The Raw Humanity of it All

IMG_3835There are times when I want to collapse from the overpowering wave of not-knowing that washes over me in moments of conflict or overwhelm: my boys at each other’s throats or my husband and I in an argument or a temporary falling out with a soul-sister or the state of the world or the homeless man on the corner. The world seems to storm around me like the fluttering of a thousand moths, a hurricane of emotions tipping into a flicker of despair from the awareness that we all struggle and nobody has the answers. Where’s the magic wand? Where’s the ultimate parenting manual that teaches us in the trenches how to ensure that our kids will get along like boats sailing on a lake as smooth as cream? How do we solve the world’s pain? Does anyone have the answers?

But then something else takes over. It usually arrives in the aftermath of repair when someone has come forward with the courageous act of true accountability and the other person receives. These moments of vulnerability soften me into submission, an acceptance that while we don’t know what we’re doing, maybe we don’t have to know. And then the awareness that we’re not supposed to have the answers and, in fact, that there are no answers filters in, another warm breeze of softness. It reminds of Rilke’s famous quote:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Part of what trips us up is that we expect life and relationships to be easy. There is nothing easy about life, and relationships especially seem to stir up every hidden demon, every dusty complex, every latent, unshed tear from our own life and our parents’ secret histories hidden away in the attics of their psyches. They ask us to grow in ways that nothing else does or can. And yet when we don’t feel like kissing our partner we wonder what’s wrong. When our kids are struggling socially or academically or spiritually we wonder what’s wrong. We search for answers and usually end feeling worse about ourselves, falling prey to the implicit message that says, “If you follow my advice, your kid or relationsihp or life will be conflict-free and effortless.”

A more comforting and realistic mindset is to know that every moment of flow is a small miracle. When my open heart aligns with your open heart and we want to experience closeness together; when the kids find their way to a creative game that satisfies them both; when friendship flows for weeks or months or years on end without a blip… to me, this is evidence of Spirit at work. Why?  Because there are so many ways that our hearts close, when fear or jealousy or negative habits prevail and prevent others from merging with your river, that when two open hearts meet in a cosmic, joyous collision – when your desire to kiss aligns with my desire to be kissed – it’s a holy moment of grace.

But instead of celebrating those moments as miracles we’re conditioned to expect them. And when they don’t occur, we invariably wonder what’s wrong: What’s wrong my relationship, with my kids, with my parenting skills, with my ability to be a good friend? The culture trains us to expect perfection, and reinforces that expectation with endless books and blogs that pretend to carry the treasure map to the Holy Grail.

Fifty percent of relationships are repair, a friend once shared with me after a session with her therapist. Those words stuck, a rudder in the sometimes rocky sea of relationships. This same friend and I used to talk for hours as young mothers about our irritation with parenting books that deigned to assume that they could provide the answers to every question we struggled with: sleep, food, temperament, sibling issues, marriage challenges as young parents. We read the books and only felt worse about ourselves because we inevitably came up short compared to the examples in the books: Do this technique and your child will sleep through the night! Follow these steps and your kids will never fight! We did and we followed and still the challenges prevailed.

We quickly learned to stop reading the books, and considered writing one ourselves that would have said: There are no definite answers. Trust yourself. Nobody knows your kids like you do. This worked for me and it might work for you but if it doesn’t just try something else. And there may not be an answer to your problem. It may be that the answer is to allow for the struggle and to know that not all questions have answers. And to trust that, with time and enough compassionate love toward yourself and your kids, most challenges resolve with time. Your kids will sleep. They will eat vegetables. They will play with other kids and learn to share. Give it time. It’s their timetable, not yours.

It’s the same conversation my friend, Carrie, and I have today about what we read in most marriage and meditation books and blogs: Follow these tools and you’ll live a pain-free life. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work because there is no way to live on this planet and not experience pain and struggle. It doesn’t work because there is no “there”, there is no “complete”, there is no perfect life.

We are all unformed: you, me, our partners, friends, and kids. I believe now that even people we hold up as figures of completion or perfection – the Dalai Lama, Pema Chodron, Jesus – are and were raw as well. The difference, I think, is that as a result of years of dedicated practice, they’re able to move toward their raw spots with love and compassion. They probably react less impulsively than most people do, but when they do “act out” they move toward the reaction with curiosity. But I’m guessing they are as imperfect as the rest of us.

We derive such comfort in knowing that we’re not alone in our imperfections. The path of comparisons in unhelpful at the least, dangerous in most cases. The path to liberation lies in cultivating a daily, moment-to-moment relationship to our most uncomfortable places, trusting that when life grabs us by the ankles and drags us into the underworld, that is when we grow the most. When we shift our mindset from lamenting to learning, we step out of the victim role – “why did this happen to me?” – and into the hero’s saddle, where we remember that our entire life, from birth to death, is one long transitional interlude that is designed to help us learn and grow our capacity to know and be known, to soften into compassion, to love and be loved. We remember that there is no finish line, that we are all raw and unformed, and with this remembrance we stop fighting life and bring a little more self-love to ourselves as we journey through this painful, glorious planet we call Earth.

24 comments to The Raw Humanity of it All

  • BrooklynBride

    Thank you for so patiently, willingly, and lovingly reminding me of this Sheryl. I am learning so much from this place of victim; as I saddle up onto this beautiful mare of life, I am brought into a gracious moment, rather moments, of love, compassion and knowing. I am not alone.

  • Tina

    Oof. I needed this today more than ever. Thank you.

  • Amy

    Sheryl,

    As always, this article came at the perfect time.

    I finished your E Course a few weeks and have been doing really well. I am also seeing a therapist every 2 weeks which has been helping as well.

    My fiancé and I have been house hunting since last July and are finally closing on our house this Friday. There have been some major hiccups with the purchase along the way and has definitely tested us as a team. I am happy to say it has made us stronger but with our closing date finally around the corner, I find myself in a fairly anxious state. I feel such a mix of emotions-happy, sad, excited, nervous, anxious…all at the same time!

    Throughout my inner bonding, I know that one of my biggest issues is letting go of control, excepting the unknown, and enjoying it. There are many moments where I am able to do that…but sometimes (like today) I have trouble and get caught up in an endless spiral of “What If” thoughts.

    I appreciate your guidance as always and look forward to entering this transition with open arms and an open mind!

    • Thank you, Amy. I think every human being struggles with letting go of control in some way. For some it shows up as anxiety around transitions and for others it shows up in more subtle ways.

  • Sarah

    Much needed. Thank you! I feel a little like I’ve lost track of myself lately…between having a 7 month old, trying to sort through buying a house, and making time for my marriage as well I’ve felt like the sacrifice often ends up being myself. Your posts are always such a breath of relief from striving. It’s nice to be given permission to not know/control it all and not have all the answers .

    • Yes, it’s so easy to lose yourself in the midst of early motherhood, and even in the later years. And yes, letting ourselves off the hook from “striving” and allowing ourselves to be offers infinite comfort.

  • Lauren

    I have been doing so well recently, even the constant ‘buzz’ about breaking up being the right thing to do to stop the anxiety became totally manageable and quietened down, but now I seem to have a new spike. The spike about being happy with my wonderful boyfriend. Why am I spiking at this most wonderful, sought after feeling? Or is it because I fear spiking about this, that I am in fact spiking?

    I try to keep in my mind that this is an anxiety disorder and it doesn’t matter what I am spiking about, it’s not really about that, it’s just the form the anxiety has chosen to take. But it’s very hard.

  • Jennifer

    Thank you Sheryl. Beautiful and poetic and timely as often the gifts of your posts are. I am taking Margaret Paul’s Inner Bonding course with the Shift Network. I so appreciate her work, and yours which has beautiful synergy to it in its overlapping, intricately tied themes. Blessings, Jennifer

  • Madison

    Hi Sheryl!
    I’ll try and keep this short. My boyfriend and I (I’m 21 and he’s 22) are both immensely hard-headed. We are both very insecure and afraid of abandonment, which has gotten better since our foundation of trust has strengthened but even still holds us back in our relationship. We argue almost every day, over pointless things that are mostly irrelevant insecurities. Despite this, we love one another infinitely. We care for each other and, besides this, have a very healthy relationship. I have been dealing with relationship anxiety since I first began having relationships in high school, and our pathetic fights are now becoming the target. Thoughts like “What if I can’t love him anymore because he said that to me?” even when he slipped up and said something he didn’t mean, or “What if the fighting is making me lose love for him?” I feel as though if I were truly losing love for him, I wouldn’t care, but I truly want to fix this. Can our trust issues and lack of communication skills be causing me to lose feelings? We’re currently working on them, as we are both very important to each other and we do make each other very happy the vast majority of the time. I’ve been in panic-mode for days, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on my situation.

  • Kasey

    Thank you so much for the beautiful and gentle reminders of all the many unknowns. I needed to sink down in that today, because trying to know brings so much anxiety. And when I remember that I don’t know, I can just breathe into that, relax into that space, allow the relieving and cleansing tears to come. Not knowing actually allows me to stop thinking or assuming that the present is a repetition of the past (which only brings up fear), because I can experience the present on its own terms. Just this moment, being only what it is now. Something beautiful happens then. An ease finds me, there’s an openness that finds it’s way into my heart, a peace, a rest. And my perspective suddenly flip flops completely. And today, your lovely post helped me get there. Thank you.

  • Sheryl,
    What a beautiful and humble piece of writing…it brought me to tears, just that reminder to “allow for the struggle”. I felt a wave of softness sweep through me upon reading it. Thank you so much. xxx

  • Kasey and Leah: Both of your comments brought me a smile, the wave of softness reverberating from me to you and back again in this virtual circle that the internet can sometimes create. Thank you.

  • ColoradoGirl

    Madison– my now husband and I had many an ugly argument in the months leading up to our wedding. Our fights seemed to become even more intense after we made the commitment of getting engaged. I know the feeling you’re referring to because I felt it a lot after each of those ugly disagreements. You don’t like your significant other, so you presume you have lost the loving feelings for them. That each argument is chipping away at your love for them..anxiety only seems to compound this thought. I can assure you it is quite the opposite. The loving feelings become encased in a closed, anxious, heart, but they don’t go away. They are there for you to cultivate by making a daily choice to work towards loving actions and thoughts. Your in the right place.. Sheryl changed the course of my future. Keep digging in to her material and e-courses and you’ll find the answers to your questions.

  • Kelsey

    Sheryl,
    This post really captures the rawness of not knowing in a way that breaks you down until you can hear that voice inside that is usually muffled by day to day life. The voice says “see, this reaffirms that you need to trust in yourself and stop looking to others opinions/ advice for the answers… Because there are none.” I think so much anxiety comes out of looking outside of ourselves and finding other peoples “answers” to lifes questions and we then take them as gospel.

    Even though I know this and many of us do… Why is there always this pull to keep searching, hoping if we look hard enough we will find an answer?

    For me, I would hate to know where I would be in my life and marriage if I didn’t search hard and find you and subsequently the wise teachers you admire (i.e. Pema, etc.) so I think now I feel afraid I will miss something if I give up the search because if I didn’t search in the first place I wouldn’t have found you! 🙂

  • Angela

    Dear beautiful Sheryl,
    Always love your blogs!! . In the midst of my anxiety you remind me of the positive elements to these unwanted feelings and that is learning your strengths and the power of real love. I’m a preschool teacher and I’m blessed to interact with such beautiful unique little souls. I do envy them because they don’t have the worries we adults have. I only hope they all have good relationship experiences because it is draining.. But as you said we don’t live in a perfect world. We just have to cope and accept things just by doing the best we can. That is enough I believe!!!
    With love
    Angela xxx

  • Awesome !! Love what you said 🙂
    Just got a question
    My bf sometimes can be the cause of my anxiety also a lot of other things , I’m a anxious person at heart so I understand that I’m the one that has a problem within me it doesn’t always have anything to do with the relationship , I find that even tho I’m anxious about my intrusive thoughts , somewhere deep down in me wants my bf to say all the lovey dovey stuff and be romantic and tell me He loves me , I want to hear it still even tho I’m anxious and when I do hear it I don’t get the butterflies or feel extremely joyful in my heart or anything and I understand that’s not true love but I guess something in me just wants to know and be loved by him
    Is that normal ???

    • And when he does do stuff like that , it just feels nice , nothing at all overdramatic , I still feel normal like any other day but I think it’s nice

      • ColoradoGirl

        Crystal- what I noticed through Sheryl’s work was that it took a lot of time, patience, emotional work, reading, and self love before I could start to feel those moments of joy and connection that come when your partner shares their love with you. I had to be in a place to accept it before I could truly experience and resonate with his acts of love. This took a lot of time in my case because I had held him at a safe distance for so long. Once I kept the focus on doing my own inner work, the feeling of love began to show up. So yes, when you’ve been dealing with anxiety for a while, those types of emotions seemed quite normal.. At least that was also my experience.

        • Thank you
          , he makes me laugh and smile and be all gigly , then my mind start to focus on that even tho I’m laughing and enjoying his company and have a smile , my heart doesn’t feel like it’s exploding with joy , but it does feel lighter
          I guess I’m just over analyzing what Sheryl said about your heart fills up with joy .

  • Here’s to doing the real work – to letting go of the illusion that there are 5 steps to a better relationship, and to connecting to your deepest well, the place that holds all the knowing. May you be free…

  • gwen

    wow sheryl amazing post,i am so happy these are here for me to read.