How do we become able to have patience with our own perceived failings and the perceived failings of others? This is a question I have explored for years and have found various approaches that have let me be kind to myself and others. I still must remind myself that being kind and patient and loving is not something that can be done once and forgotten, but must be a part of our daily lives. I spent many years believing that to deny myself kindness and patience was the way to become a “good” person. As a child I grew up in a family of Mennonites for about 6 years; then when my parents divorced and were thrown out of the church, the lessons quickly changed from how to do “God’s work” to how to live without God. I believe it was my mother, quoting Nietzsche, who told me “God is dead.” So there has been this definite conundrum in my mind as to how to live life. What is the purpose of life? Is it to live happily? If so, what is happiness? Can one be happy when one knows of the suffering of others? Do we have a responsibility toward one another? Is morality related to happiness? Is hedonistic happiness satisfactory? Is the purpose of life as humans to perpetuate the species? Are we here to do what I thought of as “God’s work;” to deny ourselves in the service of others? My first hero was Jesus Christ, a man, prophet, and/or deity. I used to pretend to be him, putting a towel on my head and letting it hang down my back. The love, patience, and advocacy he showed to the poor and the disenfranchised were the ideals I wanted desperately to achieve. As a child I didn’t know how to be kind; it did seem to be tied up with self-denial. If one had something, anything, it was to be shared and given away despite the cost to me. When I did slip up, I remember being told I was selfish, a term that has dogged me to this day… 35 years later. I was unable to try to follow Christianity primarily because I grew to have so many questions about the translation and the history of the Bible. It appeared as if anyone could find a passage or a parable in the Bible to defend any action or to cast others away or judge them because of their “sinfulness.” As a teenager I started reading some philosophy, some history and some religion. My older siblings had explored various modes of thought and as the youngest, I received quite a broad education both in hedonism and philosophy.
I have come to a point in life where I have found what works for me to try to achieve the ideals I had when I was young; love, patience, and activism, yet I have not yet learned how to sustain these ideals and to apply them both to myself and others continuously. I know that if I take care of myself by eating good food, having both enough solitude and interaction, sleeping, exercising, meditating, questioning my actions and those of others with an open mind; I can live without anxiety and I can connect with others and share kindness and beauty. I can quit worrying about keeping tabs on who owes whom, because it really doesn’t matter. Relationships are not about an equal amount of give and take in a certain time period. We interact with others when we are in need and then we take (sometimes ungraciously), and we interact with other when we have an abundance and we give (sometimes with regret). None of us are immune from need or abundance, nor of feelings of ungraciousness and regret. I believe that if we try to accept help graciously and give without regret, our lives become more loving, more compassionate, and more satisfying. It is possible to change the world in this way; yet for many of us, learning graciousness and joy is difficult and time-consuming. When our lives are tied up with work, school, and activity with little time for introspection and kindness to ourselves and our familiars (who can be lost in the scuffle of everyday life), we become anxious and unhappy. This anxiety of not having enough for ourselves is a result of denying ourselves quality care, because we have so much other stuff to do. We don’t seem to equate anxiety with ignoring introspection and physical care, but with external factors of need; need of money, food, escape, and desire. There are times when these are imminent needs, and the fear that we have is justified. For many of us, especially those of who live in places where these needs could be easily met, these external factors cause us fear even when we have them in abundance. It is when we are not in danger of starving, exposure, or violence yet remain fearful, that we can know that we need time to think about our actions, to care for ourselves a bit more. Denying ourselves to the extent that we become mentally or physically ill in the service of others, does not work in the long run. It can be maintained for short periods of time, but without some form of solace and comfort, the fear and anxiety take over, and we lose what has been called the spark of the divine, that is within each of us. I hesitate to use the word “divine” when discussing this idea, because I don’t think it is necessary to believe in a higher being in order to feel this spark, this energy, this feeling that connects us as humans to each other and to the world in which we live. Perhaps I should just say that we affect one another, every one of our thoughts and actions has an effect on our well-being and the well-being of others. When we are healthy, mentally and physically, which is achieved through taking care of ourselves; we affect others positively and create positive action. When we let ourselves become unhealthy, by ignoring our true needs of physical health and introspection, we tend to affect each other negatively and create negative action. I am spending today resting, as I have been under a lot of mental and physical strain lately. I am paying attention to the birds calling outside my window as I sit and consider my thoughts and actions of late. While I have been in imminent danger of exposure and violence recently, and therefore felt I had no choice but to ignore introspection; the fear of being unable to find escape and shelter has taken a toll. I am physically ill and have become increasingly anxious of what will happen in the future. It is this anxiety that is now causing me distress; as I have found escape and shelter. In order to address the anxiety, so I may take positive effective action, I must pay attention to body and soul. Perhaps this post will provide you with a reason to care for yourselves as well. Peace.