Dear Still Water Friends,
A week before Thanksgiving last fall, I was talking with a new friend who was having a hard time. She had recently broken up with her partner and was feeling depressed and discouraged.
“What are your plans for Thanksgiving?” She asked me.
I replied that I was traveling north to New England to be with my parents and sister.
She sighed when I asked her what her plans were.
“To be honest, I don’t have any.” She said, “I’ll probably go to a movie.”
Now sometimes I know people choose to be alone on holidays. But in this case, I knew my friend was putting on a brave face, that she would really rather not be alone for Thanksgiving. After she went home, I wondered if there was a way I could help. Was there someone I knew who would not only be willing but happy to have a newcomer at their gathering?
I thought of another friend, who is very social and who, with her husband and immediate family, usually hosts a varied group of lively guests for Thanksgiving. In the past, I have always enjoyed the diversity and conviviality of her gatherings.
I called my second friend up and asked her if she’d be willing to have someone she didn’t know come for Thanksgiving dinner.
“Absolutely,” she said, “you know I’m British so I don’t have any attachment to Thanksgiving being solely a family holiday. Just let your friend know we’re vegetarians so she won’t expect turkey.”
I laughed, and told her that was fine, since they both were vegetarians.
My single friend gladly accepted the invitation. I was excited that it worked out and pleased to be the catalyst for someone else to have a good time. But the evening did not turn out quite the way I had envisioned.
At the last minute, my single friend got back together with her boyfriend and asked if she could bring him to the dinner as well. My British friend, ever the gracious hostess, said yes, even though the crowd was getting large. I felt protective of my British friend and wondered if I had done the right thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, I thought, and felt nervous that they wouldn’t get along. Fortunately, they did have a good time together.
In this case, I offered support, and enjoyed the immediate results, but had to let go of my assumptions about how the evening would go. Once I set the ball in motion, the outcome wasn’t up to me anymore. I was glad I offered support, but surprised at how ‘real life’ challenged my expectations.
In the opposite role of being offered support, a year and a half ago, I came home to find my house was broken into and robbed. Two wonderful members of the Sangha, Mitchell and Ann-Mari, offered emotional and physical support in staying with me as I dealt with the police after the burglary, and helping clean up broken glass from my kitchen floor. Ann-Mari offered to stay with me for the night. My neighbors offered me beds at their houses. I thanked them all but decided instead to stay at my house alone with my traumatized cat. I realized that I needed to keep a kind of night vigil in my house.
In this situation, I was offered deep support and was able to choose what was best for me. In both cases, I learned that unconditional acceptance of the choices that the other person makes are a key ingredient to authentic offers of support. The practical manifestation of interbeing and interrelationship can appear very different than how we might have anticipated.
In the poem below entitled “You are my Garden,” Thich Nhat Hanh evokes the beautiful metaphor that we all are each other’s gardens. Thay writes about how we get to support each other in encouraging and recognizing the beauty of the plantings in our gardens. We help each other recognize and value our garden’s overall wholeness even when some trees may be unhealthy or dying. When my house was robbed, I leaned into the support of my community and was again reminded of all the healthy, lovely trees that I still have in my garden.
Both poems below remind us that we are all connected in life’s container of interbeing. In exploring how to offer and ask for support on an everyday level, I am reminded that though we are all interconnected and you are my garden, I don’t get to dictate what you plant in your garden, much as I might like to sometimes. You may have opinions about what I should be cultivating in my garden, but with authentic support, your opinions shouldn’t override my needs.
This Thursday evening we will share our experiences of asking for and offering support in the context of interbeing. How does the issue of appropriate boundaries and expectations resonate for us when we help someone else or are helped? How do we experience interbeing on a practical level as we offer and ask for support?
You are invited to join us!
In addition, you are invited to join us this Thursday for a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
Two poems from ‘Call Me by My True Names,’ The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh:
You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.
I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.
You Are My Garden
A tree is dying in my garden.
You see it,
but you also see other trees
that are still vigorous and joyful.
And I am thankful.
I know a tree is dying in my garden,
but I do not see it
as the whole of my garden.
And I need you to remind me of that.
I am told to take care of the garden
left to me by my ancestors.
A garden always has beautiful trees
and others that are not so healthy.
That is the reason why
we have to take good care of it.
You are my garden,
and I know that I should practice as a gardener.
I have seen an old, untended garden,
where the cherry and peach trees,
still bloom wonderfully
and always in time.