This morning I was sitting on the couch in my living room, a large bowl before me, as I peeled Macintosh apples for our family’s holiday crisp.
I was up early to get the crisp in the oven before our Thanksgiving turkey, and so the house was quiet. It was me and the animals, who were watching me closely, hoping for a stray peel.
I turned on You Tube and found a Cynthia Bourgeault interview, a background to my peeling and chopping. In the talk, she said something that stilled me.
She was describing that place when you clearly see a painful pattern in your life – when you’re aware, conscious, and know better – but don’t yet have the capacity to change it, or to act differently.
Yes, I thought – I know that space.
The ‘big squeeze’
Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön calls this space ‘the big squeeze.’ It’s a good description, for it feels like a squeeze: hot, tight, and uncomfortable. I often think of it as a birth canal.
I can look back over my own long, good road, my journey of unwinding my compulsive relationship with food, and see many squeezes and birth canals along the way.
I imagine you have these squeezes with food, too – you ‘know better,’ and can see a pattern of self soothing, and yet you find yourself doing the same thing. The capacity, support, and integration is unfolding, but ‘not yet.’
When we see the squeeze as ‘something’s wrong’
When we bump into this squeeze, we often get discouraged. We can be filled with doubt, frustration, anxiety or shame. We can be really hard on ourselves. Or we may feel ‘too damaged’ to heal.
In my own life, I’ve often thought that if I ‘just’ learned enough psychological tools, did enough therapy, or did enough spiritual practice that I could avoid these squeezes altogether.
But we can’t avoid life’s pain, and this includes the inherent pain of growth.
Bowing our hearts towards the squeeze
There’s a shift that life asks of us, and it’s a shift that a laboring mother knows well: we have to surrender to the squeeze, to the birth that is being born through us.
Just as a laboring woman learns to soften, to open to the birth that is moving through her, we’re also asked to soften into our birth. We soften our bodies, and we soften the heart, accepting these squeezes as part of the healing journey.
We sit in this squeeze when we’re feeling uncomfortable body sensations, when we feel the impulse to do something and pause, and when we take a deep breath when we’re triggered.
And we sit in this squeeze when we’re learning a new capacity, when we’re rewiring a new response in our nervous system.
We will all sit in this squeeze, over and over again.
What’s being born in you
Squeezes can be so painful and uncomfortable. It’s one of the ways we learn to ‘bear the beams of love,’ as William Blake said.
We bear the beams of love when we bear our own imperfection and birthing without criticizing or shaming ourselves. We also bear the beams of love when we bear others’ imperfection without shaming or criticizing them.
Whew, much easier said than done.
I find it helpful to remember that something is being born in these squeezes – that something is being born in us.
When we approach these squeezes as part of our holy labor, the holy birthing of ourselves, we can acknowledge and include them.
Bending our knee towards these places changes our relationship to them – where we don’t see them as personal failings, something to avoid, or something to control but opportunities to open the heart.
This approach of openness brings much needed rest to our nervous systems. We feel less scared of the squeezes. We feel less victimized by them. We move from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system, where change and growth are supported, and possible.
The shared cradle of ‘yes, but not yet’
And as we bend our knee to these birth canals, we find rest in knowing that we’re not alone. So many others have sat through these squeezes and know the pain of ‘yes, but not yet.’
Rather than being something that disconnects us from others, the pain of birthing becomes something that connects and binds us together, a sign of our shared common humanity: Oh, others feel this, too.
Our shared humanity enjoins us as midwives, as we all grow up together.
The next time you find yourself in a big squeeze, and when you find yourself reenacting a place of pain, you can try this on for yourself:
What do you notice when you turn it into an intentional practice of birthing, of surrender?
What do you notice when you turn it into a place of connection, a place of compassion and hope, something that connects you to others?
And what do you notice when you wonder – what support and care is holding me, here in this moment, as I bear these labor pains?
May I feel compassion for myself, here in this place.
And may all who find themselves in this place feel compassion.
May we all feel compassion.
To your birth, and to your midwifing, and to the holy space of squeeze, Karly