Ahhh…grist for the mill of awakening

I pulled into the parking lot of our local grocery store a few months ago and noticed these dogs in the car next to me…so friggin cute

Thanksgiving is a few days away, and for many of us this can be a time of intense emotions and feelings: happiness, anxiety, joy, sadness, contentment, loneliness, inner peace, anger and resentment, compassion, disappointment, belonging, rejection, anticipation…and at least for me, the “negative” emotions are doubly charged because I don’t think that I should be feeling these…especially around the holidays. But I’ve come to know that part, if not all, of the pain is the result of me resisting what is happening or what I am feeling in the moment…thinking that things/people should be different than they are/were, or that I should be different than I am/was.

When I find myself in the middle of this negative thought, I try first of all to acknowledge the feelings…not fight with them…and then, if I can, I try to find a different/new way of seeing.

This isn’t easy with old wounds. If I can catch myself in a new situation that is challenging, and I don’t let it gain momentum, often times it transforms…but with those old experiences that I didn’t have the tools or the desire to handle in a higher way, I unconsciously built up a stories and told them (even if just to myself) over and over until my version, my small little painful version, seemed like the only truth. There is a part of the mind that strongly balks at the idea of seeing painful situations in a new light…especially if we feel we were the ones who were “innocent”.

When my father died in February and had cut off communication with me for the last 6 months of his life, I had a pretty strong resentment against him and his wife, Jane, who didn’t let me know about his condition, and left it to her daughter to call me after he had died. During that phone call, she casually told me that my father was very important to her and that he only wanted her there during his last days. I didn’t even know this woman. It felt like the final insult from all of them, and yet, I knew a different story.

While my father was alive, and we were communicating, he would say to me, almost every time we met, “Jane is very hard but I’m too old to get a divorce. I have to go to her family functions. They don’t mean anything to me.” He was tired. He didn’t want to fight with her so he gave up and gave in. My father was a good actor and he was dishonest in so many ways, but I still loved him and I knew that he loved me.

So, several months after his death when I still felt angry and indignant, I made a decision to see things differently. I didn’t try to see a new angle, but I wanted to be out of the pain of resentment so I became willing…I became a little bit more open. Shortly after I made this decision, while on a walk, I had a huge insight and saw the last 6 months of my father’s life in a new way, “He was sick and dependent on Jane. There was no way that anyone was going to see him except they go through her. He was sparring me that! Oh my god…I knew the truth of it. Maybe it was cowardly on his part, maybe it wasn’t a healthy way of dealing with our relationship but it was his way of protecting me and it was the best he could do.” As I continued on my walk, I thanked him and I could feel his energy and smile…I heard him laugh. I got it.

But now I needed to see the situation with his wife and stepdaughter in a new way, because I didn’t feel the love with them and never had a positive history to draw upon.

I’ve watched myself over this past year with several resentments…thinking they are gone and then finding the angry thoughts back and as intense as ever. I’ve even exclaimed in exasperation, “I wish this could just be gone once and for all! I am so sick of thinking about ____”. But was I really?

Being honest with myself, I had to say no, I wasn’t. There was something that I was getting out of these resentments and the rehashing of the past. In the AA literature, there is a line that has always stayed with me,

“In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority.” (The Twelve and Twelve, page 67)

Did I feel superior to Jane and her daughter? When I asked this question, I had to say that yes I did. I knew their history…I also knew how Jane and my father had met and it was extremely embarrassing for him.

Had I forgiven her? No. I’d only given it lip service.

Ouch. Now I could see it clearly. Forgiveness is a spiritual law…if I don’t do it, then I don’t feel it. Period. I could hold onto these resentments forever and not allow myself to grow or I could do the very big work of allowing a new way of seeing. This is where my immature adolescent girl rears her head. She would rather say, “F  you. You hurt me and now I hope that you are miserable. No way I want you to feel happy and blessed. I want you to suffer!”

But my higher self says, “You are the one who is suffering, Mary. It is time to let go. It is time to forgive so you can be free. The choice is yours. You want it to be easy but maybe it isn’t. Is that OK with you? Are you willing to go through the fire as the petty, vengeful, thoughts burn away?”

And I answered, “Yes I am. Help!” A few days later I was helping Jack clean out an old trunk at his store and he handed me a book, The Gentle Art of Blessing, that I’d given him a few years back. I opened it and read the following passage,

“What is appealing about the spiritual path, as the American spiritual teacher Ram Dass has stressed, is that everything is ‘grist for the mill.’ Absolutely everything—a traffic jam, an illness, a theft, a noisy neighbor, a flat tire—becomes an opportunity to learn, discover, progress, repent, rejoice, unveil, awaken, love more, and wonder. The smallest detail of life, every single encounter—be it with a saint or a snail—can sparkle with tender interest and become aglow with enchantment.”*

These few words helped me to reframe my resentments…why not simply call them “grist”. I loved that thought. If the grinding feelings inside can be redirected from telling the same old painful story to a feeling of productive energy then why not give this a try…and I did. Instantly I felt lighter and more open. Who doesn’t want to “sparkle with tender interest and become aglow with enchantment”?

This lovely little book opened a door for me…a door that I was ready and willing to walk through…what a relief…. not that I’m done with this work…maybe it will go on for as long as I am alive. Fine. I’m human too. Sometimes I feel so inadequate to the task…but sometimes not.

So, as this season of Light approaches, I wish for you all open hearts and open doors…and if you’re not ready to walk through them yet, fine…I love you anyway, just as I am loved as I walk, and sometimes stumble, on this path of awakening. I love you as I love myself because you are human too and you and I have egos that sometimes act like spoiled kids…and sometimes we can just laugh at this…but we keep walking.



*The Gentle Art of Blessing by Pierre Pradervand

19 thoughts on “Ahhh…grist for the mill of awakening”

  1. Thank you for sharing!! I needed this. You are so wonderful!
    Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving full of Blessings!!

  2. Mary your amazing !!! My husband just read this to me while having a cup of coffee…. We both needed this today , thank you, thank you, thank you !!! ❤️

  3. Time and time again, Mary, you are the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a struggle for me to turn around my Virgo, earth-grounded, practical but stubborn mind, in order to let things go. Old grievances are my forte. I can revisit them and relive them in full living color with the passing of a nanosecond!

    I try hard and I may not succeed in letting them go in this lifetime, but the Universe can see I’m making the attempt. Thank you for another very helpful and open post. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  4. Oh, Dear Mary, thank you for your words today. As these holy days approach, I needed this message. And yes, ” Who doesn’t want to “sparkle with tender interest and become aglow with enchantment?” Oh my gosh, I love that. Love & Blessings to you.

  5. What a powerful post and gift to your readers Mary. And you know that I get this. In this season of gratitude and wonder, there is awe and wonder in understanding…understanding others and understanding ourselves. I feel that wonder when I have an aha moment…there are so many aha moments here. Sending you and Jack warm thoughts for a Thanksgiving season full of grace and warmth and peace…light and wonder…and our love.

  6. Mary, there is always another way at looking at what happens in our lives. The problem is, I’m not always open or receptive to it. Sometimes it takes others to open a window in my mind. And too, when trying to look at issues from another perspective, it’s also important to keep focused on the central issue for it may be that your gut reaction has been right.

    I’m not sure I could feel charitable towards how your father ended his life, yes, he spared you having to connect with or be with his second family which sounds as though it would have been difficult for all concerned but the remark made to you by your father’s wife’s daughter, while it may have been so for her, you did not need to hear that remark. It sounds as though she was thinking more of herself when she made that remark, than you, the recipient of it. It felt to me that she was disregarding you for her own feelings. And in that, she may be forgiven but I doubt it was easy for you, his daughter, to hear.
    SandyP, In Ont.Can.

  7. Mary, once more thank you for the kind words. I hope that I can follow your path and let go of some unpleasant things in my past. Suffering from RA and unable to use my arms and hands some days, gives me more time to think. Sometimes that is good; sometimes not so good. Thank you for posting such a positive blog.

  8. thanks so much for always sharing your life, your struggles, your soul, your failings, your insights. . .down to the bone. . .what a gift. hugs, Veronica

  9. Thank you Mary for the gift of your words, always insightful and spot on. Wishing you and Jack and the flock at WFF a peaceful Thanksgiving.

  10. Well, this is certainly another KEEPER of a post! It certainly dovetailed with the chapter I just read in Byron Katie’s new book “A Mind At Home With Itself” (Chapter 16 – Everything Happens For You, Not To You). The following are just some of the quotes that stuck with me. (I would have to send you the whole chapter as it is all underlined.)

    “…all human relationships are reflections in the mirror. It’s not you that people like or dislike; it’s their stories of you. They aren’t attacking you or leaving you; they’re attaching or leaving who they believe you are. You’re their projection, just as they are yours. Realizing this makes it easy not to be affected by praise or blame.”

    …”If he criticizes you, and you take that personally, you”re the one who hurt you. The story you imposes onto his criticism is where the pain beings. You’re arguing with reality and you lose.”

    It felt like the whole chapter — every word — was meant for me to read.

    I also read another book that I thought I’d pass along that has been impactful for me — It is by Roz Chast a renown cartoonist from “The New Yorker.” It is a memoir in cartoon form of the aging process of her parents and her relationship with them. I think many parts of it will sound familiar to you and presented in such a different way. The book is titled “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant.” And, for me I read it a few years ago and re-read it yesterday and found myself responding differently as more time has passed since I dealt with the situations described.

  11. A wonderful message. You rally “nailed” me, that’s for sure. Thank you.

    Bonnie Knutsen

  12. Happy Thanksgiving Mary and Jack. Recently I texted my daughter-in-law that I have been reading On- line, and seeing TV commercials that suggest this Thanksgiving there is likely to be more friction around the family table. The reason being Political Differences. I said, “My family doesn’t even have That excuse because we are all on the same page politically, at least! “. But, there are old resentments that rear their heads, and therefore we have opted for separate but equal Thanksgiving Dinners here and there. The funny thing, and this has happened before in my family, the most ideal circumstances to avoid friction can be planned…and OOPs !!! The conflict can come from an unexpected source. So as you say: Let the Grist Begin. The uninvited guest might just be “the Grist for the Mill”. Shall we write a new Holiday Classic: “The Grist Who Stole Thanksgiving”.

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