Our Time

At birth love comes to us in vocabularies bitter or sweet, fearful or bold, distorted or straightforward. We understand the language in the essence of our being. Analysis, interpretation, insight, they come much later, long after the understanding is etched in our heart. Love is a stream of kindness, flowing, reliable, even when we are not. Or it is intermittent, sometimes volatile, rapids to navigate in our too small vessel.

The most important thing to remember is that this is how it comes to us; we could not have changed its way - softened or strengthened or made more consistent its course. The time of our choosing is now, in how we receive it now. While the haunting of our first encounters, the core language of love that came to us, will always be a part of our geography, we might now raise our head to take in the fuller context that holds our parents and all the others and us. That vast ancestral field from which come. Perhaps now we might choose to feel the easy warmth of their love, not sentimental but powerful, intrinsic, open, no longer weighted down in the quagmire of story and judgment. Perhaps it is a good and rich time right now to receive their love, simple and complete. Perhaps it’s the moment to rest in their support of our ongoingness as the fruition of theirs.

Fierce Love

No, I do not understand the obscene and relentless cruelty of humanity. No analysis of any kind explains its depths of violence, lack of compassion, or the riled up wildness of thrashing fury. And frankly words like love sometimes seem far too soft to meet it. Love, so naïve, so blind and ridiculous.

And yet, when I think about how easy it would be to let go of love in favor of hatred, fear and hopelessness, I realize that to hold to it in the face of its opposite takes a kind of muscularity and grace. You see it in the faces of people like Martin Luther King, Mohandas Ghandi, Malala Yousafzai. Their eyes shine with a fierce love; their faces are made serene by it, confident, powerful. They walk with us, on the ground, wings dusty and damaged, like ours. Their love blows through the dark alleys of ignorance, withstanding the insults of the cynical and the cowering. It insists. And it continues even after they have been shot, stabbed, burned, subject to all manner of degradation and attempts at erasure.

The spirit of this kind of love doesn’t belong to them – to King, Ghandi, Malala – it is caught in the breeze by them, already in the air, already moving through, already the force of all existence. This love, it sticks to them, to their imperfect humanity, and it is carried forward perfectly, willfully, willingly.

I am aware that I have a vast capacity for hatred. Hatred seeded by a sense of powerlessness; a defense against overwhelm. The litany of events and consequences I don’t understand is very long; there are so many spaces in which hatred can arise. But in these moments, I think of the flash of fierce loving wisdom in Martin Luther King’s eyes, and with his hand at my back, his hand and others, I announce to myself: It’s okay, I am not scared, I’m with them.

The Roulette Wheel

The universe always provides. Clearly, this is not so. I just have to think beyond myself. For most of the world, it is simply not so. Food, shelter, medical care, work, a day without violence … they are all out of reach for millions and millions of people across the globe.

So, I think about things from this very privileged place, even as life is sometimes overwhelming for me, or I am frightened, sad, angry, filled with regret. And it’s true that the fact that others, most others, live a harder life than I do doesn’t change what I am dealing with. But I am clear that I live as I do – fundamental factors in place -- with the blessing of the roulette wheel. I have done nothing to deserve it (just as others have done nothing to deserve having to navigate hell each and every day).

The universe is as it is, and we are at the mercy of it’s inexorable forces. In my privilege, I try to be in accord with the random nature of nature, at ease with my lack of understanding and others’ lack of understanding, even when I and we call it something else. I get into trouble when I think I can control the universe as it necessarily means something strange: I have special access that others, most others, don’t? Spiritual, intellectual, socioeconomic access? I do not get the difference between this and the very ideologies of those leaders and groups so many of us would agree are/were dangerous. I try to be friendly with my simple luck.

So, I know that I am lucky. Lucky to be writing this little reflection on the universe, lucky to be in good company, lucky to smell dinner cooking, lucky to be annoyed with my dog. And I have problems too. My friends hear it endlessly. Oh, I am lucky to have them. Truly.

My point is pedestrian really, a continued resolution: to make something of my good luck, to try not to complain too much, to give more to the world than I take, to leave it in a little better shape. My good fortune doesn’t feed a starving child or hold the bullet back from an old woman’s head. But I will plant a seed or many in the spaciousness of my good luck, try not to do violence in my home or community, and use my voice in the best way that I can for as long as the wheel is with me.

Setting Out Clean

Gratitude is often understood as a moral stance, something that makes us better people, more in contact with our “higher self.” Perhaps this is so. Those who are grateful certainly interact in a more generous way than those who are dissatisfied. And those who live in a state of gratitude are inherently more at ease with relationship than those who live in a state of insatiability.

Still, there is another aspect of gratitude. Gratitude has everything to do with freedom; it allows for movement, for breath, for good accounting. The words “thank you,” in addition to representing graciousness, really shift the field inhabited by the speaker and recipient (whether the recipient is a person or an experience). A “thank you” marks the completion of something. It is usually offered to another, though the completion is first and foremost an interior experience. “Thank you” marks the close of one moment, which allows for the next moment, whatever shape it takes. Lack of gratitude, on the other hand, holds the moment and those that follow it in place.

The one who wants more does not get to move on. The residue of disappointment leads me right back to where I came from to ask, demand, plead, or manipulate for something more or something else. Of course, this is most salient with our parents, wanting more from them, wanting them to be other than they are or were. It is gratitude that frees us from whatever our complaints are!

With “thank you” I may extend my hand to you, embrace you, lower my eyes, fall to my knees, whisper in your ear, shout from the rooftop, send you a message, look in the mirror … no matter how it’s done, the feeling and its gesture signal that the moment is complete, released, and that I will now return to myself, alert to what is coming.

Returning Home

My father was a man, the son of his mother and father, the son of a multitude of mothers and fathers who passed life on in their distinct ways. He was a fashion illustrator, smoked a pipe, liked the horses, and tennis, clothing, Italian bread. Mostly though, he was a mystery to me as a child. I understood him in rather narrow ways primarily through the eyes of one woman, my mother, who felt hurt and abandoned. And he did not disclose much else of himself, though I do not think I asked many questions or was generous in my listening. The time I spent with my father was awkward, strained, exhausting. I didn’t know how to simply be his daughter. Any natural connective expression was drowned out by conflicting impulses toward other loyalties. My memories are few, vague, in accord with our shared absence to each other.

Sometimes there’s a hidden agreement among Mother, child, and Father. The importance of Father’s role will be diminished when parents separate. Everyone signs the agreement for their own reasons.

In convincing herself that he is nothing, Mom may be attempting to protect herself from further grief and overwhelm. Perhaps she hopes that the child will not notice or blame her for Father leaving. Or maybe if she makes him small she herself will loom big enough to hold the child to her.

And what of the father? Why would he sign such an agreement, one that says that he is insignificant? Sometimes it’s a reflection of how he already feels. He should have been able to hold the relationship together. He should have been stronger, smarter, richer, better, somehow more substantial. It also may be easier for him to pretend to himself that his absence won’t have an impact on the child. According to this agreement, Father is replaceable, erasable, disposable. In the face of feelings of guilt, this is a small price for him to pay, apt consequence for his terrible imperfections.

Victim and perpetrator, the agreement stipulates, are roles that are immutable. The victim will remain as victim and the perpetrator as perpetrator. These will be the perceptions. The agreement encapsulates the past, fixes it in time even as time passes. What is really a fleeting sense of things is cut off from natural movement in the panic of emotion.

The child attempts to navigate the clauses he or she has inherited. Much of the parents’ guilt, anger, grief, disappointment is displaced onto the child, who agrees to take on these aspects as a matter of survival. (It did not occur to me as a child how much of me I was sacrificing when I sacrificed my father. My compass was entirely set to the guidance of my mother, the one who stayed. I did not think to ask why. I signed the contract.)

In Constellations, participants are often shocked when we choose someone to represent Father, to ask him to stand in the space that has been presented as empty. It is immediately and powerfully clear: his presence makes a difference. This simple image touches everyone. And in showing us what we all already know at the deepest levels, the image provides relief, no matter the personalities or details. Suddenly the words written in the agreement become watery and smeared. What did they say? Father doesn’t matter? Suddenly the page is blank, the words fall away. Something new is waiting. A more essential truth that doesn’t even have words.

The adult who returns to the scene may be surprised that the split that had been so dominant, so everything in childhood, is no longer as pronounced. Just a small ache now, a distant memory of something past. Surprised that it is done, and that it must be done for anything fresh to emerge. That the adult heart has latitude that had not until this moment been tested. That the habit of being until this moment had been rigid, stingy, still protecting the child’s heart. With this realization, tears flow easily. Grief released finally, let out finally, let go finally. Something new is waiting. And perhaps this new has really been taking shape over the years, beneath the surface, something that can now be permitted, even welcomed: blossoming, integration, and the ability to look through the eyes of an adult, already accomplished in so many ways, into the eyes of the one man whom the child could not exist without.

And Mother, who at an earlier time in the chaos of circumstances was unable to bear the possibility of more loss, actually gains immeasurably from this image. This great contribution to life, the new life she help set into motion is unleashed, enriched from both sides. Now the most important truth invites our attention, the one that carries the future in its reflection. She is able, and in fact it seems a natural movement, to step back and give room for this connection, which of course is already there, has always been there, between Father and child. Feeling freer, the child can really see the father now, yes, and can take him in fully as the part that was missing for all of these years. Fruition.

And Father. To be allowed to feel the space opened up to him, to know what it is to have helped change the world through the co-creation of new life. To allow himself to feel at all, to feel it all. In this image he can open his arms to his child, and all who stand behind him can look up to see the grandchild, the great-grandchild, the descendent. Only this man with this woman could have created this particular individual. And these two systems – with their thousands of strands of language, artistry, sustenance, intelligence, faith, grace, challenge, breath – are joined within this one human being in this completely unique and common extraordinary way.

Mother, I am grateful. Father, I am grateful. The image has matured in me, ripened, is ready for what is next.

You Asked For It!: A Solitary Life

There is the circumstance of living alone and there is the state of loneliness. Sometimes the two are aligned, but it is not always so. The solitary life may be a contracted life, days and nights passing at a low ebb, despair just beneath the surface. The solitary life may be an expansive life, days and nights passing in rich moments, joy always within reach. The solitary life may be disconnected or connected.

It is a difference in the state of being. When I ask what somebody’s life looks like – I live alone, I have no children, my wife died, I have never been in a long-term relationship, I will spend the holidays reading – these details tell me little. The same is true of the opposite details: I live with my husband, I have a baby girl, my wife and I have been married for 14 years, I married my high-school sweetheart, I will be with 22 family members for the holiday. Of course, from the outside, most of us have all sorts of assumptions about the details. She’s not like me, I am not like him … She must be wrong, he must be misguided. Thank heavens, he’s like me, I am like her … They are right, on the healthy track. These judgments comfort and divide us.

Most obviously, there is an expectation in this time and in this culture that many of the milestones we use to mark the passage of time are associated with living in relationship: first date, prom, engagement, marriage, birth of a child, “empty nest,” grandchildren. This is part of the vocabulary of the general conscience that informs us, whether we are in accord with it or we struggle to redefine it. It is a legacy, and it is a form that in practical terms allows us to hand life off to the future. It is often difficult, perhaps confusing or infuriating or depressing, to find oneself living outside of this main stream, “the mainstream”.

In Constellation work, it is particularly easy to grab on to the details as a way of looking at a system and then inadvertantly, perhaps, diagnosing issues within a false context. If life-giving order is central to the philosophical premise, then when people are outside of that order, there is a problem. Right? Well, it is the state of being that we have to discover to understand whether or not there is order or disorder, so that we can accompany people on their path – rather than drag them down ours.

Imagine … a poet, sipping tea, seated at a beautiful table, writing words of such profound and natural power that the reader cannot help but be touched. Imagine her reverie as she first forms the words as though in a dream, and then later wears down her eraser as she perfects cadence and tone. The next morning, after sleeping the deep sleep that follows a full day, she transfers the words to her screen. She loves the sound of the tap tap on the keys. Once finished, she takes a breath and gently closes the screen. She puts on her coat and goes for a walk. Moving down the wildly crowded city streets or, perhaps, through the wild flowers of the country meadow, she makes contact with new images, sounds, bits of fleeting life; she waves to the dogwalker or the dogwood. Later she will incorporate these moments somehow into a fresh communication with the world. Imagine that when she is not writing, walking, sleeping, eating, sipping tea, or taking care of her home, she is fully awake and engaged with an internal landscape of ever-changing color and view.

I ask her: Are you married? No. Have you ever had a long-term relationship? No. Do you have children? No. Where will you spend the holidays? Right here. Are you ever lonely? Hmm, I don’t think so. Do you know why? I don’t really understand the question on some level. My needs are not a mystery to me.

If we feel into this woman’s state of being, we can let ourselves imagine, without fear, the bountiful dimension of this solitary life, absolutely connected to life and in deep accord with its movements. The superficial details different from that main stream, and at the same time a clear and refreshing tributary, leading to the same destination we all find our way to ultimately. Her contribution to life can be found in the great and essential reciprocity of all things.

I won’t dwell on the opposite imaging. We certainly know in ourselves, most of us, the striving for the superficial details to be in place, and the cyclical patterns in which we sometimes become lost. Even having achieved some or all of those familiar milestones, many feeling trapped in a lonely state, surrounded, busy, but out of touch internally. (I can only know this because he or she reports it to me. When I judge it – assume it – from the outside, I am looking at myself in the mirror.)

And, of course, there are still others who are deeply satisfied in their main stream, surrounded and full, and that’s a beautiful thing.

The resolution of any Constellation reflects the widest field; it always hints at the state of being that is at ease with life, folding in its details rather than attempting to control them. When someone lives in a state of anxiety or dissatisfaction or fear or other depletion, it is the state that holds the possibility of change rather than erasure of the symptom. Erasure is temporary and inaccurate. It doesn’t account for the original materials. The paint will eventually chip away and the original design will show through.

So, what sets the ecology of the current state? This is fertile ground for discovery. If I live in a state of anxiety, addressing the immediate problem will only inhibit the anxiety and it will only be a matter of time before I return to that state. If I live in a state of peace, then I can meet a challenge one way or another, and then return to the peaceful state that has the capacity to withstand the challenge. When our poet has a poem rejected by an important literary journal or learns of the loss of an old friend, and then experiences the disappointment or grief that is the consequence, she has a place to which she can return: a state of ease and replenishment.

When I learned one day that both of my great-grandmothers died in childbirth, something clicked. My mother mentioned this in passing, as part of another story, but I really heard it, especially as I looked into my brave, frightened mother’s eyes. Both of her parents had lost their parents in childbirth. These women and these infants had lost and gained everything in one profound transaction. I understood something about the ecology of my essential state: underlying fear with each step toward more life. In the underlying fear of losing everything is also a kind of preparation for the potential. A state of siege. So, husband, house, child, job … these wonderful details did not, could not, address the state.

But the “click” provided by my mother held something key. On my mother’s side these losses set the ecology for a state that I was born into and that has always informed my ways in the world. Rather than erase the symptom or continue to fall more deeply into that state, I remind myself that I can add sweetness to the ecology now, and that this sweetness will drift back into the past and simultaneously provide new sustenance for the future. I can continue to update my state, allowing fear to become a less relevant force, trauma to be contained by those who can handle it, who did already. And even as I face the challenges that life continues to bring to my doorstep, letting primary feelings move through rather than becoming stuck, I will return to my expanded state, one that is closer to that of the poet of my imagination.

You Asked For It!: Anger

My anger is a trickster, sometimes fooling me into thinking that I am standing my ground when I am actually just kicking up dust. When I step out of myself and blame others for what is rarely actually between us, it is my own heart that splinters, my own confidence that falters. The anger is familiar—that corridor of feeling, reaction, seething, amnesia—it is from another time and place where I was helpless to move, afraid to voice, powerless against so much I could not understand. Anger is a trickster that seduces me back into that young place and throws old images up onto the screen that sometimes look like people in my current life. When I decline the trickster's invitation and do not enter that long hall, I can hold to the present and recognize anger by other names ... mobility, compassion, boundaries, reserve, articulation, perspective, creativity, agent of change.

You Asked For It!: Following Your Passion

Should one always follow one’s professional passion?

Sure.

Really? I wonder why it is that so few people seem to end up doing what they want to do. Why is it that not everyone gets to become a painter or an actor, a basketball player or a family constellation facilitator?

First, of course, there are often very powerful external circumstances at work, and for most of the world things like food and safety take precendence over “following our passion.” On another level, I am careful about assuming that folks are passionate about what they say they are passionate about. I learned this in the mirror. Passion exists at various levels, usually simultaneously, and for each passion that can be articulated, there is often a deeper one that cannot be.

I’m not sure what you mean. People are lying to themselves about what they want and then lying to the world?

No, not lying. The thing I am trying to locate here is that our professed desires are sometimes at odds with our subconscious drives. Like we are in the right gear to head into the future as we dream it but there is gunk in the fuel tank and we keep stalling out: in essence we keep faithful to our other passions, those first established when we were very young. For me, for the longest time, since I was so little, I said I wanted to be a writer. That was my great love. To be a writer. It was a thing I said, a thing I felt, sometimes a thing I tried.

So, that’s what happened, right?

Yes, it is. Still, it took over 30 years to allow that passion to rise to the top, to take center stage. Many things had to come into alignment: concentration, energy, confidence, time, determination, discipline, comfort, interest, continuity – all over a period of time, not just once (the bolt of lightning) but for weeks and weeks, a year. Passion is a demanding companion.

When did you feel a shift? When did those things all come into alignment? What did it feel like? That’s probably a dumb question. But somehow I imagine there must be a deep, good feeling that goes with it, like landing, like deep breathing all the time without even thinking about it.

Hmm.

No? What then?

I don’t know exactly. I just kept considering what I had read in Family Constellations books, witnessed in my own work, and learned from my own students. I just kind of allowed the observations to whoosh around in my mind over a long time, with no agenda or expectation. Like mouthwash whooshing around, sometimes it felt minty fresh! I was surprised again and again that Hellinger’s observations seemed to shed some light on my own patterns and that I was allowing that to happen, allowing for the light to show me something even if it scared me. Some of those patterns had felt so deep and intractable that I hardly wanted to mention them even to myself. I figured, This is too shameful or that is so dispicable, I will just shut my eyes so it disappears. Hellinger’s observations brought some light, and more important, some ease in looking. If I didn’t have to hate my mother in order to love myself – or love her and end up hating me – this seemed like a good start. I was trying not to think too hard, but just to stay open to hearing, to allow one thing or another to have meaning.

You never went to a therapist?

Oh, I did. And I worked in the behavioral sciences for decades. I had a great deal of respect for most of the therapists I worked with, and learned a lot from them. But my primary investment was in not rocking my own psychological boat, in not looking at patterns so I wouldn’t have to fail in changing them, witness myself not following through yet again.

What do you mean? Why did you think you would fail?

Well, most of us fail in that. A pattern is a repetitive design: I might not be happy with it, but I know where I am in the structure, what was, what is, what will be. It is the youngest part of us that gets caught in that structure, the part that has to know she is not alone, that this is how to ensure survival.

I get that. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Okay, so what’s all this have to do with being passionate about what you do? You won’t know where you’re going?

That may be part of it. But I’m thinking more about levels of passion. I would say that my unspoken passion, my deeper passion, was more about not abandoning my brother than about pursuing something I wanted. His voice was not heard, would never be heard, not in the family, not in the world. If he could not, I would not. And, don’t worry Mom, don’t worry Dad, I will not leave him just because you did. Follow my passion? Indeed, this is my deepest, earliest love and knowledge. I know what to do, how to do it: stay quiet, stay young, stay still.

So, have you abandoned him and them by writing this book?

No, now I see it in another way. In the past, when people invited me to succeed (which I understand to mean: completing what I set out to do) – so many people who loved me and cared about me over the years – I could not, despite great efforts, do it. And what felt like craziness, ineptitude, ongoing failure weighed more and more heavily on me and my relationships. Passion for the future – the place that waits with open arms – felt like betrayal to my greater passion, a past I could not abandon. Over time, days and days and more days, Hellinger’s observations began flowing into my own burgeoning understanding, along with a more general opening to other currents moving around me and through me, little bursts of new life-giving thought-feeling, and fresher interactions with the world. Without being able to tell you when exactly or where or why or even how old ideas of loyalty began nesting inside larger images of honoring, at some point they did. What I mean is that I began to see that moving more freely in the present, eyes forward toward more life, is in fact, in different fact, is a way, the way, of paying homage to my older brother. In stepping more fully into life, I am not leaving Edwin behind, I am saying, or living, my “thank you.” To make a contribution to life that is in accord with my widest vocabulary is to bring my older brother into the world, his arm around my shoulders, exactly as he does it. His contribution is in accord with his vocabulary, not knowable by me, and I can move in my way, not knowable by him. Does Life judge him as harshly as I have in the past? Does it judge me with such conceit? Each of us is on our own road, our parents and everyone behind them coursing through us in different ways, all of that color, sound, wisdom, confusion, greatness, belief, and vulnerability.

And the book?

Well, it is written with all of the energy of confluence, the words not so much from me as through me. Where once I wrote in the airless spaces of separation and opposition, trying to put something back together, now expression felt as though it was being set free. I didn’t write this book in honor of my family, or to expose or fix them, I wrote it with them. Passion aligned.

You Asked For It: Omega

Dear Omega Hosts, Course Participants, and Course Faculty,

I want to thank you for remaining so open and improvisational when our plans changed rather suddenly. Funny, your response was right in line with Bert Hellinger’s emphasis on being in accord with life. Life shifts, ebbs and flows, and sometimes takes sharp turns. If we insist on staying in one place, refuse to release our expectations and absolutes, we get left behind. At the same time, life requests our generosity and confidence to meet it half-way. The Omega event worked out because everyone who participated in it was able to hold a sense both of flow and sure-footedness.

Many people mentioned this forum as marking the beginning of a new sense of coalescence. Perhaps. At the same time, it felt like a kind of completion. People who forged the earliest paths in Constellation work in the United States gathering together for the first time in over a decade. As with a Family Constellation, there is nothing more to add. It is complete, and simultaneously continuing to unfold in the hearts and minds of every single person in the room.

Years ago, Bert Hellinger’s vision was to let many flowers bloom. I think he knew that to try to control the path of the work would be to turn away from it on a certain level. To keep learning, to keep discovering, requires a steady gaze toward the horizon. To guard, mold, oversee requires something else. Clearly, many flowers have bloomed, are blooming, and there are myriad opportunities to experience each scent and hue.

What happens next, how it happens next, has to be fresh, no residue or need to compare. Whether or not this faculty ever shares the floor again, we have come together at Omega. That will always be so. Our voices have already joined with others to be more than they were. The field has already widened.

You Asked For It: Fathers

In Family Constellation books, one reads a lot about the mother. The relationship with her is reflected later in life. A breach in the connection manifests in disruptions in the forward motion toward more. Mother is at once ordinary and magnificent. Giving birth is, of course, a common act. At the same time, it is an extraordinary act. A woman risks her life, even today, to have a child. And each child, after all, changes the world.

And father. What of the relationship with him? Once the child makes it into the world, the world is a new place. The child brings to it an amalgam of variables from both parents, a blend of strengths and wisdom, vulnerabilities and pockets of unknowing. A child will embody energies from both family systems without having the ability to pick and choose. Even later, as the child becomes an adult, “picking and choosing” has a deeply subconscious layer that affects the form and content of those decisions.

We know that many children grow up without the biological father in their daily life, and many more look back and consider their father to have been absent. Leave the question of why to the side for now, I am thinking about what is missing when the father is missing.

Almost immediately an image comes to mind: my mother looks at me, my father looks out. In this image, he is not looking out to get out and he is not distracted, disengaged, or dissatisfied. He is on duty, surveying the field for intruders and invitations. He is discerning what is safe and what is not. He is protecting me in a way that is different from the way my mother protects me. He is teaching me in a way that is different from the way my mother teaches me.

As I look at the image, and then feel it in my body, a sense of calm begins to overtake my nervous sytem and warmth permeates my heart. It is a feeling of relaxation and engagement. It occurs to me suddenly that their individual ways are both most certainly within my body-mind; I am an admixture. Through the image, this sense of myself becomes an awareness, something to work with, something deep and true. It is appealing to feel this being whole, not born of one (replication) but of two (chemistry). Intuition and judgment. Reflection and action. Strength and strength. And, of course, all of those vulnerabilities. How really comforting to let it trickle into my imagination, where everything starts, and restarts.

We tend to see mother as intrinsically essential, whereas we often understand fathers as having to earn their place. They are disposable, replaceable, eraseable. No good. Weak. Crazy. Distant. Ignorant. Critical. Violent. Cold. Leave him behind. (Mothers can be all of these things too, but we are hesitant to get rid of them, even if we kick and scream for the rest of our lives about it.)

So, what is this I am detecting now? An addition to my sensory accompaniment, a slight turning toward the future so that he just steps right in, where before in my searching, begging, yelling, he receded farther and farther into the unreachable distance of the past. As I feel his presence in mine, he is just there, and I invoke the names of his colors, the best ones – confidence, charisma, optimism, wit, artistry, grace, taste – and find that they reside in me as well. They are the colors that allow me to be seen by the world as I wish to be seen, a dash of each, coming through him. A particular gift, a pallette, for his daughter.

In this, I don’t ask for anything more and neither do I harp on what was difficult – we both know that part very well – rather, I keep my gaze set toward what is coming and I feel him at my shoulder; there is room there now. His hand, a slight pressure on my skin, different from the hand of my mother, and no less essential to my sense of equilibrium. I know without looking that he is surveying our field, helping me discriminate the topology. It is our understanding now, revamped as I return an adult: I will embrace the guidance and special gifts of the men, as they are safe inside me now, and as they have found their peace in that. We go on in a good way. And others will look back to see you clearly and with full permission.

You Asked For It: Keep Friendships Healthy

All relationships need to be updated from time to time. This is true for relationships that seem to have become tense or somehow uncomfortable and it is true for those that continue to feel easy and light.

In the first instance, it is usually that too many things have gone unspoken for too long so that where once the friendship may have been a place of freedom, now it feels more like a small room with too little air and no door.

Here’s one scenario: it may be that the relationship was built on ground that has shifted over time. For example, many connections are forged around a specific dynamic. Perhaps a friendship was formed when one person was vulnerable – emotionally, financially, physically – and the other had the wherewithal and desire to help. If the vulnerable one becomes stabilized, will the friendship sustain? Often both people have this question, even if out of awareness. The previously vulnerable one may be shy about stepping into her strength for fear of making the friend feel suddenly dispensible. Indeed, he may be. Or, the other may feel demoted in significance and so withdraw to protect his ego. Perhaps both will become angry “out of the blue” as a way to escape. There are many variations on this theme. The good news is that while the old roles are suffocating, if updated the friendship might actually continue to blossom and with a more active and creative give and take.

Another scenario: sometimes when one friend finds something new that really has meaning, the status quo of interaction becomes strained. Perhaps the person discovers a passion for a sport or an art or a philsophy that the other is not drawn to. The time formerly spent in shared ways may be eclipsed by the new interest, and the friendship might slowly slip away if not attended to. If updated, however, the friendship might actually expand to encompass not only the developing layer of this person’s explorations but also the twists in the road sure to come for the other. If each person steps into more, perhaps the friendship can grow to hold that more.

Still one more: certain relationships – intimate ones especially – are forged from a powerful feeling of you and me against the world. This is the bubble effect where the partners are primarily wedded through their dislike of or discomfort with the bigger world. Anger or depression or cynicism or judgment are the field in which these two find comfort and companionship. And when one falls in love, whether with a person or some aspect of life, what happens to the friendship? Predicated on shared isolation, it may fall apart. Still, if the two can figure out how to move from “you and me against the world” to “you and me in the world,” perhaps the friendship can be enriched and enlivened as new energies are added.

In the first three examples, updating begins with the internal sentence: I am grateful for the time we have had. I take responsibility for my part. I was fortunate to have had company at that juncture. It is complete as it is. Now is the time to decide how we go on – side by side , or alone, never having not known each other.

In the case of relationships that feel generous and affirming, what kind of updating could possibly be necessary? Well, it’s the same updating that every relationship benefits from: an expression of gratitude. Here too it is a deep inner expression, neither showy nor expectant. It is a moment of thanks out of which loving gestures irresistibly flow.

You Asked For It: Recognizing the Missing Peace

As smart as I may be, as much personal “work” as I have done, I still get into big trouble sometimes. It’s personal, but it also is common, so I write about it because I know for certain that others are snagged in similar ways. More important, I hope my way out can help others find their way out (and upright through the door rather than on your knees through a secret passageway). Details may differ, but perhaps you can locate your own missing peace.

I asked for what I deserved. The answer was “No.” I felt as though I had been socked in the stomach, the wind knocked right out of me. And when I thought of standing up for myself? My heart beat too fast to catch. Oh my god, a heart attack? No, a panic attack.

It’s just a person telling me I won’t be getting what I thought I was owed. Why is my reaction not, What? Are you kidding? Why is it suddenly overwhelming shame? Why is it my temptation to apologize, to grovel, to throw up, to promise I’ll never ask again?

As soon as I realize that this reaction isn’t in real time, understanding begins to take shape. I am confusing this person with my father who left when I was an infant. I am begging him not to leave. I am so inconsolably sorry for asking for anything. I am lucky to get what I get – I would rather give all of myself away than lose him again. My heart is beating too hard, too fast. A young child unable to survive, to breathe, to go on. I am sobbing. I am terrified. I am not in present time. It is my body screaming out, my mind asleep.

Beginning to separate through words by naming the various aspects of feeling, of the situation, of reality, of balance, things slow down. The words, the words, the words. I didn’t have them all those years ago. I have words now. I use them to get a foothold in the present. I can claim what feels right. I may win my claim, and that will be great. I can lose the argument, and that will be fine. I will survive that too. I can stay despite the outcome. I can leave because it no longer feels like the right fit. I can be present, adult, calm of heart and mind, generous and confident. Breath begins to return. Life begins to flow again. Perception becomes clearer. Mobility returns. I can leave through the door, walk and not run, feel love and not erasure, stay grounded and present even if I choose to leave.

You Asked For It: Serving A Life Sentence

Why is it that on the verge of something good happening in a person’s life, suddenly there’s a loud thud and everything is stopped or even goes into reverse? Perhaps the thud is clearly of the person’s making: one way or another he rejects the extended hand, she finds fault with the opportunity presented, he shuns the chance he’s always been waiting for. Sometimes the thud is less clear: seemingly, suddenly, an obstacle has arisen, the extended hand has changed its mind! Stopping short makes no sense to those of us who stand outside the situation or even to the person who is experiencing it.

But it makes sense somewhere. So, we ask ourselves, what are we frightened of? And sometimes we have an insight. For example: perhaps we realize we are more comfortable with failure than success, on better terms with complaint than completion. Still, the insight isn’t helpful if it is a passive insight, one that simply pads the cell: I simply am this way. I hate that I am this way. You hate that I am this way. I hate you for trying to get me to be another way. Oh – that feels good, I can punish you rather than change me. And you love me, in part, because I punish you, and that punishes me. We have a secret alliance. Oh, the cycles we get into!

Okay – so now we may wonder where the sentence comes from. A long time ago, Hellinger spoke of the systemic sentence. Something like: I am more comfortable with failure than success. Of course, we know that on the one hand, we are deeply uncomfortable with the sentence, but somehow our strongest draw is toward it, despite our best efforts.

Maybe this is because the sentence isn’t finished. This other part at work in us – often directed to one or both parents, to an older sibling, to a suffering community, to antecedents who brought shame – is the action we are already and still taking on behalf of the system. The subliminal words: I will not abandon you. I’ll stay sick so you won’t go. I’ll be the mother (or father) you lost. I’ll atone for your sins. I will make up for what’s missing.

When we are involved in these actions, powerful and demanding, how can we turn to our own dreams? At the very least, it’s an interesting exercise to finish the sentence, whatever it may be, and then to say it loud enough that those to whom we have always been speaking can hear.

What happens if we say the words out loud, and then allow for a fresh response? Perhaps they too have words we have not heard before, words that come back to us now, in the present… Thank you for all that you have done. I see it now. I also see that I am in the past. You cannot change what has happened, although I see how hard you have tried. Truthfully, your full life is a light for me, for us. In this sense, you have already changed everything. Finish what we started. That is my and our greatest hope. It is never too late to feel us behind you.

Active insight: change agent. Here is a moment in which we get to decide what sentence we take from the past, what we hear in the now – we have that choice. And we can begin to imagine what sentence we offer to those in the future, and what sentence they will receive.

You Asked For It: Inner and Outer Peace

I am pleased to have a moment to get back to this blog and to respond to some questions. Most recently I was asked for some thoughts on what one can and may do to balance or shift some of the negative energy that surrounds us. The questioner’s own thinking was spurred by news reports about the plane that fell from the sky in Ukraine. And, of course, much has happened in the short time since then.

I cannot wrap my mind around the taking out of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 or the violence in Gaza or Afghanistan or the kidnapping of 300 girls in Nigeria or … No political perspective or dogma can begin to address the madness at the level of conscience that initiates, condones or justifies such actions.

There are the specific horrors, which we often tend to rate like sports events, horror by degree: these victims were younger, or these perpetrators were; these deaths more gruesome; these weapons bigger or more painfully rudimentary; the number of dead higher here; these reasons more or less relatable; this video closer up. We are so inured to it all that what gets our attention does so for just a short time before it is replaced by the next images.

And it is true that all of this is commonplace, and always has been. Knights and gladiators, warring tribes and feuding families, the Old Testament and all the holy books, slavery of every kind, every country, every religion, every moment in every historical landscape: assault on the human body, spirit, and mind by the human body, spirit and mind.

Even as philosophers dating back to Heraclitus argue that, “War is the father of all things,” and we, as witnesses, discuss the relativity of violence within various contexts, as well as the sociological and psychological precursors and consequences as far as we can surmise – at the same time, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, we and they, you and I are lost to the forces of blind destruction. The bullet, fist, missile, knife, bomb, poison gas, fire, hateful missive – whoosh! – released in an explosion or slow burn of energy. And in the wake of that energy people gather, protect, create, renew, respond. Rise up. Father of all things.

Of course, we seem not to have much evidence for, or experience of, another way. Violence on various levels pervades our lives. Peace, on the other hand, tends to be a strangely amorphous image that lives at the low ebb of abstraction. Placid? Passive? Soft? Diffuse? Sleepy? Mostly an image of what it is not, war/violence.

But what if peace were not identified solely by its other side? What if we thought of peace as not so much a place to rest from assault, whether global or personal, but as an ongoing engagement toward mutual respect, care, and reciprocity, a movement toward rather than away?

Many of us first understand “peace begins in the soul” as a movement of retreat, withdrawing from the vicissitudes of life into a separate place and with that withdrawing from others. But when I actually take action in peace – to fertilize the peaceful field, nurture it, sweeten it, extend it – the image is far more than what it is not. The image and process become energized and expressive. Rather than attempt to rise up against other, I feel myself rise up on behalf of peace. Not against, but in. I am with others. I try not to turn away from pain but feel it as an opportunity to plant a seed, add some water, sit beside, witness the light, engage life force. The plane is shot down. The children are taken. People are slaughtered. Body, spirit, and mind are massacred by words and weapons and mass hysteria. Still standing, I will plant a flower, touch your hand, care for my company, reach out as far as I am able, write, learn, engage, keep kindly turned toward life. I attend to the instinct to rail against and to fall into the same violence of opposition. I believe that each of our caring actions is a contribution to the peaceful field, an equally essential part of our geography that blossoms through our love.

You Asked For It: Getting Back to the Breadth of Life

There’s the thing that we feel – depression, sadness, despair, loneliness. And there’s the tail that is always attached: these feelings send us into a cocoon, into isolation, an emotional fetal position. The isolation then exacerbates the original feeling. Withdrawn from aliveness, we deaden inside, sometimes building cases against the people who are near, the ecology that surrounds us. It all seems quite real. The information we receive from this environment tends to verify our need for withdrawal. We fall out of relationship with the world. The world responds in kind. We sense this as rejection, not taking into account that we are actually doing the rejecting.

Often we are encouraged to reach out for friends, to join groups, to bust out of the cocoon. “Act as if,” we are told. It’s good advice assuming we can do it. I cannot always. Sometimes the withdrawal is muscular; the cases I build equal those of a skilled lawyer. When this happens, I reach out to energies that do not offer overt consolation or guidance or insight. My own idiosyncrasies lead me to literature, painting, dance. These streams bring me into a larger space by virtue of their mere expression. There is no demand from them. There are gifts unending, which I can accept at my own pace. Almost without realizing it, I let myself enter into conversation with images and rhythms beyond my own, and I feel myself carried by a flow not generated by me. I step back into the stream.

Where you are drawn will be different from where I am drawn, but whether literature, music, dance, theater, or gardening or hiking, running, sailing or prayer, you may, even at the low points, allow that landscape to arise – the one that is free in its ongoing revelation.

Sneaking, at first, just a peak, something begins to reawaken. Slowly allowing my chest to open, welcoming breath, just tiny moments at first; then there I am, in the company of Whitman, Woolf, Chekov, Marquez, or Kandinsky, Turner, and Rothko, and the veil of isolation falls gently around my feet. And nothing is asked by them in return, not even that I feel better. The tail is released.

Eventually, even the original feelings can become softer as I receive from these sources – vast, subtle, powerful. Back in life, I can even begin to look at the original feelings; ask where they come from; open myself to consolation, guidance, insight. First, though, I find my way back to engagement.

You Asked For It: Flight

“Contents may have shifted during flight. Prepare for landing.” Every time I hear it, I think of Constellations. The work holds that message: we have to ready ourselves for the shifts we are hoping will happen. If we stand in a different place with regard to the past, as we survey the present, as we look toward the future, the world will be different. It’s not that we will have changed another person, or erased experience, or succeeded in controlling something, but that because we receive differently, we rise up differently, and the conversation with life becomes richer, more myriad and possible. That is something to prepare for. After all, if I am used to tepid, then warmth feels strange.

Sometimes we say that people aren’t ready for insight. Do we mean that they are slow? Or shallow? Or gaining some gratification from being unwell? Are we unwittingly sitting in judgment? My sense is simply that people move at different paces – different from one another and even from themselves in various moments of life. I have no question that, as Hellinger and others have said, life wants to move toward balance. Wild flowers grow with little care; growth pushes up through concrete; we are here to tell the difficult stories.

Still, everything and everyone in their own time. My pace will be wrong for you, and yours wrong for me. On the long road, in the view from the full length, fast and slow will have changed places a thousand times. As a facilitator, as a mother, daughter, wife, friend, I have only this moment with you, and you with me. Sometimes you are going so fast, I cannot see the steps and so it appears to me that you are standing still; sometimes I am locked in place without realizing it because the world is flying by.

Thus, readiness in the sense of nurturing the voices that tell us to keep going is as important as gathering a vision of what well-being will look like for us. Our practices – those ways we choose to settle our mind, buoy our spirit, strengthen our body – can be understood as part of that readiness. When we have spent a lifetime organizing around danger, then the larger imagining of give and take, of living reciprocity is not on the table. The felt need for survival, current or recalled, ensures a particular navigation; it’s always urgent, tight, fear-driven. But once we have a larger terrain in sight, we must reorganize our being toward ease, space, and exploration. The wider lens will allow us to keep that terrain in view, and then to cross the threshold to find comfort and our “more” there.

Sometimes, I am carrying my little girl’s overnight bag – the one she took when she was to stay with her father. As I look around and really feel into the gratitude I have for this very day, I realize that that old bag is way too small. Nothing new will fit. She could not have been prepared. She was so young. But I have traveled a great distance, and I have gotten to know beautiful company along the way. I am proud to show her that, to let her know that I have a place in my heart for her and that little bag; she is safe. I am happy to whisper to her that contents have indeed shifted during flight, and I am preparing for landing.

You Asked For It: Self-Care

I have to admit that for years (and years), money was sort of an abstraction to me. I separated it from the rest of my life, had to pay bills, or count my change, but it remained outside of myself, related to nothing but some transaction not set up by me but by which I had to live. When I was doing well financially, it was magical. When I wasn’t, it was bad luck, or bad something else.

Still, hate it or love it, money is our mainstream currency. It is our system of exchange. Politics aside. Economic theory aside. These fields are important, but I am focusing here on what is closer to home. Being in fair exchange with the world – the parts of it with which I choose to engage and those with which by law or ethics I must – is central to my efforts.

To have a home that allows rest and creativity. To have food that allows continuance. To provide children with what they need. To be able to pursue health, attention to mind and body, art, education, social gathering. To be able to give time or skills or funds to family, friends or others in need. In these ways, and a thousand others, money is not abstract. The common exchange with the common world.

There are images that I have held of my family that I am now getting to know in my conscious awareness. For years they lived only in my subconscious geography, so that I was in a deep conversation with the unknown from an unknowing place. Gambling, destitution, institutionalization, alcoholism, loneliness, desperation. These images and the difficult spheres that hold them are known to everyone. They are not particular to me; they do not make me special – just human in the company of humans.

Perhaps we were told, overtly or in a whisper, that we were not enough or that we were too much; that we had to be perfect; not make a sound; parent the parents; compensate for; be big; be small … Such terrible messages get to us in a way that their poison stays in the bloodstream. But as clear as they were, these messages were not meant for us; they are blind lashings out at a world deemed unfair and unjust. They reflect powerlessness. Still, we carry them, fully human in the company of humans.

And there are other messages, driven by deep community events – war, oppression, slavery – that come to us through the filter of trauma. We must. We cannot. Survival is enough. The world is dangerous. We must hide, fight, mourn forever.

As adults, there are two major obstacles to self-care, to making the money that self-care requires: a sense of unworthiness and an assumption of incompetence. I do not deserve. I am not able. These felt senses often prevent us from taking the necessary precautions or proactive steps. We may avoid the signs and alerts that tell us that we must attend to things. In hidden coercion with those images or secret acceptance of those messages, as adults we feel that all we can do is wait for the life raft; we do not know how to save ourselves or we are not deserving of salvation. Even when the life raft arrives, we may not know to get in. And if we do, we have only gained a little more time before the next crisis that challenges a too-small sense of self.

So, the original material, the information that is fueling present “decisions” – sometimes unbeknownst to the intellect – has to be seen in an expanded context. This is a step before other steps. I can begin to update the narrative to account for my own self within it; all of those images and messages to which I was exposed so early. I will tell the other part of every story that forms the backdrop: the part that begins with, “I was born.” The core sentence against which everything else pales. The more difficult the background, the more impressive the triumph. Life comes through. If you close your eyes and say it, the essential part of the narrative, on the exhale – I was born – you can feel the space and possibility.

Despite and because and with all of the challenges, a new life emerged and it was me; I am still a new life (no matter how old I become) and an aspect of natural unfolding is to take care of that life. Permitted, indeed compelled, to move beyond the narrow images of suffering and vulnerability, self-care is key to care for all else. This is the more fertile field wherein I receive and I contribute. This is the flow I am looking for.

On a daily basis, I am careful with this still-burgeoning movement of self-care. Alert to the old, narrow words, I try to stay out of the claustrophobic dyads wherein I simply replicate those images, putting myself into situations where I simply live them another time. When I wind up there once again (the draw of the past is powerful), I am careful not to build a philosophy around it: Why are you so mean? Unfair? Unjust? Why don’t I have? I hate, I am better than, I am nothing. The taste of these words is bitter, they give off a stench. Instead, I allow compassion to rise up: Oh gosh, I did that again. Soft breath and recognition. Okay. How best to move out, back to the open field?

As I pay my rent, I am grateful. As I put food to my lips, I am grateful. As someone responds to my being, I am grateful. As I open my eyes to another morning, I am grateful. From there, I see what I must do next, awake and connected. These gratitudes, wherever we can locate them, help us fill in, become more grounded, be more visible. They allow us to take new action, rather than to fall back to sleep, adding mortar to the internalized feelings of unworthiness and ineptitude.

Anger, resentment, dependence -- I know them in myself, in my history, but I must let them pale in comparison, I must allow life its full measure inside of me. It is the only path toward well-being. I can close my eyes and say it, the essential part of the narrative, on the exhale – I was born – I can feel the space and possibility. Preparation for the new.

Whatever the discomfort or the not enough that exists in this moment (different for each of us), we simultaneously forge a parallel path, one that can become wide because we take good care in the meantime, with both reality and dreams in view. Not putting vision on hold, but rather traveling step by step, steady forward, because when we leap, we tend to fall back further. Letting the vision be serious, truthful, generative so that the impulses toward less – the hollow rewards of immediacy – have little weight. Staying anchored in the present so that others might join us and together we can move as equals, neither resting too heavily nor withholding love, toward more life.

And, yes, there are those of us who are confronted with utter poverty, a force in our community, in our environment right now. The glimmer of hope may seem too dim to light the way. It may be so. The violence of disparity is undeniable. It would be naïve, even worse, for anyone to think otherwise. If we all do a little better, will we all do a little better? If I am able to extend my well-being, will the world benefit in ways that I cannot know in this moment?

You Asked For It! Negativity is a Practice

Negativity is a Practice. “Same shit, different day” – a bumper sticker, t-shirt, mantra. It takes work to maintain shortness of breath, limitations in vision, distrust, anger, avoidance, forgetting ourselves. It is a commitment usually aligned with our understanding of the vocabulary of our family of origin. It is a Practice that leeches sweet wonder.

By Practice, I mean that the sense of the world, of ourselves in the world, is supported by deliberate action, even if it is in the form of nonaction. The Practice begins immediately each day. Perhaps I wake up late, already several steps behind where I long to be. Resignation a steadfast companion. Or I get up too early, having slept badly, the residue of what is unfinished swirling too fast and furious to let me rest. Perhaps I turn on the television or go to Facebook (instantly bombarded by others’ views, voices, Practices). Perhaps I eat what I know is not nutritious (we always know). Perhaps I drink a cup of coffee before I even acknowledge my thirst. Perhaps I reach for a cigarette, drink, drug, hateful thought toward self or other. Perhaps I look at my partner or children without allowing gratitude and love to fill me first. A sure path to disappointment. Immediate, urgent, just as I expected. Perhaps I let myself slip away at the dawn of today’s awakening. Again.

Along with this Practice – whatever the details – come the perks of being accomplished at something. We get so good at it that we hardly notice our expertise. Just as in learning to swim, we are suddenly, one day, held steadily by the stagnant waters we tread. We don’t have to give attention to the specific strokes or how we hold our head. We may not know exactly when it happened, but we have gotten very good at depletion; deprivation; same shit, different day.

Of course, we cannot remember choosing this way; and we usually insist to ourselves that we are not devoted to it and so look for external oppressions to explain ourselves to ourselves. And, they are always there. The world has whatever we want. But we only half believe the explanations anyway. Convincing myself, yes, a Practice.

Now what? A new Practice. It begins with a small step. Anything. A walk in the morning. Meditation, if it fits. Reading a poem. Arranging the flowers. Writing to the young you, letting her or him know what you will do with this time. Or perhaps before going to sleep, making a list for the next day, and putting it in a box in the kitchen, somewhere out of the sphere of rest. Releasing it for the moment. Rising a half hour earlier (or later) to settle into yourself, to account for yourself before others move toward you, whether in your home or on the street. Walking, rather than drifting, into the present. Deciding on food, on drink, on ritual. A fresh starting out. The beginning of a Practice that accounts for self. Each shift, any shift, invites the day to unfold slightly differently. And more good steps naturally gather around the first one.

In the moments before what is to come, we can prepare well, whether for challenge or joy, by gaining access to that well-spring of strength, clarity, wisdom that exists alongside the stagnant pond. It is an everyday Practice that requires ignition. And then it needs time and consistency. Making a Practice of well-being can remind us that we are worth standing by, fighting for, loving generously. What will be the next change to my dedicated Practice of negativity? It is a creative exploration that leads me into a more open and flowing reciprocity of relationship – with myself, with others, with all that is difficult and all that is beautiful.

You Asked For It! Envy

Envy is a kind of out-of-body experience. You look to another and wish you had what he or she has – whether talent or beauty or money or recognition or or or or. Now, you are floating outside of you, with your energy taken up by wanting, wishing, and resenting. Not only does the response not take into account what you do have but it also magnifies the sense of deficit by accepting only one playing field, someone else’s.

Of course, the truth is that the initial perception may be accurate: it may be that I do not have her level of talent or his measure of beauty or her amount of money or his degree of recognition. It is not the observation but my response that colors what’s next. What is the main difference between these internal statements?:

“Wow, my friend was just nominated for an important recognition in our field, how inspiring!”

and

“I cannot believe she is being nominated! I wish I had those kinds of connections!”

The first response is grounding, keeps gratitude on my compass, and allows me to imagine how I might pursue my next goal, not to mention even recognize it when I see it. I stay with myself and look out from my sphere at the other (and others all around). Generosity of spirit is protected within the parameters of my own self-love. And my own self-love is fueled by the good feelings of generosity of spirit. I see you. I see that you have done well. I know that I am not excluded from success, and I am pleased that you have lit a path. I might or might not take that same direction. No matter, I am happy for the fulfillment you have found.

In the second response, something else happens. First, I leave the ground, my chest becomes contracted, and I neither see the other nor myself any longer. Instead of feeling the fresh air touching my skin as I consider next steps, I can hardly breathe as I grasp at ideas about how to outpace you by far or at least catch up. My spirit is stingy, with you and ultimately with me. Success is not attracted. Of course, it doesn’t matter, as I likely wouldn’t know it if I met it and wouldn’t savor it sweetly if I did.

Envy feels to me an old sensation belonging to a powerless young person who could not easily rise up into her own lovely particularities. Instead she must have been thoroughly convinced, by those whom she depended on for everything, of the value of what she did not possess. They did not necessarily even mean to impart this message, but fear and competition and an adult’s own unresolved envy can have unintended consequences. So the young one learned to take satisfaction in what is deeply and relentlessly unsatisfying … the bitter taste of envy and its companion resentment.

If I could rise up now though, for the little one, but as an adult, right in this moment, perhaps I could keep myself from flying off, from leaving my body. Perhaps I could say – even out loud – wow, you have done something I have always dreamed of, how inspiring! Here, the chest opens up, the eyes soften, my spirit feels generous and free, and energy fills the body and mind. You are there. I see you. And I am here, in exactly the right place to imagine my next steps.

You Asked For It! Change? Yeah, but...

The question this week concerns the “Yeah, but …” regarding any modality that suggests that change is possible. We all have it. The pull back into old habits is a powerful force. Thus, “Yeah, but” is a realistic perspective. So, the first response? Compassion for ourselves.

Compassion is spacious. Anger, shame, frustration – all are contracted feelings. Directed at ourselves, they are deadening. Rising up on behalf of our vision of well-being rather than against our missteps is a different path. Compassion is key to sustained opening.

Next is looking forward, a commitment to direction rather than solely to a specific goal. Direction is spacious, larger than any particular task or moment. Direction can encompass both disappointment and success with generosity. It can softly incorporate our recidivist nature within its continuous one.

Even in Constellations there is an impression that finding the source of our pain is the balm that sets all healing into motion. But even when we do find the event or the connection that seems as though it is at the root of our challenge and therefore a central piece in our puzzle, the wear and tear of everyday life seems to encourage forgetting, to invite a return to confusion, ambivalence, outright destructiveness. The reality is that well-being isn’t bestowed upon us, just as it wasn’t upon those who came before us. Good practice, rooted in self-compassion and a gentle commitment to forward movement, makes room for ongoing healing. Perhaps the difference between us and those behind us is that we have the latitude to see the necessity of reconciliation. Still, we need new scaffolding to support insight, to support the process of burgeoning self-awareness.

And there is engagement. Sometimes I fall asleep midcourse. As I close my eyes, it feels as though the world is withdrawing. I may not realize that it is me who is withdrawing. My internal images from the past take over and feel real, feel present. I fall asleep sometimes, even without realizing it. Self-pity will ensure that I will stay asleep, but self-compassion invites me to awaken again, to set out again, to engage with the larger world, looking toward the horizon ahead. In this engagement, there may be steps I have to take (perhaps I have even fallen asleep to avoid them) in order to keep my commitment to moving forward, warm in my cloak of compassion: Do I have to leave this place? Update this relationship? Go back to school? Find a new job? Take responsibility for an action? Face the consequences? Receive the benefits?

Compassion, direction, engagement – these feel to me at the heart of change and the persistent redress of “Yeah, but.”