If you read me…you’re going to have to sit a spell. Pour a cup of something and pause. I refuse to go into sound bytes… With love, here is what I share with you today:
Somebody asked me the other day if I know how to receive without giving.
Huh. I’d never really thought about that before.
I proceeded to tell her how I’ve been trying to receive the beauty of Montana this summer, as a writer and seeker and feeler– just being, rather than always running to the next thing. Just being in my creativity before my writing retreat season begins in a few weeks. And then I started to tell her about the book I’m writing and how I think it will help a lot of people and and and–
She cut me off. “You were talking about receiving. Then you switched gears. And now you’re talking about giving. I asked you if you can receive…without giving.”
Ok, fine. She might have been a therapist I recently hired to help me get out of a period of life overwhelm with a kid in the throes of college recruitment, and wearing just too many damn hats in general.
I had no plain answer to offer her. “It’s not like I think of myself as some sort of Florence Nightingale or anything. I’m a gal who likes to take long baths and long walks and ride my horse. I try to grab moments for myself as much as my life will allow. And what’s wrong with a symbiosis of giving and receiving, anyway?”
She cut me off again. “What do you do now that is just about receiving? Especially from people?”
I thought about it. “Well, I love what I do for a living. I love what it feels like to help people fall in love with their words, their voice, their self-expression, Montana. When I see those lights go on and their faces soften and open to their truth…it’s the greatest gift I’ve known.”
Her face was deadpan and now with a dash of severity. “I’m talking about receiving from people without giving. Do you have an example of that in your current life?”
I scrolled through my daily life for the purely receiving peopled moments. I couldn’t think of any—not any I was exceptionally proud of.
“I have a great chiropractor,” I said.
“People you don’t pay,” she said.
“Well I have a lot of good friends,” I said. “A couple of them did nothing but listen to me when I was going through a rough patch a few years ago.”
“What about now? Now that you’ve gotten into the business of being of service.”
“Uh…” I thought of all the remarkable people in my life. And I thought about how when they give to me, I almost always feel the immediate compulsion to give back. Or feel guilty for not giving back. “Just plain ol’ receiving, huh. Did I say I take a lot of long baths?” I paused. ”But I mean, the truth is, even when I take a bath, I feel a little guilty about it. Like I’m stealing the moment from something or someone. Guilty pleasure, I guess.”
She stared at me, holding her pen to her paper.
“I wasn’t brought up to feel pleasure. I was raised by World War II people. My mother’s famous line is: What do you think I do all day—sit around and eat bon bons???!!! We are not bon bon people.”
She stared at me.
Oh God—was I paying someone $150 to have them tell me I have to eat bon bons? I cut her to the chase, “I eat chocolate, you know. I enjoy good wine. I love to go out for dinner. I took my kids to Europe for Christmas last year. It’s not like I’m some kind of a deprivation-ist. It’s not like I get off on penury!”
She said, “Is receiving always about pleasure? What if it was about support?
Huh. Time was up. Thankfully.
So I went for both—pleasure and support: I went out for lunch with a friend who gives the best advice, who eats cheeseburgers and fries like they’re an entire food group, and who prides herself on day-drinking. I once told her that her porn star name would be Guilt-less Pleasure.
We sat in a dark pub on a sunny day. “Do you think it’s possible for you to receive without giving?” I asked her.
She didn’t skip a beat, dipping her French fry into a ketchup puddle, her gel-polished nails shining with the same color. “Of course. I love receiving gifts. I don’t just have a birthday week, I have a birthday month!” She guzzled her beer.
“A birthday month, huh,” I said, doing the same, pretending I like beer.
“Oh come on. You know how to have fun. You had a kick ass 30th, and 40th, and 50th birthday party. I was at all of them. I’ll never forget that lobster you flew in from Maine. Or that marimba band you hired in your back yard. And that Christmas party you used to throw. Straight up Dickens. With the lumineria all the way up the hill? Magic.”
I thought about it. “I do like to throw a good party. But this therapist I’m seeing would tell me that I’m doing it for my guests as much as I am for me. I don’t know how to throw a party for just me, I guess. Doesn’t sound like much fun, frankly.” Then I added, because I didn’t want to be pathetic, “I take a lot of baths, you know.”
She gave me the same deadpan look, but this time it was for free. Bonus!
“What’s wrong with me these days?” I said, staring at my cheeseburger. “Once upon a time, some would say that I was a hella good hedonist.”
She’s one of those friends who takes a question like that seriously. This time she pointed at me with her bloody French fry and her bloody fingernail. “You’re terrified of being called selfish. Aren’t you.”
Shit. The Call of the Bluff.
I stared at my hamburger, suddenly un-hungry.
She moved into her cheeseburger with vigor. “I bet someone called you selfish when you were a little girl, and you’ve been running from it ever since. That’s what I think.” Juice ran down her chin, and she wiped it and licked her finger. “But what do I know. I’m not a therapist. I’m just a single mother.” She winked at me.
I didn’t wink back. “I know I know. Selfishness is out. Self-preservation is in. Self-care is an industry. That’s why I finally hired a therapist. I need to figure out this Self-care thing.”
“I think she’s on the right track. I dare you to spend a week asking for help. Without giving a thing back to the people you ask.” The final French fry: “And not feeling guilty about it.”
The waiter came. “Can I get a To Go box?” I said.
So I spent the week not asking anyone for help. And feeling guilty about it. And even worse about how sorry I felt for myself that no one offered me help on their own. And how lame I feel with this new awareness that I don’t ask for it. And so instead, I hired a Self-care coach, just to practice. And then I felt pathetic for having a Self-care coach, and a therapist, when I’ve been such a glutton for the fact that I haven’t had a therapist for ten years. I’m so “evolved.” I can do life so “alone.” I “help” people for a living. I am of “service.” I take a lot of baths.
Okay, so as it goes when you are wandering around with a blender head full of new awareness and longing and confusion…my car broke down in a parking lot. Dead battery. As I was coming out of a consultation, feeling very wonderful about helping someone construct their book project. Turned the key. Nuthin’. Turned it again. Shit. And me without my jumper cables.
I got out of my car and asked a few people if they could give me a jump, feeling very not wonderful about bothering them in the middle of their day. Neither of them had jumper cables. So I called Triple A. Tipped the guy $20, I felt so grateful. This receiving without giving thing wasn’t going so well.
And then today happened.
I drove the Going-to-the-Sun road through Glacier National Park to take a hike up at Logan Pass. I decided that it’s easier to receive from nature, and what better place to receive than this glorious part of the world—this definition of mountain majesty. The wildflowers were out in profusion—the rose and blue gentian, the lavender aster, the spiking fuchsia fireweed. The sky was blue, the clouds plump, the air pristine, the subalpine fir scenting it all with a heady elegance. Receive receive receive.
Human being walking by with nice smile.
Me, taking shameless selfie.
“Would you like me to take a picture of you standing on that rock? You look so happy!”
“Absolutely! Thank you!”
I started to ask if she’d like a photo of herself in return. But I stopped myself.
If she wants one, she’ll ask. Selfish of me? Nah.
I decided to lie down on the rock and just be– feel the sun baking me into the earth. So far so good. Nature, humans, all abundant. Receive receive receive. And this feeling of great wholeness overtook me. Was it pleasure I was feeling? Maybe not. It was more like support, like the therapist said. This rock, this warm rock on this mountain top, held me. I had everything I needed in that moment—warmth, water, space, time. People around if I needed help. Beauty resplendent in 360. Receive receive receive.
And I thought, I feel relief right now. I feel detonated. Deactivated. Benign. Neutral. I need to lie on more rocks in a place that is neutral. Yes, neutral is what I’ll go for. Not accelerate. Not brake. Not give. And maybe not receive. Just find this place of neutral at least once a day. Maybe when I wake. Or when I feel spent. If there’s something to receive, it’s this. This is the gift. I’ve been trying too hard. Maybe receiving happens when we stop giving.
So, wouldn’t you know…when I got back to my car, in this mountain-top parking lot, my battery was dead again. And I’d forgotten my jumper cables again. In my defense, I’m loaning out my sturdy Suburban with all the bells and whistles to my son, and am driving the “kid car,” and apparently haven’t learned one thing about life in Montana after twenty-five years.
The day was waning. It wasn’t quite an emergency, but I knew that I would absolutely have to go Blanche DuBois, whether I liked it or not. So with the dependence on the kindness of strangers bannered across my forehead, I bothered car after car, asking for a jump. All tourists. No luck. The Visitor’s Center didn’t have cables either. “I promise you, someone out there will give you a jump. You just have to ask,” the ranger told me.
I liked neutral much better than ye olde ask and…
So I went back into the parking lot, hating to bug all of those nice travelers, fresh off their mountain high, to dig into their trunks, and my engine.
I asked two guys fitting fishing poles into backpacks. “Hey, do you have jumper cables?”
They looked at each other. “Yeah. But we can’t give you a jump or we’ll lose our parking place.”
My hamburger friend’s line blared at me with bloody shiny fingertips: God, I’m so selfish for forgetting my jumper cables. God, I’m so selfish for not getting my battery looked at. God, I’m so selfish for working so hard that I don’t have my priorities straight. God, I’m so selfish for taking the day off to play in the mountains and lie on rocks and be in neutral when I have a list a mile long of things that need to get done for my kids, and my career, and my house, and duh—my car. I’m so selfish.
And frankly, I don’t know how it happened. But apparently God responds to self-loathing mind rants. Because suddenly, there was a gang of smiley people all gathered around me, with a petite woman with long black hair taking charge like we were on Survivor. She pointed at people and things and my car and me, and I took her orders.
“Get in your car,” she said. “Put it in neutral.”
And four strapping men stood at my hood and one of them shouted, “Push!”
Another strapping guy was at my window saying, “Crank the wheel,” and I said, “which way?” and he reached in and grabbed the steering wheel and cranked it for me. “Now brake,” he said. And I braked.
“Pop the hood,” another one said.
“Uh…this is my daughter’s car. Not sure I…” like I’d never driven a car in my life, and never dealt with one crisis moment in my life, and believe me…normally I am the woman with the long black hair. Two weeks ago I was galloping through a Montana meadow while a horse bled out, to get help. (The horse is fine.)
But I was just…frozen with all this help.
And this guy reached in to my car and pulled a lever and the hood popped, and there was a truck, a bright blue truck, hood to hood with my car, and people were “operating” on my engine, and I was just out-of-body, cable to cable, charge to charge, until one of them shouted, “Turn your key.” And I obeyed.
The car started. Everybody clapped. Surgery successful. The girl with the black hair hollered, “God Bless America!”
I wanted to jump out of my car and hug them all and ask them where they were from and offer them local’s advice about where to go in Glacier, and in the Flathead Valley, and to take down their names and send them thank you notes, and heck, invite them all over for dinner. But I didn’t. I just said, “Thank you. May someone do something nice for you today.”
And I drove off.
And yeah…I felt a little stupid. But more than that, I felt supported. And what I didn’t feel…was selfish. Not in the least.
And when I came home and told my story to my hamburger friend, she said, “Has the Universe ever not supported you, Laura?”
And as much as I wanted to say, There have been times when it hasn’t…the truth is that no. Never. I’ve always had support.
I just have to live in a way that lets me find it. And that might mean that I have to ask. But mostly, that means that I have to receive the support that is all around me.
If you would like to take a break this fall and live the writer’s life in the woods of Montana, find community, find your voice, and maybe even find yourself…check out this video and info, and email the Haven Writing Retreat Team asap to set up a phone call!
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