Let the Pain Move through You

I didn’t know adulthood would be this way.  I didn’t know there would be so much pain, so much less for which to live. Sure, there ARE so many beauties to behold, so many paths to walk, so many dreams to dream. Yet, there are just so many bills and crying children and lots of holding the space for people, for myself.

It’s a challenge – the holding of space. When I dreamed of homeschooling, I followed a lovely mother who had so much knowledge about “teach-moming”. She talked about holding the space like it was a sacred thing. Her idea appealed to me so much that I bought every printable, curriculum, book thingy she could possibly create.

The idea of “holding the space” was that sometimes the small people simply need people to be quiet. They need adults to be calm. They need others to pause. The instinct, when the shrill screaming of a small one rents the atmosphere, is to rush to them and say words, to instruct. I am instantly in their face and fixing/breaking things. I mean to fix things, but most of the time I break things instead. I break small spirits. I crush opportunities for growth and decimate plains of open feeling.

I found this principle, combined with assertiveness and observation, to be the most altering of any parenting technique. When I stopped and held the space, the small people could do all that they needed to do and so could I. The pause, the observance, the stillness allowed them to calm themselves. Sometimes they didn’t, but the holding of space also allowed me to calm myself. I always responded better when I was calm and still do today.

I found the idea of holding space to be similar to holding the note at the end of a song. In choir or band, we would look to the conductor and just hold the note, waiting for her to signal the stop. Similarly, in parenting a climax or crescendo might erupt from the small people and I would be the conductor to whom they were looking. If I cut the note short, then everyone was less satisfied. If I let it resonate, echo and dissipate, then the satisfaction of an ending could occur.

Pain is like a small child too. It needs me to hold the space – to pause, observe, resonate and diminish. It needs the process, the movement, the freedom to be the place where time and meaning great each other. The problem is that I didn’t have enough people holding the space for me while I was growing up. The eruption of pain was a geyser of uncontrollable proportions.

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Like a geyser with hot steaming water shooting into the air, my pain shot into the atmosphere spreading its deluge of scalding energy. It makes me imagine the person who discovered geysers. Frantically, they must have sought cover, desperately trying to reshape a world where water poured endlessly from the ground. Water from the ground – mind boggling.

This is the way I viewed pain my whole life, because the space was so rarely held for me. I needed someone to pause and watch, noticing the diminishing of the onslaught of scalding water from the ground. To show me that the geyser would come and go. Pausing to watch the magnificent spectacle was all that I needed. Watching it rise higher and higher, then temper to a small spray easing itself into a trickle that I could touch without being harmed.

This is the process of pain.

I need only let it move through me. Maybe through deep breaths or tears, perhaps pounding pillows or squeezing them tight, stepping into the heat or the cold and closing my eyes, walking the path in a nearby park, standing or dancing in the rain, listening to the music or holding the pregnant pause – these are things pain needs from me. These are the things I need from myself

“Surrender to the grief, despair, fear, loneliness, or whatever form the suffering takes. Witness it without labeling it mentally. Allow it to be there. Embrace it. Then see how the miracle of surrender transmutes deep suffering into deep peace.” Eckhart Tolle

 

The Little Engine that Couldn’t

I don’t exactly know what happened in my life to make me so sensitive to other’s opinions and feelings. Maybe I was just hardwired that way? Or was it programming?

I’ve often leaned towards programming. Biblical verses come to mind specifically. “He (God) must increase. I must decrease.” and “Let nothing be done of selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” Then, there is the story of the Good Samaritan who helps an injured man on the side of the road, while others simply pass him by, which totally villainizes the two men who wanted nothing to do with the injured man.

The other day, I was sorting through our board books to see what we had, because, with a paper-shredding son with autism and an almost 2-year-old, there is no such thing as too many board books. I stumbled upon my favorite story from childhood – “The Little Engine that Could.” Of course, this needed to be read to all children within the vicinity so I began out loud with my best narrative voice. As my three youngest children gathered round I felt that small glow in my heart that reading brings. (Is it just me or is reading to your child not one of the best things ever?!?! Okay, I know. It’s probably just me.)

Of course, as the story unfolded, I realized that the story was really only a repeat of the good Samaritan story from the Bible. Mortified, I listened to myself characterize the weary and dreadful voice of the old engine, who will not stop to help. My heart sunk further as I listened to my haughty version of the busy, strong engine turning down the opportunity to help the broken engine. Finally, the spry, naïve voice of the Little Engine that Could emerged on the scene. The hero of the story takes up the cause of the broken engine, regardless of practicality and with sheer will muscles the heavy load over the mountain.

“How wonderful.” I say dryly.

And what’s not to love? The underdog saves the day. The ugly, unlikeable characters fates are untold so that we may use our magnificent imaginations to prescribe their (likely) tumultuous futures. All of the good little children on the other side of the mountain get their toys and candy and all manner of spoils.

Here’s the thing.

Each of those engines had his own story too. Perhaps the old engine was weary from hauling his lifetime engine partner to his engine-grave. Yes, I know that sounds far fetched, but let’s humanize theses engines for a minute. Let’s say the old engine is an older women who has cared for her husband through 20 years of dementia, only to bury him that very morning. Should she really stop to help yet another person? Could she even carry their burden 10 feet, let alone up a mountain?

I don’t know. Only she does.

And the busy, strong engine – what if she or he was on their way to other children, not necessarily good or bad, but downtrodden and without hope? Perhaps this engine isn’t bringing the spoils of toys and candy, but rather simple food and water. Should this strong and hurried really stop to facilitate the export of toys and candy? What about the other children, not necessarily good or bad, who live over in the next valley and are starving? What about them? I mean, at the end of the story, the children who receive the toys and candy didn’t seem to be particularly hurting for shelter and food.

Then, there is the broken down engine who needs help. Perhaps he is a wonderful engine that is just having a bad day, but also, quite possibly, he didn’t fill up his gas tank before leaving. Not only that, but it isn’t even his first offense. In fact, what if this particular engine is on the verge of decommission, because of his lack of responsibility? Or maybe he is just having a bad day. Who knows?

Not me, that’s who. Only he knows if he did his best.

Lastly, the engine that could! Should he really take on a load that he is unsure he can carry? Yes, risk  and strong-will are important, but so is wisdom. Perhaps conventional wisdom would tell him to go for help instead of risking the load of wonders for the good little children.

I don’t know, but this story is full of striking metaphors – spoken and unspoken.

What is the point of my long diatribe?

There is a time for risk and fortitude of spirit, as well as a time for asking for help. There is a time to admit we make mistakes. There is a time to say we are too weary to help. There is a time for helping those in the greatest need AND a time for helping those with less need. There is a time for befriending and time for instructing for improvement – and those don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

There is a time for everything.

Helping ourselves and helping others, knowing the difference and what is needed in each moment – those are the lessons I want my children to have.

So perhaps I’ll write a story about “The Little Engine who Called for Help” and “The Weary Engine would Couldn’t” and “The Strong Engine who Stayed on Task.” These stories could be read alongside “The Little Engine that Could”.

Perhaps the world will be a better place once all the little engines are represented. Perhaps the children of the world, neither good or bad, will choose their path wisely.

Perhaps, we can teach our children well. Perhaps, our children can teach us too.