I realized I'm so slow to bounce back this week not only because of having so many late nights in a row (not at all used to that), and running around so much all week long (very used to that) but because of my tendency to intensely absorb all the emotions going on around me. I know I am not alone in this. I also know lots of people who are able to participate in other people's lives without feeling as if they are experiencing every emotion as the person directly in its wake. For me, I feel so directly connected to everyone in my family, and am so sensitive to what happens around me, that I walk away from experiences like the past weekend feeling not just like a bridesmaid who tore up the dance floor and could use a rest, but also like the bride, the groom, the father-of-the-bride giving away his third and final daughter. I feel like my husband who ran all over chasing our little guy, and who I swear probably did the equivalent of a marathon by the end of the weekend, and I even feel like my other sister who is probably so turned around by jet lag right now, she doesn't know which way is up.
Sometimes being this tied to the emotions of others is a beautiful thing, and sometimes it is a huge drain. Like most things in life, the ideal is probably a happy medium, a balance I have yet to find. However, feeling so phenomenally tired this many days after returning home has made it clear to me that I need to seek that elusive brand of caring that isn't quite so co-dependent.
When I traveled in Southeast Asia with two girlfriends in 2001, we spent ten days at a silent retreat at a Buddhist monastery. There was no talking, reading, or writing allowed for the full ten days except for one opportunity to meet with one of the monks and discuss any topic we chose. After a week of silence, your inner voice becomes very clear, and I knew exactly what I wanted to ask when given the chance. The Buddhists (or at least the Theraveda Thai Buddhists I learned from at the retreat) believe in non-attachment, or the idea of impermanence, as one of their core beliefs. I tried to imagine what my life would look like if I could master total non-attachment and not become so emotionally involved in things that don't directly, personally concern me; the notion was both exhilarating and terrifying. I asked the monk how you maintain non-attachment to those with whom you are intimately attached without living in a monastery. What followed was a complex answer...
This monk recommended a "compassionate detachment" wherein the love and energy that you give to those around you is not tied directly to your own consciousness. You should act with love, care and grace, but with an eye on the larger picture. She said that sometime the greatest gift you can give to those you love is not give of yourself, even when this feels counterintuitive, because if you cannot give them the whole of your energy, it is then best to keep the whole of your energy focused upon wherever it is being called to a higher use. When always acting with caution and care, you can live in this compassionate detachment and maintain loving relationships without being swallowed whole by them. This conversation was obviously idealized and ten years ago to boot, but still it sticks with me, as does the fact that I am probably farther from this kind of balance than I was a decade ago (being a wife and mother really kind of complicates the whole non-attachment thing, I must say).
Considering all of this in the shade of the trees this morning, suddenly a Kahlil Gibran poem popped into my head. Actually, what popped into my head was Sweet Honey in the Rock's musical version of the poem, but these are the lyrics:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you, but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
To me, this is so profound. This is it, really. Everything that you love is not yours, it is Life's. My sisters, my parents, my husband, my son, all have their own path that I am merely watching. I can house their bodies but not their souls, and my soul too has its own path. As a mother, I want to keep this poem right where I can see it, and if you strip the parenting messages out of it and think of it as a way to relate to the world and those you love, it is kind of like the perfect execution of the advice I received from that Thai monk so many years ago. Love, but don't give yourself completely over to the point where you have nothing left for yourself. Protect your energy, protect your path, that you may have more to give in a compassionate detachment that doesn't wring you dry.
I told you I was still a bit delirious. Time to step away from the computer and take a rest. We will return to things like recipes for taco salad tomorrow. Stay tuned...