The next number of posts, all titled Conversations on… come from email communications between a dear friend and me. With her permission, I am publishing excerpts from them because I feel they pertain to everything we’ve been discussing on the blog. Kate is in the process of trying to figure out how to be a writer and still maintain her teaching job. At her request I’ve changed her name and am using initials for people she brings up. It’d be great if you all would join our conversation…
Please know, without any doubt, that nothing you can say or do will ever infuriate me–ever! The place you find yourself in is enormously challenging, and is for every single one of us that walks down the path of transformation and rebirth. Please, please be as gentle with yourself as you can possibly be. There is and will be no judgment from me about how you move through this time. Change does not take a linear path. It winds and shifts and back tracks through our old ways of being, doing a kind of dance with the light we glimpse in our future, that doesn’t exist yet.
I have given this advice to my friend, Sam, before, and to myself: Try very, very hard to always bring your focus back to you. This cannot be about your boss, what he’s thinking or feeling; what he may do. This has to be about you and what you’re thinking and feeling; what you may do. But for people like us, that takes tremendous work and practice. My Buddhist teacher helped me so much when she guided me to see that, when I do that, when I go outside of myself to “help” others, I’m actually just avoiding helping me. Can you see that? By shifting your focus to your boss, you are able not to work on YOU, which is much more challenging than working on him. He WILL survive! If he doesn’t it has nothing to do with you. It has to do with him. His statement about things being horrific if you leave, while heartfelt, is also very manipulative. Change happens. It has to or we die. This is true for institutions, too. Change is happening and he must give it room and find the best ways of allowing it to be. That is his job for the school, not yours.
Yes, find a way to tell him your truth, accepting that, right now at least, he can’t handle it. That is his cross to bear, not yours. You cannot “mend his life.” That is for him. You must venture deeper and deeper into the world to save the only life you can save. He must do the same for himself. He may also need to look at the possibility that, had he not been so needy and misused you so terribly, this change might not be happening right now.
I know that you are going to do this because you understand that you must. But you also understand, as MF has pointed out, that you have to take these steps in ways you can live with. I know you are working to find those ways.
However, at this point, it is a little bit like a sliver festering in your finger: it will be very painful until you get it out. Think of Kelee’s shattered leg. The vet helped me see that the bone was like thousands of slivers moving through his flesh, causing terrible pain and infection. The leg had to come off. It wasn’t easy and his healing took a long time. But he is finally pain free and living the new life that was meant for him.
Peace and love to you and freedom to move through your journey in whatever ways you can.
Bringing the focus back to me is exactly what I’ve been talking about with MK, my therapist. He’s away for a few weeks, but our last meeting focused on that. I had a hard time even figuring out how to do that, strange as it sounds. I have to learn how to internalize a self to come back to that is not my default self, the one who is always extending to others and allowing itself to become drained and depleted. It is good to hear the same words from you, even though it’s a challenging and difficult situation that inspires you to say them. I thank you for your non-judgmental affirmation of the struggle. I let myself down and was really hard on myself for that, knowing that I let it be about my boss’s feelings and not about mine, knowing that he was (not fully intentionally but still very tangibly) manipulating me to feel guilty. I’m not worried that he won’t survive. They will live on–though the initiatives I’ve spent all my energy on won’t. The students, well, I need to find a way not to worry. Just today someone who doesn’t know that I’m about to leave, wrote me a note saying she’s not worried about her students because she knows they will be “safe” next semester with me, that I’ll take care of them. I will find a way to manage my feelings about that, but I admit I’m not there yet.
Thank you for the time and energy you have devoted to reflecting back to me in such meaningful ways, for helping me navigate my rebirth. Your analogy to Kelee’s shattered leg is a perfect metaphor for this situation, though I already knew–felt very keenly–the discomfort and irritation, the distress of stopping short of completing the message that I must convey as soon as possible. Those shards will hurt and fester until I finish my task, tell my truth, or some version that will be digestible to the parties in question, and free myself to move on, heal, live. In the end, whatever version I give them will have to be enough.
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Love to you all,