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.