When I was young thin mint girl scout cookies were a big deal. During the cookie season, one night each week our dessert would be thin mints. On the thin mint nights here is what happened.
Dad, sitting at the head of the table, would open a sleeve of cookies. He would give himself 3 cookies. He would then give each of us (4 siblings) 2 cookies. We would all gobble ours down, then watch as he slowly ate his cookies. Thus began an interesting game of chicken. If we all watched in silence, when he was done his cookies he’d pass us each another, himself 2, and repeat the process. Sometimes though, someone would get anxious. Or perhaps pissed, which is how I feel about it now. In our fervor we’d blurt out “may I have another?” This was bad. Really, really bad. The cookie game, under these circumstances would end in one of two ways.
- It would be over. Dad would decide that no one gets any more cookies, and he’d dismiss us from the table or
- the blurter of the words “may I have another” was forced to watch as his/her siblings each received another cookie while he/she did not.
This is the best example I have of why I’ve always felt that it is bad to ask for more. The inappropriateness of asking for more extended to things other than food. It included clothing, rides, social events, and even love and attention. Asking for more of anything was taboo. In our house it was taken a step further: asking for more was shameful. The person who asked for more was held in contempt by the entire family. They were called “greedy” or “moocher” or “fat”, or any other name that might apply. Our family had a metaphorical doghouse, and one of us was always in it. It was not acceptable for the doghouse to be empty, because we were children and as such, always in need of correction. Once you were put in the doghouse the only way out was for someone else to bump you out. I spent many weeks and months in the doghouse, more often than not because I’d asked for more of something.
Eventually I learned to never ask for more. It made no difference what was at stake, all that mattered was that I never ask for more. In case you are confused, this is a terrible lesson to teach children. Why, you ask? (thanks for asking!!) I’ll tell you why.
In my mid twenties I had a successful, albeit underpaid, career. I enjoyed working, I was responsible with my money, and I was smart and hard working. I was well on my way to making a major contribution to some lucky company. All of the sudden who should appear, but my now ex spouse. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that I was willing to accept the minimum of everything, and never ask for more. He took that ball and ran with it. He’d make me a beautiful lunch (he was a chef) and he’d have bought himself a week of neglect. A gift bought him even more. A gift might give him the go ahead to do something really shitty, which I would accept because I was never to ask for more, and I’d just been given a gift so……. Not only did he work this part of my psyche, he expanded it. By the time he was done programming me I was humiliated to ask him to make me a meal when I was in the middle of chemo! And, if he did agree to make me a meal, he was good for at least 1 week, because I knew not to ask for more. Asking for more, which usually meant help with groceries or errands while I was sick, was a gut wrenching ordeal, because I was never sure if I’d be met with a “of course honey” or a “I work a lot of hours you know. It’s a real problem for me to do your stuff too”.
Clearly I had an issue asking for more.
Last week this began to change. I had been working at my yoga studio right before a divorce hearing. I was rather despondent, having spent 2.5 years trying, unsuccessfully, to get a divorce agreement. Before I left for the hearing one of the owner/teachers stopped me and said something like this: You have been practicing yoga and meditation for 2 years now. You know those times in class when we are meditating and it feels like we all joined? I said yes, I do know those times. They are oddly powerful and I usually think I’m imagining them; maybe not. She went on to say that during those times the people in room have joined their souls. They are so receptive to one another that whatever that universal energy is, that common bond, that eternal buzz of our surroundings, all of that opens up and our souls connect. She said when you have come to an impasse today, and it seems like an agreement can’t be reached, meditate and reach out for that part of him that wants this over as much as you. See if you can break through his outer wall of objections and reach his inner core which might be more receptive.
If you read my blogs regularly you know that I did this, and I ended up with a divorce agreement that day. Was it because my soul reached his? I don’t know. It could be as simple as me staying calm and present and insisting on further negotiations. Whatever the reason, this was the day I got divorced. I am not a religious person, but through meditation I have begun to ponder the idea that perhaps some of my passed loved ones are out there rooting for me, and I later told this owner/teacher that I thought maybe they helped. She said this: “Great. Now say thank you, may I have another”. I literally felt my body tense when she said those words. Ask for more?? I couldn’t do that! I needed to be grateful for what I got, put my head down and hope nothing terrible happened the next day! Ask for another??? Impossible!
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. There are many, many things I have to be grateful for. I’m alive, my cancer is NED, I have a great family and friends who look out for me, my kids are healthy, I can put food on my table and heat my house. And now, I’ve gotten my divorce. What right do I have to ask for more? Asking for more would be greedy, and people who are greedy are punished, right? I’ve been in a quandary: should I ask for another or let sleeping dogs lie?
A few nights ago I was closing up the studio. The last teacher to leave is a woman who’s father has a brain tumor. As she was leaving I stopped her and asked her how her father was doing. She stayed and talked to me for about a half an hour, telling me the ins and outs of his treatment and diagnosis, the impact it was having on her and her marriage, her fears, and the difficulty she was having processing how little control she has over this.
I’ll be honest: I started getting annoyed. I still had to close the drawer, I had worked 8 hours and I was tired and, when I got home I had to walk the dog and get the trash & recycling up to the street. Just when I thought I might blurt out “okay — time to go” she changed the subject. She started talking about our yoga community. She said she was so grateful to be part of such a special place, a place where the owners have focused on building a loving, supportive environment, a place where she can have a conversation like the one we were having. She then thanked me for taking the time to talk to her and expressed how happy she was that I was there and taking on extra responsibilities, because I was a good representation of their mission. I’m not sure she would have said that had she known what I was thinking, but as soon as she did I felt tremendous pride and satisfaction in what I was doing, in the part I was playing in bringing a sense of peace and joy to people at our studio.
That is when I remembered the second part of what my guru told me. She said that in asking the question “may I have another” I was opening up the possibility that I might come closer to my purpose. In accepting that I need more to evolve, I was acknowledging that I am human, and that I have as much right as anyone else to all good things, and the more I have in terms of ease of living the more I can pursue my life purpose, whatever that may be.
This is a really new concept for me. The thought that I have the right to ask for more, whether it be food, or clothing, or money, or support, or love, is kind of crazy in my mind. It is also the most sane thing I’ve ever heard. I often look around at some of the people around me and wonder why they seem to have more than I; why their lives seem easier. Often it’s because they asked for more. They believed, in the core of their being, that they deserve, they are worthy. Since they believe they are worthy ,they refuse to settle for less than what they really want.
It is my mission now to convince myself that I may ask for more. I see two categories in which I need, and deserve more. The 1st is the practical, material category. I have to sell my house and find a place to move. I have to get settled into my new life to fulfill part two. Part two is the ability to continue to impact others. My true authentic self is good with people, and I have found I can have a positive impact both in person and in my writing. Asking for these things does not make me greedy, or a moocher, any more than asking for another thin mint did. In what world was my dad more worthy of a cookie than I? In what world is my ex more worthy of a financially stable future than I? In what world is a fellow blogger more worthy of readers than I? and in what world is another person more worthy of having the energy to help others?
I hope to make the answer to these questions: Not My World. In my world I am as worthy as anyone else. I can have another cookie, financial security, the ability to reach people with my writing, and the energy to impact my world.
So this week I will practice saying “Thank you. May I have another?”.
PS: I am aware that what I am in “need” of is ludicrous in relation to what millions of people need. This compounds my difficulty asking for more. When there are starving people in the world what right do I have asking that my house sell and I find a nice, comfortable townhouse? If you are pondering the same issue, all I can say is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs might ease your mind. (http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html)