Esuba

In the broadest sense, there are two competing qualities which arise from time to time in all of our relationships. When the transactions we have with those around us are ones which meet our needs such that we feel safe and satisfied, we experience Shalom. When those transactions are ones which fail to provide for us and others such that we feel hurt, we experience Esuba. When we address the Esuba and resolve the circumstances which cause the harm, Shalom is naturally restored.

When I was in my twenties, my dog, Henry, and I, with four of our friends, "did" Hunter Island in Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario just north of Ely, Minnesota. In the maze of glacier dug lakes that is the park, there are two points on Lake Sagonagons that drain to the west. These two rivers come back together many miles away in Lac La Croix. The area in between is Hunter Island."Doing Hunter Island" is a matter of circumnavigating the area between those rivers and lakes.

We completed a two week trip carrying all of our food and gear. It took the first couple of days to get the loads balanced between the two canoes, but by day four as we headed up Kawnipi we were into a rhythm. When we got out into the open water, the wind came up confronting us head on.

When canoeing, especially with a heavily loaded canoe on a lake, wind is a curse. You have to keep the canoe straight into the wind. If you get only a few degrees off, the wind will catch the canoe and spin it broadside and then try to turn you over. There was no place to rest. Stopping would only push us back and possibly swamp us. We paddled on for hours.

It was probably about 7:00 P.M. when we got to the island that was our destination. We unloaded the canoes, gathered firewood and started a fire for dinner, set up the canoes as a camp table, set up the tents, and while the water was coming to a boil for dinner I pulled out my personal pack, pulled off my soggy boots, and put on dry socks.

Ah, dry socks. What a glorious feeling.

There is a word for that feeling...for that quality in our lives.

I have a coffee cup in my consulting room that has shalom emblazoned on it in both English and Hebrew. Beneath the word is a quote from Isaiah about turning swords into plowshares. We tend to think of the word as a synonym for peace but it is actually much more than the absence of war or conflict. Shalom is about there being enough, distributed to everyone. It is about a sense of well-being and confidence about the future. It is about wholeness and fulfillment.

As I pulled on my dry socks I felt a deep sense of shalom.

We tend to think of objects as having qualities--they can be blue, or heavy, or old--but we less frequently notice that relationships between objects also have qualities. The quality of shalom that arose for me as I pulled on the dry socks was not so much about the socks or even about my cold and wrinkled feet as about the relationship between the socks and my feet.

Bring to mind a time when you had an experience of shalom. Allow yourself a few moments to bring to mind a time in your life when you felt deeply safe and satisfied and that all was right with the world. If you have been able to bring such a time to mind, you are also probably aware that such experiences can be fleeting.

After dinner when we had finished washing the dishes and had laid them out on the rocks to dry, the wind shifted and we retreated into the tent. That cold north wind was mean.

Just as we experience shalom, there is also a kind of anti-shalom that arises as a quality of our relationships. I have searched for a good word to capture this but all of our words for such unpleasantness come with a moralistic tone I want to avoid. So for the purposes of this conversation, I will call the quality in a relationship where there isn't enough or where we don't feel safe esuba.

You have probably been with a group of friends having a great time and then something happened which brought everybody down. Perhaps someone joined you who was an esuba generator. We all know people who just give off esuba anywhere they go. It rolls off them like a fog. Like the cloud of dust around Pigpen[1], these people have tension follow them around.

Perhaps you are aware that, from time to time, you yourself become an esuba generator. You may just be having a bad day, but those around you can't escape the fact that you are bringing them down; you are bringing the quality of esuba into the relationship.

Even when we have the best of intentions we can unwittingly become an esuba generator. When I handed the packet of tissues to the woman at the retreat[2], I was consciously working to create shalom. I wanted her to feel safe and accepted. But, instead, what I did caused her to feel rejected. My action created esuba in my relationship with her and her response spread it around the room. We want to create more and more experiences of shalom and yet all of our relationships experience esuba.

One other thing to note: I put on dry socks almost every morning. But the feeling of shalom that arises for me is not like what it was that evening many years ago on an island at the north end of Lake Kawnipi. The shalom which is greatest is created out of the deepest esuba.

We tend not to want to notice when esuba is arising in our relationships with others. We make up all kinds of excuses for not paying attention. Mostly we don't think there is anything that we can do about it so we try "not to let it bother us."

If I am walking down the street and kick up a rock and it gets into my shoe, the rock will irritate my foot. I can say to myself, "There is no rock in my shoe." I can say, "It isn't a very big rock." I can say, "I don't have very far to go." But none of these things will alter in the tiniest bit the effect which the rock is having on my foot.

When I acknowledge there is a rock in my shoe and it is harming me I already have the technology for solving the problem. I sit down on the curb, take off my shoe, and let the rock out. But I don't take my shoe off unless and until I acknowledge the rock.

I notice the rock because of the esuba it is generating in my experience. If we want shalom, we have to notice the esuba and address it. When we have addressed the esuba, shalom arises.

Esuba is abuse spelled backwards. Abuse is a quality of a choice which results in harm.


[1] A character from the comic strip "Peanuts" who was always dirty and surrounded by a cloud of dust

[2] A reference to a story in the Introduction

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