Grab a Shovel

I have come to realize that I’m an inveterate optimist. I also accept my contradictions as a pragmatic idealist. These orientations keep me from going insane. They are the wellspring of any equanimity I possess. They create the space for me to take action and risk being known.

Those are the pretty words I use in polite company. The reality is that it feels like shoveling shit. You remember the old joke don’t you? It goes like this:

Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. In an attempt to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile and began digging.

“What are you doing?” the psychiatrist asked.

“With all this manure” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

You see… instead of a room filled with horse manure, my shit is everywhere, piled high and deep. And, if that weren’t enough, other people throw shit at me too. Lots of it. Sometimes they’re shoveling their shit on top of my shit. <sigh> So, I pick up my shovel and get to work. I have never found a pony. I probably never will. I’m not sure that I would know what to do with a pony if I found one. But, there I am shoveling away. I shovel because of what I have found.

I’ve found all manner of things that I never expected. I have found creative ideas. I’ve found that clearing a path through is not a means to escape but a route to connection. I’ve discovered that other people will shovel shit with you and thereby become dear friends. I have found love in the middle of a shit show. Most importantly, I found myself by way of my own excrement. I figured out how to own my shit. I learned that I could produce less and shovel more. I found peace knowing my back is strong, my shovel is wide and my friends are willing.

And so, I shovel shit. No, it’s not easy. It stinks. It hurts my back. It’s exhausting. What makes me an optimist is that I believe my efforts are effective even when I can’t see over my pile. I’m a pragmatic idealist because I smell the excrement fully, I understand that it’s not a pile of roses, and yet I know from balls to bones that wading in with shovel in hand is necessary to joyful living. I will even carry my shovel to your shit pile. We can uncover the joy that comes with struggling through life together.

Lessons on relationships I learned racing sports cars

In sports car racing, there are times when your intuition fails you.  This issue is greatly compounded during the fast-moving and confusing situation of a near or actual crash.  I’ve been reflecting on relationship dynamics tonight and their similarity to race car dynamics.  This is especially poignant as tonight it appears that one of my relationships is crashing and burning…

Racing Lesson #1

When you lose control and leave the track, your instincts might be to slam on the brakes.  Instead, you should keep steady and begin to slow down gradually.  Major deceleration will upset the car when on an uneven surface and will likely result in a full-scale spinout.

Relationship application: This strategy initially worked very well.  Slowed things down a bit.  Had lots of conversations about the foundation.   Along the way, we uncovered miscommunications that resulted in resentment.  We worked on our ability to communicate difficult things with less acrimony.  We were even able to accelerate once we got back on track. (more…)

A Response to Fear and Loving in an Uncertain World

From Fear and Loving in an Uncertain World:

“My fears may be realized. It is something I cannot predict.  I know, however, that my best chance at joy lies in giving love without letting the fear that it won’t be returned close me off.  My major task in an uncertain world is feeling and giving the fullest measure of love I can manage.  I actively cultivate this style of loving and aim to get better at it every day.”

Response: I’m undecided on this… I understand what you’re saying… but without expecting that return, you can allow others to take you for granted…

Mind Crush:  Yes, we’ve had this discussion before.  We can’t confuse loving with pleasing or consistently elevating someone else’s needs over our own.  Seeing our needs as equal and managing the ways in which they may conflict in an active way is an important relationship skill (for all our relationships not just romantic ones).  We have to know how to hold our needs as equal to others’ yet respond out of love and not out of fear that our needs may not be met or resentment that they have gone unmet.

What does “loving without the fear that it won’t be returned” really mean?  Well, let’s start with what it doesn’t mean.  It does not mean that I will do whatever you want; it does not mean that my job is to satisfy you at the expense of self-care.  I don’t think it has anything to do with being a doormat.  And so, you can only continue to take advantage of me if I allow it (fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…).  I would argue that the most loving thing you can do for someone is never ever to let them take advantage of you or any one else.  To know this, you must understand that taking advantage of people hurts them too (even if they don’t care about the ways in which it hurts them).   (more…)