Dallas, TX, S’s apartment, 1987 — We poured wine. We laughed. We cried. We hadn’t seen each other in five years. S’s apartment was not far from Chadbourne Street where in 1982 three of us shared a bungalow just off Inwood and Lovers’ Lane in Dallas.
We called ourselves The Women of Chadbourne — one a newlywed, one a single mother, one an actor returning from L.A.; plus a south Texas girl whose boyfriend held a diamond ring in his pocket; and a mother of two boys who had no idea that in a few short months her husband would leave her.
Our gathering quickly ignited and stories poured forth as freely as wine — stories of marriage, bosses, children, lovers, and ex-lovers. Somewhere around midnight, we whittled down the conversation and focused our attention on one subject. We asked what is the one, most important trait to look for when choosing a mate?
Serious stuff, yes? Matters of the heart.
We finally came to a conclusion: the one trait to look for was a person’s ability to make good decisions. We believed that that single trait would transfer to all areas of life including finances, careers, relationships, disciplining children, honoring marriage vows, etc., etc., etc.
Austin, TX, 2016 — Last week I attended an evening lecture at Seton Cove, a spirituality center here in Austin, TX. Two psychologists, a father and son duo, J. Pittman McGehee and Pittman McGehee, Jr., spoke for over an hour about how people make decisions. They titled the lecture “Who Decides?” and focused on various processes people go through when making decisions.
The father, J. Pittman McGehee, a Jungian analyst, defined archetypes for the group and discussed the influence these archetypes have over us. He talked about the “Mother” archetype, and I nodded, hearing my mother’s voice inside my head. He encouraged us to look at our lives and examine our decision making skills to determine “who’s in charge.” Whose voice do we hear? Our father’s? Our mother’s? Our spouse, boss, or peers’? His position is that these voices, heard consciously or unconsciously, more often than not, determine and influence the decisions we make. Our ultimate goal is to recognize them, set them aside, and trust our own voice.
His son, Pittman McGehee, Jr., took a different approach and discussed the need for self-compassion and self-love as we process and face decisions. He recognized our over-use of terms like self-love, mindfulness, and self-improvement, while at the same time setting aside the cliches often associated with these terms. He moved past the term self-love and spoke about self-compassion. He advised us to have as much compassion for ourselves as we do for others, and this feels very similar to the flip-side of love thy neighbor as thyself. But for some reason, the concept of self-compassion feels lighter, more attainable, and less self-absorbed than the task of loving thyself.
I felt a familiar tug in my heart. My struggle with self-love stems from a sanctioned belief that I am not enough, that I can and should do better. At some point in the discussion, I came to this conclusion: if self-love remains elusive, then self-compassion might be within my reach.
Then he started talking about the ultimate goal of self-acceptance. Not an unfamiliar term, but one I didn’t want to think about just yet given all the good, the bad, and the ugly I shared with you earlier this summer. How could I return to the bottom of that well?
But within a few days I felt myself spiraling down. It seems silly now, but my feelings had been hurt and I became angry with someone I love. My immediate reaction was fight or flight. But after suffering through a sleepless night, I consciously decided to apply the strategies I’d just learned. I asked, “Who’s in charge? Who’s responsible for this anger, this resentment? Where does this pain reside? Whose voice do I hear?”
I turned off the head-chatter, adopted a more compassionate tone, and began talking to (and listening to) myself as I would a dear friend. I practiced true compassion, the kind you give someone you love. This exercise continued for at least an hour as I made my morning tea, stretched my back on the floor, loaded the washer, then the dryer. Slowly, the anger slid away and a renewal of spirit calmed me down. The word transformational might urge you to scoff, but that’s exactly what I felt, an epiphany of the heart.
Decision making isn’t always about emotional stuff like this. But, I do know these emotional impulses and reactions sneak up on us and we encounter them numerous times throughout the day. We’ve all started the day off in good spirits to only have it spoiled by the tone in someone’s voice or by a driver who cuts us off at the turn? By pausing for just a second instead of reacting with anger and fear, we offer ourselves (and others) time to apply these skills. Conscious self-compassion really works. If we’re willing to ask “who’s in charge?” we’ll see the situation from a larger perspective, one that sheds a brighter light.
These everyday, moment to moment, choices were not part of the discussion at Seton Cove, nor were they covered in our late-night conversation years ago in S’s apartment. But, I do know The Women of Chadbourne discovered a truth, something that resides at the essence of each of us. Even though we were young and naive, we understood the gravity and grace associated with making good decisions. We heard it simply because we listened.