There’s a Maya Angelou quote that is popping up all over my life right now. You may have heard it in some form or another:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
That’s some capital-T Truth right there. This thought, having been presented to me several times this week, is floating around in the background of the stewpot that is my mind. To me, people are valuable for what messages they deliver from the Universe. Everyone in the world has something to teach me, and that is something I practice being mindful of on a daily basis.
My main goal is to be the best me I can be and I pray for it every day. When I strive for the best behavior I can manage, it’s not necessary to beat myself up. Often I fall short of perfection, but that’s okay. My job as a human is to be imperfect, so I’m doing my job very well!
Before I get into what is clawing its way out of me today, I want to ask you how this quote makes you feel. Who does it remind you of? What do you think is the most valuable feeling some one can give you? Do you have a person in your life that gave/gives you this feeling? Do you try to give others that feeling, the one that you want to get from others?
The most challenging part of life for many of us is relationships. I’ll speak for myself here, but I know many of you will able to identify with what I experience. Love is not a simple emotion. I love everyone in my life, to one extent or another. I love them for their humor, for their beautiful lit-from-within smile, for being difficult and helping me practice patience and tolerance. I love people like I believe Mother Theresa loved people, which is unconditionally: just the way they, wonderfully or distressingly, are.
Just to back up for one moment: There was a time in my life when I had no capacity for love, empathy or compassion. I drowned my feelings, pushed away anyone that tried to help and spent every day just surviving. I was impatient, unsympathetic to others’ suffering because I was in so much emotional pain. It was a horrible way to live, and I think that helps me stay committed to how I’m living now because I never want to feel that way, ever, ever again. My happiness relies on me loving others!
This is how I try to love: by letting people know I see them and appreciate them. I let them know they’re worthy of other people’s time, not by telling them but by hearing what they say and responding in a thoughtful way. I let them know they’re worthy of love, by being kind, praising their accomplishments, giving them hope. That is the gentle, nurturing kind of love that I cultivate (and sometimes achieve) in my day to day life.
But there is another part of love. This is where aparigraha comes in! Yogic wisdom through Yoga Flirt taught me that aparigraha means non-grasping or non-possessive, the exact opposite of co-dependent. The modern term in this context would be detachment. If you can love someone and still practice aparigraha, the love will flourish and grow.
I have a co-dependent streak a mile wide, which I keep a nice big fence around most of the time. That fence allows me to love you, and manage to not possess or control you. Which means that if you do not ask for advice, I will not give it to you. It means that if you ask for advice and then don’t take it, I don’t feel personally affronted. It means that you may not take advantage of me. I will lend you an ear, or my time, but probably not any money.
Aparigraha can also look like tough love, and I will explain what that means to me. It means that if you insist on making the same mistakes over and over, I will not listen to you whine about it. It means if you are digging yourself a hole you aren’t equipped to climb out of on your own, I will let you. And if you are on the floor and aren’t asking for help to get up, I will not kick you, but I will leave you there. To you it may sound cold, callous or cruel… but I’ve been those and it’s very different.
Many people think they are helping a loved one, when they are actually enabling them. Enabling is not about the person being enabled, it’s about the enabler. I have the opportunity to enable on a daily basis and I choose not to as much as possible, even though it’s way less painful for me. It’s very difficult for me to watch my loved ones suffer, but trying to fix their problems so that I can feel better is selfish, not loving at all. I let go with love, allow them to learn the lessons they are meant to learn in this lifetime, let them suffer instead of swooping in to save the day. I check my motives when I am compelled to “help” a loved one. Am I truly being of service to them, or do I lack faith that things are as they should be, am I just looking for an opportunity to play the hero, the martyr, the saint? When you love someone and they are hell bent on self-destruction, if you really want to help them, get out of their way. The sooner they hit bottom, the faster they can start to heal and recover.
This is where we re-visit Ms. Angelou’s quote. When you are practicing aparigraha while a loved one suffers, they may not appreciate what you are doing very much. But in the long run, there’s hope that the miracle of recovery happens, they realize you gave them space to find their way, and they can thank you for putting yourself through some misery so that they got to get rid of theirs. I know how grateful I am to the people who do that for me! They make me feel like I have dignity, that I’m capable of making decisions and problem-solving on my own, that I’m worthy of their love.
I want to know what you think. Remember those questions I asked in the beginning of this post, a long (winded) time ago?
I’ll end with another quote, not from a famous person but from an old recovered drug addict named Sherman. Any time he gave a talk, he’d always end it by saying:
“If nobody told you they love you today, I love you madly.”