The Long Way Home

There’s construction taking place at one of our major intersections, so on the way home from town now we run the risk of running into traffic. Shortly after the construction began, we discovered a detour that allowed us to bypass the traffic. It’s a side road that runs along Boulder airport, then through a beautiful, tree-filled residential neighborhood, past a lake, and up a small hill that opens up to views of the Rocky Mountains. It probably takes longer to drive along what my boys now call “the short-cut” or “the secret way”, but we opt to take this route every chance we get because it’s Boulder at its best – and it beats sitting at the light for several minutes longer than normal.

As the sun streaked pink and gold across the early evening sky on our way home, it struck me how rarely we choose to take the long way home. We move so quickly in this culture, obsessively focused on the destination; whether it’s deadline, a wedding day, the birth of a baby, or just getting home, we focus on the goal and lose sight of the journey. The phrase “it’s about the journey, not the destination” has become cliché, yet so few people take it to heart.

Why? Primarily because taking time to settle into the journey requires slowing down, and slowing down usually activates our feelings. Not only do we devalue feelings in this culture, but most people learned early in life that their big feelings weren’t accepted and, more dangerously, were subject to shame, judgement, and ridicule. When I have a client who says that she or he had loving parents, I often say, “Yes, I’m sure that’s true. But tell me how they responded to your big feelings.” I don’t say this to vilify parents, but simply to draw attention to the fact that most parents, having no idea how to respond compassionately and inquisitively to their own feelings, automatically shun the big feelings of their kids. When a child is frustrated, angry, scared, or sad, the most common message – even if it’s implicit and never said aloud – is, “Get over it.”

Learning that feelings aren’t valued has far-reaching ramifications. As my mother, Dr. Margaret Paul, wrote in her recent article, “Why Do People Kill?”:

Once a child thoroughly suppresses his feelings, he loses touch with his humanity –- with his connection with himself, others and a spiritual source of love. When he can no longer feel the pain he causes others because he can’t feel his own pain, he stops caring about others. He is left with a huge inner emptiness that he cannot manage.

And quoting from Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain by Sue Gerhardt:

“Caregivers who can’t feel with the baby because of their own difficulties in noticing and regulating their own feelings tend to perpetuate this regulatory problem, passing it on to their own baby. Such a baby can’t learn to monitor his own states and adjust them effectively if mum or dad doesn’t do this for him in the first place. He may be left without any clear sense of how to keep on an even keel. He may even grow up to believe he really shouldn’t have feelings since his parents didn’t seem to notice or be interested in them.”

This is where a process of self-reflection comes in: when we find the willingness to move toward our pain, we can then begin to dialogue with our feeling self to discover what false beliefs or unrealistic expectations are creating our anxiety, depression, or disconnection and learn how to fill our own emptiness instead of expecting others to “make us” feel alive, whole, or in love.

When we decide that we’ve had enough of our stuckness and resistance, we gather up our courage and decide to take the long way home, even if that means that we touch into our uncomfortable places. We notice the ways that we fill up every available time slot and rush through our day. We notice our infinite distractions and addictions – all of the ways that we avoid our pain, emptiness, vulnerability, and groundlessness. And we make a different choice. Taking the long way home means taking time to slow down each and every day and courageously “lean into”, as Pema Chodron says, the places that scare us. It’s simple to say, but it’s a revolutionary shift in consciousness and intention, one that could change your life, and, dare I say, change our world.

10 comments to The Long Way Home

  • B

    Thank you for this, Sheryl. I have been struggling with pre-wedding anxiety, and this piece created a well of beauty and calm inside me for which I am so grateful. Slowing down is especially hard when the voice inside me just wants to panic, to run, to not feel. So, you’re right, it is so scary. And as I write that, I feel the questions welling up, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I’d lean in and enjoy the journey if I wasn’t scared.” Such a strong voice. But one that I think (I hope?) is wrong.

    • ““I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I’d lean in and enjoy the journey if I wasn’t scared.” Such a strong voice. But one that I think (I hope?) is wrong.”

      Of course you’re scared! You’re considering the biggest commitment of your life so far and it’s nothing short of terrifying. It’s the culture that says otherwise, to the detriment of many.

  • Many years ago I decided to take ‘The Long Way Home’. Numbing out emotionally had become my way of coping with early childhood pain. In taking the long way home I first had to ride a roller coaster of raw emotions. It was one of the most incredibly journeys that I have ever taken. Now I have a whole spectrum of emotions available to me on a daily basis. I delight in drinking the nectar of my tears, I adore my ribs aching from hearty laughter. The long way home did in essence bring me home to myself, and for that I will always be eternally grateful.

    Much love to you on the journey,

    Catherine x

  • Bettina

    Wow, Sheryl, thank you SO MUCH for this article.
    I love it! I will take this in my heart for the next days…
    Love to you! Bettina

  • September

    I can’t tell you how much your blog means. It never fails to calm me, and to make me feel like it’s ok to open my eyes and face my anxieties – rather than just squeezing them shut with terrified panic. Before finding your blog, I would always think (even now, forgetting, again and again) the opposite would happen: That acknowledging fears and anxieties will only make things worse. So I shut my eyes and try to blot them out of existence as best I can. This way has never in memory made things any better, even as I continued retreating into this behavior over and over. Your blog, however, has been slowly helping me realize what taking the long way home can do.

    Thank you so much.

    • You’re welcome, September. I’m so glad you found your way here. Learning to move toward the fear instead of away is one of the keys to transforming the anxiety.

  • SAR

    Hi,

    This is so true for me as well. I always run to an from situations… its gives me some sort of buzz e.,g. when deciding to go travelling or getting married. However, when I get to these places I automatically want to run home… this is not for me, this is not what I wanted etc and end up majorly depressed, unable to cope with my emotions.I then cant enjoy anything and feel almost paralysed. All may family and friends tell me how lucky I am… I have a great husband so why cant i feel happy? I dont feel passion for him but he is so understanding. I have always been anxious and so never really live in the moment. I am always assessing the situation from the outside. Makes it hard to develop romantic connections and yet I can talk to almost anyone on a social basis! I am now panicking I don’t have a great connection with my husband and only married him out of fear. Any suggestions as to what may be going on? I feel awful everyday. Please help or advise if you can.
    Thanks so much,
    Sar

  • sar

    but is it my relationship or me that is the problem?

  • If you’re in a good, loving relationship with a solid partner, it’s highly likely that the problem is you.