Monday, October 26, 2009

Does Surrender = Giving up?

This afternoon, the idea of surrender came up in a conversation. Like my friend, I used to think that to surrender to someone else's idea or to a new way of thinking meant I was giving up, turning into a doormat, being a woos. I've spent a lot of years figuring myself out and finding some sense of strength, worth and power. So why would I give that up...?

Luckily, I've learned that's not what surrender means. To me, surrender now means being willing to listen to a suggestion from somebody with more experience than I have. It means trying something different for a while, even if it's uncomfortable at first. It means being willing to give up something that doesn't work for me anymore, so I can replace it with something that does. Surrender means acknowledging, grudgingly or gracefully, that I don't have all the answers.

Dr. Gabor Mate, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, was recently interviewed on CBC's Tapestry program. He gave an example of surrender that really makes sense to me. He told about someone who had decided to surrender not only his own drug and alcohol use, but also his drug-selling business. This guy gathered up all his drug paraphernalia and address books and threw them into a big garbage bag, and then took it all out to the trash. His decision and choices were surrender in action -- not just a theory or an intention, but making it so.

It's my intention to keep surrendering what isn't working for me, because when I've done this in the past, I have always benefitted. Sometimes I'm not so willing at first, or even after a while. Sometimes I just keep rolling around in the garbage for a while longer. But I can surrender my stubborn refusal to admit change is sometimes necessary. I can follow another's suggestion. I can at least be willing to be willing to be willing.

Fortunately, it doesn't take much to get started. I can surrender to the possibility of surrender.

The Tree of Gratitude

People often talk about being grateful for their blessings or making gratitude lists. More challenging is the suggestion that we be grateful for the hard times. All this talk about gratitude has become so common that it's easy to lose sight of how far-reaching the concepts are. I wanted to take a look at the underlying richness of gratitude. What are its roots? What other concepts are connected to gratitude -- maybe concepts I'm not aware of? How can these concepts deepen my understanding of gratitude?

First, then, a look at the roots of the word. The Latin word gratus means pleasing, beloved, agreeable, favourable and thankful. Through time, new words and shades of meaning have grown from that ancient beginning: grace, grateful, gratify, gratis, gratitude, gratuity, agree, congratulate, disgrace, ingrate, ingratiate and maugre (which means "in spite of"). In addition, the Indo-European root of gratus gave rise to the word "bard," meaning "he who praises." - Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary and Dictionary of the English Language

Every human utterance is an expression of some experience, thought, feeling or action. The words that have grown from gratus are deeply rooted and closely intertwined. Take a look at how these word-cousins show up in daily life...
Most people feel grateful when a beloved or otherwise agreeable person shows them a kindness. We appreciate favourable words when we are congratulated for an accomplishment. We might even praise that person or the gift. The giver of the gift often feels gratified to have given it and to know the gift was pleasing. On top of all that, we are often encouraged to express gratitude in spite of circumstances that don't seem to be so favourable. Sometimes we're able to accept disappointment with good grace. Doing so can also be gratifying -- at some point, anyway, even if not right way.
I encourage you to ponder the universality and gifts of gratus. Notice its presence in your thoughts and emotions. Express it in response to your daily experiences. Share it with others. Stop and acknowledge what is pleasing and favourable to you now. Let the roots of gratitude grow deeper inside you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Premeditated Resentments

A friend recently told me how disappointed and angry she'd felt when a group leader made crass and hurtful statements to her and others in the group. This is a small organization aimed at helping people feel better and live better than they did the day or week before. "Crass and hurtful" are not the norm there. My friend felt betrayed by the leader's words and attitudes.

I definitely know how it feels to be disappointed by someone in a position of authority. I've felt similar shock, hurt, confusion and righteous outrage. He should know better! How can she say that?! He shouldn't do that.

However, I believe "should" is a useless word and approach. Although it seems natural to want our leaders to be all-wise, kind and in control, we know that's not always how it is. Whether we're talking about a parent who abuses a child, a politician who dips into the money bags, or a teacher who can't teach, it's just not helpful to throw around our "shoulds." They get in the way of our own peace of mind, and they sure don't add to the other person's desire to improve.

Another friend once told me, "Expectations are premeditated resentments." That makes sense to me, so instead of stuffing resentments into my emotional backpack, I aim for realistic optimism with others. I can't control them or fix them, even though sometimes I wish I could. Therefore, it helps if I'm clear about what I'm looking for without feeling bent out of shape if I don't get it.

When I meet with unexpected disappointment, like my friend did recently, I still have the choice about how much, if any, resentment I want to carry about it. I might have an emotional reaction at first, but I don't have to be ruled by my emotions. I might speak up about it, or I might decide to walk away. Either way, I can get rid of my resentments as soon as possible.

Do I manage this all the time? Definitely not. Am I getting better at it? Yes, definitely. A saying I believe in is Practice Makes Better. Never mind trying to be perfect. But, I can certainly get better at something, even if I never get perfect at it. That's a peaceful and responsible approach to life that works for me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Healing is Possible

If you have been sexually assaulted or abused, you might have experienced a range of physical reactions and results, such as:
  • varying degrees of physical pain
  • physical injuries
  • no physical pain
  • sexual pleasure (which can feel very confusing)
  • physical numbness
In addition to those common physical feelings, most children, teens and adults who've been abused also feel:
  • fear
  • anger or rage
  • shame
  • guilt
  • embarrassment
  • dread
  • isolation
  • confusion
  • "deadness" inside, lack of any feelings at all
  • helplessness
  • anxiety or nervousness
And in addition to all that, it's common for abused people to feel trapped by the abuser. The abuser might threaten to hurt another person or a pet, or to kill the victim as well as sexually assaulting him or her. Even if no threat is spoken, the abuse itself is a threat to safety, trust and security, so many victims say nothing.

Some people feel stupid for "getting caught," thinking they "should" have been able to predict or prevent what was going to happen. They feel they "should" have been able to fight the attacher off or avoid the attack.

Certainly, if you already knew the abuser, you might feel betrayed by him or her. And many people, especially children and adults who've already been victims of other physical violence, carry a deep feeling that they deserve to be assaulted in this way. They might feel responsible for the abuse.

If any of these responses to sexual abuse and assault sound or feel familiar to you, please know that although they are common reactions, you do not have to continue to feel this way.

You did not cause your abuse. You did not make someone else decide to attack you -- period. No matter where you were or what you wore or how old you were, you did not cause the abuse. You had the right to say "No" at any time, even if you were too afraid or  young or drunk or confused to say it out loud. Being unable to stop the abuse or assault is not the same as being responsible for the abuse or assault.

Help is available. You don't have to be alone. Many people are trained to help survivors of sexual abuse and assault.

Healing is possible. Absolutely. Many previous victims of abuse and assault have become able to live happy, secure, satisfying lives. They are free of the guilt, anger, shame and feelings of powerlessness created by the abuse.

You can move forward from where you are now.