Nearly 36 years ago, I had a powerful and painful personal experience. A very natural life event – my pregnancy with, and the birth of my second son Matthew – impacted the core relationships in my life. His arrival precipitated in his older brother Daniel, a potent combination of a sense of loss in his place and privilege. And his helplessness to do anything to reverse this shift triggered Daniel a huge frustration that sometimes erupted into fury.
But this isn’t just a story about me and my kids.
This week as I’ve sat with and tried to process last weekend’s clashes in Charlottesville, it feels like a similar dynamic – albeit on a much larger scale. In the USA (and in truth many places on our planet) there are those being faced with the reality of a loss of place and privilege that (because of the circumstances of their birth) they’ve experienced all their lives. And like Daniel, the disruption these changes in ‘the water they’ve always swum in’ often trigger big emotional reactions.
As I felt into the parallels, I wondered whether having a look at the smaller scale might be of value? Perhaps decreasing the scale and intensity might give access to a way to hold what’s happening – in ourselves as individuals, and in the situation at large?
Back in 1981 I was 28, and pregnant with my second baby. At the time, my need to do things perfectly was pretty unchecked, and one of my biggest inner fears was wondering whether (and how) I could ever love this new babe as much as I loved my first one. For 3 years Daniel had had the undivided parental attention of his Dad and me, and was also the first grandchild on both sides of the family. This vibrantly alive boy often made me feel my heart would burst with love and delight.
Daniel feeling the pain of loss of being the ONLY center of attention
I was aware of my own challenges, but I’ll never forget the moment when I felt the first inkling of anything happening in Daniel. The day after Matthew’s birth, he and his Dad had come to visit me in the hospital. We were walking along the corridor, his little hand in mine, when he looked up at me and in a wistful voice said “Mummy, let’s be friends.” As his words landed in me, part of my heart broke at the thought that this might even be a question for him. Didn’t he know he was the light of my life?!
But the extent to which his brother’s birth had disrupted Daniel’s sense of place and privilege, and the frustration (and at times fury) at his impotence to change this, quickly became obvious. One of my few deep regrets in life has been in recognizing how unskilled I was at that stage of my own personal growth to support him there. His upset triggered my own sense of helplessness, and my response was to try to control (stop) his outbursts.
The combination of pain and confusion around his loss of place (no longer being the only receiver of attention) and his frustration and anger at his impotence to change this, were too much for his little nervous system to regulate. So he often acted them out on his little brother – a quiet, tender, sensitive soul. Their personalities and the gifts they bring to our world are as different as night and day.
Back then, their Dad and I, along with Daniel and Matthew, had to figure our way through these challenges. There were times it wasn’t comfortable or pretty. But one of my greatest learnings in parenting my boys (and their sister born 7 years later) has been the unshakable knowledge that love and life are not zero sum games. As we have the courage to risk allowing them to do so, hearts and possibilities are infinitely expandable.
As a culture today, we’re often unprepared to be with what arises in us, and how to be in relationship with each other, in response to changes that seem to diminish our privilege and entitlement – especially when we’ve always enjoyed them. Although the recent focus of events in Charlottesville (and other places in the USA) has been on race, my sense is this dynamic is occuring in many other situations.
It’s clearly no longer possible to pretend that we don’t see the shifts and changes happening in our world.
We’re still making the shift in our understanding from the old perspective that there’s a limited pie of power, so I need to have power over you (because if you have more I have less), to the notion of shared power with, and the infinite co-creative possibilities embedded in this.
And this shift from power over to power with impacts us all – those who’ve historically had power, and those who’ve not. The only question is how will we respond? I get that (like Daniel and Matthew) there are many different personalities and gifts we bring to life in our world. I’m clear there’s no one simple answer here. As a human race we’re in this together. Like the blind men around the elephant, we each see and feel and have our own unique perspectives and contributions to make.
It feels like life is inviting all of us into this kind of perspective. What I offer today is not THE answer. It’s my contribution based in what I’ve learned from a lifetime of practice in being as present as I can to what’s happening in and around me.
Today, for those of us who’ve held power (be it related to race, gender, wealth, education, age, ability etc.), like Daniel, there is no wall, or response that will allow us to ‘protect’ (or distance) ourselves from the changes that are happening. And for those of us rightly and understandably frustrated at being denied equal opportunities to participate in life, and in the co-creation of our world, engaging with power as if it were limited puts us into that no-win game.
Being able to risk saying ‘yes’ to the changes happening in our lives is a huge challenge for us all. It requires us to nurture the skills and capacities to be present to all we see and feel in response to the losses and longings bubbling in and around us. And there’s not been much conscious awareness or encouragement, far less teaching, for those of us in North American culture around developing these. In fact there’s much to distance and distract us from this.
Twenty years ago I had the gift of being asked to develop a bereavement support program for a local hospice. I learned so much as I created that program which I named Choosing Life After Loss – Re-weaving the Web, Relearning the World. And what I’m recognizing is that this work goes way beyond death and dying – I think this is what we’re being called to do here in response to all the changes that are emerging. How do we re-weave the web of our lives, and learn what it means to live in our world as it is now? And how will we re-invest our energies in the co-creation of the world of our best imagining?
The intense emotions we often experience when faced with a significant loss, or the pain of changes that seem so needed and feel like they’ll never come, can feel overwhelming. And particularly when the loss or longing has shaken or caused a rupture at the center of the web of our lives, there’s no magical, or quick way to process these experiences.
Rather than hardening and defending ourselves against these powerful emotions what if we were able to face the loss or longing, actually process these feelings, explore the changes, and begin to understand and come to terms this new world? Re-weaving our webs of connection and our relationship with the various facets of our lives takes time, AND a safe container within which to do this.
As a Mumma, it was painful for me to see the pain in my precious boy and not know how to support him. My helplessness then was part of my own journey to expand my skills and capacities, and fuel for my passion for this work of Realizing RICH Relationships in our changing world. If you’re feeling the pain of dislocation – whether in dealing with changes in your own life, or aching for changes that seem to be taking forever, and sense that having a partner and a safe container on your journey would make a difference, do reach out. I’d love to explore what that might look like for us.