This past year I went through a challenging time with one of my children: butting heads, misunderstanding, hurt. Ugh.
I felt scared and discouraged and sad. I felt ground down, tired. I felt frustrated how, despite my intentions, the conflict was there in the first place. As time went on, I noticed how the pain began to close down my heart.
Perhaps what I most wanted was to have the same certainty and power I had when my children were babes: to hold them close, to wipe away their hurt and soothe their pain with a snuggle and my sure arms and my warm milk and make everything okay, both in their own world, and in between us.
But it was not so.
In truth, I was dying – both to my self images and my desire for control. And in this death, I was grieving. I was mourning the loss of my power, the ability to make everything right and ordered in my child’s world, and in mine.
So I found myself on my knees, surrendering to make room for this wrestling match between our hearts, feeling how all my attempts to do something were not working.
After my tears, I would sit in the quiet, in a space of no answers, no fixing, no grasping for a solution, and wait. And wait. And wait, listening for the still voice of guidance that lies in a sheltered space underneath my mind’s ideas of what “should be so.”
I receive many vulnerable emails from men and women who long for healing with sugar or food. They feel a similar urgency and frustration that I was experiencing. They, too, long for resolution, a healing, and are reaching out to speed this quickening.
When we struggle with something, it’s often our first instinct to move to fix it. Of course – we long for relief. So if you’re bingeing on sugar or food, you want to solve it (the perceived problem) so that the accompanying pain can disappear. We seek advice for something that we can do, something to give us a feeling of power, volition, and control.
But “problems” are not asking to be fixed. Perhaps the painful relationships in our lives – including our relationship with food – are asking for what my relationship with my child was asking from me: a pause, a stillness, an invitation, a listening.
I understand: this is often not what we want to hear. It is humbling, frightening, and lonely to do this, to be in pain or discord and not push for a solution. It means facing and feeling the vulnerability of the painful situation in which we find ourselves.
Not doing also goes against much of our cultural myths about power, individualism, and responsibility. It pricks our buttons of anxiety, shame, and the belief that “I should’ve been able to prevent this from happening.” This belief can be especially strong in the conscientious and spiritually oriented.
So stillness takes a particular form of courage, a radical acceptance, and a different form of individuality, an honoring of what our deeper heart knows is true.
Relationships – with sugar, with food, with ourselves, with another – are not puzzles to solve. They are full of mystery and depth. Sometimes we are called to stop our activity and attempts to make things better. To wait. To listen. To allow the Mystery to reveal itself, rather than trying to force its flow.
Poet Mark Nepo once wrote that listening is an “invitation to be changed.” So listening, too, is a death: a death to our certainty, our sense of rightness, our self images, to the narrowed perspective that we cling to as truth.
But this is not the end, for listening is also a birth. It is the midwife of growth, a deeper, broader, and more inclusive understanding, a wide acceptance of the whole of life, and often a wise action that lies beneath the desire for power and control – an action that heretofore had been veiled to us in the noise and confusion of judgment and doing.
Lately, as I listen to my child, I feel my rigidity softening and feel the stirring of caring. I remember times of holding this dear being as a tiny babe, as a young one, as a precocious 8 year old. I feel my heart soften, and the tension and hurt burns, and in this burning, it begins to dissolve. I take the steps, one at a time, home to my child’s heart.
So where does today find you? If you’re feeling stuck, in a season of winter with food or sugar, and you feel that urgent frustration that drives you to do and fix, I invite you to heed winter’s wisdom, and rest. Tend your fires, the hearth of your heart. Pull up a chair and brew a cup of tea. Sit for a spell, and ask to hear your own story, to hear your own cravings, echoed back to you.
Draw nigh. Hold your cravings close as the small tender children that they are, and see if you discover a fresh understanding that leads you to spring.
See if something in you becomes changed in the listening.
This is so hard, isn’t it, my friend! I really struggle too when I’m clashing with one of my children—my son won’t wake up in the morning, he won’t stop pestering his sister, my daughter won’t quit getting under his skin, neither will back down, etc. ☹
You had every right to feel discouraged and sad—especially when you’d tried so hard to mitigate the conflict. When our hearts are such a depended-upon tool that we employ to reach out with and help others through their hard times and chasms, it does feel frustrating when our help is not accepted in a way we hoped it would be appreciated—especially when to us, what we have to share is a wonderful answer. I mean, “Who wouldn’t want my loving tender snuggle, sure arms, and warm milk? Especially, when this is my gift; My most loving ace-like remedy, a piece of My soul that I know can and should be able to soothe, restore, comfort.
This is so profound and true. I’m seeing this in my children too. In my heart, I feel like I might know how I can help my oldest with her college applications, but there is a limit to that which I can encourage—and then her resistance pushes me back to a place of surrendering observation to, just wait and see, what she’ll choose to do. I can feel your pain and can so appreciate the humility connected with this idea of “surrendering to make room for [a] wrestling match”—something that seems to conflict and something we wish we could have dispelled entirely.
I’ve heard wisdom that says, “. . . reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon . . .” and for years I’d thought this meant with strong force. Then, it was my dad who explained to me that this idea of sharpness meant—in a way that is, wise,—as inspired by divinity, rather than harshness, enabling my parenting words to resonate with each specific one of my children’s hearts, individually; so they can have the capacity to hear, without esteeming me to be their enemy.
With my oldest a senior, as you know, there is a new expense, practically every week. I still have her unfilled order form for her yearbook senior ad photos; and now graduation announcement order forms came home. Even as my heart is heavy from the idea of her leaving, I feel an urgent need to take on other work to afford college application fees and these other expenses, thus taking me away even more from precious remaining time with her. My spouse feels the same, too; and we both wish we could have this challenge solved and fixed. This idea of pausing, being still, and listening that you’ve so beautifully shared, here, has been empowering for me to think about these last several days.
Yes, it does bring up a lot of fear; if and when I don’t try to, “do.” How will such and such get paid for? Will we be shamed if the money isn’t there? Can I eek by if I don’t lunge at something?
Responsibility is a word I have struggled with. Not living up to its expectations, which always seems to be just beyond my reach, makes me wonder what’s wrong with me; especially when I want badly to do what’s right. It is painful!
This stillness of which you’ve written, makes me think of feeling adversity’s darts and, rather than fleeing or running for cover or external assistance; dropping to surrendering knees and staying with the struggle—in spite of continued storm about me.
This takes so much courage to just allow mystery to reveal itself. Will it do so in time?
So often, our world feels so unforgiving toward my feelings of powerlessness; and yet those voices who are critical do not fully understand the intricacies and complexities of the story.
To me, it’s almost as if Mark Nepo is encouraging our patient discovery of a more excellent way . . . through a quiet answer, from a still, small voice within.
This is just beautiful, Karly…Yes! “stillness takes a particular form of courage.” And what a courageous woman you are. When you go toward discomfort–and write about it so beautifully–you help us all to take heart and to find the willingness to listen. Thank you!