I went to see Toad the Wet Sprocket last night in Santa Barbara. It was a fun evening and the band did a great job. I have seen frontman Glen Phillips play often at Soho, but this was the first time that I saw him play with his original band. He is so talented, self-deprecating and quirky. Kind of love that in a guy.
They played a song last night with the above title. To me, it is a scene from what must have been a lonely life on the road in his early career. Traveling and being far from home while the people he loves, his wife and children, perhaps are tucked neatly away in a place he does not see often enough. I am sure that at least some of the song addresses the double life he leads as a rock musician and the attendant freedoms that affords a man, with the deep and binding ties to his home and family.
It is a great song no matter the meaning. But it got me thinking that the song affirms for him not only the gratitude that he feels for the things he lists in the song, but it is also an affirmation to not become inured to their presence in his life.
I think he is addressing something more fundamental than the expression of gratitude...he is addressing our human nature to take the things, people and situations in our life for granted.
Like they will always be there. It is one thing to say you are grateful for this or that. I do a gratitude list every single day. 12 things I am grateful for. I am embarrassed to say how often I struggle to find 12. Sometimes it takes me 10 minutes. I chalk that up to me being super tired and the coffee not kicking in yet at 4 am. But also because I do not feel it. Sometimes I have to dig for the list even though my life is privileged and pretty fucking amazing.
One of the things that I love about Glen and his music is how deep and transcendent the layers. In this song, he is listing things that he is grateful for and addressing a need for reflection on all the things he has. But he goes one deeper to uncover not only our tendency to not be grateful about the circumstances in our lives, but also to wholly expect them to be there always with little to no effort on our part. We, free to do as we might, while those other people and beings in our life are expected to remain in some sort of suspended animation until we return.
God can I relate to that. I have been a life long shelver of beings. From pets to people, I have gone about collecting them and working really hard to get them, then, once I get to that magical level of security that only I know where that resides in my body and life, I begin to wholly ignore and under appreciate them. Eventually placing them on a shelf in my life, me expecting them to contentedly sit there and watch me venture out to begin the whole process again with some new being.
Not very attractive but true. I know it is not just me, but I am fundamentally responsible for this habit in my life. I can’t do shit about you doing this, but it remains totally 100% my responsibility to address it in my own life. And I have...well, I have started.
This last year I have allowed a lot of long term relationships to go. People that to some degree I was holding captive in my life or they chaining me to theirs. The dynamic dysfunctional and overdone. The connection weak, really only surviving due to longevity or strength of memory. When I looked at these relationships in my life, they brought me little to no joy, and caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety. Something was always wrong or on the verge of being wrong. The relationship maintenance now a daily thing that was not easily delivered or maintained. The cost exponential.
Regardless I kept them around. I worked very hard to keep them happy and content enough to keep the trouble at bay. Finding less and less pleasure and understanding and feeling more burdened and over-responsible.
What happened for me was that I woke up one day and saw just how much some relationships that provided 20% of my support were taking 80% of my energy. Leaving those other 80% allotted 20% to exist off. Anyone could see this was a bad deal...except me.
I am not sure why I had a reckoning. It wasn’t intentional or really something that I thought about. I just started seeing my own behavior differently. The people in my life out of balance and my gratitude flagging.
For me, it started for being grateful. That was relatively easy. I was able to see and experience the gratitude for the relationships I had that were sustaining and life supporting. My mom, my daughter, The Tribe, a few other people, a couple of men. But then there was this large and overreaching shelf that contained so many other people who overshadowed and crowded out the people who I really depended upon.
Once I saw this dynamic, I could not unsee it. It was my own lack of actual practice of not taking things and people for granted that had caused my plight. My gathering nature resulting in me having a lot of very superficial relationships that were often one directional and single faceted. They were relationships based on need, not mutual respect. The sincere and honest need and desire to participate with some of the people, long deadened.
So I cleaned house. I tidied up my relationships. Allowing the harder, more challenging ones to just die off. It was painful even though their absence provided immediate relief. Their presence became foggy and past linked, slowly fading into the past.
What ultimately transpired was that I ended up with less. Less people, less demands on my time which allowed for a couple of things to happen: I was able to reorganize that shelf now that there was room to see who was up there, I was able to dust off some relationships and polish them up again with some attention and care. It is amazing how quickly they were re-energized and rekindled. The rapidity with which they regained life and spark, a message in itself that neglect is just as potent as abuse.
Today there are less people in my life. My relationships calmer, more intentional. I safe guard the ones that I love so that my presence in their lives provides something back, rather than always feeling like I am feeding them ever shrinking scraps of me. I will not claim perfection here, or even that much progress. As I write this I can think of at least three primary relationships that I have totally taken advantage of...yesterday.
I guess what I am trying to claim for myself now, the time period where I became more grateful but also where I came to understand that gratitude alone will not provide me the depth of intimacy I crave. I have to also address my tendency to take people, situations and things for granted. I have to take a stand against my self to acknowledge that I can sometimes be a taker. And then with that truth, make a firm and deep commitment to stop it.
So I am going to change up my gratitude practice. In addition to writing the 12 things every day that I am blessed to have in my life, I am also going to now spend some time reflecting on those people, beings and things that I am, in fact, enjoying but also not really seeing. Those parts of my life that I am not really appreciating with my actions. Something tells me this is going to be harder than I think...but also more likely to lead me to more satisfying interactions with those people in my life. Thanks for the insight, Glen. I think...