The Art of Collaboration

“It is essential that you become transparent to yourself and wake up from this madness. Zazen means taking leave of the group and walking on your own two feet.” — Kodo Sawaki Roshi

Like any marriage, mine was only as strong as the people involved. One weakness I brought to the union was an inability and a resistance to standing on my own two feet. I wanted to be taken care of, and this became more true after I learned what the world of working for someone else was like. After my baby died, the desire to be taken care of was practically pathological.

To myself I put it another way: I did not want to participate in a world as painful as ours is, and that withdrawal meant, by default, that someone else would have to participate on my behalf.

Affluence and motherhood make a difficult mix in the contemporary world. Motherhood finds itself in the strange position of being objectified without truly being honored, respected, and supported for what it is. Affluence, with its false sense of security, lulls certain mothers into a kind of paralysis that does not always serve them well when circumstances such as illness, death, divorce, or economic decline arise.

I know: few tears will be shed for the affluent mother, but, in fact, she is birthing and raising some of the world’s most potentially resourced humans. To help her do her job joyfully is to help the world be a better a place.

In my case, the insanity was temporary. I realized, several years before the marriage was in its death throes, that I needed to find a way to stand on my own two feet. Unfortunately, I had created in myself a sort of learned helplessness from which it has taken nearly a decade to emerge.

Today I am pleased to report that whatever the co-dependent mess my marriage had become, we (that would be my ex-husband and myself) have achieved our independence from one another with a minimum of rancor and a similar, if not shared, vision for the sweet, juicy fruits of our marriage (those would be our children).

The trouble is, being human, there is no final solution. I thought standing on my own two feet would save my marriage when in fact ending my marriage was the means and not the end. And if I subconsciously thought that standing on my own two feet would at times be lonely, and thus a reason to avoid it, I was right. It is also sometimes easy to forget the special loneliness of proximity, especially when someone who once loved you no longer does.

My error was thinking I could find a way out. That loneliness has a cure. It does and it doesn’t. Most of loneliness is attitudinal–something inside of us that gives us reasons, excuses, and motivations for living the way that we do. An endless search for solutions and the next right thing is its own trap. It’s like a dog chasing its tail, which is a specific kind of being stuck.

My children now, irony of ironies, call me a workaholic–a phrase I used against their father, and used with contempt. So the next task for me is to learn to “take a load off” or maybe find a healthy way to “lean on someone.” Taking a load off reminds me of a soldier setting down a dusty pack with a thump, while leaning on someone brings to mind a softer scene of two people, one positioned higher than the other. I don’t like it.

What about another choice, one in which two or more people work towards the creation of a third thing? That we call collaboration. Each person stands on her own two feet, perhaps taking a load off as necessary, or maybe finding someone to lean on from time to time, but together stretching their hands towards a new creation.

I’m prone to thinking in romantic ideals as opposed to practical realities, so there may be a flaw in my thinking. I may, underneath it all, think collaboration is a final solution to this problem called being human.

The exciting part is that now I’m testing it. In the spirit of life’s a big experiment, Alison Wong, a San Francisco-based illustrator, has agreed to create original, images for my blog.

Collaboration requires a certain amount of trust and workflow coordination. In order for Alison to do her work, I must do mine in a timely fashion and be a good communicator. Then, I get to let go and let her do what she does best.

Collaboration can then become something larger than the sum of the parts. Each of us brings with her a world of worlds in the form of relationships and resources. Who knows what will come of it?

What it comes down to is that life is dynamic. The quest to find a way to live requires much trial and many errors. We will always be finding and trying something new, and life will always be uncertain. There is no solution. As much as that scares me, I know that uncertainty and ambiguity are what make life fresh and interesting.

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This article was originally published at annacolibri.com and republished here with permission from Anna Colibri.

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