My recent, simple “affirmations” post (“I have enough“) was inspired by very dear memory from when we lived in France; I thought I’d share with you.
I had taken my youngest three boys to a Buddhist camping retreat for a week. (The eldest was not permitted, within the retreat’s guidelines, to stay at the nun’s/women’s hamlet, being a teen, so no longer officially able to take part in the children’s programs, so he — albeit gladly — stayed home with their father/my husband, who also hadn’t wanted to go.)
Joining this family retreat was something I’d wanted to do, and had guided my energy towards for a couple of years before it happened. Once there, finally, the days at the retreat were busy, scheduled morning till night, and always with communal chores to keep the whole operation running, plus our own camping “households” to take care of. (Definitely no time for technology, nor even much writing, which was a strange unplugging, but also a welcome relief.) And yet within that schedule, so well-planned by the monastics, there was much freedom of the soul. It was difficult at times to manage the children, while doing all the expected routines, but being around like-minded people felt healing and rejuvenating beyond belief.
My boys had some pocket money, quite a bit for kids, actually, since they’d rarely been allowed to spend it, and they had chores and gift money from their grandparents saved up. On the final day, there was a sale of souvenirs and books and things, set up on long tables in the shade, and the nuns were there to accept payment. I allowed the kids to shop on their own (not far from the tent). Meanwhile I tried to pack up the camp — always a challenge at any campsite, with children running around and needing things, and this time my efforts were regularly and gladly interrupted by the bittersweet necessary of connecting one last time with, and saying goodbye to, some of the amazing friends (yes, I feel I can truly call them friends, that’s how it felt at least), I’d newly met, yet might never meet again.
My youngest son, six years old at the time, set free with his wallet containing 30 euros, and the opportunity to spend, kept buying things and bringing them back to show me — a Buddha pendant on a cord; a little picture frame; a tiny plastic Buddha figurine. His cheeks were flushed and he was almost crazed with the newfound power of finally being able to buy things.
Aware of the irony, considering the point of the retreat (to learn mindfulness and inner satisfaction, and move away from the material/attachments), I still didn’t mind so much, since I knew all profits were going to support this amazing non-profit monastery of people working for the peace and harmony of humanity. So my son kept running back and forth, back and forth, in spite of my admonishments, eager to spend all of his money…
Finally, he brought me something handmade and very beautiful.
“The Sisters gave it to me for free, Mama!” he said with glee, before running off to play with this friends one last time.
“Really! For free… wow… that is so kind of them. Let’s see…”
It was a wooden heart, simple, cut from a piece of plywood and white-washed. A hole was drilled near top, a piece of jute tied through with a sweet little bow, to hang it up somewhere.
On it was the careful and flowing hand-lettering of an un-named monastic.
It said, “You have enough.”
I had to laugh… with a bit of embarrassment but a lot of true delight. A message sent with such compassion, from the nuns’ table, to my hands. These nuns, many of them came from war-torn Asian countries (mainly Vietnam), and had known or witnessed atrocities and terrible poverty. They must have often thought us retreatants as spoiled, rich (even if, in line with the surrounding community we were average, in terms of finances) and generally clueless. But every day they practiced mindfulness, and they tried to make the world better with it — leading by example.
I kept that heart hanging in our kitchen in France, just above the stove (a family of six requires a lot of meal prep), so I could regularly see it. I left it behind when we moved to Canada, and suddenly I miss it…
Long ago, I used to feel skeptical of affirmations — I used to think of them as “lies in the moment” — but as long as we’re aware of our own true state of consciousness, I know from experience that deliberately, willfully changing negative thoughts to positive ones — in a given moment — really does work.
This thought-transformative technique has saved me from the deepest depths of depression a few times, starting especially a number of years ago when life became completely overwhelming with four young kids, and a partner who, though amazing in so many ways, seemed to work all the time and who often felt disconnected, emotionally.
I remember hanging up clothes on the wash-line one morning, and thinking such terrible and despairing thoughts. A woman in our neighbourhood had recently died, survived by her husband and two kids; the cause was determined to be suicide. I had not been able to imagine how on earth someone could be “selfish” enough to do that. At that moment though, with suicidal thoughts catching, I had a glimmer of understanding… that’s how awful I felt. I felt that maybe the world would be better off without me.
In that moment I also had an epiphany. It would always be better to literally walk away with nothing but the clothes on one’s back, leave a situation and change one’s life completely, than to end things in a way that would leave such confusion and sorrow and stigma for my children, and others who certainly cared about me (even including neighbours I might barely know). In that moment, though I ultimately changed nothing in an externally obvious way, I felt freed.
As I carried on to the next task, I determined I would change every negative thought immediately to a positive one in my mind. e.g. “I hate that/her/him/my life/myself” —> “No, I don’t. I love that/her/him/it/myself. I feel anger, sadness, jealousy, desire, injustice, oppression, frustration. I take good care of my harmful feelings, and transform them to peace.”
That was a long time ago. Positive thinking is challenging and needs to be a mindful practice to get significant results. And a lot has changed since then. But a lot remains the same.
My dad used to chant a mantra: “I want not to want.” I found it a bit ironic — I thought perhaps the words themselves would keep one in a state of wanting… but Dad really isn’t materialistic. We would ask him what he’d want for his birthday, for Christmas…. the answer would be “I have enough,” or “I want not to want.”
But unlike my dad, I seem to have a problem, which I’ve realized upon reflection:
I *don’t* want to stop wanting whatever I want most. I think many of us don’t.
We thrive on that desire, it keeps us alive. Life, the essence of creativity, wants itself. And some of us also love to express true love, which can lead us places we didn’t perhaps expect to go.
But as long as I stay in that semi-willing loop of desire, especially if it’s for something I believe I personally can’t or shouldn’t have, for whatever valid or invalid reason… I will never be released from what the Buddhists might call the wheel of life, or samsara — the recurring rebirth into earthy form, in which we must learn to deal with suffering in positive ways, if we wish to progress toward nirvana.
The irony is that often, I still don’t want to be released… I sometimes feel I want to keep living, keep trying, keep wanting, and experiencing the growth that provides, perhaps, for eternity…
Hence… perhaps… romantic poetry.
This site’s origins were completely unplanned. It came about from a long period of reciprocate-reading followers’ work via my earlier blogs (both mostly long-form creative nonfiction prose), much as I have reciprocate-read to the best of my ability via this blog — out of a sense of community, we do, in the blogworld… and trying to make sense of some of what I’d seen, from within a place of total upset and anxiety that had resulted from unexpectedly reading/viewing these things and which persisted for months. The worst of which sometimes seemed specifically targeted, objectifying, and misogynistic. Interspersed, confusingly, with romantic and kind words I was no longer used to hearing, that fulfilled a yearning… for praise and affirmation (my ingrained preferred “love language”).
On a whim, I’d thought I could try to turn pain into joy while instigating/effecting change, by responding with my own feelings, in a similar poetic language. I learned a lot, and things morphed over time, and I learned a lot of things I didn’t expect to learn besides. I met over and over again with my own fallibility. And I met with a lot more beautiful words, and the well-meaning newfound friends behind them… but ultimately that old craving for praise/gratification is never long satisfied, and the people, well, we can’t really know in a wholistic way, from behind our screens, avatars and/or pseudonyms, so it’s not quite the same as offline friends, and certainly not as deeply important (whether we are led by technology to feel so or not) as connection with real-life family.
And there is still a lot of that other negative stuff going around, from various authors, both male and female-identifying; and a lot of people support that; seem even to more especially applaud that and thrive on it. Though it’s no longer as shocking, it is still upsetting. It rubs off. I’ve been guilty of it myself.
Sometimes writing longer helps us move through something. I used to write like this a lot. I found it calming.
I’m so grateful for the people out there who keep self-honesty, love and faith shining. There are a lot of you, too — though sometimes you’re quieter and harder to come across, especially if you’re the types that keep your focus closer to home, hearth, and deep work.
You make the world good. Thank you.
Artwork: found at IBC.ac.th, via post-write art search for “you have enough”
*Did you really read this whole thing, friends? If so, thanks and kudos. ;)) The length of this post can be credited to / blamed on WP’s Block Editor, since I kept having to gnaw away at it in increments, to finally get it to do what I pay WordPress for it to do (supposedly help me with connection and flow, as Classic Editor definitely once did), instead of cutting me short; then I kept adding more. (Take that, Block. ;))
Speaking of things to gnaw on, do check out the wonderful introspective poems and beautiful photographic artwork of V.J. Knutsen, if you haven’t already. Perspective and food for the soul. (WP Reader link to her poem “Gnawing,” here.)
There is also wonderful Wardah‘s lovely and relatable piece, “I’ll guard my poems in my heart” (WP link: here.) I did used to keep all my heart-writing private and guarded… but in the end, I’m glad I shared. And I’m glad VJ and Wardah and many other wonderful bloggers did too (possibly including you). We all need more blogs like yours/theirs. 🌷