Sunday, March 1, 2015

No Shit, No Truffle

During repeated scientific experiments, a rat pushed open a trapdoor, choosing to free their captive peer from the tight cage instead of indulging in a pile of chocolate chips set up nearby for temptation and distraction. In some cases when the cages were rigged to be particularly difficult to open, the rat worked tirelessly on the door, snacking on the pile for fuel but always saving a few morsels for the captive rat for when it was finally freed.
Studies found that it was the females who showed consistent empathy, and males much less so. Males were reported to have taken a day off from helping their trapped partner every now and then, but the females, never.

Almost a month belated, I zip off to a fancy French restaurant to meet my dear friend to take her out, finally, for her birthday.  When we meet at the set of bar stools we do our quick catch-ups and famished, we focus on the menu items. We both order the steak frites from our friend, bartender, and make chit chat with him about misunderstood French food.

He informs us that the job of the female pig to sniff out the rare and delicate fungus known as the truffle that grows in manure has these days been replaced by men, armpit-deep in shit, sniffing out 'shrooms, accompanied by their dogs.

"When pigs find the truffle, they just gobble it up. So man stopped using the pig." the bartender informs us.
"Can't blame a pig for being a pig." says my friend.

My friend and I get back to just us and she describes her current home life as being very difficult and stressful. She feels overwhelmed, resentful and disappointed. Seemed everything that could give her a propensity to be bothered, was indeed. If I was judging her on Maya Angelou's standard, it wouldn't be fair:
"You can tell a lot by a person by the way (s)he handles these three things; a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled christmas lights."  

My friend wasn't coping with her pretty shitty circumstances at the moment. And that's fair. I sense she feels it pointless talking about this any longer and she directs the topic to what's new with me.

I was doing my usual shtick: struggling, growing, struggling, growing, struggling, happily.  I go into the lengthy details with her. The bartender is heavily eavesdropping, so my friend proudly points out to him that I am a lotus flower.

I smile at the comparison; my ego likes this and I believe it is true. Plus, I've been compared to worse.
The bartender immediately buys us some shots -- possibly because he thinks we should lighten the fuck up or he needs one in order to stand this conversation. But that's what you get for eavesdropping on ladies with souls, and no hip Yonge street French bistro will make a difference on how we relate to each other.
The three of us knock back the warmth of the creme de cacao and Schnapps in unison.

"Ah, well I wouldn't compare you so much to a plant, but more like to an animal." He winks my way. Either he’s flirting or insulting me - it doesn't really matter. I know what I am.
A cat:  because over the past few years, I've been landing on my feet. No matter what tree branch my curiosity has led me to climb onto, it resulted in an experience of quick reflexes wrapped in nine lives. Wonderful things were usually rising out of the stink in my litterbox.
And it was my dear friend sitting across from me who helped teach me quite some time ago about the science of struggling:

The lotus flower opens its petals one-by-one and only grows in the mud. The mud represents the common ground of humanity; the obstacles, the suffering, the sadness, the loss, the deaths, the sticky stuff. We should strive to grow like a lotus does, opening each pedal and getting comfortable being in the mud, and using it. The lotus lives in the mud, it doesn’t grow legs and walk away to paradise.
The mud is your freedom should you pay attention. Don't sidestep the difficulties. This sludge isn't a detour, this sludge isn't a hurdle to avoid. THIS is the path. The trick is to allow and bring awareness to it without staying identified and fixated on it.

People often see struggles as circumstances we just need to "get through".  We resist the current bad circumstances and wished that they weren't this way, wishing if only we could get past this sludge right now, life will then be different, life will then be “good”. If only I can figure this mess out, then everything will be okay. Just have to keep heading towards that light at the end of the tunnel, right?

There is no tunnel. You are not living in a tunnel. Who wants to live in a tunnel?
And that light? You are the light, sister.

I keep talking about the hurdles that are going on for me at the moment, and then she harshly throws me a humility curveball:
"You know we've been talking an awful lot about you.  And it’s me who is really, really struggling right now.  Things are just going so badly at the moment.  And I thought being with you would cheer me up, inspire me, maybe I would feel supported, but I don't.  I feel like you aren't doing any listening -- I just want to go home".

And there it is: the mud.

When we feel like we are stuck in the mud we typically act out in jealousy, shame, or anger. We become stressed. When we are stressed we are hard-wired to lose our ability to reach out to others. Evolution has designed us to react this way. But evolution has always been kind to the progress of female animals: The one who isn't "stuck" has the ability to reach out and help her female peer.

When the bartender offers dessert on-the-house, I order the humble pie:  I was not giving her suffering and story the same attention and presence as I was to my own damn self. There was a dialogue here and I was hogging it. And this is not the first time I’ve hijacked a conversation, in fact I have a reputation for doing this.  It was her birthday and I had given her nothing.

"I am so sorry." I tell her.  If I had a stack of chocolate chips, I would push every single one of them across that sticky bar over to her.

We bask in the golden silence for awhile boring the bartender and he backs off. He strikes up a conversation with some other birds over at the other end of the bar while my friend apologizes to me for taking a huge dump on our night. We left our meals unfinished and I drove her to the subway station trying very hard not to make this all about me.

What we all long for when we struggle is not just to hear a “Me too!”--  but for deep listening, compassion and attention.  To fully tend to others means we often have to swerve from our own path. To step outside of our own selfish animal and see the person right in front of us -- beyond our own shit.

Remembering that while you are busy being a cat, to be less pig, and more rat.

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