into adulthood, and that at some point (I had thought when he turned 30, but that was over a year ago), he would launch from our nest. (Yeah, that’s a mixed metaphor. Forgive me.) Not that I wanted him to leave. I wanted (still want) him to grow up, to step up and be the responsible man I want as my partner.

And I have not been patient.

I carry expectations, of what it means for Anthony to be an adult, what his being responsible should look like. And I carry expectations of what a partner would be for me, how that responsible adult would fit into and support my life. When Anthony does not fit my expectations, I become irritable. There have been many times over our 8 years together when I’ve wanted out of the relationship, but I haven’t left yet.

I know that my impatience and irritability are my responsibility. And I know how much it sucks to have a partner who wants you to change, to be something other than you are. I don’t want to do this to Anthony. I also know it’s ridiculous to be with someone on the premise that they will change. The only thing that I can change is me. Which brings me to yesterday’s revelation.

I believe that we are souls who have chosen to be human in order to learn and grow, to make existence (on the grand scale) better and more whole. We all have areas in which to improve. Clearly, patience and acceptance (and trust, honor, equanimity, and respect) are areas in which I need to progress. And who better to teach me patience than the man who triggers my impatience faster than anyone?

What I have realized is this: Anthony’s soul is giving my soul a gift. He has agreed to present opportunity (after opportunity) for me to practice patience and acceptance (and honor and equanimity and respect). And so that is the work I move into. I move into gratitude to Anthony for gifting me with opportunity to grow. I move into practicing acceptance of Anthony, learning to respect and honor him for who he is instead of longing for who I want him to be. I shift the focus off of him and onto me, where it belongs.

Whether learning to accept and respect Anthony as he is results in our staying together or moving toward other partners remains to be seen. Either way, my guess is we’ll come out of this more whole, better souls. I also suspect that, by pulling the attention back onto myself, I will be giving him the room to become his best self, whoever that may be.