What can we learn from each other? Some people teach us that we need help with boundaries. Some remind us that we are easy to love. We can observe the way some lovers make us want to escape, simmering a queasy feeling in our stomach that we practice patience and non-attachment with so that we are not harmed too much whilst in their presence and other lovers are always ready with a supportive word, assuring us that what we desire is valid, that we do not need to justify our path.
The people who we react to the most intensely, most of the time negatively, are these people our lessons? That sounds rather crass when thought to apply to anyone in an extremely oppressive and/or abusive situation. I would not suggest we apply this to anyone but ourselves, if indeed, it works for us. This is not the fatalistic idea of people belonging in a certain state or being punished for something. This is more a strategic curiosity of looking at our own agency from a back door. For example, my body might contort in frustration and sadness with someone, which could indicate I need to not be in relationship with their energies, but until I can create another path (maybe due to work commitments, relational obligations, financial situations, etc.), I feel more empowered reflecting so that I can learn about myself and others so as to perhaps not invite the same energies in during the future or to not have them affect me so harshly so that it doesn’t matter.
Also, because it is not an extremely oppressive or abusive situation (again, I will not speak for others), I can gain something positive from a person because they may have strengths I do not have, even if they are not someone I can handle having around constantly. Perhaps I am diplomatic and compassionate, empathetic and gentle, while my friend is belligerent, bumptious, and a bit of a bully. He might still be a better person than I, being truly loyal, unselfish, generous. He might be very fair and also smarter with traditional life choices, more responsible. While I have the opportunity, why not try to learn from him? I wonder if anyone else finds themselves in patterns of relationships they would rather not? Perhaps if we can work through being less affected or susceptible to these strong auras, we will generate our own energies that attract more nourishing and positive energies to match (hopefully?). Perhaps we will create better boundaries regardless.
There is the positive side to this as well in the sense of genuinely wonderful, kind people who surprise us and feed our souls. I think the task here is to notice them and awaken our gratitude; they help us practice loving and striving to rise up so that we might reciprocate. Instead of just receiving and being bathed in their goodness, I want to honor them with a return. To awaken from entitlement is sometimes as difficult a task as realizing why we feel entrenched in a situation with a less pleasing teacher.
I often find myself perplexed at the various ways we make each other suffer and the equally various ways we redeem and save each other. Can we be the type of people who strive to be observant enough to see what is going on, to not judge others for the lessons they have not yet learned, to always be improving our souls in healthy, balanced ways? What is a healthy, balanced soul diet? I think it is just being open and present and learning how to compost what looks like offal so that it doesn’t poison or choke us, but so that we continue healing ourselves and the world.
I read somewhere that the physical is simply a manifestation of our collective, spiritual world. When I think of this, I feel the oppression, abuse, violence, poverty, and the rather ugly, drab concrete cities that stifle nature, the effects of pollution, as evidence our souls are themselves bleeding inside. The outside makes the inside even more wounded. But the wounds also create the world. A lot of people make fun of certain political candidates for wanting to discuss the deeper roots of what is seen as unlove, but such points to a mindset. Unless mindsets change, policies won’t. The structure of our emotional landscapes influence the institutional ones. Ultimately, what matters is that we just need to feed our fires with the embers that can keep our love sticks from dying, staying damp. Many of us are just starting to allow ourselves to love and to trust. We are learning how to give ourselves a chance.
Now it is your turn. What have you learned from others, horrible and/or wonderful? What teachers are currently in your life? My perspective is half-limbed and only mine. Let this be a conversation we create together.
Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She has an MA in creative writing and teaches college composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. She also writes poetry about food, self-exile, the balance between love + freedom, and navigating the world while female. She has a micro-chapbook on food coming out 7/9/19 from Ghost City Press.
7 thoughts on “All Are Our Teachers by Elisabeth Schilling”
Lache, I like the reflective questions you ask, your invitation to dialogue. I think the physical is a manifestation of the spiritual and that one state of being reflects the other. I don’t think that we can separate our bodies from our minds, souls and spirits anymore than we can separate humans fro non – human beings – no matter how hard we try.
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Lache, I enjoy your posts so very much … I look forward to them on many levels. Granted, that’s probably because you seem to reveal what my own heart/mind often feels.
Your comment: ” Unless mindsets change, policies won’t. The structure of our emotional landscapes influence the institutional ones.” YES. We can force upon others the policies we align with but unless mindsets shift and change, it simply pushes the ugly beneath the surface. (Again.) I’m not saying we don’t seek to change policies — but if we do it by “othering” and force (whether physical or psychological), is that truly effective? Doesn’t seem to be because lasting change only happens over time through interactive relationing. (I’m rambling a bit. Sorry. I’ve been immersed in world history lately.)
I’ve spent the past four years in a deep, deep dive into how othering appears to various peoples, from as many perspectives as I’ve been able to — brought on by my move back to a political, religious “other place” that I thought I had left for good more than 40 years ago — and I see the othering within me as well. It’s humbling. So, yes, I seek to learn … and I strive not to be arrogant by thinking that “they haven’t learned it yet” but rather understanding how their vision is different than mine and constantly seeking common ground so maybe our actions can meet in the middle.
I get drug-down weary sometimes or go so deep that lose myself in a sort of cognitive dissonance but what’s the alternative? Self-righteousness? No thank you. I was raised within a conservative self-righteousness and don’t wish to simply move the pieces around so that I’m pushing progressive or liberal self-righteousness. Maybe there’s no longer any place for moderate systems of peace … but when I feel that, I turn to animals and plants and mountains. I hope our species doesn’t eliminate all the other life that generously dances in and out of moderation: the most profound example we could find.
But I always come back to living in love, feeling into the generosity and abundance that emerges from death. If I didn’t … if I couldn’t … believe that each of us has to live and be the change we want to see … what’s the point? As you can see, your post set off a cascade within me today. Thank you.
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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your inner life with us. I have also recently moved back to a place where there were wounds to be healed and relationships to re-negotiate. Now, I’m moving again. Perhaps this time I catch a little be of settledness. Be well.
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I, too, always enjoy your posts Lache. One comment slowed me down a bit:
“Perhaps if we can work through being less affected or susceptible to these strong auras, we will generate our own energies that attract more nourishing and positive energies to match (hopefully?)”
I understand the sentiment, and perhaps agree to a point, but I also think we run the risk of a slippery slope where somehow whatever “negative” or “bad” is in our life is somehow our own doing because we attracted it. I have a good friend who says that everything that happens is for a reason, our own lessons, our own spiritual growth, but when I ask her about babies and children dying, suffering, that line of thinking falls apart for me (and she’s never been able to adequately answer that question for me). Can I self-compassionately work on my spiritual growth so that I attract that which is helpful and loving? Yes. Will some things happen that have nothing to do with what I’m emanating? I think yes to that too.
I’m curious to your thoughts on this, and again, enjoy reading your posts!
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Thank you so much for your kindness and sharing.
I’m absolutely glad that you brought this up. I align with your thoughts. I too personally feel we should only use such ideas strategically, when they are not fatalistic, and when they help us gain or increase our agency so that we can focus on the point: healing and finding healing relationships.
So, yes, it is a slippery slope in that it has a limitation. Like you, I very much resist the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” Therefore, I really appreciate you reiterating this for me.
The point is not that we “deserve” much of anything or that we can control much of anything. Often, people do not get what they deserve or what is even ethical or reasonable or basically survivable. Also, we can’t always take things personally – when positive things happen, it’s not necessarily because we are good people or putting good energy out into the world. When negative things happen, it might just be bad luck, random, or the harm from another person that has absolutely nothing to do with us. Don Miguel Ruiz says, for instance, if people smile at you and compliment, they might just be having a good day (nothing to do with you); if people yell or get angry or don’t smile at you, they might just be having a bad day (or life), and it might also not have anything to do with you either.
So maybe the idea is that, if we generate healing energy, it might have an effect; it might be the preparation we need to see and be seen when a potentially healing person or situation comes our way and there can be more healing together.
I welcome a continued discussion on this, if you have a response or more thoughts. I would love to hear them. Thank you again for pointing out this important aspect.
To respond to your friend’s idea, I don’t think everything happens for a reason, but some things might be within our control, and we should expand on those opportunities. Some things are cause-effect, but we have to be reasonable when we make those connections. There are also happenings that are random, unnecessary, unfortunate, and not completely within our control. So it is not either/or but both/and. In my opinion at this moment at least. Does that help at all clarify my point? Probably something I have to keep thinking about. Thanks for helping me investigate some of the nuances. I really appreciate it.
Hi Lache, your thoughts definitely resonate with mine! I also remember one of the 4 agreements: nothing is personal (that’s one I get to revisit regularly).
Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided also talked about this, and in particular she revealed how her breast cancer diagnosis affected her perspective. She noted an undercurrent from some people of having “brought it on herself” because she didn’t sufficiently think positively. She also talked about the effect of people relentlessly urging her to think positively in the face of the treatment she was going to need. Suffice to say, it did not help.
Lastly, another reason I have a problem with my friend’s take that everything happens for a reason, and people have chosen their life lessons (even before they arrive in this incarnation), is it seems to build in an excuse to do nothing in the face of cruelty and suffering. An (appalling, to me) argument could be made, if they have chosen these life’s lessons, who am I to interfere in their growth?
Thank you for helping me to continue my own thinking on these topics!