Last weekend I was going through a particularly rough patch about love and relationships. I was asking myself, when will I be with someone special and have a deep, intimate relationship?
That’s when I noticed a small book tucked on a shelf titled “How to Love” by the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
The first passage I read was off the charts spine tingly.
"Everyone of us is seeking emotional intimacy. We want to have real communication, mutual understanding, and communion. We want to be in harmony with someone."
Don’t you just love when the universe gives a supportive message?
It’s like a little high five from the universe. Yo! I’ve got your back. Here, read this. It’ll help.
The synchronicity was bittersweet.
Have you ever felt there are too many sides inside of you? Have you ever felt you don’t fit in and the requirements to be so-called normal are impossible?
What if our imperfections are absolutely perfect?
For instances, there’s the quiet side who speaks softly and there’s the vicious side that can inhale the sun and spew fire if need be.
There’s the fearful side, likened to a fierce wild stray who sees others as the enemy. We might growl to keep someone away.
As for me, one minute I can speak rose and turn the petals into magic but push me too hard and I will scratch you with my thorns.
My creative side carries me in between here and there and sometimes, I can’t figure out how to return to zero.
So, I stay there. It’s usually a mystical space where candles burn upside down and clouds become the ground. I swim far and deep because I breathe better underwater than in the air.
Relationships are much like sunlight flirting with shadows or like the scurry of bird’s feet speaking with the earth -- just before flight.
Relationships evoke emotions that ride with waves that kiss the tempest inside of us; with learned trust, we are rarely not too far from a lighthouse that will bring us closer to the sea caves of our awareness. This is a place of fierce love. That bold, shy, quiet, raging holiness where we see for the first time, again and again, that our mistakes are our gifts.
Our heated complexities double-bind us until we stop running from our shadows and embrace them as one of us. Instead of exquisitely trying to deny and displace them. Such are the projections we narrate that ‘they’ could not be ‘us’ and yet ‘they’ are ‘us’ in the most extraordinary way. This isn’t easy.
However, when we begin to see clearer, we can step into our shadows and befriend our personal eclipses.
Our conflicts, distrusts, poignantly distressed relationships, as well as golden ones are almost certainly there to teach our soul the colors are within. And maybe, as we continue to walk along this bridge, we will understand that this love is real as it is whole and holy us.
It can be difficult to trust especially when we might have a backlog of antiquated experiences that tell us otherwise.
Those thought-process and feels that have a history of inconsistency in interpersonal relationships such as those voices that are triggered by: The Criticizer. The Scolder. The Belittler. The Power Tripper -- that is being on the receiving end of a Know-it-All.
When those landmines are set-off, it hurts; even by the slightest infraction whether it’s an eye roll, obviously being ignored, or a yawn when we start to reveal something important to us, and/or being talked-down-to.
A chain reaction may occur: this isn’t a safe person-place-or-thing.
Pulling back from those situations is one brilliant built-in mechanism of protection and setting boundaries that we’ve learned from an earlier form of survival. Some might even develop a creative level of intelligent dissociation.
But what’s next? How do we negotiate these landmines and practice new trust and relationship skills?
It has been both my personal experience, and as a therapist to honor and follow the lead of my clients. Often that means taking it s-l-o-w-l-y.
To build trust, one needs respect and to sincerely honor the person’s intelligence (when I say intelligence that goes way beyond school & degrees; it is the soul’s intelligence.)
Together we see-feel and go into the shadows with a fresh set of eyes and perspective. We untangle the knots and spaces in between to hear, learn and understand that: trust – is as fierce as it is fragile.
Trusting ourselves (inner intuitiveness) is part of the foundation and a stronger step stone to creating healthier relationships.
What is stress telling us?
We juggle and multitask and wipe up real and metaphorical spills while being placed on hold to antiquated tinny music.
We answer texts and messages while simultaneously making breakfast, and pouring coffee, while sweet honey soaks over our oatmeal.
Mountains of laundry vie for our eye and the weeds grow and grow and grow. The everyday demands of self and others can feel endless:
“Where are the band aids? MOM, the cat is in the dryer! Is my favorite shirt washed? I think my tongue is swollen. I’m hungry. When is dinner? Do I have to go to school? I have a flat tire. What happened to my binder, shoes, cat, and soccer ball? I thought I left you a note because I need the car too!”
Morning becomes night, and the email’s sharp blue-glow rests waiting to be opened. We instinctively start to triage. What is most important? Who needs more and sometimes more and more?
However we might start to ask, “What and where our limit is?”
Combine all of this with the world’s outcry and ache for justice. Where equality is not seen or heard and sexism, racism, homophobic and anti-Semitism trumps loudly. Justice screams from behind the orange pale of closed eyes and sleep may evade us: if only we could do more.
On the downside, when all the stressors start to pile up, we snap or collapse. One more query is one-too-many and that last person may get the full throttle of our mighty — or tears, or cold shoulder. We’ve overstretched our ability to give and give and give. The well of our sensibilities and kindness are shaken empty.
Too often we forget to take care of ourselves. Pushing our needs down, down, down because we are the only one handling it all, all, all. We turn the key and go, go, go. We tentatively try the word no and stop but that’s not always enough. Sometimes we need to voice a stronger, ‘No more!’
These overstimulating, constant and demanding situations, are a built-in warning system and can lead us to find flat spaces of refuge, or a ledge to scream: ‘Leave me the f*ck alone!’
I’m reminded of Rainer Maria Rilke’s words, “I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people; that each protects the solitude of the other.”
And yet many of us don’t have someone to support us and protect our solitude. Therefore we have to strengthen our own resolve – our own inner self-solitude – and fiercely protect it.
Our various roles often morph into infinity. Be it parenting, divorcing, partnering, soloing, and paying bills, caretaking, working and too often ignoring what makes life meaningful, soulful and joyful. That butterfly flutter inside of our heart that sings with passions and knows – THIS is it. I must do x and y to also find the space to rejuvenate and listen to the answers inside.
With practice, we can recognize the signs of our daily-grind and exhaustion and set boundaries to protect that much needed solitude to kindle our creative juices. This is a place of honoring our soul and spirit. The same place that is signaling to us, a more sustainable practice of self-care.
Practice what you preach to others: Take time for yourself. Carve out patches of listening to music and reading, and writing. Naps lifts the edges when our eyes can no longer blink. Walk your favorite path. Sip that espresso. Curl into a pillow. Make Netflix a verb and watch the silliest and simplest to create spaciousness that will fertilize a mindless meadow. It helps to relax even for a tiny bit.
Less is more: Let go of the clutter. Bag by bag. Week by week. Gather the unused and misused accumulation of clutter. Empty one drawer. Dust off one shelf. Donate those shoes that pinch and the ones with the heels or the flats that don’t support and the six sizes of clothes you hope you’ll morph into (or not) – someday. Minimizing gives room to breathe and the clear, clean edges of solitude will echo.
Try something new or revisit something old: Do you have a passion? Want to take that writing course? Begin a blog? Take a photography class? Paint a scene? Paint a room? Relocate? Change jobs? How about gardening? Quilting? Volunteer. Read to a child. Visit a nursing home. Sing. Dance. Meditate.
Take social media breaks: Social media is on constant chatter mode and it can become exhausting to sort and hear and assimilate. Even moreso if you are highly sensitive. The streams of word-picture-stories flow and vibrate with feelings and moods of other people. Have you ever felt some Facebook walls scream? It can be a violence to our souls. Step back and take a walk through a book. Write a poem. Bake a batch of cookies. Sip tea. Or take 5 and do nothing. Nothing at all. Just be.
Take breaks: There are days that breaks are next to impossible but even 5-10 minutes of closing your eyes can help. Daydreaming is divine. Turning off one’s cellphone. Announcing, “This is my quiet time.” Protect it wholly to keep you holy.
Set your ‘business’ hours and downtime too: More and more people are self-employed and this leads some to believe you are available all-the-time. That’s not true. By setting our hours and keeping them clear is healthy. Teaching and modeling boundaries is essential. Setting limits on self and others, is a practiced skill. It helps to prevent exhaustion and burnout. With all honestly there’s only so much one person can do.
And so I sit here clicking away and it’s all misty and grey and crisp in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t feel as rushed. My home is still quiet. The fence outside glistens with a blanket of moss. Even the birds are unusually silent. I’m holding space for myself and it is not one bit selfish or wrong. It is necessity for me to carry on.
Originally published on The Urban Howl: Holding Space for Yourself Isn't Selfish or Wrong, But Necessary
Carolyn Riker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in private practice. She is also an author of three books. Her most recent book is "My Dear, Love Hasn't Forgotten You."
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