Friday, November 4, 2011

Expecting From Others What They Can Not Give

"When people have learned to de-sanctify each other, to treat each other as means to our own ends, to not feel the pain of those who are suffering, we end up creating a world in which...terrible acts of violence become more common. This is a world out of touch with itself, filled with people who have forgotten how to recognize and respond to the sacred in each other because we are so used to looking at others from the standpoint of what they can do for us, how we can use them toward our own ends."

~Rabbi Michael Lerner

Have you ever been guilty of this? Of looking at others from the standpoint of what they can do for us, and how we can use them for our own ends? I know I have. And I think it most often comes when an aching chasm is present in our own lives and we haven't found a way to address it. For me, I think it's when I forget that the Divine is present in and around me and that in the Divine there is all that I truly need. Still, I may know this in theory, but I want something, someone visible. So in the past I have found myself crying out to others for something that they cannot give: meaning, purpose, spiritual rest. The news that pisses me off is that no one can truly complete me. This is where I think Hollywood lies. Anyone who knows me very well knows that I'm a sucker for romantic movies. You've Got Mail, Notting Hill, The Notebook, The Lake House, yep, bring 'em on. But within most of these movies lies the premise that once you find "the one" you will no longer have times of loneliness and pain. Don't get me wrong, I think that being with "the one" can complete you and make you happy...well...almost. I still think there is a key need for the spiritual, for that Divine presence in our lives where we go for mental and emotional support. It could be meditating for 20 minutes each morning, or walking the dog around the neighbourhood for half an hour while taking in the beauty of nature around you. But here you are connecting with the Divine within you. We must go to the Divine within us for the seemingly inexhaustible needs that we have, or we will do what Rabbi Lerner suggests: use others toward our own ends. This becomes not an "I love you honey," but an "I love you because you make me feel good all the time and I could never live without you."

Ever been in a friendship or relationship where suddenly the other person gets up and leaves, and you're left devastated? I have. Perhaps it's not because we are terrible people and we did something horrible. Author Henri Nouwen writes: "They do not say that you are bad, ugly or despicable. They say only that you are asking for something they cannot give and that they need to get some distance from you to survive emotionally. The sadness is that you perceive their necessary withdrawal as a rejection of you instead of as a call to return home and discover there your true belovedness." Amazing stuff.

We find more words of gold, words that are so true that they hurt, from Nouwen:

"A lot of giving and receiving has a violent quality, because the givers and receivers act more out of need than out of trust. What looks like generosity is actually manipulation, and what looks like love is really a cry for affection or support. When you know yourself as fully loved, you will be able to give according to the other's capacity to receive, and you will be able to receive according to the other's capacity to give. You will be grateful for what is given to you without clinging to it. You will be a free person, free to love."

The question arises within me: What or Who is the source of my completeness? The answer obviously would bring up different answers depending on many things: your religious beliefs, your spiritual experiences, your upbringing, etc etc. For me, I have to strike a balance because for a long time I spent a lot of time alone, reading and writing about the spiritual life. I think that I must remember that the Divine is my source, and that everyone and everything She brings into my life is pure gift. Spirit is my completeness, and the people and things placed around me are Her instruments.

Mark Andrew Alward