Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fully engage

At mass this morning, the priest gave a homily about not being held back by obsessions and needs while remaining fully engaged and experiencing life. This is pretty tricky; it almost sees to be an oxymoron. To fully enjoy and appreciate what life has to offer, and yet not be restrained by our experience or by the fear of losing the things we prize, is a challenge. I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the second or third time yesterday (I beg the reader's pardon for mentioning a priest and Harry Potter in the same paragraph) and it occurs to me that this is the very lesson that Harry needs to learn in the end. (Obviously, stop reading now if you haven't read the book and don't want it to be spoiled.) Harry is only able to survive by letting go; only gets to live because he loves his friends and life in the wizarding world enough to die for them.

Of course, Harry is just a character reacting to an exceedingly unusual situation. How can we exercise this kind of wisdom of immersing oneself while still remaining free? As in many things, I think that part of the solution is in self-awareness. Is our desire for a thing equal to the reward or feeling we will be rewarded in attaining it? ...Or is the anxiety of not having the feeling/experience/object the real motivation for going after it? Is going after this concern restraining us from letting in other positive influences in our life? Are we merely settling for the mediocre- but familiar- norm (as *ahem* yours truly admits to doing by watching SVU on Netflix every single night), instead of taking the risk of letting in anything unfamiliar?

Personally, I've found this especially difficult in terms of relationships. You want to exercise the knowledge that you've gained with previous partners, some of which undoubtedly came from painful lessons. On the other hand, you don't want to be enslaved by these feelings or expectations, because (we hope) this is a new person, with a different personality and set of experiences themselves, so even when the same card is drawn a different outcome is possible (is that possible???.... never mind). As my therapist says, patterns of behavior can develop not only because of past experiences being repeated, but also due to you yourself reacting in a formulaic pattern to a set of stimuli. (Actually my therapist said it in a much more entertaining way, but whatever.) For example, people don't believe me but in two important relationships in my past, being unhealthy and gaining weight were behaviors my exes engaged in before we broke up. (Note to the world- for the second time this year, I'd like to formally note that 's should only be used to indicate possession, NOT plurality.) During the second go-round, I was already reacting to my then-boyfriend's weight gain as a sign that he was complacent and took me for granted and that my attraction to him wasn't something he valued, as the case had been in the previous relationship. So I became over sensitive to the issue and pushed for him to work out, which he took offense to. It became a point of contention which I took to signal that my boyfriend didn't care enough to do something relatively small for me, while he took it to mean that his attractiveness meant more to me than his personality. (In reality, this is only true if you are EXTREMELY attractive. So guys, keep working out those brains!) I was so afraid of losing this (second) guy that I was letting my past interfere in a pretty illogical way with my actions. If I had been able to look past the fear, I might have been able to realize that what I had so valued was deteriorating already, but instead I had become so fixed in my ways and thinking that I didn't realize that the positive experiences I associated with the relationship weren't even happening anymore.

Hmm. So where do we go with this now that I've analyzed why this is so hard to do? Part of my recent strategy has been to avoid over-thinking situations. I no longer try to derive secondary meanings from a few words. If I didn't understand what someone was thinking in the actual moment, then reflecting on that moment for hours at a time is probably not going to result in some kind of miraculous enlightenment. Along the same lines, I now try to trust my gut. If I feel something is offensive, then I respond to it that way, and I can move on, instead of holding back and carrying it around, only later to realize that I am hurt and have long passed the moment to do something about it. And lastly, I've tried very hard to avoid assigning my predictions to people's behaviors. If a guy doesn't respond to a text, that might not mean that he's being a jerk and is going to avoid me for two weeks and then break up with me (I am NOT bitter), it might just mean that he's busy. That's not to say that I play the fool; if the fellow continues his failure to respond, then he'll find he's left my good graces. But if it's a temporary thing, I can always assume he's just busy practicing magic. ;)

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