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The holidays have come and went, and with them, an array of thoughts, feelings and reflections. In all my years of working as a therapist, I have found this time of year to be the most tumultuous. It is a time ripe with opportunity.
We are now emerging slowly out of the darkest time of year. We are mirroring and being mirrored in the natural process of experiencing this darkness. It just so happens that as this is occurring inside and outside, we are also participating in the time of year where family comes together. For some, it’s the one time of year you may see your parents. For others, it may be a reminder of how disconnected you may be to family. Some may experience this time with expectations, an idea of how it should be, and then the inevitable disappointment as we realize we have no control over the other. This can leave us feeling powerless, sad, maybe even shame or angry. Some may choose to spend this time of year as quietly as possible, and in that feel pleasant in the avoidance of all that this time of year holds. And even in the quietness, maybe feelings of a loss of what could be possible arise. Out of such a short period of time, we can invite wider reflection.
During this highly emotional time, conflict can arise internally and externally, and in these moments, we can give our authority away; be it to parent, inner child, or the world around us. How do we so easily lose ourselves? What is this epidemic of ,”Just make it through this, passivity” or, it’s not so kind cousin, “No one wants to be in the same room, anger”? I am left with curiosity about this process.
Not too long ago, my dog got loose, began to chase a neighbor’s dog, resulting in a dogfight. The neighbor then came over to talk to me about the matter, and I watched myself grow into a 5 year old getting scolded. I found myself looking down and overly compliant with her remarks and desires. Later asking myself, “where did I just go?”
In relationship, it is easy to fall unconscious to old patterns of relating. We can find ourselves continually playing out a dynamic of relating with our primary caregiver(s). We learned to be in the world and connect with people through these formative years when we adapted in order to survive in our family system.
As the holidays have come and gone, in your role as parent, child or both in your greater family system. I ask you to take time to reflect on what dynamics have played out for you.
I watched myself react as a petulant child, growing quiet and avoidant when not getting what I want, or tip toeing around and asking permission. I also saw the defiant teenager, trying to point out the right to exist in the world on my own terms, triumphantly make an entrance, demanding to not be made up or told what to do. There are so many more ways I could have responded to be more present and engaged in the interaction while to holding myself in a place of strength and knowing.
How do we get more conscious?
First, I believe we need to slow down. These reactions happen quickly, they sideswipe us; and when all is said and done we wonder what happened. Slowing down gives us more of an opportunity to be in our power. Slow is fast. Fast is super speed. Thus, super slow is normal paced. I implore you to aim for snail pace.
Second, ask yourself what is happening. Name whatever is taking hold of you that needs to be worked out. What old stories are you proving true? How can you approach with beginners mind instead?
Next, begin to practice another way of doing it: visualize the play with a different ending, speak it our, act it out with a friend. Be ready for the next time.
The exciting thing is, we always get another chance! We can grow in the practice of respecting our Self.
I can now say to the neighbor sharing her anger with me, “Yes, my dog can be aggressive and I have thought about avenues of managing this; at the same time it is clear to me that she is my dog and we are meant to be in this life together, and I will do what I deem is the best route for me and her.”
In the struggle with family, I am in the process of practicing claiming myself. I show up to reveal myself to them again and again, and hope that they see me for who I am. I do this calmly, breathing often, and accessing my mature self. I recognize the time when this is not possible, and thus I take time to grow myself, separate from them. They are not my responsibility; personal power is in living my responsibility to myself! There is a practice of dying in order to live in this. I loose so much: their presence and the ways in which they have supported me. I feel the struggle of this detachment, and it is painful yet I hold to the knowing of its necessity. The distance from them that is created as I stand in myself brings me closer to who I am so that I can develop more honestly and clearly. The entangled We must die so that the empowered I can live. This is natural. An acorn that stays an acorn forever, dries up, becomes hallow inside or becomes food for others. The acorn that breaks away from the parent branch and rolls down the hill to become it’s own strong standing Oak by the river is destined to grow bigger, stronger and take its own shape over time. As parents, may we have children for no other principal reason than to grow us as we grow them!
Imagine, your parents holding you as you were born, despite their wiser knowing, making promises and dreaming dreams that cannot be kept. Parents can have a way of making their children’s life some reflection of who they innately are.
However, it is the rite of the child to reveal themselves to the parent and community in order to introduce change, to shift what once was and invite in what can be, to declare themselves and their powerful presence in this world! This is a gift for both the child becoming an adult and the parent watching their child do so, failing to participate in this process brings consequences. This world needs independent thinking, strong individuals right now. Being small is a waist of time.
The individuation process is one that begs us to come alive to ourselves, to our own inner authority, our own power, be it when we are 15 or 51. As we sit with our parents how do we honor who we all are? As you reflect on how you parent and were parented, how do you hold deep compassion and understanding? We all have parents, some of us have children, and we can all do this work: to honor the humanness and growth of one another. To honor the natural cycle of this experience. It is a rite for a child to become a powerful adult, just as it is a rite to let go of being a parent as much as it is to become one.
Howard Thurman said it beautifully: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”