Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we give careful thought to the way we interact with others so that our hearts always stay in the right place.
The podcast in which any impetus that is not pure joy is examined to make sure that we never lose sight of our “why”.
The podcast in which we look at life and death as two intertwined and related issues, because giving some thought about our relationship with death to make the most of our relationships in the moment.
My name is Lily Fields, and I’m going to be your Fairy Godmother for the next half-hour or so.
LiElla Kelly, Death Doula and your Wicked Stepsister will be here a little later in the episode, and what she has to talk to you about is intriguing and a little disturbing. But it is worth sticking around for!
In this week’s episode, we are going to be talking about Relationships. “Relationships” are one of the nineteen Ideal Life circles that form the exquisite Venn Diagrams of our lives. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been taking a look at that Venn Diagram, and how some of the circles overlap in ways unique to each of us. For example, we’ve looked at the overlaps of topics as varied as Sexuality and Spirituality, or Parenting and Keeping a Clean House, or Personal Style and Mental Health.
This theme, Relationships, is one of three that deal with other people and how they fit into our lives. There is the theme of Parenting, which we talked about in Episode 18, and Marriage, which we will talk about in Episode 28, our first episode back after the summer break. Relationship, vague as it sounds, is about any relationship with anyone outside of the people who live immediately in your household.
You may find this a little complicated and just want to have one circle on your Venn Diagram for Relationships, or on the other hand, you might want to break it down further to being about your work relationships, your relationships with your own parents…or any other important relationships in your life.
There is no right or wrong number of circles on your Venn Diagram. The important thing is that you actually take time each day to think about your Ideal Life and how it is going, concentrating on one circle at a time and asking yourself questions about it. We’ll review those questions at the end of the episode.
In My Ideal Life I am a Person Who:
In our effort to articulate our Ideal Life, I suggested that you respond to a prompt which says, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who.” This prompt doesn’t ask us to think about what we would be doing or what we have in our Ideal Life necessarily, but what kind of person we would be.
This is important because many of the things we dream of doing in our Ideal Lives, while they might be exciting and important, are limited by the kind of people we are. You know, winning a Noble Prize is great, but if we aren’t the kind of people who know how to work hard, and stay focused, then our dream is unattainable. I’m simplifying here, but you get the idea.
Saying In my Ideal Life, I have a friends who support me is great. But eventually, if after a long long time we end up with stunted and broken friendships, the question becomes, “who do I need to be to have friends who support me?”
That “who I need to be” is the line of thinking that we want to follow when we are thinking about Relationships.
Here are a few of my statements.
In my Ideal Life I am a person who:
- knows how to say “no”.
- doesn’t get caught up in other people’s drama.
- can listen without trying to find solutions.
- accepts a “no” without overanalyzing.
- doesn’t have to constantly entertain everyone.
- is on top of birthdays & anniversaries
- feels no need to make excuses when I want to leave.
- isn’t afraid to speak her mind out loud.
- knows that people who are angry are not necessarily angry at me.
- is thoughtful about gift giving.
- doesn’t immediately assume I’ve done something wrong when someone important wants to talk to me.
- stays in touch with the people I love.
Each one of us will come at this topic with our own shadowy darkness, and so I know that if you do not struggle with setting boundaries or with saying “no”, then everything that I am going to say over the next few minutes will go in one ear and out the other.
That’s fine. And, hey. If this is you, then I could probably use a few lessons on how to be confident and stop double and triple guessing myself in this area.
But if you, like me, struggle with boundaries and the vaguest possibility that you might disappoint someone, then let’s get started.
I’m not going to shock you here when I tell you that the overarching principle that should guide our Relationships, whether they are with our children, our spouse or anyone else, should always be the Golden Rule. In case you need a little reminder on what that Golden Rule says:
“Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do for others as you would want done for you”.
The simplicity of this gets lost in translation, however, when we find ourselves out-of-love with ourselves. It is incredibly hard to put love into action when our most intimate relationship–the one with ourselves–is built on self-judgment, self-criticism and self-loathing.
It literally does not compute, when you are someone who has no self-respect, that who you are is worth protecting by being careful about how much of yourself you give away.
I have gone through periods of my life when I have essentially handed over a pen to other people and let them fill in my calendar for me. Anything anyone asked me to do, I would say “yes,” because I DID NOT KNOW that I had a right to say no.
While from the outside this might sound like an altruist talking about how kind and generous she is, let me tell you that from the inside, it was a cauldron of guilt, anger, anxiety, exhaustion and frustration.
I’m probably going to end up saying this a dozen times today, but guilt is never a reason to do anything.
Guilt is a red flag. Guilt is a relational cancer that says, “I owe you something that I can’t repay, but I just have to keep trying.” The truth is, maybe I do, maybe I don’t. But it is a vicious cycle that robs us of our potential for joy: because we keep trying to repay–with our time, or our talent or our treasure–something that can’t be repaid. The futility of the whole enterprise leaves us feeling unhappy and unsatisfied.
The feeling of guilt should never be a reason to do anything.
Now, let me get down into the nitty gritty for a second here, because there is a feeling that manifests itself in a very similar way to guilt that we need to look at, but is something much healthier.
That is Duty.
Duty is a very important why that can be a reason for doing things we don’t want to do–duty is born out of compassion and a desire to contribute to improving something–for someone we love, or for a group, or animal, or a plant (as you will see later!) Compassion is a virtue, which the Philosopher Princess defines as “Love in Action.”
The way duty makes us act and the way guilt makes us act are ostensibly the same: they cause us to do things that we don’t necessarily really want to do.
Duty, however, as it takes its root not in a vicious cycle of indebtedness, but rather, in love, and more specifically, love in action, has the potential to bring us joy.
Just to kick up a little more dust on the topic: if we have convinced ourselves that we are acting out of Duty and not out of Guilt, then we need to consider something else: is the action we are contemplating actually our duty, or is it someone else’s that we have taken on unjustly?
As humans, we are very good at taking the temperature of Justice. When something feels unfair to us, we get uncomfortable. Sometimes, our role is not to deal with a situation directly, because maybe we simply are not equipped to handle it. But our role might be to take the situation to people who can deal with it. In this case, the best, most compassionate course of action is to get someone involved who can do something.
Guilt is the worst possible reason to do anything.
Here’s why. Let’s go back to the Golden Rule: do for others as you would want done for you.
Guilt is a dirty little secret that can, after the fact, rot a relationship. We’ll talk about secrets in a second.
If the only reason I can find to do something is guilt, then I need to learn how to impose a boundary..
That means, I need to learn how to disappoint. I need to learn how to say “no”. Likewise, if I want things done for me with joy, then I need to uncover joy-filled whys to be my impetus for my actions.
In a future episode, when we talk about Commitments, I will come back to the idea that we must only commit to things that make us feel alive.
Learning how to resist and decline commitments that leave us tepid is a whole thing. But the number one rule is that Guilt is never a reason to do anything. Our incessant need to repay someone for a debt–real or imagined– that we cannot humanly repay is a self-worth problem. Guilt is evidence of a self-esteem issue. I’ll come back to this in a second, but first:
So how does the Golden Rule fit into this? Because consider this: if in your dealings with other people, you knew that they were tepid and were only acting out of a place of guilt, how would that hit you? I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be something that you would love knowing. Knowing that someone is only helping you because they don’t respect themselves enough to draw a boundary? Or that they feel like they owe you something?
A system of indebtedness does not a healthy relationship make.
In this, then, if we want to do for others as we want done for us, we need to be clear with ourselves as to why we are taking any specific action, and, whenever possible, we need to make sure that our why is from a positive place. Love is always a good place to start from.
If you struggle with saying “no”, then may I humbly suggest that you need to start loving yourself better. You might need some counseling to help you get down to the root of your feeling of eternal indebtedness and your need to please. Please, if this is a point of struggle for you, get help.
Do not spend all of your life handing over a permanent marker to others to fill in your calendar for you, doing things you don’t want to do and that just make you feel unhappy.
Time is the one resource you will never get any more of. Use it wisely.
Getting counseling is a wise use of your time.
My family lives in a smallish apartment on the fourth floor of a five-story apartment building. There are 35 units in our building.
Our building is from the 1950s, designed by a student of Le Corbusier, and is on the register of historic landmarks. It was and has always been public housing–our entire neighborhood in this little town in France, was destroyed during the second World War, and new housing was needed, and quickly. There were lots of ideas at the time about how public housing could, theoretically, at least, beautiful.
Our building is beautiful in a 1950s kind of way. But having been built quickly during housing boom, it quickly fell into disrepair. In the mid-aughts, there was a project to renovate it.
At the time, there were people living in the building, and most of them moved out. Only one person stayed through the renovation.
He was an older man. Polite, courteous, discreet person, always nicely dressed. I was always impressed that he loved this building so much that he was willing to put up with more than two years of construction work to be able to continue living here.
Long story longer. I was in town a few years ago, and ran across him. He was smoking a cigarette when I saw him, and he quickly moved to hide the cigarette when we greeted one another, as if he was embarrassed by it. I’m not offended by smokers as a general rule, but I thought that this was just one more way in which he was trying to be discreet.
“Shhh,” he said to me; confidentially about the cigarette. “This is our little secret.”
“Your secret is safe with me,” I replied.
Well. The years passed, and he died a little more than a month ago. I’m rather certain his passing had nothing to do with cigarettes, by the way. He was just a very very old man.
About two weeks ago, his children came to the building to start emptying out his apartment. I didn’t know this, however, not at first, at least.
What I noticed was that the hallways of our building were filled, absolutely thick with the stale smell of cigarettes. It was overwhelming.
It turned out that as his children were emptying out the apartment, they had to put his furniture into the elevator to get it down to their U-Haul. Every piece of his furniture had been saturated by the smell of cigarette smoke.
What had once been a “dirty little secret” was out in the open now, and it took over the whole building for days.
I have all kinds of thoughts about this, but one of them seems particularly important to our discussion of relationships: When we arrive at the end of our lives, people will remember us according to the kind of relationship we had with them, certainly.
In this case, he was a nice enough neighbor, discreet and courteous. But my last memory of him is of this terrible, awful smell that filled our building for days. His “secret” tainted what could have been a nearly flawless legacy.
I don’t judge him for smoking, it doesn’t make him any less kind or courteous. But I will always remember that smell when I think of him.
When it comes to relationships, secrets stink. Especially secrets that we feel compelled to keep wrapped up tightly. At some point, they will eek out and, even if they don’t destroy the relationship, which some secrets could, they can leave an unpleasant memory in their wake.
When it comes to Relationships, please consider this: knowing yourself and being lucid, honest and transparent about where you are not living up to your Ideal Life can help you deal with those secrets so that they don’t cause damage later.
We have previously talked about how carrying around undealt with anger from season to season of our lives distances us from the source of the original anger–leaving us irritable and uncomfortable, but without an immediate cause.
May I humbly suggest that the same is true with secrets. Secrets that we keep about ourselves and our own lack of virtue are damaging enough, in the way that they impact our behaviors and our reactions.
Over time–and over generations–this can be compounded as “Family Secrets,” the details of which are lost, but the impact can still be felt.
A great-grandparent who had a child out of wedlock, which at the time was a gigantic shame on the family name. A great great grandparent who had two families and attempted to hide it.
Those kinds of secrets forge deep ruts in the psyches of a family. We cannot undo the secrets of the past, but we can keep new secrets from effecting the generations that follow us.
Again. Counseling is a way to tease out some of the damage done by secrets from the past. Resolving the conflicts that secrets cause can ease our relationships now.
And Relationships are what we were here to talk about in the first place.
Bringing it into the now
All right. So I have made this sound pretty dire, haven’t I? Two topics in the realm of relationships that are not very joyful: learning to set boundaries and dealing with secrets that rot our relationships.
But I do want to give us some hope.
Remember I told you about the old neighbor who died? Well, something that happened while his children were moving out his things was that they left a number of things by the dumpster. These were items they esteemed to be of no value, but apparently they couldn’t be bothered to actually put the items in the dumpster.
So these items just sat there for days and days.
One of these items was a plant. It was a kind of palm-tree-ish kind of thing. Over the course of the days it was by the dumpster, someone actually took the pot it had been living in, leaving this poor plant to die a lonely death next to the dumpster.
One day last week, after seeing it for the nth day in a row, my husband said to me, “I just can’t stand seeing that plant like that.”
I happened to have seen it that very day. I had given it some thought, too, but didn’t think we had a single pot to put it in. Besides, that thing was nearly dead.
“I can’t stand it either, but what can we do?” I replied.
My husband went down to our basement storage unit and rummaged around until he found an old Ikea pot. I had completely forgotten about it–I hadn’t seen it in more than 10 years!
He brought up the plant, which really looked pretty pathetic. We prepared the pot together, putting some stones the scalawags had gathered in the park at the bottom for drainage, and then some unwashably filthy wool from a fleece I had been given recently. Our veggie composter had yielded several liters of really great compost, so he threw that in, too. My husband lovingly placed the plant in the pot, filled it in with regular potting soil.
He took the plant to its new home out in our beautiful hallway, and then he watered it.
It was kind of a solemn moment. The compassion with which my husband had invested in that rather ugly, scraggly potted plant moved me.
Life deserves better than to dry out and shrivel up from lack of care. Relationships are the care that keep people from drying out and shriveling up.
Not all of our relationships need the equivalent of a daily watering. Some might be just a one-time experience, like the stones in the bottom of a pot for drainage. Or the wool. Those stones have a story, and they will remain in that pot forever. The wool will likely disintegrate over time, but it has a part to play in the story of the resurrection of this plant, too. There will be more veggie compost in years to come, but it won’t be for a long time.
When you think about your relationships, consider this: what role do you play? Is that relationship a daily or weekly part of your life? Is it a yearly investment you make? Is it a once in a lifetime, but unfading part? Is it something that you enjoyed once and can let fade into memory?
The next morning, my husband and I eagerly snuck out into the hallway to check on our new little friend. It had perked up nicely. It still wasn’t a beautiful plant. But it was alive, its leaves were no longer droopy.
It was such a touching reminder of how little it takes to cultivate life. I caught myself wishing that all Relationships were so easy. They aren’t, and I know that. I’m not naive. People are not nearly as easy to deal with as plants. I mean, people are prickly, they have their pride and their annoying habits and they sometimes chew loudly.
But the lesson I walked away with is this: when investing in a relationship brings us joy, and we invest with the tools and treasure we have available to us, everyone comes away more alive.
Wicked Stepsister: Relationship With Death
I love to talk about things that bring life, I’m not going to hide that. And one of the things that I truly believe brings life, is to consider our death–how we want to be remembered after we die and then living our lives in such a way as to be remembered that way.
Well, LiElla Kelly, your wicked stepsister, is also a Death Doula, meaning that she accompanies people who are facing end-of-life issues.
Today, she draws a direct line between relationships and death. And it is a doozy.
With that…LiElla, the floor is yours!
Let’s start with something deeply unpleasant, perhaps a bit gruesome…corpse meditation. What pray tell, is corpse meditation? Whatever you’re imaging probably isn’t too far off. Corpse meditation is mostly practiced in Thailand and Southeast Asia by Buddhist Monks. It’s a practice of death awareness, a meditation on death with the goal of improving your relationship with death. The ideas is that deepening your appreciation of mortality will lessen anxiety associated with death and enhance engagement with life. A monk who is a practitioner of corpse meditation has this to say:
“We are obsessed with externals. No one wants to see the internals. But we try to see them in an equal light, neither delighting nor being repelled by the attractive or unattractive signs of the external or internal.” He further explains, “Corpse contemplation, or corpse meditation would be just literally meditating on a picture of a dead body, or a body at one of the actual stages of decomposition.”
Alrighty then, that is one way to improve your relationship with death. Though corpse meditation isn’t meant to be macabre or morbid, the idea of contemplating a decomposing corpse is a significant departure from our western culture that has been socialized to avoid death. So let’s put this into a context that we westerners can better relate to. Terror Management Theory. Admittedly, the word ‘terror’ doesn’t instill much confidence. But Terror Management Theory, and this is very simplified, is a fancy way to explain the relationship that many of us have with death. It stems from the idea that we have an inner conflict whereby our instinct for self-preservation collides with our understood inevitability of death, leading us to develop coping mechanisms such as avoidance and escapism.
As you know, healthy relationships aren’t based on avoidance and escapism. In an attempt to improve our relationship, how can we engage with death in a way that aligns with our values and is relatively comfortable for us, at least more comfortable than spending time up close and personal with a decomposing corpse? We could start here: Death Awareness, or the recognition of our own impermanence. Consider these statements:
Just like everyone, I age.
Just like everyone, I get sick
Just like everyone, I suffer loss.
Just like everyone, I fall victim to accidents.
Just like everyone, I die.
This exercise encourages us to recognize that death is an even playing field. When it comes to mortality, no matter who we are, where we live, our bank accounts or our culture, the mortality rate for the human species remains at a whopping 100%.
Now that we’ve recognized that we’re all in the same boat, we can advance our relationship with our eventual death by planning for the future. Here are 5 strategies that I recently found in an article…and since I am your wicked step-sister, and we’ve been hanging out, these ideas may sound familiar.
1. Take care of your paperwork—you know, advance directives, end-of-life planning…that stuff.
2. Continue to improve your comfort with your mortality. Ponder questions like, If I had little time left, what would I do and why?
3. Talking About Death Won’t Kill You! Have conversations with others about what you’ve learned and plans you’ve made. Normalize the conversation.
4. Consider your vision of Good Death. That sounds an awful lot like, “In my ideal death, I am a person who what?”
5. Make a plan to go out in style. Investigate your options, educate yourself and find the practices that align with your own personal beliefs and style.
Once we get through that entire checklist and our relationship with death has gotten to a place of relative comfort, here’s something kind of fun that you can explore…Memento mori. In Latin it means, “remember that you will die” or “remember to die”. Memento mori comes in all sorts of artistic and symbolic forms. It became very popular between the 16th and 18th centuries, appearing on tombs, in paintings, church walls and jewelry. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find depictions all over the place. Who knows? You may be surrounded by reminders of death and not even realize it. Start looking around and see what you can find, and then maybe you could start talking about it because as you know, talking about death won’t kill you…I promise.
Thank you so much, LiElla. You know, just last week, I was explaining the concept of Memento Mori to my little boys–because they got it into their head that skulls were reserved only for Halloween and for pirate flags. I got lost on a tangent about poor Yorick with them before I realized I had perhaps gone too far.
But you’re right. We need to be on the lookout for these things…and they definitely won’t kill us!
All right. Let’s take a minute to review the four questions we ask for each of our Ideal Life Categories, on the theme of Relationships.
What is working?: Are you able to keep a good balance in your relationships? Or maybe you had some time to be with some of your friends in a way that brought you a ton of joy. That is fantastic!
What isn’t working?: Is there an imbalance in some of your friendships that is making you feel uncomfortable? Are you struggling with saying “no”? Or have you been feeling guilty lately in your relationships? This is part of the process–but don’t stop there. Get curious about this.
Things to consider: Where is that imbalance coming from? Do you want a relationship more than your friend is willing to give? Or, do you have a hard time telling your grandmother “no” when she asks you over for lunch for the third time this week? Keep asking yourself “why” until you get to something you can act on. Are there times when you are mistaking Duty and Guilt? Take a deep dive into those relationships.
Things to do: If, in general, you struggle in relationships, it might be time for you to get started working on yourself: How can you start loving yourself so that your relationships are built on a healthy foundation? Get Counseling. It can only help.
I know that, for an episode about Relationships, I didn’t actually talk much about relationships.
We only bring to a relationship the time we have, the talent and interests we have, and the resources we have. We cannot bring what we do not have.
Do not allow yourself to feel indebted because what you have is not sufficient for the other party in a relationship. This will lead to you feeling guilty about something you cannot control.
No one has a right to take from our resources of time, talent and treasure without our permission. Loving and respecting yourself is the first step in learning to say “no”.
When you get to a place where you love and respect yourself, all the other aspects of relationships–and especially the Golden Rule–will start to make sense.
I believe in you. I believe in your ability to invest who you are in making this world a better place, and that your Relationships are one way you will make that happen. First, things first, though, my dear: You must love yourself before you can love others.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too!
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your Fairy Godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking Points: Setting boundaries in relationships; the destructive power of secrets in relationships; investing our resources in relationships does not mean bankrupting ourselves.
Episode 26: is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Spiritual Life.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!
Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website and blog, Leaving Well…The Blog. or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.