Never Break the Chain

Why You Should Embrace Support from Others - bulldog yoga

There is always a chain holding us to what matters

One of my favorite classic rock groups sings about a chain. When you think about chains do you think about something bad, holding you down, keeping you bound, limiting your freedom, heavy and constricting?

But chains can also fulfill useful purposes:

  • That’s how we anchor the ship and keep it from drifting.
  • Remember that chain on the front door so you could open it and peer out?
  • I had a friend who kept his big wallet chained to his beltloop.
  • Can a bracelet be like a chain? My wife had a big giant charm bracelet that she added to over the years. It needed a hefty series of links to hold all those memories.

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ― Thomas Merton

What kind of an anchor is your family?

Almost everyone starts out life intertwined with family. It’s hard to imagine how we would even survive without these essential people who insert themselves and society at large inside of us. As prickly as that usually becomes once you hit adolescence. Your parents enable you to survive and also teach you how to survive as the unique person that you are.

“We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.” ― Charles Taylor

Think about all the ways that you are wrapped up in the history, rhythm and life of the people all around you. It’s easy to put your family in this category. Sure we are all tied together, for better or worse, right? For almost everyone, our families integrate us into the world in healthy and productive ways. They prepare and launch us so that we will thrive. Sometimes we hear about families that fetter members to disaster. In most large American cities, the number one reason that police get called is a family related disturbance. Families teach us how tied up we are to other people, emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually and even logistically. Don’t you think civilization rests upon the love and care of moms and dads?

Right now, send a note or card to someone in your family, a distant extended member. In fact, buy a stack of cards so that you’re always ready to send something. There’s bound to be someone in your big family who needs some kindness right now.

“When I lived in a small town, the whole town got together to help my family when tragedy struck our home. Now in a big city, my neighbor one block down doesn’t know who I am.” ― James Hauenstein

It’s midnight, do you know where your friends and neighbors are?

A few weekends past, new neighbors were having a celebration in the back around their pool. Music was included. Music that made all of my windows vibrate. I’m certain everyone on two or three nearby streets were swept up into the party via the rhythmic drumming of each tune. After a time I realized that I’ve lived here almost 25 years and never had a single bit of friction with anyone living near. In my neighborhood there are people with last names from all over the world. We are all tied up together, yet following a similar set of norms and managing cohesion. That’s amazing, don’t you think?

The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey discovered that Americans have fewer close friendships than they once did, they talk to their friends less, and no longer depend as much on friends for personal support. Maybe the recent pandemic has set us back. We remain disconnected from our friends both physically and emotionally. Sure, friends can be a lot of trouble, but in the end they are vital to your health.

What can you do? Get in contact with that friend of yours, you know who I mean. Go have lunch or a long phone call. Get caught up. Strengthen that chain.

“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” ― Goethe

4,316 Two Friends Talking Serious Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

When I use this metaphor of a chain holding each one of us to what matters most, I think about it in three important ways:

(1) There are our relationships that keep us tied to individual people, to roles with responsibilities and to the rules of living that we learn and pass on. Remember that family becomes for almost everyone that first significant model of how relationships work (or don’t).

When I was a young adult, I don’t remember that being connected to others was very important. I’m certain I just took others for granted, like the sun coming up. The chains that hold us to each other always take some degree of conscious effort.

“When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion – through the fact that for that someone (or for ourself) we take an extra step or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.” ― M. Scott Peck

(2) Intertwined within these relationships are all of the feelings that are invested in us and that we in turn plant within the furrows of memory. These emotions tie us to places, experiences and to our significant relationships. My friend calls his mother every Sunday afternoon, probably for all sorts of reasons, but I think mostly and deep down, because of the devotion that binds mothers and sons.

These connections aren’t limited to emotions. I’m thinking about examples like obligation, reciprocity and trust. These are like glue that enable us to take so much for granted and lean into one another. We don’t have to start from scratch with each person in our life.

What is the meaning of "“Someone holds the door for you.”"? - Question about English (US) | HiNative

I still cry out for you, don’t leave me, don’t leave me…  Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac

(3) When thinking about our connections in the world, don’t forget the social institutions all around us. These include our family, church, work, the news, and even healthcare. As you get older or seriously ill, you can imagine how essential your relationship will be with your doctor and health providers. When we were fighting cancer, our oncologist made incredible efforts to connect with us personally at each visit. He was working hard to heal us at multiple levels. I hate to tell you this, but as you age you might have to take handfuls of pills each day. My great revelation here was having mine delivered in dated packets. What an invention! BUT, I still visit our little local pharmacy and pick up a few prescriptions because of the close relationship we developed with everyone that works there. I think that should always beat convenience. 

“A few years ago, a priest working in a slum section of a European city was asked why he was doing it, and replied, ‘So that the rumor of God may not completely disappear.” ― Peter L. Berger

There are chains that we should work to remove:

  • relationships that bring harm to any part of you, inside and out
  • self-talk that keeps wounding instead urging you forward
  • bad habits that keep us spinning our wheels instead of climbing to the stars

I’m thinking about what needs to be reinforced in my life and what I need to turn loose. I only want to be bound up to what love can make anew.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ― Herman Melville

(Do you think Melville really wrote that? He’s the Moby Dick author, remember?)

*My poor little posts are being read by fewer and fewer. If you are inspired and want to keep them coming (and inspire me), it would help tremendously if you would pass this along to someone else and “invite” them to follow by clicking on that green icon in the top left corner…

Never Alone

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” ― Mark Twain

This last week started out with Valentine’s Day, our big romantic reminder of how much we need someone else in our life.  American values teach us to be rugged individualists. Remember those heroic images from the popular media? The cowboy riding off into the sunset? A man of few words. Even in space, Han Solo seemed to push others away. There’s all that detective fiction, the dark hero rescuing the damsel in distress while at the same time unable to save himself.

John Wayne in the Searchers | John wayne movies, John wayne, Western movies

Have you someone in your life?

“What you are to do without me I cannot imagine.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Mostly, I think we take the people in our life for granted. We complain about all the back seat driving until one day when we’re alone and keep making the wrong turns. When you’re alone you soon realize that one else is ever going to pick that up off the floor if you don’t. Now you remember all the picking up that someone in your life used to do – even the symbolic kind.

People in your life sit and listen, even when they seem to be bored silly with hearing that same speech, again and again. That’s what people do when they come into our lives, they sit and listen. When they’re gone you don’t realize the value of listening until you find yourself talking to strangers at Walmart – way too often.

Walmart sales surge on coronavirus-led demand | NHH

Work is becoming a harder place. That person in your life probably could use some encouraging words from nowhere with no motive whatsoever – even if it makes him suspicious. Your insight is the most valuable, your words are the most trustworthy. What you say, and say often, can end up counting the most.

It really is the little things that end up making things different.

How about doing some new math? How about subtracting the frequency of critical feedback and increasing the amount of positive words? Tip the balance in favor of that most significant person in your life. Treat her as if she were leaving tomorrow and you weren’t going to see her for months. Make today count for something extra.

“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.” ― John Joseph Powell

When people are disconnected from others for whatever reason there are a number of adverse effects that can pop up in other areas of life. Humans have a need for affiliation – we are socially wired, not designed to live as loners. Research tells us that when these needs are not met.

  • People can feel like other parts of their life are out of control (even when nothing has really changed).
  • Fuses become shorter and blow-ups happen more often – maybe it’s displacement – under the radar anger about loneliness without realizing it.
  • Sometimes when people are feeling disconnected, they become overly sensitive about other relationships – these feelings may or may not be expressed.
  • When alone too much, people experience a decrease in mental ability – it’s harder to think straight when you don’t have others in your life to talk it out with or to get feedback from.

Do you realize what you’re getting/giving when in the company of others?

We all need connections so that we can experience plain old companionship – even if it’s a silent drive together each Sunday morning to church. Just having a presence near is probably the most taken-for-granted dimension of our relationships. Physical nearness is an important expression of care and love. Going to the hospital and sitting with family in the waiting room really is a big deal. Don’t let anyone or even your own awkward feeling stop you from just going and sitting.

People need to get regular feedback from trusted people in their lives – we need to know what we are thinking by speaking it aloud and watching it get worked out through interaction with a trusted other. There’s also the feedback about the tie you’ve chosen or if you look fat in that sweater. Trust is an essential tie that binds us all.

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” ― George MacDonald

There are all kinds of adventures and experiences of life that need to be shared in order to be fully realized. Touring the museum is fun, but only half as much without someone to share your thoughts, questions, and small talk. You won’t remember that view from the mountain as breathtaking as it was unless you were there holding another hand. Our brains need a social connection to be fully operational.

Don’t take for granted the plain old information that you gain from other people in your life. Mundane, trivial, answers to Jeopardy  – this type of information buzzes between people all the time. Then, there’s the important knowledge that gets shared between friends. Where did you find that deal on a new car? When we are with others we can’t help but be learning, albeit informally.

3,956 Two Friends Talking Serious Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them” ― Thomas Merton

Do something about it tomorrow…

Just Surviving Today

“I want to suffer so that I may love.” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky

The past few days I have sat with people and heard some really terrible stories about loss, fear, death, grief, long-term suffering and loneliness. All at once. I would turn the corner and someone else would be there sitting across from me, sending me a text, sharing bad news over the phone or just opening up during a walk.

My colleagues and I have our students back this year. They seem so relieved to be back in person. But there are many who carry extra burdens. Families still hurt and struggle together. You can see it in the eyes peering over the masks. While I’m so happy to be in the classroom, there’s a shadow looming. It hasn’t been chased away yet.

When the pandemic struck and we were locked away at home, I started putting up post-it notes with names on them. I wanted to remind myself about other people who I frequently thought about – I didn’t want the current raging storm to distract me from thinking about other people who were bearing burdens in life. I’m reminded to pray, to send a note, to think past my own circumstances.

I’ve had this prayer by Thomas Merton posted for a long time. After the past couple of days, it seems like a helpful and healthy prayer and meditation. I’m reading it slowly and letting it soak in as I think about each person who’s crossed my path lately. I’d like to find a way to help. Sometimes, just listening and suffering together is enough.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton

On the Road Again

I watched a national tribute to Willie Nelson last night. I think it was a rerun. He ended the event by singing a few songs. The last one was his trademark, “On the Road Again.”  That’s all of our stories – that metaphor works. We are forever on a journey, heading down a road to somewhere.

These days I’m having the hardest time being at the right place at the right time. I’ve got all sorts of calendars, digital “invites” and reminders – but to no avail. I’m still waking up confused at least once or twice a day.

This makes me think about my larger and symbolic journey through life. What kinds of appointments am I missing with my destiny? Did I forget to show up for an important rite of passage? What day of my life is it right now?

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I think about it (while going to get some lunch because I messed up my calendar and ended up with a very disordered day) it seems there are markers in my journey through life. We were on the side of the highway recently, asking for help on the phone and were told we needed to keep driving forward until we reached a mile marker. The help was no use until they knew right where we were.

This same truth applies to all of us. Until YOU know where you are on your journey (what day of your life is it right now?) you’re not going to get very far. Spend some time and be reflective. Start a journal. Talk with someone about things that matter. Take a long walk regularly and talk to yourself. Try and locate the “mile markers” in your present journey. Are you heading forward? Are you moving at the speed limit?  Keeping your eyes on the road? You’re going to always feel that sense of confusion or detachment if you continue to let your life drive on autopilot.

Your relationships all along the journey are essential to understanding where you are, where you’re going and who you are becoming. To end some of the confusion that may be plaguing your day in and day out – maybe you need to reconnect with the people the matter? What about listening instead of talking? How about some honest feedback, from someone who loves you, about where you’re heading? (Most people can’t give us this valuable help because we usually remain too private about our real selves, our hoods too tightly shut).

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ― Thomas Merton

What sort of goals have you set for yourself? As you pass each mile marker, you can tell that you’re heading the right direction if your actions are taking you toward specific goals already laid out. Most of us aren’t specific enough with our goals and that leaves us driving around in the dark or lost in the woods. We don’t know the next step because we never really nailed it down in the first place. Make a list of your goals and chart out the course your life should be taking. Big and very specific goals help you to see the markers along your way and which direction you’re heading.

I hope next week is better. I’m going to check my calendar twice to be certain. What I really hope to accomplish is pay better attention to my larger journey, take back the wheel from the autopilot more often and become accustomed to map reading.

“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”

― Seán O’Casey