Tiny but frightening requests...

I love this David Whyte poem (one of many I love) in which he mentions the "tiny but frightening requests" we hear when we take the time to listen. I believe that the soul often calls out to us with tiny requests that really are sometimes frightening. They may be asking us to consider the life we are currently leading - question the way we are living each day, what we are neglecting, who we are loving, how we are loving... all things that can be pretty scary to question. It takes courage to seek out and make space for this deeper kind of listening.  This is where we find the road that leads everywhere.


if you move carefully
through the forest,

like the ones
in the old stories,

who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,

you come to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests,

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right
to go away.

9-14-18 addendum

I came across this quote posted on IG by a friend that I think is a great addition to the post above. Not knowing is frightening - unless we can assure ourselves it is an essential part of the journey toward knowing.

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is one that sings.”
- Wendell Berry

Motivated by guilt or by love?


Recently I was talking with someone about the heavy sense of burden they feel to take care of others. Like many of us, this person was overwhelmed by the many things they "had" to do, and the many demands of people they "had" to care for, to please, or to prioritize above their own needs.  Our sense of duty and obligation as members of a family and/or a community can be extremely strong, and are a part of being human.

When I ask people what motivates acts of duty or obligation, many times their answer is "guilt."  Inevitably, when guilt is the main motivator for duty, we feel resistant and resentful - and in the end this separates us from the person or community we care for. 

I like to encourage people to examine their motivation before taking a dutiful or obligatory action.  If we are being motivated by guilt, then I believe we ought to take the time to consider why we feel guilty. Are we being manipulated to care for someone else?  Are we feeling that we are not good enough unless we are constantly caring for and taking responsibility for others? Are we being pressured to do things we don't want to do at the expense of our own needs?  If our answer to any of those questions is "yes", then reconsider taking that action. 

By no means am I saying we should never have to do something we don't really want to do, or take action out of obligation or duty.  A meaningful life with intimate and loving relationships is going to include many actions of obligation.  What I am aiming for is to encourage people to base their sense of duty within a place of love. When we are dutiful within the framework of love I don't believe we have the same sense of burden. We may be tired, or even exhausted by taking care of our own needs and then the needs of others.  But, when we are motivated by love, we don't carry a sense of resentment or bitterness.  There is instead, a sense of freedom, fulfillment, and maybe even joy. 

"We are pushed by pain until we are pulled by vision."

The quote in the title of this post, "We are pushed by pain until we are pulled by vision" is attributed to Michael Beckwith, someone I am not familiar with beyond giving him credit for a succinct and insightful statement. I heard it some time this last week via a podcast or from a friend, I do not remember. But, the quote stuck with me. 

What most often brings people into therapy is their pain, typically pulling them by their hair kicking and screaming! Our suffering becomes so intolerable that we cannot live the same way any longer, and perhaps as an act of desperation, reach out for a lifeline. Of course many people experience horrific tragedy or loss that results in a overwhelming pain. But, for many others, the pain begins as an uncomfortable, disagreeable, or inconvenient thought or feeling, that needles us over and over again, and no matter how much we try to distract or numb ourselves to it, it simply won't go away. What starts as a small whisper of discontent, if ignored, can grow into a monstrous roar that overpowers all functional thought and feeling. 

The work I do with clients often includes teaching them how to be receptive and responsive to those undesirable thoughts or feelings that we habitually ignore. Instead of criticizing and avoiding the parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable and disagreeable, imagine what it would be like to engage with them? What could we learn if we understood how they may be shaping our beliefs and behaviors? What role, when brought to light, can they play in guiding us toward an authentic self? I believe they are here to help us become more fully formed human beings that can live and love more deeply.  But, we have to learn how to stop and listen, before we can envision something different pulling us toward wholeness. 

Teaching people how to be curious about the scary parts of ourselves is a large part of helping them create that vision. They are a part of the self-correcting system of the soul that ultimately  refuses to be ignored. The pain they create is intended to get us to pay attention and listen to our deepest desires.  


Speaking of boundaries...

Speaking of boundaries...


In my last post I wrote about boundaries in parenting. As I reflected more, I realized how important boundaries are in every relationship and wanted to share another piece of writing that I turn to for inspiration.  This one is a poem by Marge Piercy titled To have without holding.  She is one of my favorite poets, mostly because her poetry has such depth and honesty with regard to relationships. 

This poem was especially poignant for me after the painful and disappointing end of a long relationship, when I was learning to love someone differently. This poem expressed my struggle to let go, but also reminded me that learning to love with my hands wide open is always worth the struggle. 

To have without holding                  

Learning to love differently is hard,

love with the hands wide open, love

with the doors banging on their hinges,

the cupboard unlocked, the wind

roaring and whimpering in the rooms

rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds

that thwack like rubber bands

in an open palm.


It hurts to love wide open

stretching the muscles that feel

as if they are made of wet plaster,

then of blunt knives, then

of sharp knives.


It hurts to thwart the reflexes

of grab, of clutch ; to love and let

go again and again. It pesters to remember

the lover who is not in the bed,

to hold back what is owed to the work

that gutters like a candle in a cave

without air, to love consciously,

conscientiously, concretely, constructively.


I can’t do it, you say it’s killing

me, but you thrive, you glow

on the street like a neon raspberry,

You float and sail, a helium balloon

bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing

on the cold and hot winds of our breath,

as we make and unmake in passionate

diastole and systole the rhythm

of our unbound bonding, to have

and not to hold, to love

with minimized malice, hunger

and anger moment by moment balanced.


Marge Piercy, "To have without holding" from The Moon is Always Female. Copyright © 1980 by Marge Piercy. 

Your children are not your children...

I recently shared this passage written by Kahlil Gibran (from The Prophet) with a parent who was struggling to have healthy boundaries with their children.  I think it's a beautiful description of what a  boundaried relationship with our children can look like.  

"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."

                              Daughters                            New Years Day 2012


                          New Years Day 2012

Being a parent has been the hardest thing I've ever done!  Had I known how hard it was going to be ahead of time... I'm not sure I would have done it! When my kids were young, I thought it was my job to do everything I could to keep them from suffering.  Why should they have to learn the hard way like I did? I was supposed to make life easier for them, right? We all hope to give our children a better, happier and healthier life don't we?  

It took me many years to learn that loving them well didn't mean sparing them from making mistakes, getting hurt, and experiencing suffering. Loving our children well really means being able to show up, be fully present with them in their pain, and holding them through their suffering so that they can develop their own identity, resilience, and purpose. 

I love working with parents to help them find their version of  being a "bow that is stable" for their children - while helping them maintain their own sanity!  Successful parenting isn't always intuitive - in fact, it is often counter-intuitive.  This piece is a lovely reminder to me to not make my children's successes or struggles all about me, and to give them the space and freedom to reach their own potential in their own way.