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.