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.