Just Crazy Clichés? Or are they part of a conspiracy to warp our minds?
It wasn’t until I heard it from the mouths of my little ones that I thought “How stupid. How can anyone even think that?” And this was a phrase and school yard chant ever since my time in time, at least. Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me. Come on. We all know that names and words can hurt. Little kids know also! And so I trust that I’m not the only parent to counter that phrase for their little ones.
On a lighter note, Baby Boomers may fondly recall the “Just Say No” campaign. What began during the first assault of our Nation’s War On Drugs is now used ubiquitously applied to all things tempting. Naturally, when our 1st grader came home with a batch of one-sided propaganda, I had to ask “Does that mean we should say no to all drugs?” and on and on. No need to wonder why I’m surrounded by free thinkers.
Here’s a triple whammy of what I think might be some of the most damaging clichés, especially during one’s most vulnerable time. And they are, in no hierarchical order: “Forgive and Forget”, “Let It Go”, and “Just Get Over It”. This genre of word is akin to platitudes, neither of which are at all helpful when we’re struggling with something BIG. Words and phrases that are worse than empty of meaning, they’re empty of thought and, probably, a symptom of a heart that is afraid to feel.
Just to ‘get over it’ I have to recall a family member for whom this phrase had become a mantra. For the rest of us it became a painful knell, sometimes with overtones of despair. This was her answer to everything! We finally concluded that it really was her mantra. However, it never seemed to be having much of a positive effect that mantras are known for. You see, another one of her mantras is “But I never got a new bike like you guys did”. Sounds like she’s having a hard time forgiving and forgetting. But now I have to tell why they are really stupid phrases.
“Forgive and Remember” Is A Survival Skill
Proof positive: The Mastadon is hungry and eats some of your people. Eventually you realize that the Mastadon is just being a Mastadon and that it is in your best interest to keep your distance from his/her jerkiness. But do you forget what his jerkiness did? Niet, Nein, Nope. We’re here and he’s not because we remembered.
This is such a simple concept that it risks becoming it’s own cliché.
The Mastadon is the suffering in our lives. The suffering, is the weight of carrying a burden, under which we feel powerless. One of my mantras is all suffering is one’s own; there is no comparing one’s suffering with another’s. The suffering is what, often, prevents us from being the person we want to be, and, or, both, the best we can. For me, suffering manifests itself when it interferes with my being mindfully attentive. Sometimes the weight of the suffering distracts me so much that it takes me awhile to even notice the damage it is wreaking. Then again, I’ve been practicing a long time and there’s no excuse.
So in my story about the dumbness of “forgive and forget”, the forgive part is satisfied by accepting that whatever it is that sorely ripped my world apart, is the Mastodon’s Jerkiness, and it’s not a part of me. Since it hurt me, my intention is to distance myself, and those in my care, from the damages it can still wreak. I can’t change the Mastadon but I don’t have to let it hurt me nor control me. Sometimes I grab a piece of paper and draw a circle, then write down what it is that is continuing to torment me. Usually, I create a mental box. Just a box, nothing fancy, and put the anger, the hurt, the feelings of betrayal and injustice, loss, and grief that is keeping me from being, doing, what is important to me, into the box. As long as it’s in the box, it can’t hurt. But I can still remember how the suffering feels, in order to learn what I need to learn. Then the next time the rollercoaster of this life throws me off balance I will, hopefully, have improved skills at my disposal. I don’t have to solve a problem right away. I need to feel better and function better. So I put it way in the box, tucked into a corner of my brain. When I feel the anger, hurt, grief, etc. start to peak out, I visit the box, make sure it’s still secure and that all the junk I started to feel is still safely tucked away, then check-in with myself: “yup. it’s still there. good. stay there.” And I go about my life without having anything in the box get in my way. It works for me.
“You’ve got to keep him in the tent. He just wreaks havoc, and every [time he comes out, he takes a piece of our hide].” (somewhat edited.. Thomas M. Davis, a Republican and former congressman, on the challenge his party faces in dealing with Donald Trump.) 🙂
Remembering, instead of forgetting, is what softens and tenderizes the heart. Similar to tenderizing meat by pounding and salting, it’s often painful. That’s why the junk is in the mental box. Safe and secure. To be opened sparingly, best when shared. And here’s the saddest, saddest part about the forget part. Forgetting too much forms a shell around our hearts. Maybe it’s more like the thick skin that forms over left-out pudding. But overtime, we risk becoming hard-hearted. Unlike coronary artery disease, and even though many of us take pills to assuage the symptoms, or effects, of a hardened heart, I think the remedy is remembering. Remembering what it felt like to go through the trauma, so I may grow in compassion with others who are suffering – especially those special ones entrusted to my care and nurturing, including myself.
It Takes Courage, Big Doses. Welcome To Living
Picture it. A newborn. Can’t get a heart softer than that. And then it starts life. Babyhood, for some, is an idyllic false sense of security. For others, survival of the fittest. It’s easy to see how quickly a heart can harden, just by growing up. And what’s the one thing we all (most) of us crave? I think it’s comfort, and nurturing. That’s 2 things, but, hey. And it takes a soft heart to comfort and nurture.
I cannot nurture or comfort anyone else unless my own heart is soft enough to feel their suffering. This hurts. The most wrenching pain I’ve felt is the breaking of a loved one’s heart. The good news is that, when the breaking heart is exposed to an already softened and open one, it begins to melt a bit, in a soft melting sort-of-way and it feels better.
Perhaps this is why Mindful Dying is so important to me. I don’t want to die having been deprived a death-bed forgiveness and I’m sorry and I love you scenario. I may never even get a death-bed. I may not even get much a dying. It might just be here now, crash next. Therefore, I prefer to practice the above scenario at every opportunity, even though it hurts.
It’s painful to feel someone else’s pain. And when it’s MY pain, it feels very, very good to be comforted. Not with platitudes or food or other distractions, but with a soft heart into which I can melt, even for just a bit. To rest in the openness of that heart that is willing to see, feel, and acknowledge my suffering. Just acknowledge it. “It hurts. I know it hurts. Yes, it’s OK to cry.” The pain may not go away right away, but my heart feels lighter and softer for just having another to share with, even just for a bit.