I get lots of emails from people when they feel weary – when they’re feeling overwhelmed by sugar, when they feel lost, disoriented, or frightened, or when they’re feeling broken and hopeless, like they’ll never feel whole, with food or with life.
They write and ask, “What’s happening?” And they write and ask, “What should I do?”
I think of the times in my own life when I feel lost, when I feel hopeless and despair.
What do we need?
Often, we need someone to simply hold us while we cry.
Usually we need the basics – rest and nourishment. We need someone to feed us soup, or to help us with the pets, or to offer to hold the baby or to sit with the kids while we nap.
We need the safety of love: for our loved ones to see us in our neediness and to be perfectly okay with it.
There is nothing more painful then sharing our vulnerability with another human being and being told in word, deed, emotion or gesture that we should somehow be different and be over whatever we’re feeling. It’s the loneliest feeling in the world.
We need connection: someone to be at our side as we walk through a time of darkness, until the light returns.
I speak and write and teach in the “self help” world. Some of it ignites my anger. Some of it breaks my heart and makes me want to weep.
I am weary of the lie that equates personal success, self actualization, or spiritual or psychological maturity with self sufficiency.
I am so grateful that neuroscience and modern attachment theorists are stating the very opposite: that psychological and emotional health is measured not by how self sufficient we are, but by how comfortable we are in leaning on others, receiving care and being dependent – what Marion Solomon calls “positive dependency.”
We are at our healthiest when we allow ourselves to be in a state of interdependent flow: when we open to receive love, support and care from others, and when we offer this to others in return.
My mentor in attachment theory, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, says it this way: “We can’t take care of ourselves.”
Therapist Dr. Stan Tatkin says it like this: “We learn to love ourselves precisely because we have experienced being loved by someone. We learn to take care of ourselves because somebody has taken care of us…
Self-esteem and self-worth are developed through our contact with other people. You misunderstand if you think these goods are provided by the self. They’re not; they’re provided by the other. That’s how it works and that’s how it has always worked, starting from infancy.”
His words are startling, and yet speak to an intuitive truth.
On one level, of course we can take care of ourselves. We can drag ourselves to the gym, and to the grocery store, and away from the cookie that’s screaming our name; we can even make ourselves sign up for the personal growth workshop and help ourselves show up for it. We can have all kinds of ideas about how we’d like to bloom and change and grow.
But the growth itself is not of our doing, and is not in our hands. And this growth only occurs because we have received care, love and connection in some sort of relationship – whether it’s a relationship with a therapist, a teacher or guru, with the Divine, with a beloved, or with a friend.
It’s not something that we’re manufacturing. Rather, we’re tapping into some feeling we already have of being loved, of being connected, of being cared for. It is through some sort of connection – spiritual, physical, emotional – it is in being cared for in some way that we come to rest, and that we grow.
An acquaintance of mine recently shared a blog post about “being bone tired and wanting to be bossed around.” Her comment about the blog was this: “there is dignity in leaning on others and in letting ourselves be provided for.” Her choice of words brought tears to my eyes – that “there is dignity in letting ourselves be provided for.”
I just want to sit with her comment for a moment, for it’s so radical – and so filled with hope and relief: You mean I don’t have to be the one fixing myself when I feel lost and broken and hopeless? You mean I can do something as simple as letting myself be loved and cared for?
What if we could see our times of need – when we’re hurting and scared and when we feel lost – as sacred opportunities to allow love in, to allow love to shine on us? To allow ourselves to be cared for, as easily as a hungry baby when it sends out its cries, trusting that there will be a response, that it will be nursed and soothed and fed?
What if we could see that being provided for, being cared for, and being dependent on another – a loved one, a friend, the Divine, life itself – is an act of dignity, and not something to feel ashamed about? God forbid, not something we should ever outgrow or cut out?
What if reaching out for help was the very first thing we did when we were struggling, instead of rushing to fix ourselves or whip ourselves into shape?
I wish, oh, how I wish, when I get an email from someone saying, “Help! I’m totally stuck in food. What do I do?” that I could tell them: “You’re hurting. Your job is to do nothing. Just let someone help.” I wish I could wave a magic wand and just show up at their door with a pot of soup, feed them, move them into the bath, and then put them to bed. I wish I could take care of them and hold them as they cry and put them to rest.
That is my hope: that someone will step in and simply offer them their presence, and loving, tender care.
Earlier this year I was feeling really lost, and really lonely. My mom and dad had come for a short visit, and when it was time for me to drive them to the airport to catch their flight home, I hugged them at the curb. And then I began crying. I just held onto my mom and held onto her and held on. She ended up coming back to visit a few weeks later. She said, “I could tell that you needed me.”
And I did. And so she showed up and she took care of me, just by being with me. In my not having to be alone.
If I take anything from my “no mud, no lotus” artwork it is that the ground of our being is connection; is neediness; is dependence. It is in the dance of giving and receiving care that we find connection; that we come home; that we discover that we belong.
As always, it is the poets who intuitively grasp this truth. So I’ll close with Mary Oliver and her poem, Wild Geese, and my longing that everyone who is hurting can be cared for.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Thank you so very much for your writing.
I want to begin my response with some powerful words from the beginning of Gerald May’s Addiction and Grace:
I am convinced that all human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and our most precious treasure. It give us meaning. Some of us have repressed this desire, burying it beneath so many other interests that we are completely unaware of it. Or we may experience it in different ways – as a longing for wholeness, completion, or fulfillment. Regardless of how we describe it, it is a longing for love. It is a hunger to love, to be loved, and to move closer to the Source of love. This yearning is the essence of the human spirit; it is the origin of our highest hopes and most noble dreams (1).
These words speak of human beings living in relationships with others – with self – and – with God. While there are ways where we need to live by being responsible our deepest needs are met and responded to in loving relationships.
For a number of years I have faithfully studied and utilized the Stephen Covey Franklin Planner time management system It meets my needs because it begins and continues by making priorities for life and for action based on the key relationships you have with yourself and with others. I read Covey’s famous 7 Habits book several times before I noticed what I believe to be the most important line in the entire book – which in my copy is found on the inside cover page – “Interdependence is more important that independence.” Again, at least for me, those words speak of wholeness of life and health springing from living in relationships.
I have often taught that three people are required to make music – a creator (composer, author, arranger), a re-creator (performer), and a receiver (listener, audience, etc. I think that much is same is true for love – love requires a giver and a receiver – and – for the cycle to be complete a re-giver and a re-receiver – love is a continuous circle of living.
That is enough for now.
I so enjoyed reading your thoughts here – thank you for taking the time to write. We are singing the same song and humming the same tune!!
The quote from Gerald May gives me chills – so, so true….
I love the story of your planner, and how it frames your priorities and how you spend your time. This is beautiful – “the wholeness of life and health springing from living in relationships.”
And this is lovely, too – “I have often taught that three people are required to make music – a creator (composer, author, arranger), a re-creator (performer), and a receiver (listener, audience, etc. I think that much is same is true for love – love requires a giver and a receiver – and – for the cycle to be complete a re-giver and a re-receiver – love is a continuous circle of living.”
I want to chew on your words and digest them and sit with them because they speak to a truth that my heart resonates with… Thank you for sharing so I could receive!
I felt a tenderness in my heart and a deep resonance reading this piece Karly , thank you x
Michelle, I’m so glad. Thank you for sharing this with me… Love, Karly
What radical thoughts for our world today. Sharing, everyone should read this! Thank you!
Hi Rene, Yes, I find them pretty radical too – and also incredibly healing! I’m glad they resonated with your heart too. Love, Karly
Your words totally struck a chord with me. Wow. Thx.
Hi Laura, I’m so glad! Love, Karly
Beautiful article, Karly!!
Thank you Bethany – I love your work too and am cheering you on. (Everyone, you can learn more about Bethany’s work here: http://womboflight.com/) It’s so powerful and needed in our world! Love, Karly
Thank you Karly for this beautiful, sincere article.
It completely resonates with me.
I am feeling rather unfulfilled and lonely , so the fact of finding a person with exactly the same reactions and needs is like a comfort to me, it makes me feel more understood, recognized as a human being and belonging to the human race.
Ancient cultures (the Natives and the Chinese, among others) have always stressed the interrelation and duality of all things.
Thanks also for quoting Mary Oliver’s poem. I already added one of her books to my Amaz.. WishList.
I’m so glad that this resonates with you – and that having this shared human experience helps you feel less lonely and more understood. When I’m in my most painful moments, one of my mantras is, “Others feel this too.” It reminds me that I’m not alone in my pain and helps me feel less separate and lonely. It sounds like that’s what this article did for you.
That’s a great point about other cultures that stress the interrelation of things – it makes me feel curious if people from other cultures feel more comfortable needing and depending on others? I wonder…..
Oh, Mary Oliver – she is one of my favorite living poets. Her words help me soften my heart against myself… What do you like about her poetry?
Thank you Karly.
Your words are spot on! I guess they are so because you are authentic in what you share with us.
In fact, nobody feels comfortable with being needy… Perhaps we should talk of mutuality. In the old Western culture too, mutuality was more common. A spontaneous and generous act of giving and receiving (material and non-material), even mindlessly.
So perhaps in those occasions people did not perceive themselves as dependent… but as something natural and normal…
Now we have been educated to think: “I need this… therefore I am dependent!”, because we incur in this nightmare called “self-help”, which cannot be always the best solution for us in that particular circumstance.
If mutuality would still be part of our living, you could open your heart and get hurt, okay, but you would also receive positive responses… you could find much more compensation and balance than in a world dominated by having to do everything on your own.
As for Mary Oliver, I have discovered her through your article. I do not read a lot of poems, so I did not know about her.
I like the way you frame neediness as mutuality – that makes a lot of sense. I can see how the normalcy of giving and receiving care and support would create a society that felt less shame about needing help – or needing love, or needing another human being.
I’m thinking now of one of my all time favorite quotes, from Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”
I’m glad that Mary Oliver resonated with you and that you discovered her with this article – she is a treasure.
Over and over, and over again, you keep hitting the spot within me that knows what is truly true. What awesome work you do Karly. Have already read this at least ten times and I’m leaving it open on my desktop so I can read it a few more times. In South Africa we have a word, “Ubuntu”. It literally means that people are people, because of other people. This is all the reason we need to love and help each other, because we are here. Because we can. Because in caring for another we are caring for ourselves (just that aspect of ourselves that is seemingly outside of us!). Thank you so very much for this wonderful article.
I always enjoy hearing your thoughts and reading your words. Ah – you nailed it! You expressed the essence of what I was trying to convey so beautifully – what I was trying to say in a page you said in a few sentences! 🙂
Ah – thank you for telling me about “ubuntu.” Your thoughts reminded me of this quote from Desmond Tutu – I believe he’s referring to this quality that you’re referring to:
“We say in our African idiom, ‘A person is a person through other persons.’ The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. I need you in order to be me as you need me in order to be you. We are caught up in a delicate network of interconnectedness. I have gifts that you don’t, and you have gifts I don’t–voila! We are made different so that we may know our need of one another. The completely self-sufficient human being is subhuman. Thus diversity, difference is of the essence of who we are.” – Source: An address at University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall, February 16, 2000
To both you and Desmond, I say, amen. May it be so.
Much love, Karly
I have been struggling with sugar and overeating issues for several years now. Though I have not committed to doing anything about it just yet, I am always comforted by your articles and this one is no exception. I read on another site that the author believed that having an addiction means you are just searching for the divine in the wrong places. I’m starting to think that this is true for me. I think sometimes I just want to be taken care of like you mention here. Thank you for continuing to share these uplifting words. I’m still trying to find my peace with sugar and my relationship to food, but I have begun the journey.
Your comments are heartfelt and beautiful, Erin. I’m so glad that my words brought you comfort and rest.
Your words remind me of a line from Shug from the film, book (and now a musical) The Color Purple: “Everything just wants to be loved.” Yes, I think that’s true, and I think that’s the spiritual hunger that you’re describing and yearning for.
I think you are right where you need to be. I think that you are on the path, and on the journey – even if it doesn’t feel like it yet….
Much love, Karly