Because of a recent situation with my own mother, and synchronistically, the problems two friends are having with their mothers, and another friend with her sister, I can’t help but think about obligation. What do we owe to ourselves and to others? Where does expectation set up a house of cards ready to tumble around us? How do we balance helping others with maintaining healthy boundaries for ourselves? Where can we transform relationships into compassion-derived rather than guilt-driven? How do we provide care from a space of love instead of duty?
I am reminded of one of the verses from the Tao Te Ching:
When the greatness of the Tao is present,
action arises from one’s own heart.
When the greatness of the Tao is absent,
action comes from the rules
of “kindness and justice.”
If you need rules to be kind and just,
if you act virtuous,
this is a sure sign that virtue is absent.
Thus we see the great hypocrisy.
When kinship falls into discord,
piety and rites of devotion arise.
When the country falls into chaos,
official loyalists will appear;
patriotism is born.
~ 18th Verse of the Tao Te Ching of Lao-tzu, from Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life
It seems to me that when we are expected to offer services, when we are pushed and shoved and guilted into behaviors, then the actions that were previously provided out of love become empty and tarnished with a dangerous, damaging energy. How do we provide kindness to ourselves then? How do we maintain the greatness of our heart energy?
I know there are no easy answers, and, certainly, every situation is different. With these thoughts, I also recalled a scene from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner -- one that has stayed with me for decades:
Embedding is not available, but the short YouTube of this scene is HERE; Sidney Poitier playing the role of the son speaking to his father, and following is the script:
"You listen to me. You say you don’t want to tell me how to live my life. So what do you think you’ve been doing? You tell me what rights I’ve got or haven’t got, and what I owe to you for what you’ve done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you’re supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another. But you don’t own me! You can’t tell me when or where I’m out of line, or try to get me to live my life according to your rules. You don’t even know what I am, Dad, you don’t know who I am. You don’t know how I feel, what I think. And if I tried to explain it the rest of your life you will never understand. You are 30 years older than I am. You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it’s got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs! You understand, you’ve got to get off my back! Dad… Dad, you’re my father. I’m your son. I love you. I always have and I always will. But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man. Now, I’ve got a decision to make, hm? And I’ve got to make it alone, and I gotta make it in a hurry. So would you go out there and see after my mother?"
May we all find the spirit within to somehow retain or recover our ability to act from our heart, and not from tainted obligation.