These past few weeks I’ve been leading a group through the When Food is Your Mother class, where we’re exploring how food can become a substitute ‘mother,’ a refuge of comfort, support or safety.
Human relationships, families, and communities are complex. They are both the soil of our safety and belonging – and the soil of rupture and heartbreak.
In the wake of rupture, we can turn to substitutes like food, compulsive caregiving, shopping, the pursuit of success or achievement, and overworking to fulfill these basic needs for safety and mattering, to soothe the distress that accumulates in our nervous systems.
These ways of seeking relief can be messy and complex. It’s easy to exhaust ourselves as we try to fight against them – or to hate ourselves for having them.
And yet these ‘not beautiful’ places are held in a womb of compassion, for it’s not always easy living in a human body.
No one wants to suffer. While the messy ways we care for ourselves are not judged or shamed by the Love that holds us, they can cause us pain.
At some point, this pain builds to a point where we say, “Enough. I can’t bear this anymore!”
And so we find ourselves cracking open. This is a pivotal turning point. It’s actually good news!
My mentor in developmental psychology, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, calls this turning point ‘the adaptive process.’ This process – what a former student called “the keys to the Queendom” – is how we let go of what isn’t working in our lives, and how we move through the inevitable losses and changes that arise with being human.
The challenge with the adaptive process is that involves a ‘necessary dying,’ as Rumi says – and this dying requires a soft, malleable heart.
This process can feel like ‘failing,’ where everything’s falling apart. We might feel like we need to keep everything going, to keep everything from falling to pieces. Or that we should try harder.
This feeling of “I have to keep everything going” can make us feel a bit ‘crazy.’
I use the word ‘crazy’ intentionally here – but not as a commentary about our individual or collective mental health, which I find disrespectful.
Rather, to be ‘crazy’ or ‘crazed,’ when we look at the roots of the word, means to be full of cracks, or broken – as in not letting something fall apart that’s trying to fall apart.
Like trying to keep a broken, shattered piece of glass together, we feel crazed when we try to keep something going that’s trying to disintegrate and die.
No wonder trying to make something work that doesn’t work feels so terrible!
In the adaptive process – which is one of the ways Life takes good care of us – we’re being invited to let go of what needs – and wants – to die, to die. Like the autumn leaves shedding outside my doors, this is a time to disintegrate, to fall.
When we come to the place of, “Enough! I can’t do this anymore!” – whether it’s a pattern with food, with a relationship, or with our own self care – we’ve come to a point in our journey when we can stop.
Another name for this place is acceptance, or surrender. And in this surrender, we stop, pause and face that what we’re doing isn’t working.
In this acceptance, we face reality, with all the fierce kindness that reality holds for us: Oh, sweetheart, this doesn’t work.
And in this falling apart, we’re no longer crazed. We come to a place of stillness and rest – where a different way of caring for ourselves or for our loved ones can arise.
We will go through so many autumns in our lives – so many times when we’re being asked to face, “What I’m doing isn’t working! This can’t be.”
Like the earth itself, autumn will come to us, over and over. The fact that you will go through more than one autumn in your life is not proof that you’re doing something wrong, or that you didn’t learn from your past.
Rather, it’s that autumn has come to find you again, as a helper, and as a friend: to relieve you of what crazes you, to help you breathe again.
And autumn brings her gifts: the gift of being allowed to let go of what isn’t working, to die a little, to let go, to shed, to come to stillness, to see what lies on the other side of this letting go.
I close this letter to you today with a beloved, favorite Rumi poem. In this poem, I’m reminded how the ‘necessary dying’ leads to new life, to spring.
This archetype of dying and resurrection is here to hold and help us. It’s available to us for our patterns with food, self care, work, relationships, and more.
May all your autumns bless and keep you. May you feel the love that meets you when you face the no. And may you feel the kindness when you move through the necessary unravelings in your life.
A NECESSARY AUTUMN INSIDE by Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī
Inside each of us, there’s continual autumn. Our leaves
fall and are blown out
over the water. A crow sits in the blackened limbs and talks
about what’s gone. Then
your generosity returns: spring, moisture, intelligence, the
scent of hyacinth and rose
and cypress. Joseph is back! And if you don’t feel in
yourself the freshness of
Joseph, be Jacob! Weep and then smile. Don’t pretend to know
something you haven’t experienced.
There’s a necessary dying, and then Jesus is breathing again.
Very little grows on jagged
rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up
where you are. You’ve been
stony for too many years. Try something different. Surrender.