Tuesday, August 18

Reflections: On Gratitude and Lovers

I'm sitting here doing the ritualistic work of a writer - drinking a cup of coffee, gazing out the window at the clouds and glancing back to a blank screen waiting to be filled with enlightenment or at least 250 words.

I have already posted about my gratitude to past loves and lovers and all that I have learned from the good and bad times we had together.  I wanted this post to be different.  I wanted to reflect on how gratitude practice had impacted on my relationships with lovers.

Well, there is just one small problem with reflecting on my relationships with lovers - I am single and I'm not seeing anyone.

I initially thought it would be hard to say what gratitude has done to impact on my relationships with a lover if I'm not in a relationship to observe it.  Or is it?  Perhaps gratitude has changed the way I view love and romance. 

I think it has fundamentally provided me a new road map on love, loving and lovers.

When I first started this practice, I quickly noticed this feeling of falling in love - but I couldn't identify an object of that love.  That was unusual. 

And so I worked hard to remain conscious of my tendency to attach my feelings of love to a person and then to somehow convince myself that said person was required for me to experience love.  I wanted to see how long I could sit with the love that was coming from within me before I gave away my power and projected the source of it outside myself.

Not long at all.  And of course, I chose someone who reinforced patterns that, although I was aware of them, I had been powerless to change.

I have had some time on my hands this year and so I've done a lot of reflecting, reading and observing.  I have learned this year that I have a dependant avoidant attachment style.  As dependant children, we are at risk of annihilation if our primary caregiver abandons us and if our PC is unreliable and withholding,  we do everything we can to keep them happy and we are more likely to develop a dependant/avoidant attachment style.

As an infant, our survival is outside of our control and the primary caregiver is the SOURCE of our love and survival.  If we carry this love dynamic into adulthood (and most of us carry out attachment style - untreated - into adulthood), we can't help but feel that LOVE must be outside of ourselves and moreover, it must be sourced from someone withholding and unreliable like our PC was.  We bend over backwards to receive the love that we ourselves have projected outward but we bend over backwards to source out that love from unpredictable and sometimes abusive people. 

Rationally, we know this is harmful, but it is a pre-verbal conditioning and it is very difficult to reason with an infant.

What this means for me, in plain speak is that if I walk into a room full of strangers, I will naturally find and be attracted to people who mimic my early experience of primary caregiver: They are unpredictable, and can be either very loving and warm or emotionally withholding, controlling and cold.  There is no knowing which will surface.

I'm not alone in having a less than functional attachment style.  I don't have the statistics but I would venture to say that from my reading, the majority of people have formed maladaptive attachment styles. 

Why?  Because our attachment style is based on our parenting which is determined by their attachment style, which is again, based on their own parenting by our grandparents which is dependant on our grandparent's attachment style etc etc etc.  It is an endless chain unless we can break the chain.  And THAT is not easy at all.

None of us is able to simply throw off our attachment style - like I said, it is pre-verbal and is like trying to reason with an infant.   I like to think of it as learning at 30 years old that we have gills and then cementing our nostrils and throat shut and expecting to breathe through our ribcage.  I venture to guess that most of us would suffocate if we tried that.  It isn't easy to unlearn something that was learned in a pre-verbal stage of life.

It isn't easy, but its not impossible.

When I started to 'fall in love' and rushed to attach it to someone, a good friend witnessed it happening and asked me: "Why him?"

Well, I said:

  1. He's an environmentalist - I have lost touch with that part of myself in the last few years.  I used to work in climate change and my specialism was the physical impacts of climate change on the water cycle and water scarcity/flooding in general.  I loved this about him.
  2. He was a businessman - He understood that we all have to pay the rent and doesn't apologize for making a living.  And being a business person myself, albeit questioning whether being in business was good for me....I loved this about him.
  3. He was a philanthropist.  I had been a philanthropist and it was part of what made my life fulfilling.  I had let this part of me fall to the wayside, as well.  I loved this about him.
  4. He is a photographer.  And while it is just a shadow career and dream of mine, I have a pretty good eye and would love to add photography to a professional set of skills.  Times when I am shooting are certainly some of my happiest moments.  I didn't feel I was good enough to call myself a photographer, but I loved this about him.
  5. He seemed spiritual.  Need I say more? I loved this about him.
  6. He is writer.  More than anything, this has been core to my being since I was able to hold a pen.  And....I loved this about him.
Oh yes.  I'm sure you see it.  She could see it.  But I couldn't see it.

I was in love with myself.  He was not the source of these good feelings.  I was the source, but I had disowned these qualities and projected them onto him. 

Things were great at first.  We had a meeting of the minds, a deep connection, albeit at a distance.  And then he began manipulating and controlling.  He hurt me terribly.

I forgave him, because he was 'the source'.  And we went on.

He began withdrawing and withholding and everything was about him.  I made excuses.

And I forgave him, because he was 'the source'.  And we went on.

And then...he stole from me.   He took my words and published them as if they were his own.  The one thing I have always felt that belonged to me were my words. 

This was mine.  This was ME.  I know my spiritual teachers would say that I am not what I do.  Ask a writer.  Ask an artist.  We do it not because it is something to do - we practice our art because it is who we ARE.  To do otherwise, kills us.

In one act, he fulfilled my worst fear.  All these months I had been grateful for his presence in my life because he represented all I wanted to be. Just as I had taken care of my care giver's needs to make sure I didn't die, so had I supported him and his work.  I hoped and really believed that he would support my work.  But he stole what was ME.  He did not take care of me.  He abused me and he let me die.

And we did not go on.

Oh I know that seems overly dramatic.  But something fundamentally changed in me that day.  Something ended with a bloody massacre.  And something more important and fruitful was born.

I admit that I was disheartened.  I was depressed.  But I stood my ground.  I would not let this be taken from me. 

In every interaction with a stranger, I started introducing myself as a writer.  Despite being published, having been a literary editor, having had plays produced and having worked in the film industry as a story editor, I don't think I ever identified myself to others as 'a writer'.  I never had the confidence to do that.  Somehow I had found it.

I found my voice.  I survived.  I individuated and separated. 

And I went on.

Oddly, within a few weeks, artists started paying me respect.  Lorenzo Quinn, one of the most celebrated sculptors in the modern era shared my photo of his sculpture (and credited me) and a local artist shared my blog (and credited me) and online magazines shared my photos (and credited me).  And, I was being invited to meet artists and granted permission to interview. 

What does this have to do with gratitude practice, you might ask? 

Well, I think that the act of writing every day and appreciating the many many good things in life helped me in those dark weeks of disillusionment.   Writing about gratitude every day has improved my writing.  It has greased the wheels and it has unleashed the writer mind that wants to enquire, that wants to imagine and that wants to tell a story. 

Practicing gratitude and taking time to daily appreciate the good in life has made me see that there is abundance out there and despite my feelings to the contrary, it has proven to me that no one person, place or thing is 'the source'.  In fact, the source of is not outside of me. 

The source of my happiness is in my ability to appreciate life.  And when I appreciate life, I am confident that good things will happen and I am filled with love.

Will I fall back into that old pattern again?  Of course I will.  I already have.  I started to have a crush on someone else very soon afterward.  He is even more inappropriate for me, even more unreliable, changeable, charming and evasive.  It is like the ego does not want to let this pattern die and is attaching itself to even more reinforcing situations.

The ego mind, drawing on my pre-verbal conditioning does not seek out these men despite the fact they will cause me pain.  The mind seeks them out BECAUSE they will cause me pain.

But, I'm not having that anymore. 

I see the pattern and I'm not going to go there.  That doesn't mean I don't still feel attracted and it doesn't mean I won't engage with him as needed...its kind of like standing on the top of the Empire State Building and having the urge to jump.  You just have to step back from the edge and change your focus.

Although it is painful, and there is a kind of primal yearning to be attached, I know that the pain is an old groove and I just have to sit with that pain.

And I keep carving that new groove of gratitude, of abundance, of confidence in myself as a writer and in my ability to survive. 

When I focus on all the good in my life - as I do every day here - I can't possibly rationally believe that any one person is necessary for my life.  And as my mind begins to unhook itself from these painful beliefs and yearnings,  I am able to enjoy people in the moment, without expectation.

I have had great moments of love and  spontaneous and joyfully wonderful interactions with handsome and playful men since I have been willing myself not to attach to my old pattern.   And, my interactions have been very deep.  Will any of them lead to a relationship? 

Does it have to? 

I don't care anymore where things lead.  I am in the moment and grateful for the moment. 

And so, perhaps I was wrong in the early stages of this practice to describe the feeling that daily gratitude practice has brought as falling 'in love'.  I'm not in love.

I am love.

And for that new awareness, I am grateful.

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