Last week, my husband and I took the week off work to celebrate a very belated and simple honeymoon. Mike and I got married in August 2019 and at the same time, I started a new job and we moved homes; therefore, this celebratory trip was pushed back on the priority list until 2020.
We had dreamt of an extended Australian road trip – a month or two to discover this country’s unique beauty and wildlife. However, Covid19 happened and, as all the world’s plans seem to have crumbled, ours followed suit.
While Australia has been in good shape in terms of virus cases, part of my heart always lives in the United States. I’ve been following the US news and staying in close touch with family and friends – hoping to keep connected emotionally while I can’t do so physically. Beyond the virus surges and political embarrassment, the broad Black Lives Matter protests and fight for a true equality is something I’ve researched and reflected on a good bit in the last month. The learning (and un-learning) that’s ensued has been intense and uncomfortable, but absolutely worthwhile. There has been a moment every day in these last weeks when my brain tangled itself to the point of complete malfunction and subsequent shutdown.
Suffice to say, Mike and I both showed up to our holiday absolutely exhausted. Having a week to pause, notice and appreciate each other amongst all the turmoil is something that needed to take precedent for a moment both for our relationship and for each of our mental health.
Within just a few hours of going off the grid, I felt my mind powering down from the hyper-vigilant state which filled the last three months. I felt myself start to trust that I could let go of my grip for a moment and the world would… still be a bit of a mess, but that it wouldn’t make it any worse.
On our second morning, making coffee with our little percolator, I took in the scent of caramel and heard the brewing coffee bubbling to the top. I noticed the light filtering through the misty trees off our deck and watched the kangaroos feeding in our little paddock. I felt the pleasure that came with being truly present for the first time in a long time.
I started to think about what a honeymoon is for. And the best way I can describe my connotation is that: it’s a trip which is meant to be spent loving and being loved. That’s all that’s on the agenda.
And for us and our precious slice of time, only we could decide what that meant to us – that day, that hour, in that moment.
So, we didn’t make any plans. We built fires every evening and Mike cooked dinner over it three nights (steak & mushrooms, a whole snapper, prawns & scallops). We watched the moon wax throughout the week, like a spotlight through the trees with that quiet glow of the moonlight touching the grass. We took time alone to do things we both love that the other doesn’t. We didn’t watch anything or attempt to escape reality. And we asked each other how the whole marriage thing was going for the other. (Luckily, we’re both kind of into it.) We felt the joy of doing nothing.
It all felt like love to me – a steady stream of it without ever really needing to try. It made me wonder why I couldn’t approach life this way when we get back home.
In a beautiful podcast with Tim Ferris, the famous meditation teacher and writer Jack Kornfield said that a spiritual practice “isn’t about perfecting yourself, it’s about perfecting your love.”
Kornfield describes practicing seeing his fear as a form of self-love – that you can accept and appreciate any emotion for what it is. That there is a choice to say: Thank you ego for trying to look out for me and helping me avoid pain. Therefore, useful or not, fear can be seen as form of love through protection.
Through hearing Kornfield’s words, something I’ve conceptually understood for years is now showing itself in a new light: Listening to the voice of the Ego as the Truth is easy and it keeps us stuck. Negative self-talk or passing judgment on others won’t drive a lasting sense of self-worth. However, we all have this voice inside our head and co-exist with it from moment to moment. So how can we work with it instead of against it?
I call my ego “Claudia.” Historically, I’ve been pretty negative towards her or I would try to ignore her voice completely. I held grudges against her that I carried with me for years.
Now, with more patience (and hopefully wisdom), I see her misguided intentions with a bit more compassion. She is part of me. Rejecting her is just another way of rejecting myself. In fact, she is part of what makes me whole.
With this in mind, I’ve been considering, how my emotions like anger and guilt could be, at their basis, a possible form of love for myself or others. And have considered the same with the behaviours of other people.
I’ve been using this simple inquiry to re-frame mindsets and behaviours, driving new perspectives towards myself and others.
Step 1: Pick an emotional reaction or questionable behaviour of someone else.
Step 2: Ask the question: In what way might this be an act of love?
Step 3: Consider: Is this the purest form I am capable of practicing at this moment?
So now, on my night before returning to work from my holiday, I’m witnessing what Claudia is telling me.
She wants me to give up my Sunday to get a leg-up on the work week. She wants me to picture doing badly on a presentation I’m doing this week. And instead of drowning her out, I am saying: Thanks Claudia for wanting me to do a good job, but I think this time off is helping even more.
And as Mike returns to his routine, I’m consciously choosing more carefully how I show my “love.” My tendency to nit-pick is a backwards way of showing that I’m paying attention to him and that I care. Thanks, ego, for thinking you’re helping Mike do things the “right way” but actually we want him to stay different from me – that’s why we fell in love with him. And sometimes he is actually the one who’s “right”…
For right now, I’m content that my anger over racial or sexual identity inequalities is a way of showing others that I love them as equals and drives behaviour change that I want to make. But my guilt over having benefited from white privilege is not particularly useful to anyone and blocks positive action. Therefore, I’m gently nudging my ego: I get that you think I need to berate myself to lift others up, but it doesn’t actually help anyone. How about we work with curiosity instead?
We can’t split ourselves into pieces and label some parts good and others bad. We’re complex, living ecosystems. Some of the things I’ve considered bad qualities or character flaws are inextricably linked with the traits people might admire me for. And so, I’m going to continue perfecting my love – to honour the wholeness that’s in front of me – whether it’s the wholeness of myself or another.