Sunday, January 2, 2011

Amended New Year’s Resolution: or, Falling in love in Africa, Part Two!

Hiking over the forests and winelands of Constantia.
 I'm told that Constantia is home to the "oldest winelands in the Cape."

“This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.” As (re)told by Elizabeth Gilbert

In 1989, I discovered 12-step recovery and my life would change forever. Of the many, many lessons I’ve learned, the most helpful is “stay in today.” If I’m able to stay in the day, and this simple instruction is by no means easy, I am free from worry of tomorrow or pain from the past, and life feels much, much easier. In learning to live one day at a time, I gave up my habit of making “New Year’s resolutions” because really, I needed to be making “new resolutions each and every day” instead. In 12-step recovery, this is called “trying to do the next right thing.” So I quit following the tradition of New Year’s resolutions, and hadn’t made any for almost 20 years. But all of this changed for me last year, when I decided that yes, certainly, I would live my life one day at a time, but it would be nice to set a yearly goal for myself, to have something I could monitor and adjust and evaluate, (I AM an American, from the USA after all!) and in 2010, my tradition of New Year’s resolutions resumed. Last year, I resolved to cease complaining and dedicate each and every Sunday to spiritual devotion followed by a day off. In other words: NO WORK ON SUNDAY! I think I made it to the third week of January for NO WORK ON SUNDAY and the complaining, I’m sorry to say, resumed even earlier!

Alas, I’m trying again in 2011. I had originally decided that I would try to meditate each and every day of 2011, and so far so good (today is Jan 2), but in my meditation, another idea has come up. (I love how that works!)

I will probably remember 2010 not only as a challenging first year in Peace Corps South Africa, but also as a year of healing (again) from a broken heart. I’m far from finished with my grief, but believe I’ve made great gains. In my struggle with healing from the grief of loss, I’ve spent a great deal of time in prayer, asking for prayer support, feeling my feelings, and reading spiritual texts. Two texts have helped me immensely in my recovery from a broken heart: Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. (Go ahead and roll your eyes!)

Pema Chodron, in her retelling of Buddhist philosophy, advises to lean into the pain, embrace it, and run towards it (rather than numb it with anything: tv, computer, reading, eating, drinking, or –and this is my favorite way of avoiding the pain of a beak up--falling in love with someone else) and although I find the practice daunting, to lean into the pain, I find it very effective.

Elizabeth Gilbert has helped me in many ways too, although her memoir Eat, Pray, Love is probably not considered a spiritual text by most people. But her book (in part) tells of her quest to find a true(er) spiritual connection, and in telling of her spiritual journey she has greatly helped me with mine.

In her search, she examines the notion of true love, long-term passionate love, and the notion of being so in love, you’re convinced you have a “soul mate.” I was particularly struck by Richard from Texas’s (one of Gilbert’s many spiritual guides along her journey) definition of a soul mate:

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to our own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it” (Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, 149).

And thank God for it indeed!

I love Richard’s spin on soul mates because I can shift my perspective to one from my many “failed” relationships to one of being blessed with a lifetime of soul mates! And it’s true when I think of it: in all of my presumed “life partnerships,” each and every “spouse” has helped me to change my life in ways that I discover more about myself—and really, what a blessing! Although they are painful blessings!

While there is a part of me that still searches for that “one true love” or the “love that lasts forever” (which is why I’m enamored with finding couples in their 70s, 80s, or 90s still being publicly affectionate with one another), I’m gently reminded that my one true love has been with me all along: me. And if there were something “wrong” or something “needing fixing” because of my seemingly inability to sustain a long-term committed relationship, the “problem” would be with me; because as much as I like to believe that I’m a whole, completely self-sufficient, evolved, intact human being, and therefore an ideal partner, the fact is that I still wrap myself (and my identity) up in my partner and come to depend on that partner for my “happiness.” Shame! And what a batch of problems to lay on a life partner! Yikes!

All of which has prompted me to amend my New Year’s Resolution: while yes indeed, I hope to devote time each and every day to meditation, I also devote and dedicate the year 2011 to falling in love with Karen! I hope this New Year is a passionate, joyful, compassionate, sensuous, sexy search for that unconditional love for me, and in so doing, that I will ultimately—and eventually--evolve into whole-heartedness. So, that’s it! I’m devoting 2011 to having a delicious love affair with Karen--and no one else is invited!


one of the original reservoirs for Cape Town on top of Back Table

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