I’d been thinking about Norm Lee just recently. On the seventh of March, 2010 I sent him an email asking to subscribe to his newsletter. Five days later I received an email from him. It read, in part:
Okay, you’re included on the nsltr list. you happy? For the week following your email, I haven’t been able to do a lick of email work – AND IT’S YOUR FAULT. Engrossed as I’ve been with reading your stuff, I’ve kept wondering if there is an end to this wonderful tunnel of love & freedom. Lovit, lovit, lovit! Where did you get the devotion-to-kids, the insights, the compassion, the courage to be so open and vulnerable and brave the brickbats that are inevitably visited upon anyone as free? I’ve worked on it for more than the last half of my life (I’m 81), and I just get stronger and more dedicated. But then, I’m a trained Buddhist (Bodhisattva), with 40 years of daily meditation practice, so slings and arrows are just slings and arrows, nothing personal, nothing more.
I believe I love you. (So much for training in detachment.)
I remember how I felt reading this email. It was kind of a Big Deal at the time. First, I felt glad that someone out there in the Ether, an experienced parent and grandparent at that, supported my husband and I in trying to raise our kids without coercion and violence. There was light at the end of the tunnel, there was a mentor saying, “You can do it!”, and that meant a lot. Because believe me I am surrounded culturally and personally by adults who either flat-out denigrate these aspirations or at the very least, have a complete ignorance as to how to live them or what life is like when you try.
I appreciated Norm’s support; but I also knew I wasn’t where he was at – and I envied him. His sentence, “slings and arrows are just slings and arrows, nothing personal, nothing more” stuck with me. Ever since. I knew what he wrote was true for him, and I knew I wanted it to be true for me. It was a truth in my head but not in my heart. At the time I had recently received my first “anonymous” hater online. And despite handling it okay, maybe, I perceived other people’s opinions of me mattered too much. While critics, either directly criticizing or implicitly shaming, had sometimes helped me a great deal, I also knew they could upset my little happy-rowboat. It’s not an exaggeration to say I let other people keep me awake at night.
Today I also know slings and arrows are just slings and arrows. I know it is nothing personal. And I know it in my heart. My change didn’t come from Norm’s email and it didn’t come entirely from practicing Buddhism (although both of those things helped) – and it didn’t come overnight. My life is very different now. It’s a wonderful thing.
It is possible to arrive at this place; and having arrived, to practice the principles that give us this grace.
As for non-punitive parenting, I still get it wrong sometimes. But I get better and better at leaving that way of life for others. Sometimes I get a few days in a row being a nurturing, present parent. Today I’m content with my commitment to the practice, and I’m grateful for those who do better than I. They are my mentors.
Today there is not much a critic can say to upset my rowboat. Thank you, Norm, and the many others who’ve helped me and continue to help me.