Laundry Lists and The Dharma IV
Jack wants the ball! Do you?
This is Jack. Jack is a dog. Jack lives in Nashville. Jack is adored by my brother and his family. Jacks wants the ball. It’s pretty simple.
I don’t count these photos as my greatest artistic expressions, but I do like the sequence, and what it says about us and about dogs…which may or may not have anything to do with what I am about to discuss. If you see a connection, chase it happily. You and Jack will be in good company…and that is not a bad thing!
Back, then to my task; take a look at the Laundry List Traits from the Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families 12-step program (see here!), and juxtapose this brief look with a similarly brief consideration of one of the main tenets of Buddhism. As you can see below we are still doing two-fers with the traits and are on the Fourth of the Four Noble Truths.
Laundry List Trait 4:
We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
Adult children are like dogs, in the sense that we have a twisted desire to return to the…um…excrement…um…that we left behind of our childhood traumas/realities. We can’t help ourselves. We recreate the past to make us feel better, or at least at home, in the present. Many of us promised we would not do this, but we do…do. Tennis balls, icky as they are, are less icky than the stuff we return to. ‘Nuff said.
This does not mean that the people we marry, date, hang out with, befriend or otherwise chase after are bad, soiled, smelly or anything else. But we too often find that the personality dynamics we enmesh ourselves in with spouses, partners or friends are familiar…and that under the sorts of stresses life tends to throw at us we find awkward, difficult and painful dynamics from the past resurfacing.
Laundry List Trait 9:
We confuse love with pity and tend to “love” people we can “pity” and “rescue”.
In my family there was a definite theme of “we are somehow important people due to the accidents of our birth and have an obligation to take care of, nay, pity, people not as fortunate,” and call it love. In earlier cultures this might have been called noblesse oblige. The confusing message for the child is that such an attitude produces a confusing concoction of something called love that has elements of pity and rescue thrown in for good measure, but which does not feel like love in any sort of redemptive way. I won’t go into all the gory details, but it is no coincidence that a sermon I preached on Pity some eight years ago was the trigger that started all this personal reevaluation.
The Fourth Noble Truth
”And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of dukkha: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration."
Do you remember the progression? There is suffering, it is caused by clinging. Suffering can cease as clinging is released. And the way to release is…the Eightfold Path.
It is important to note right away that the repeated word “RIGHT” in the Eightfold Path does not refer to Correct or any sort of legal definition of “do it this way and no other or else!” A better term, and one that I find helpful in so many contexts is “SKILLFUL”. With much the same compassionate directness used by St. Paul in Philippians 4:8,9…Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you…the Eightfold Path suggests wise choices about life. Unlike the Ten Commandments that prescribe and proscribe behaviour, these Noble Skills suggest stuff that works…if the end sought is to move away from the suffering brought about by clinging and craving.
Well, how do I connect all of these thoughts on this particular Wednesday morning in early April…hints of snow falling on the deck outside, and my coffee cup about empty? Jack sees the ball clearly. Doing this work is for me a way to keep my eye on the ball of personal growth, skillful behaviour and thoughtful reflection on my inner dynamics and interpersonal ways and means. While I may be averse to picking up slobbered on tennis balls (I am!) I do get it. Well, just look at these eyes for crying out loud! Clarity. Come On?! May I have half as much.