If in this renewed relationship Corky and I go beyond blame and hurt, we will have to do what we didn’t do the first time we were together—look with curiosity and kindness at ways we misinterpret each other.
I’ve learned the simple gift of open-eyed and openhearted attention can increase chances for “I” to fold into “we.” And it’s actually a good thing that disagreements and misunderstanding help strengthen the “we” because we will surely have both. This time we plan to tell each other when and how feelings are hurt, if not immediately, within a few days.
On Mother’s Day both of us had hurt feelings. In the afternoon, Cindy, my former daughter-in-law, (whom Corky thoughtfully introduced as my daughter) and I went to see Corky read in a Mothertongue performance. Corky was one of the original members of this feminist collective founded in 1976 by students at San Francisco State. These women write and perform scripts that dramatize their experiences. This time the script was “Mothers and Daughters.”
Although the performance was a big part of Mother’s Day for Cindy and me, when I wrote about the day in last Monday’s spiritflowsthru, I excluded Corky and Mothertongue altogether even though I knew her ties to Mothertongue were long and strong.
I went to the performance feeling generous and open toward Corky, pleased that I could bring Cindy to see her perform. Bringing her was my gift. I knew Corky would be pleased to have Cindy there. But all did not go smoothly because a reactive part of me got triggered. Pema Chodron calls it shenpa; it’s the tightening up inside that can spiral into low self-esteem or more often into blaming or getting angry with someone else.
Shenpa struck while Cindy was telling Corky and me about her upcoming trip to Turkey and Greece with her mother and twin sister. Shenpa was triggered when Corky told Cindy she had gone to Greece and talked about her experience of many years ago; I felt annoyed with Corky. I was thinking: “This is not about you. Let Cindy talk. It is her trip at the end of the month.” I heard Corky’s words not as sharing but as an interruption. Then I acted on the feeling by telling Corky to let Cindy talk.
On Tuesday, when I again saw Corky, the distance between us was palpable. Doing exactly the right thing to close that distance, we talked about our feelings. Corky said she was disappointed that I had not mentioned Mothertongue or her in my Mother’s Day blog. We had both been “hooked” by the ego’s feeling slighted.
And of course, Corky hadn’t liked being shut up. Her talking about her trip rather than Cindy telling about hers had triggered anger in me that Corky’s “I, me and my” was more important than Cindy’s experience. In the process of explaining this reaction, I said “highjack the conversation” to describe my reaction. Corky said her intention had been to connect with my daughter, to add to Cindy’s anticipation of the upcoming trip by mentioning places she had seen and suggesting sights to look for.
Looking at why I omitted the Mothertongue event and Corky from the blog, I had to acknowledge “payback” for being angry and feeling upstaged, on behalf of Cindy. Truth be told, I must have been so ego invested in Cindy that it became very much about “I, me and my.”
I reminded Corky that after the performers took their final bow, she right away went to talk to other people. And though I knew logically this was her turn to star, I would have liked her to acknowledge my specialness and invite Cindy and me to join her for dinner. Clearly, feeling overlooked or ignored is a big cause of my shenpa, a “hook” as Pema calls those reactive places.
To help this renewed relationship flourish, I need to look at my responses and behavior with caring curiosity and to direct that same caring curiosity toward Corky’s way of being in the world. I am eager to learn what hooks me emotionally and causes me to react. (What Pema calls shenpa.)
Corky and my relationship may not be a simple gift, but careful unwrapping may make it a gift of being loved and loving in return.