My mother's side of the family had an incredibly dominant, accomplished patriarch who believed that he knew best—in every situation, for everyone. I grew up resenting him for the tortuous hold he had on my mother's heart and psyche and the way he manipulated the power of his intelligence along with guilt and shame and humiliation and money to hold sway over others.
Growing up around that living Greek tragedy, the last thing I ever wanted to be was "like grandpa." After all, I'm a free spirit, a seeker, a respecter of autonomy and a lover of personal freedom—a dyed in the wool card-carrying Noninterventionist. But let's stare into the mirror and recall an observation my friend Janis made in the middle of a ski trip when we were still 20-something: "You have such strong beliefs but you don't present them as opinions, you state them as the ultimate Truth." I brushed off her comment with the lame comeback that it just feels ultimate...in that moment!" But I had no trouble seeing her point. Oh my God, I am my grandfather's granddaughter. This is such bad news.
Byron Katie said it best: When we move into the territory of judging what other people should do and start driving their bus, we abandon our own bus. What an easy thing to visualize, stepping out of our own life and leaving it totally unmanned to pitch and careen—or just sit there idle.
After decades of classes and workshops and therapy and real-world lessons, I can still feel the pull to take over someone else's bus. As I freely admitted in one women's group setting: "Trying to run my husband's life in the name of spiritual coaching doesn't change the fact that I'm telling my husband what to do." It took a long time for the howls of laughter to die down. We can all relate to that pitfall because it's far too tough to deal with our own shit and far too easy to see what someone else needs.
My friend Helen always talks about her daughters as "the adults who were once my children." This woman happens to be a very young 83-year-old so those "kids" are all over 50 with grown children of their own. When I told her how much it made me laugh every time I heard her say those words, she assured me that it was anything but a joke. "I need that constant reminder of my place in their lives. Just ask them."
It's especially tempting to run our grown children's lives because, let's face it, they were once our babies and that's what parents do. I was talking about this very thing with my friend Teri, who is way more authoritarian and outspoken than I could ever be. (No, seriously, she is.) I told her that my youngest is the one who just blurts out in no uncertain terms, "Back off, bitch!" when I've crossed the line. (Granted, "bitch" is implied and never spoken—well almost never. She did call me a Travel Bitch in a moment of exasperation in the Atlanta airport and that moniker gets dusted off and bandied back and forth now and then. It's our way of lifting tensions and lightening the mood.) Teri said her youngest was also the one who draws a hard line. Apparently, mother hens tend to keep the last little ones under wing far too long.
Byron Katie and every therapist and sage who has ever lived are so very right about staying in our own bus. Looking back over the landscape of my past, the times I have been most tempted to jump into another driver's seat are the very times when I am failing to do my own work.
"I'm stalled out and unhappy with myself, but let's fix your life so I can feel better."
But there's a deeper truth at play here: Nothing inspires and encourages and empowers everyone around us like doing our own work. Think about it, who moves and inspires you to action? People who constantly nag and tell you what to do or the ones who are walking the walk—right up the road, people just like you?
I love this image of "my bus" because it feels so aligned with my present state of being. And don't be fooled by appearances. This baby has seen a lot of miles but the tires are all-season and brand new, the engine is in sterling condition, and nothing has rusted out that really matters. We're in it for the long haul, wherever that might take us. And yes, I do realize that I'm not visible right now behind the wheel. Just had to stop for a moment at this funky little art center to use the restroom—the price paid for being faithful to the incredibly healthy dedication to 3 liters-or-more daily hydration—but we'll be on the road again in no time.
Watch for us!