What happens for you when you’ve acted in a way that feels deeply true, and someone (especially someone you care about) pushes back?
I imagine I’m not the only one to have a whole series of reactions and responses cascading out of that kind of experience. And while the tag line I use “living gently and powerfully – no matter what” is definitely NOT just a platitude it’s equally definitely not a state I inhabit in every moment! For me, mastery of “living gently and powerfully – no matter what” means quickly noticing when that’s not happening, and in tapping into the resources (both internal and external) that are always there for us, bringing ourselves back ‘home’.
I’ve had a powerful experience of that in my own life this week. I’m choosing to walk through it here, as a way of both grounding the practice even more deeply in my being, and sharing a very practical, real-life example with you.
I had come to a significant decision – movement in a direction that for me felt completely authentic, and which I began to share first with those closest to me, then with those who I felt needed to know. Responses came swiftly. Many (most) were happy to hear what was happening for me, some weren’t clear what I was trying to say (thanks for that feedback, I’ll try to be clearer!) Another, while not surprised at my choice, experienced my decision as a negative reflection on them, and seeing me as responsible for the painful emotional response being triggered in them.
Why can’t everyone just be happy for me, I thought? And then I heard the voice of John Savage, one of my long ago teachers, ringing in my ears “Turn your critic into your teacher.” It’s easy to be authentically and unapologetically me when my choices are being accepted, but here, rather than contracting in the face of this push back, I was being given the opportunity to stand graciously and unapologetically, AND wonder what else was here for me to learn.
In reflecting on the model that was ‘birthed’ out of me in 1999 during my work with Gay and Katie Hendricks (www.hendricks.com) I wondered – What would authentic presence look like here? How could I stand gently and powerfully in this space? I really wanted to feel the space and freedom of authentic presence!
I was clear that definitely DIDN’T mean following my instinctive human response, donning my protective shields and joining in the drama of that victim position by expressing my frustration that he couldn’t deal with his own stuff. Instead, I attended to myself, opened my heart and responded with a note that acknowledged his feelings, and shared my hope he’d find peace.
I would love to say my words found a place to land, but that was not the case. Over the next days, further communication seeing me as being ‘dispassionate’ and ‘without a scrap of empathy’ and rejecting my wish for his peace as ‘something theoretical I “should” say’ really triggered me.
It was only when I consciously focused on my choice that I could feel that space and freedom of having spoken and acted authentically. At other times I could feel an anxiousness in my gut – an old, familiar feeling that I wasn’t able to shift. I reached out to my community of support and asked them to hold me in their thoughts as I worked through this. And I began using the processes and practices I’ve been learning with Katherine Woodward Thomas and Claire Zammit www.callingintheone.com, and www.femininepower.com over this last year.
In really connecting with the anxious sensation in my body, I suddenly realized why it was familiar. I was again, here at 57, experiencing something I’d first felt at 10 as I was playing with my siblings and cousins. As the oldest I felt very responsible for them all and they (frustrated by my efforts to keep them ‘safe’) took to calling me ‘bossy Maralyn’. In my child mind, I could neither understand why they responded as they did (how could they miss seeing my caring?) nor appreciate the nuances of the way we were being together was affecting us all. As I checked in this week with that 10 year old in my body, the meaning she had taken from that situation was “when I see, and speak what I see, clearly and powerfully, I’m too much … others don’t get me and think I’m bossy and uncaring … in order to be accepted and loved in life, I have to ‘be nice’, and shut myself down, not speaking what I see or feel.”
“I’m too much” – what a powerfully limiting filter to have lived through for almost 50 years! I was ready to really step out of this old pattern and create a new way of being – with myself, with others, and in the world.
So grounded in my deeper, wider, wiser adult self, I took some time with that young one in my body – really noticing and accepting everything that was there. Seeing and feeling the pain of all those years of containment, and contraction; of not only not being seen by others, but really being ‘shut down’ and not seen by me. It was painful to be present to.
After it was clear that this younger self in my body was feeling received and heard (her painful experience finally witnessed) I began to nurture her – gently mentoring her into the deeper truth. I embraced the whole of me, including my powerful caring, and clear seeing. While I am a pioneer and co-creator with life of powerful ways of living and loving, it is NOT my responsibility to ‘keep everyone safe’! As I learn to navigate the balance between my full self-expression and the impact and effect I am having on others, my message is more clearly communicated, and is received by those in whom it finds resonance, and not by those who don’t. And that’s OK!
Then, as amends to this younger self in my body and inspired by Katherine’s coaching of a colleague on a recent call, I made this fierce commitment to myself.
“I have a powerful vision to share, and I will not waste one more day giving up my power and containing myself because of others’ response. I will listen, speak and act from my deep knowing – authentically and unapologetically. Regardless of what happens I will show up, and bring my voice to the world!”
And as a way of living out this commitment, I write and share these words – welcoming those in whom this work finds resonance, and blessing those who have another path in life.