We hold so many expectations, so many ideas, shoulds, wishes and hopes for ourselves.
We hold onto these expectations for others, too. Here in the holidays, this is a time of year when all of those expectations can come rising – or roaring! – up to the surface.
You may have an image in your head of how you want your body to look. How you want to your family to be. How you want to eat. How you want your holidays to unfold.
Our yearnings are precious and to be treasured. And yet our yearnings can give way to a tight ‘shoulding,’ where our anxieties, frustrations and fears take over, and we judge ourselves, others, and each moment so harshly.
This is something I care for in my life, too. When we feel deeply, we often yearn and dream deeply, too – and this can give rise to a lot of frustration.
We all have goals and outcomes we’d like to realize, whether it’s something amorphous like healing or something more tangible like eating less sugar.
One of the things I’ve learned from my mentor Bonnie Badeonoch is to soften the expectations we bring to ourselves, our inner lives and each other – to pause to soften our agendas, and instead, to welcome the unfolding life in front of us.
For me, this is a surrender to the life force, to the spirit within – what I think guides and supports our healing.
A favorite quote from healer and therapist Wayne Muller describes this movement so beautifully: “If we are quiet and listen and feel how things move, perhaps we will be wise enough to put our hands on what waits to be born, and bless it with kindness and care.”
In every moment, something is trying to be born, to come into fruition into the world. You could say our task is to bend our knees, bend our hearts, and bend our knees to welcome what is trying to come through, here, through each of us.
My children are my greatest teachers about letting go of agendas, pausing, waiting and to listen to see what’s needed, and what’s here.
A million times each day, they are teaching me to pause, still my heart, listen, and wait to act – and not give into the alarmed voice inside that wants to take control, the frustrated voice that is losing patience, or the voice that tells me I’m screwing everything up.
Isn’t it something, what love asks of us? And isn’t it something, what love can do?
Our need for relationship is so strong that we never outgrow it. In fact, our lifelong thirst for relationship is good news, according to Dr. Neufeld. For that very reason, it is never too late – it is never too late to try again, to soften our agendas, to repair a relationship, to heal, or to love.
Our love for each other is what helps us grow, expand and contract to care for ourselves and each other with more courage, compassion, humor and strength.
I’ll close with a poem that I wrote a few months ago. I was so struck by this idea of ‘softening our agendas’ that I thought I’d take a shot at capturing my thoughts in poetry.
Rereading it gives me courage. It helps me approach life with more humor, and with a beginner’s mind, not knowing what myself or this moment is about, but listening to see, What is here? And what is yearning to unfold?
My teacher Stephen once told me,
“You can feel the presence
of the absence of a thing.”
The inverse, I’ve found, is also true:
you can feel the absence
of a presence.
Our minds produce corporeality
that is as tangible as wood,
as keenly felt as a soft bed,
a worn couch, a picture, hanging on a nail.
We feel the presence of things immaterial:
the expectations we hold of each other.
The ways we want to shape and mold another.
The ways we want to shape and mold ourselves.
If you listen, you can feel the presence of agenda,
as you also feel its absence –
the unspoken thing we bring to each meeting.
Living things, they can become a bridge, a lever, a pulley.
But they can also become a wedge, a dam, a sharpened knife:
a cleaver of belonging, separating what longs to join.
Such mirage, agenda: this idea
of how things should be,
our attempt to direct the flow of life.
When our life does not match
this chimera, what is blocked? What is cleaved?
What is missed, in this narrow imagining?
When my youngest child was little
we held meetings with our older children.
He would say, in the sing-song lilt of a toddler,
the pleading of those left out, “I want a bagenda.”
He wanted to be a part of something
that felt outside of his experience. To him,
agendas were something magical, and powerful.
He wanted to taste that thick elixir.
Oh, the tender paradox I have learned,
sitting at the feet of that young one, now not so young.
He has shown me, over and over,
the failures of love when I attend
with the tight fist of my agenda.
Together, we have been led to the true source of power.
When we approach each other without our agendas –
that is when the miracle unfolds.
IMAGE CREDIT: This image, The Prayer, is used by kind permission of the artist, Polish artist Magdalena Korzeniewska. You can find her work here.