Spring 2008

Dear Catherine,
My son is involved in a very passionate relationship of continual high drama and struggle, and he seems deeply unhappy. However, he thinks he is madly in love. I do not like or trust his girlfriend and I dread the day that he announces his intention to marry her or that she becomes pregnant with his child. Here is the problem: my son wants my approval of her and is always telling me about her positive attributes (none of which are obvious to me). I have managed to refrain from telling him what I think, but I sense that he wants me to explicitly commend his choice. It is not that I am the jealous mother. I adored his last girlfriend, but apparently she was not exciting enough for him. I have always stood by my son’s side and have been his champion in every other way. In this situation, I am having a hard time supporting him and am very worried.
A mother

Dear Mother,
Refraining from comment seems wise. There is no need to verbally condemn the girlfriend to your son, but there is also no need to feign approval. Your silence on the matter will be noticed and may give your son some pause and, at the least, not cause any separation between you. It is the most gentle path to both maintain your integrity and to keep the peace between you. Other than that, I recommend letting go of the worry about the possible outcomes of his relationship since it is not in your hands.
Catherine

Dear Catherine,
I have a friend who is accident-prone. She is always having car accidents, losing her wallet, losing her house keys, getting lost, leaving car and house doors unlocked, and breaking things. I suppose she has something like Attention Deficit Disorder. When she is at my house or I am at hers, I notice that I don’t feel safe – as if she could cause the house to burn down by leaving the gas on and lighting something, or any number of other possibilities too numerous to imagine. She is a good person and we are close friends, but I always have a sense of unease in her presence. How can I maintain our friendship? I have sometimes become exasperated with her mishaps and have spoken to her about them, but that only serves to make her more nervous and less attentive – and she gets it from all sides, in all her relationships and at work – so I feel bad about being yet another person who is on her case about how spaced out she is.
W.W.

Dear W.W.,
When it comes to relationships of all kinds, I always recommend finding the appropriate spacial distance. That is to say, to discover how much time spent in the other person’s physical company is the optimum amount for maintaining the relationship at its best. It is unrealistic to think that we should be able to be in the company of every person we love for long stretches of time. There may be some, of course, with whom that is the case. But there may be others for whom we have enormous regard and affection but are not able to be in the same room with for long periods without feelings of discord or discomfort. There may even be some whom we love but would prefer to rarely, if ever, see in person. Too often we place pressure on ourselves to be beyond our capabilities, and we ignore the needs of our own body chemistry. Your body is having a stress response of nervousness around your friend. Without the slightest lack of love on your part, you may want to consider limiting the time you spend with her to the amount of time it is comfortable for you to maintain vigilance about your physical safety – just as you might limit driving on a freeway after the point that you become tired.
Catherine

Dear Catherine,
I don’t seem to have any beliefs in religion, mysticism, reincarnation, or anything that provides meaning and gives comfort. From what I have read and heard of you, you are a rational type of spiritual teacher. What would you advise for someone like me as a way of making sense of this world and all the horrible things that occur in it and the pointlessness of existence?
A.L.

Dear A.L.,
Leave aside the big questions about meaning and purpose and leave aside also your focus on pointlessness. Let your senses be awake and untroubled by any need to unravel the cosmic mysteries. Instead, let your awareness float simply in the wonder of your own existence (surely enough of a mystery itself) and focus on the occurrence of things in present time. Enjoy the little things throughout the day and try to be a bit helpful to others. In this way, your life passes gently and you step lightly on the earth while you are here. There is no need and probably no possibility of understanding the whys and wherefores of existence.
Catherine