Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Holding Centre

Communication is a funny thing. No matter how straightforward or honest you try to be, and no matter how much you try to stay out of triangles and other people’s business, you can still find yourself in the middle of a conundrum that while is not of your doing, directly affects you.

Drat it all, being human is not easy.

I found myself in a bit of an uncomfortable miscommunication triangle not too long ago. Despite the fact I was an “innocent” caught in the middle, I wavered between guilt that felt I could have made my position clearer and anger that abhorred being blamed for any of it — both nicely blended in with a caretaking desire to fix the problem. None of those responses would have been helpful and, in retrospect, all three were codependent reactions. With each of those feelings I was allowing myself to be overly affected by another because I was losing sight of my truth: the problem was not mine and, therefore, not mine to fix or worry about. The best I could do was to state my case, not take on anyone else’s responsibility, nor try to solve it for them or worry that I could have done better.

It is one of those default patterns I can fall into that drives me to sleepless nights and irritable days but also one that reinforces why I don’t want to live in codependence anymore. Anyhow, while the triangle issue is still being worked out and my codependent parts gnaw at the bit to get involved, I tenuously hold my centre.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Unconditional Meaning

Please share with me a quote from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. He writes in a few perfect words what I tried to pen in a thousand. The man was not only a genius but a poet. (See my version in The Interconnectedness of Self Worth.

What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaningless of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interdependence and the Social Media

I am back with the question I asked on March 9: does social media deter or enhance interdependence? Or, as originally stated, does true interdependence require real, face-to-face social interaction?

** First, however, I must make full disclosure: I have been known to use the email (and v-mail for that matter) as a tool to avoid social contact and, if I am totally honest, to have more control over the messiness that can occur in face-to-face interactions. Electronic media helps me, to a certain extent, avoid intimacy. Thus twisted logic is born: because I do, everyone else does, resulting in my current bias against.

When I posed the question on March 9, “Bonnie” replied in the comment section:

“I find [Facebook] great to relate on some level to friends and family who live in other parts of the world, and who I don't have a face to face, telephone or even e-mail connection with very often. It helps us be a part of each other's life …”

Okay, that makes sense, “being a part of each other’s life” fits one aspect of interdependence, that of community. I come from the perspective that we are all interconnected (whether we acknowledge it or not) and if social media can help us feel those bonds then that is a positive in my books. But what of the other parts of interdependence: respect, mutuality and leadership? What about the fourth component that we played with on March 11 — simplicity?

Let’s deal with them in order. First off, is social media a respectful communication tool? If left unrestrained I would say no. Then again, isn’t that true of other sources of communication? We don’t, for example, write confidential information on the back of postcards or have embarrassing photos in the inner flap of our wallets or on our office computer screensaver. And who hasn’t wanted to tell their cell phone talking bus mate that their sex life isn’t all that interesting. All forms of communication require some form of boundary that draws the line at not only what is said but how, when and to whom it is said. That is, of course, if we want it to be respectful.

Is there mutuality to social media? Mutuality, as used here, is about mutual gain or, at minimum, an interaction in which no one is hurt or loses energy. Facebook may increase positive social connections (a mutual gain) but it can also be used as a tool to bully. Like other forms of communication, it depends on intent. We can have meaningful conversation or we can gossip; one way enhances the other hurts. A political example comes from the use of social media in mass protest movements. This was seen quite dramatically in Iran in 2009, and recently with Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Lev Grossman of Time Magazine wrote:

“… Twitter practically [is] ideal for a mass protest movement, both very easy for the average citizen to use and very hard for any central authority to control. ... On June 13 [2009], when protests started to escalate, and the Iranian government moved to suppress dissent both on- and off-line, the Twitter verse exploded with tweets from people who weren't having it, both in English and in Farsi.”

Then again, what’s good for the citizen may be a loss for the government. Mutuality can be subjective and perhaps best left in the hands of historians to debate. And, going back to intent, who is to judge that what is being said is truth? As Grossman continues:

“As is so often the case in the media world, Twitter's strengths are also its weaknesses. The vast body of information about current events in Iran that circulates on Twitter is chaotic, subjective and totally unverifiable. It's impossible to authenticate sources.”

Perhaps a more easily defended example of positive mutuality is how Facebook and Twitter provided relief for loved ones looking for lost relatives in Japan this past week.

“Less than an hour after the quake, the number of tweets from Tokyo topped 1,200 per minute, according to Tweet-o-Meter. An interactive graphic created by Facebook to illustrate status updates related to the quake shows Japan’s activity on Facebook during that day was also high.” (source:

And now we come to leadership, a key factor in interdependence. We discussed above how intent seems to be what keeps social media and other forms of communication an interdependent process. For the underlying intent to be respectful to self and others, and a tool for positive mutuality, there must be integrous self leadership.

As I disclosed at the beginning of this blog I sometimes use email and v-mail to avoid real interaction. In those instances I am not in integrity with those of whom I am relating. I am lacking in self leadership for I am allowing the parts of me that want to hide to be in charge. This is not to say that I should talk when I don’t feel like talking but that I should also not fool myself in believing I am creating community by hiding behind a computer. Another example of this is in on-line protests movements like petitions. In a review by The Guardian Weekly (Feb 4.11), Evgeny Morozov was quoted from his book, Net Delusion: How not to liberate the world

“The internet … is breeding a generation not of activists but of “slacktivists”, who think that clicking on a Facebook petition counts as a political act and who dissipate their energies on a thousand distractions.”

If signing on-line petitions is a way of comforting our self into believing we are doing the best in making the world a better place, we are not in integrity with our beliefs. On-line petitions have little pull compared with a posted letter to the government or the newspaper editor, donated money, volunteer work or peaceful marches. While it is a step in the right direction when done in isolation on-line petitions becomes another way to shield ourselves from what it means to live interdependently in community.

Finally, we add in simplicity. When communication gets complicated it generally means our codependent parts are in play. When we try to formulate our interactions with others so to consciously, or unconsciously, manipulate them to like, help, respect, be fearful of, or protect us, we not only disrespect all parties involved but we complicate the issue. We do things in reference to the other without honestly acknowledging our own needs and feelings. Instead of saying “I am lonely” we try to somehow make another need us so they will stay or love us; instead of stating our anger we project anger onto others or act passive aggressively; and instead of showing our vulnerabilities, we project fear into others to control or keep them at a distance.

Honest communication begins with self. If we are in integrity with our feelings, beliefs and actions, we have a higher potential to respectfully act on those feelings and beliefs regardless of how we choose to communicate. Interdependence has its origins within that internal honesty — that clear intent to live in integrity … simple as that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge Day 7

Yesterday I started the challenge off by asking myself what I really meant by interdependence. I found myself confused after experiencing the many emotions surrounding my father; my need for solitude and a sporadic but determined desire to be a part of the world. Through this I recognized a part of me that doesn’t want to be interdependent — the messy feelings that come from it just too damn uncomfortable. Then again, are these not my codependent parts speaking, the ones that want to hide away in a cave and find safety and reassurance within the walls of aloneness and the others that feel I can serve the world best by fixing things I have no right to fix?

I received an email a few days ago from someone responding to Day 4 of the Challenge. It was a much needed light in the dim hallway I was living. The person wrote: “I spent a lot of energy being anxious about what I should or shouldn't do. I had no compass until I found myself and started listening.” And how simple is that?

If I look at it from this perspective, interdependence may require respect, mutuality and leadership but to be truly effective the energy behind it must come from within. We must listen to and respect individual needs while interacting with others from our internal compass— the one that tells us what is right and what is wrong, what depletes and what replenishes; what strengthens and what diminishes.

Perhaps then, that is the fourth component of the interdependent tenets: Respect, Mutuality, Leadership and Simplicity. Life is complicated when our codependent parts are in charge. In the action of simplifying, however; in allowing life to flow without complicated motives, by trusting ourselves and listening to our internal compass we live interdependently.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Interdependent Challenge - Day 6

Interdependence… its been such a full and, at times, confusing week, I sit here tonight and ask, what the heck do I mean by that?

It all seemed so easy last year when I first initiated the Interdependent Challenge. Back then I had a clearer vision and a yearning to be out there while today I sit in quasi-retreat. These past few months I’ve chosen solitude over connection and have been looking at my identity in terms never fully explored before. I really don’t want to interact with anyone but life doesn’t stop because I desire it to do so: the show, as they say, goes on.

So today I went food shopping and, because the jar was there, donated $1 to a microfinancing program in Peru. I bought organic and fair trade food, wrote a letter to the government about GM foods and had a sweet talk with a friend, connecting deeply on what it means to be human. I talked to my father and, while initially struck with guilt when he sounded down (see Day 4 Challenge), came to understand that he is entitled to feel down without me trying to fix it or take responsibility — his car may be a write-off, I’d be pissed off too. In short, I did my best to respectfully connect with the world while mutually respecting my need for quiet. I took leadership over my codependent parts that wanted to fix my father and then did the laundry. Yes, life goes on, however we choose to live it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interdependent Challenge Day 5

I had an interesting conversation with a friend today about social media. Even though I write a blog (and yes, have two websites) I shy away from the Facebook crowd. I am not sure of all the reasons or even if my reasoning is logical but it feels too much like voyeurism. My friend talked, however, of a more unique way of approaching the subject: one of sharing ideas, giving freely from the heart; of networking and collaboration. My question today: is the social media movement a modern method of interdependence? Or, am I really asking, does true interdependence require a real, face-to-face social interaction?

I started to answer this and it just got too convoluted… or perhaps just uncomfortable as I do tend to prefer emails to phone calls, and reading a book over going to a party. So, I am going to sit on this for a bit and write when its clearer in my mind but please feel free to send in your comments.

On another note, during the mini crisis with my father the other day, my sister and I were in contact with three different bureaucracies: the RCMP, the hospital and ICBC (insurance). Surprisingly, all encounters were genuinely supportive and empathetic. It was amazing. Sometimes all it took was a kind word or patience for that extra question but the process seemed to glide along. This was a lovely form of interdependence where there was respectful service, a mutuality of what it is to be and feel human, and integrous leadership.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interdependent Challenge Day 4

I skipped a day but I have an honest excuse… one that doesn’t come even close to the dog-eating-my-homework kind. I speak lightly here because I am feeling happy as only a person can when a potential crisis is over. Yesterday, my father had a car accident and while everyone involved is healthy and unhurt, the potential could have been devastating. So, my sister and I spent yesterday afternoon and late evening with my father. We talked to medical personnel, insurance people and the RCMP and then, reassured that all was okay, we left his house around 10pm.

One of the effects of the incident was the questions it raised for me. In particular, how does one live interdependently with a person who is less than “able” due to age, illness, or disability? Too often it can result in codependent caretaking where the needs of one supersede that of the other, where mutuality is lost and respect transcends into resentment. Although my father is a healthy octogenarian, he can also be shy and somewhat withdrawn in the face of bureaucracy. These characteristics are compounded by impaired hearing. Because of this my sister and I often make phone calls or fill out forms for him. Last night we did our best to handle most of the red tape but there were still some loose ends to be dealt with today. The question I faced last night was whether I should stay over and assist him with the rest of the work in the morning.

I talked it over with my sister and then, in deciding to come home, spent a few more hours today agonizing whether I did the right thing. Physically and emotionally my father was fine but after any accident or crisis, support can be welcome regardless of the abilities of the people involved. But how much support is appropriate? Sometimes when I accompany my father to appointments he looks to me to take up the reigns of which, unfortunately, I am more than eager to take. My question then, is when does the supportive daughter become the enabler of dependence? Said another way, when do I become the partner in codependence?

As said above I didn’t stay overnight. Instead we conversed several times on the phone and I was pleased to find that despite the inherent difficulties of the day, he handled it all quite nicely. Yes, it would have been nice if I had been there but perhaps my presence may have also inhibited his confidence in acting and thinking independently. Of course, the other element to this is my desire to be at home today. I was trying to find a balance between his needs and mine, societal expectations, and a way to empower without abandoning.

Interdependence is a fine balance between independence and dependence: a woven tapestry of different needs and wants; beliefs and abilities. Underlying is a respect for all parties involved; a mutual positive experience at best (neutral at worse); and leadership in the face of sometimes difficult choices. Only time tells us whether our choices were right and even then, sometimes those choices that seemed wrong are ultimately for the best… and vice versa.

For today, however, these were my interdependent thoughts, if not actions, of the day.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge Day 3

The thing about being interdependent is that one must acknowledge that they are not, as the saying goes, an island; that there must be a weaving of both the needs of the individual and that of the community into a fine tapestry. Then again, must it be so overt? If I stand behind my own beliefs that we are already interconnected, then no weaving is necessary. Maybe it is more like what the TV announcer tells us so earnestly: “Batteries Not Included”. The tapestry is complete but the energy behind it will remain untapped until someone finds the will to plug it in. Okay, I am mixing metaphors but to say it less poetically, interconnectedness, the foundation for interdependence, needs to be empowered not only by individuals working together but there also needs to be an underlying desire.

I was thinking about that today as I spent the day in solitude. I took a long walk up the nearest mountain, sloshed though spring snow and was gifted with terrific views of the city — a metropolis crawling with over a million people. There I was with nary a soul around while contemplating a whole soup of them lying virtually at my feet. On one hand it was calming that I could find such peace and quiet so close to the city but, on the other, it strove to emphasize how easy it is to isolate in the midst of so many. Viewing from above I could feel some connection to this town of mine but towards the people that lived there, I felt detached. I am not a social person; I like my alone time. I like closing my front door and turning off the phone and I fantasize about living in a small cabin miles away from anyone.

How can I be interdependent when I prefer sitting on top of a mountain?

On days like this, I like to think of interdependence as being a model for many aspects of my life. Today, as I kept my communication with others to a smile or nod of the head, I felt like I was respecting both their presence and my need for quiet. As I headed up the trail, I heard a raven call out and saw buds on trees near to bursting with life. I met a couple of older women on the trail and felt the kinship of mutual appreciation and respect for nature. Moreover, I didn’t use a vehicle to go to or up the mountain; my environmental footprint was small. But I feel the main component of what made my actions of today interdependent was, ironically, my move towards solitude. I needed to replenish my batteries and sought solace in nature. Because I provided leadership in my self care I will be able to face tomorrow not only with comfort but a desire to work with others. Today, although I avoided social contact, was a vital part in my process in learning to become more interdependent.

Interdependence: Respect, Mutuality and Leadership.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge - Day Two

I just came back from visiting my father. As it’s a rather long trip, I usually go on a Friday afternoon and stay over till Saturday evening. I do this every few weeks. And, while I am fortunate to have a healthy, loving and generous father who, for the most part I am happy to go visit, there are times when I just don’t want to do it… like today. And because of that, I lost energy. The question to be asked then, was my action today an interdependent one?

When I visit my dad there is a mutual appreciation of certain shared aspects of life. Although he can get on my nerves to the level of nails on a blackboard, I love him dearly and know that he loves me. We respect each other and do things we both like: we walk, take long drives, play crib and, if lucky, watch the Canucks on TV. Despite all these pluses, I would rather not do it sometimes. On those times I find myself hosting a battle between my foul mood and the desire to be a good daughter. It is the nature of families, I guess.

With today’s visit, although we had a good time together (especially when the Canucks won), I found myself alternatively enjoying the moment and then wishing I was elsewhere. But to leave early or not to have come at all would have deprived him and me of some quality time together: time I know I will be more than grateful for having experienced when he passes and time I know he appreciates as only an aging father does. So, how do I reconcile the energy loss? I take care of myself before and after the visit. I bring a light but compelling read, usually of the suspense/mystery/romantic genre; equip myself with a non-nutritious treat and immerse myself in my own world for several hours (before and after the visit) where I pretend I have no responsibilities, no claims on my time and no need to be social. If this is not enough, when I finally get home I run a long hot bath and read some more.

In other words, I replenish my energy so that ultimately no energy is loss. I take care of myself so I can give a little extra to a man who has always given extra to me. Ultimately, this also benefits my community because when I take care of myself, I take the best care of those around me whether they be the strangers standing at the bus stop or the family I’ve known forever.

And that was my interdependent action for the day.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge: Day 1

My interdependent act today was more of a thought than a behavior. I woke up with one of those existential angst questions: “Why are we here?” Not the most pleasant way to wake but then again I was somewhat relieved to find the question wasn’t “what is my worth?” For all intents and purposes I seemed to have resolved that issue on that fated bus/train trip of last year. Back to this morning, however, it was more the whys that got me and these whys were followed by this feeling of emptiness; a loss of purpose. I don’t have a religion but I am also not agnostic, in fact, I have a deep sense of spirit. But it doesn’t help me understand the purpose of our existence. I walked the question down to its roots, as is my wont, and came to the following, albeit nebulous, conclusion.

Whether by chance or design, we are here. I don’t have to know why but in this place of “here” I can love or hate; destroy or create. It is all a matter of choice. I don’t have to know the whys as much as the hows: how do I want to live my life?

And that is my interdependent thought for the day: I will do my best to act with love and to create with care so that no one (including myself) loses energy or hurts; my actions are at worst benign but at best beneficial to all I encounter.

I am off for another long bus/train ride… may that thought carry me through.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge 2011

It’s time again! Yes… (drum roll please), it is time for the Interdependent Challenge. Go to February 20, 2010 for a complete description but basically, for the next seven days, I invite you to write down something you did that was interdependent and why you felt it was so. I will post my responses and welcome you to post yours in the comment section. I look forward to hearing your stories.

Note: last year I summarized interdependence as “mutuality, respect and community”. But after teaching a couple of workshops I changed it to “mutuality, respect and leadership”. Interdependence is about taking leadership over our internal parts, especially our codependent ones, so to live in community with mutuality and respect. So that with each and every encounter no one hurts or loses energy but, if there is an energy loss, specifically for ourselves, we let it go with mindfulness (not martyrdom) and take time to replenish with healthy self care.

I start the challenge tomorrow …

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Quinoa; Buckwheat: What Joy Doth Mud Bring?

New experiment: sprouted quinoa and buckwheat bread. First the quinoa. My internet source states this is a three day event. I soak the seeds overnight and then place in my ultra-fancy (quiche dish with wet cloth above and below) sprouting pan and voila, sprouts in three hours. (I have been known for a green thumb but geez, all my fingers must have been channeling verdant magic.) I mix that up with the regular dose of seeds (pumpkin, flax and sesame); oil, salt, molasses, sourdough starter and buckwheat until I realize that I have used far too much buckwheat, leaving no room for kamut. And yes, I could have added more water and then more flour but, hey, the question on my mind was what would happen if I didn’t? So, I kneaded away —quite the workout as the dough was very heavy —and popped her into the fridge for the slow rise. This morning I opened the door and was greeted by a solid mass of cold, hardened clay. When I picked her up, she crumbled like ancient artifice. Hmmm, so this is what happens when the cup overfloweth with buckwheat. Regardless, I put her in the pans to enjoy the final rising, if you can call sitting motionless with baleful eyes “rising”, and then popped her in the oven.

Well, she’s out now, and just to be clear, when you bake cold, hardened clay, there’s a good chance you end up with warm, hardened clay.

Truth? My sprouted quinoa and buckwheat bread is edible. Edible, of course, as in the edible of the seventy’s granola heads but, edible — especially recommended it if you prefer food that taste like it’s been marinated with mud. Alas, back to the drawing board.

But that is the beauty when you are in recovery from codependence: taking risks because you know it is not about the outcome; it’s the journey that counts.