Friday, August 15, 2008


In reading Shameless’ recent gift to me, Tolle’s “A New Earth”, I came across a beautiful story this week. It was about a Zen master who lived in a tiny village. A young girl becomes pregnant and tells her parents that the Zen master is the father. When the baby is born, the parents, believing the daughter, take the baby to the Zen master and angrily tell him that his daughter says he is the father. The Zen master replies, “Is that so?” The parents leave the baby with him. He lovingly looks after the baby for a year, and the parents meanwhile learn from the daughter that it was not in fact the Zen master but the son of the butcher who is the father. The parents go back to the Zen master, all reticent, and tell him he is not the father. Again he says, “Is that so?” and gives the baby back to the girl’s parents.

Sometimes there’s not much else to do but just step back and say, “Is that so?” and let things unfold.

There was a highly visible, highly transparent example of this at the high school orientation we attended with my son last night. X was there with his brand new bride, a good initial effort at solidarity except for the not-speaking-to-me part. (This is a regular thing at public gatherings, private parties, basically anywhere we’re all together at the same time and in front of one or both children and other people.) After sitting through a routine orientation presentation, I figured we would take a walk to the lockers and classrooms. I stood up all excited to explore this new world but my son was suddenly engaged in a private conversation with X, then turns to me and says, “So, can I ride to school with Step?” He asked this as if he had asked it weeks ago and I’ve been pondering nothing else ever since. What ensued was a very uncomfortable debate in which he genuinely believed he had asked me previously. He had not. Meanwhile the other two adults begin to advocate on his behalf. Having been in this position on a few occasions now, it was clear to me that I was dealing with a group of people who already had made their decision and that my acknowledgement or agreement was just short of perfunctory. I asked for a little time to think about it and that simply drove things even further in the wrong direction. So finally, I looked at my son, and said, “Do what you want.” And then, I left.

I needed a time out from this untenable and dead-end conversation with my son and two adults who, perhaps quite unconsciously, were co-opting his weaker qualities in order to get at something that appeared desireable for the three of them, without regard for the potential consequences for my daughter and I should something go awry. Luckily the problem was solved by the folks at the transportation department, who probably spend most of their days this time of year saying, “Is that so?”

People will do what they will do, say and believe whatever suits them at the time before they think and act responsibly or respectfully. Ego always gets the better of most of us, myself included. Children will grow up and imitate the behaviors they most frequently encounter. My son’s display of disrespect was vibrant and very painful. I understand he really believes he told me something he did not and that is probably equally painful for him. He is a beautiful, very special person going through a new and difficult learning process. I am also certain that he felt an uncommon and very uncomfortable division of loyalties. As much as I love him, walking away was in fact the right thing. I wonder whether I even should have attended the event at all, but not being there for him didn’t seem quite right, either. It might have been good to fade into the background instead, a compromise of sorts, rather than be drawn into what was a lifeless and pointless debate.

The thing about being the natural parent is that children don’t require proof of your love. As my pediatrician pointed out, step parents often feel they have to compensate lost time with their own children to cultivate the affection and trust of the nonbiological children. This is a concept that even I can grasp without a lot of thought. Some of the behavior that others have observed and that leaves me feeling what I’d describe as sidelined is really nothing more than that. In the end my job is to choose a path that has the least impact on and fullest support for my son and gives him the broadest range of experiencing the full impact of his own decisions. In other words, he has to own the choices he makes, and I have to let him own them.

The impermanency of life, relationships, things, being -- all these are really at the fore in these situations. As humans we are imperfect and to feel better about ourselves we try to manipulate, control, cajole each other into action or nonaction, come out "the winner" and show how much we know, how we are "the better parent" but with the next breeze it's all meaningless. It's hard to watch people struggle with this and harder yet to refuse to play along. But some folks build their whole lives around it. That's a choice they make and have to live with, but not one I have to make.

I've been enjoying this Blue Highway tune all week, ironically enough. It was a subtle validation that maybe it's time to move on from some parts of my life and let other fully expand. It's also just a beautiful song with an open-ended cadence that adds to the theme of transience. Thank you, Shawn Lane, for your incredible playing and for the spot-on vocal delivery. And Wayne, this song makes me want to learn to play the bass.

Message from the Wind
(Written by Shawn Lane, from the release, Marbletown;)

I got a message from the wind today
When it blew a tear across my face
Said it's time to turn and go its way
I guess it's time I'm movin' on

Saw a bird sail a breeze that blows
Across the ridge the way I need to go
It took this much of my life to know
I'll probably never find a home

Wandr'ing life is what I have
Comin' in and headin' out
The urge to go is in my blood to stay
The wind is startin' to pick up today

Might’ve had what I left to find
in the place that I left behind
but a different breeze was blowin’ in my mind
and it just would not let me see

Now I’m standin’ here but it’s just not the same
I guess the only thing I know is change
The winds a-startin’ to blow again
Guess it’s time for me to leave


At August 16, 2008 9:02 AM, Blogger Shameless Agitator said...

I've been re-reading Tolle the past week, whenever I have a moment to sit and catch my breath during the whirlwind of campaign season. The past couple of weeks have been busier than usual with 2 parades and 2 fairs and our big fundraiser. Encountering the passive-aggressive translucent one has been... well, interesting. She's been cut out of the heart of the campaign and doesn't like it one bit. It's been challenging for me to keep my ego in check, so I appreciate your reminder of that story about the Zen master. "Is that so?" is a response that I will use frequently between now and Nov. 4th.

I'm sorry for the drama you and the kids are experiencing. I wish I could make it better. I wish for you all the ability to stay above the fray. I wish for the kids to be free from manipulation. Life is too short to get caught up in the petty dramas.

Tolle repeats over and over again that realization of ego and the pain-body is enough to free us from their grip. Yes, it really is that simple.

Miss you!!


At August 16, 2008 9:56 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Hey Shameless,
I sense what you might be going through,and am glad that you also have the benefit of your learnings to help you. Trying to be aware and stay in the moment rather than getting wrapped up in thoughts or the toxicity of a situation -- or for that matter, the grip of someone else's pain-body, even a child's! -- is really strenuous!

I went back and added the lyrics to the tune. I like it not only musically but because the point of view in the song gives first person permission to let go and move on and accept things and nature as is. These guys make some really interesting music, y'all, by the way. There is a terrific song on this same album about the enormous collective shadow thrown at Wild Bill Hitchcock. These guys are dialed in, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, thanks Shameless. I am trying hard not to turn my children into arrows I shoot at other people, but ultimately they have to decide for themselves, as we all must and along with all their other decisions, whether they will permit themselves to be used in that fashion by either parent.


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