It has taken me a long time to trust in the process. It is a lesson I am constantly relearning because, by nature, I want to control things. I want to be in charge of my own life. I have learned the hard way, however, that I am not in charge. And when I try to be, when I try to control things and order them the way I think they should be, my life becomes more and more chaotic and out of control. It is the paradox of humanity. The more we try to control things to get a certain result, the more certain it is that we will get the exact result we are trying to avoid.
Helicopter parenting is a good example. I’m sure that over involved parents mean well. They want to protect their children from failure, from being hurt, from suffering. But all of these things have value. They are important. In those failures, in that suffering, in that pain, lie wisdom, the ability to endure, and confidence that we can overcome adversity. Small, manageable experiences of pain and suffering help people to build tolerance, immunity if you will, to pain. It allows people to take control of the only thing they actually can control, the meaning and sense they make from suffering.
But when people are shielded from those small, manageable experiences, regardless of how well meaning that protection is, when suffering does find them, and it will, the pain will be unbearable. Having no experience managing small failures, they lack the skills needed to cope and find their way through them. And we cannot avoid pain. We cannot avoid loss. We cannot avoid failure. It will happen with or without our consent. It does not wait for us to be prepared for it.
I have had many, many experiences of loss. The first was when I was born and was taken from my birth mother and given to a new family. Even though they loved me and I felt their love, it was still a loss that took me many years to fully understand. I remember seeing a documentary about the Buddha and learned, for the first time, that the Buddha’s mother died shortly after he was born. I hadn’t known that and it made me so sad. The narrator wondered if this experience of profound loss was pivotal in the Buddha’s later understanding of the nature of suffering, which was foundational for his own enlightenment and his teachings.
I know first hand the results of avoiding the pain of loss. But grief is patient. It waits until you are ready to face it. I tried to control my life in an effort to avoid facing it, but the more I ran from it, the more chaotic my life became. My losses compounded because of my own recklessness, until one day I realized that I needed help. Picking up the phone to ask for it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It required me to surrender. And I am stubborn. I resisted. I felt that surrender would mean certain death or worse, insanity. But paradoxically, the moment I submitted, instead of death, instead of insanity, I was greeted with release. I was liberated.
From that point on, I did my best to stay out of my own way. My philosophy is that there is a path that I am supposed to walk; my purpose or my destiny if you will. But it is my choice to walk that path or not. The more I avoid it, however, the worse my life becomes. Walking the path is often terrifying, but in that fear I also feel a sense of calm from the wisest parts of myself. I trust in the process.
In order to stay on that path, I have learned that I need to pay attention to the parts of me that get anxious, who start to try frantically to control things. I pay attention to the part of me that becomes exhausted, overwhelmed and full of doubt, who would like nothing more than to be left alone, hiding under the covers. I also have to nurture the warrior part of myself, for staying on my path requires a great deal of courage and occasionally fierceness. I have committed to cultivating compassion for how difficult it is to be true to one’s purpose, particularly when one is still not sure exactly what it is. Not knowing what it is requires me to pay close attention to the world around me and to myself; to use not only my senses but my intuition and all of my ways of knowing.
This may all sound very serious, but probably the most important lesson has been to laugh, particularly at myself, to find the lightness in everything. Life can be so heavy! I likely spent a decade dedicated to self-absorption and that, quite frankly, is quite enough. To that effect, I have unilaterally decided that all of my flaws are actually quite endearing. I find myself hysterically funny and often ridiculous, knowing that I am often the only one cracking up. I don’t feel any need to wear makeup. I am the one who will ask the stupid questions. Finding myself endearing, loveable and ridiculous all at the same time as acknowledging my own power and wisdom, has resulted in being much less concerned about what people think of me. I am a contradiction and I like it that way.
It was this commitment to myself, to walking my path that allowed me to move forward after I left my ex-husband. Despite the pain of the lost hopes of that relationship and the agony of being childless, I knew, without reservation, that I would be fine. I would not give my permission for any man to destroy me, to destroy my ability to love without limit, destroy my determination to live an amazing life.
And looking back, it was absolutely necessary for him to break my heart. Because up until that point I had had my priorities completely wrong. When I first met him, the experience was one of intense familiarity, like I had known him for many lifetimes. I had historically been attracted to men who were intellectual, complicated, wounded, and charming. I privileged the head at the expense of the heart. So what if he wasn’t capable of loving with an open heart? I can handle that!
I was convinced that the expansiveness of my love would make him feel safe enough to be able to love back. But it wasn’t. I told him when we were first married that I knew that he hadn’t really opened up his heart to me. He did not deny it. He told me that he didn’t trust anyone. I warned him that the relationship could not work if he didn’t take that chance. But I decided to be patient. I had often thought of love as standing on the edge of a terrifyingly high cliff. The person beside you is telling you to jump. You look at them like they are insane. Clearly, they are insane, because if you jump it will be to your death. But they insist that you must jump. People who truly love take that leap of faith, against all logic, despite their terror, and in leaping into certain death; they realize that they can fly. It made sense to me that he was afraid. Who wouldn’t be?
I learned, in spectacular fashion however, that people who choose not to take that leap, people who remain in fear, are capable of indescribable cruelty. The heart actually matters. A lot. It seems so obvious now. Of course the heart matters Julie! How could you be so obtuse? But in my history, men who had wonderful open hearts were not for me. They were my best friends, but I refused to date them. People told me over and over that I just needed to be with a nice guy. But I refused. And now I realized why. I was too in my own head, too immature, too frightened of myself and what cruelty I was capable of to accept that love. I didn’t love or trust myself. And because of that, there was a very real possibility that I would be the cruel one. It wasn’t until I was subjected to my ex’s cruelty, coupled with the intoxicating knowledge of the power of my own love and compassion for myself that I finally got it.
And that’s when I met Dave.
Part III coming soon!