Finding What Hurts

I can bear any pain as long as it has meaning.” – Haruki Murakami

Last week, 3-year-old Mr. D had a lot of objections as we were getting into the car to go to preschool. “I don’t like those boots.” And “I don’t want to watch that on my tablet.” And “This isn’t the arm I put into the seat belt.” And “It’s too sunny.”

As I responded to each of the objections, I finally got the a-ha – it wasn’t any of these things that was really wrong. It was that he didn’t want to go to school. He’d been having fun with his sister at home and didn’t want to stop.

It adds to my long list of how confusing it is to be human. First, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is going on with us. In Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown cites a survey that she gave out in workshops asking people to list the emotions that they could name as they were having them. “Over the course of five years, we collected these surveys from more than seven thousand people. The average number of emotions named across the surveys was three. The emotions were happy, sad and angry.” Which is stunning that out of our nuanced ranged of emotions, we have trouble identifying many of them at the time we are having them. But I can affirm that it’s almost always on reflection after the fact that I have any emotional literacy.

Secondly, as friends, parents, partners, we try to respond to what our loved ones tell us that is wrong. And as I found with Mr. D, it’s an exercise in frustration as we solve problems that aren’t the problem. It’s like putting a band-aid on the knee that isn’t scraped – a little waste of resources that don’t stop the bleeding.

And finally, because accurately describing the wound is the key to healing, we have to keep unpacking the distractions and figure out what’s wrong. Only then can we hold ourselves and each other for what really hurts and matters. Only then can we find the meaning behind what is happening and as the quote for this post from writer Haruki Murakami suggests, it helps us to bear the pain.

So I left the boots off, turned off the tablet, got him settled in his car seat and we just talked on the way to school. About how sometimes we don’t feel like doing what we have to do and sometimes we just have to look forward to the next thing and it’ll carry us through. He wasn’t convinced but he wasn’t fussing. Then we were able to move forward into the day.

Life Banged Me On the Chin

Turn your wounds into wisdom.” – Oprah Winfrey

The other day my 6-year-old daughter and my mom were climbing into my car when my daughter said, “Mom, I hurt my chin.” I scanned the car to see how and she explained that she’d hit it the evening before when she was having an overnight with her aunt and uncle. Then they’d taken her to drama camp, my mom had picked her up so I hadn’t seen her all day and she was reporting something that had happened almost 24 hours prior.

It is unusual that we spend that long apart so of all the things she had to tell me from her many adventures that day, it’s funny that was the one she picked. She didn’t need any extra hug or even an after-the-fact ice pack, she just wanted me to know.

I’ve had to think about it for a couple of weeks to piece together why she told me. Then I happened upon a book about parenting I read a couple of years ago. The Whole-Brained Child by neuropsychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD. In it they explain the different parts of the brain – the logical left part of the brain, the emotional right part of the brain, the upstairs brain, which makes decisions and balances emotions and a downstairs brain that is in charge of automatic processes, innate reactions (fight or flight) and strong feelings (anger and fear).

They explain that the work of parenting is to help kids wire the parts of the brain together. By letting kids tell stories, they wire the words of the left brain to the emotions of the right. And by helping them calm the downstairs brain of fight or flight, we can then engage the upstairs brain to “think” about it.

But I don’t think this is just the work of parents. I think as friends, partners and bloggers, we are continually helping ourselves and others to make sense of experiences. We all need help interpreting, finding perspective, extracting the “lessons learned” from life.

I remember a particular friend in college whose long-time boyfriend had cheated on her and then broken up with her. She told the story over and over again to anyone that would listen. She was trying to figure out why it happened. It was a perfect example of this quote from The Whole-Brained Child, “The drive to understand why things happen to us is so strong that the brain will continue to try making sense of an experience until it succeeds. As parents, we can help this process along through storytelling.”

The reactions from our college-aged friends tended toward the sympathetic “What a jerk.” and “You were better than him anyways.” As momentarily comforting as those were, it wasn’t until someone pointed out that breaking up was always messy but she had faith in other parts of her life and she had to have faith about this too that my friend started to see the bigger picture and heal. Helping her see the mystery of life was just what she needed to become unstuck from the mire of life not being fair.

So we tell our stories to each other and the process hopefully helps us turn our wounds into wisdom. Because sometimes life bangs you on the chin and then you need to understand why it happened and what to learn.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Wounds or Scars

Suffering makes an instrument of each of us, so that standing naked, holes and all, the unseen vitalities can be heard through our simplified lives.” – Mark Nepo

The other day I shook out the blanket that I keep outside for lying on the grass in summer and my son immediately starting looking for the little farmhouse that we usually play with on it. I am fascinated by how quickly my kids make associations. Blanket = Little People farm. A particular cup = hot cocoa. Boots = puddles. Baths = lotion.

But that observation makes me realize how much I do it as well. Fall comes and I think of hot cider. I turn on Grey’s Anatomy and want a glass of wine. When I write I sit in one chair and when I work I sit in another.

It seems to be a way to winnow down our choices so that we don’t have to make as many decisions. But every once in a while a pattern crops up that reminds me of where I stuck. The other day my daughter was carpooling with friends and they asked if there was a particular car she didn’t like. She said BMW’s. And they asked why and she said it was because her mom didn’t like them.

I had to laugh when my carpooling friend told me this story. My daughter and I had been talking about cars and I’d offhandedly said that I didn’t like them because it seemed like the drivers bought them for image. Which is a very unfair broad generalization that I never thought would be repeated. The fact is, my ex-husband bought one to bolster his image and so I created the association. I’ve been over that relationship for some time so I shouldn’t punish BMW drivers forever.

Meditating on this, so many associations came up for me. Many of them are ones that make me smile – places that I walk that remind me of my beloved dog and phrases when I hear them that bring back my dad.

And one that I wasn’t expecting. I miscarried a baby four years ago. When I heard the news, I went to hike a beautiful trail that overlooks Puget Sound. This trail had been my go-to for any time I needed to think. The wind seems to whip whatever is inside me out into the open and the view puts it into perspective.

As I was thinking about associations, I realized that I’ve never been back to that trail since the day I heard the news about my miscarriage. Obviously I went on to have a beautiful son and so I filed the miscarriage away as old news. It isn’t something that I mourn or think of as painful. It just was. But every time I think of hiking that trail, I think “nah” without ever digging deep for the reason.

Life keeps teaching me I can carry around wounds or scars. If I choose wounds, they drain a lot more energy as they try to heal without ever been unpacked. But if I do the work to clean them out and then heal into scars, they just become part of the patchwork quilt that is me.

All of this introspection is a great reminder to me that I can pass things on based on my loves or my losses. And given how easily they clearly stick for my kids, I think it’s time to heal those wounds before any other misguided association gets repeated!

Projections

“Turn your wounds into wisdom.” -Oprah Winfrey

My five-year-old daughter was sitting at the kitchen table doing her remote Kindergarten class the other day. To do the work, she needed the packet the school had sent home plus scissors and glue. I found the packet for her and then she couldn’t find her scissors and glue because she hadn’t put them back where they belong. She said to me, “You are making me have the worst day.”

Psychology Today defines the term projection as the “process of displacing one’s feeling onto a different person, animal or object.” We project our feelings onto someone or something else as a defense mechanism. Instead of owning our own BS, we can turn the issue into something else in an effort to protect our own egos.

I think of the time I found out about my husband’s infidelities. One of his friends, who was also my business partner, invited me out to lunch which was odd since we had never had a meal without my husband there too. When I arrived the sense of foreboding was amplified enormously because the friend had chosen a table in a closed section and also ordered me a beer. It was almost a relief when he started telling me of the infidelities because the build-up was so intense. But then I had to go home and tell my husband that I knew. He wasn’t home so I called my brother and four of my closest friends and then went out to dinner with my two best girlfriends. I finally saw my husband and asked, “Have you ever been unfaithful to me?” He answered “no” but seeing that I knew something, he then asked, “Who told you?” Then the next question he asked was, “Who else knows?”

The next months were a master class in projection. That is the perfect word for it. There is a source that is running the show but whenever you try to look for it, you are redirected to the pictures showing on the big screen. Any time the infidelities came up, he expressed his rage that his friend betrayed him (and yes, I saw the irony). Any time he got uncomfortable, he blamed me for revealing his secret. It made it so that we never could talk about the real problems. The message communicated was not that he was sorry, but just that he was sorry that I found out. By flipping the conversation to who I told, it made me the person who had been hurtful.

In a truly honest discourse, we would have been able to discuss not only the root issues but also my shortcomings as well. But if he was going to deflect, there was no way I was going to step forward either. I’m so grateful that marriage ended so I never wonder whether it could have been saved – but I do wonder if we could have cleaned and bandaged the wounds a lot faster had we not lingered in the defensive woods for so long. As it was, it took me many more years of my own work, reading, listening to others, and primarily having to sit with myself in meditation for me to finally own my part in the destruction. Projection might work as a defense but it does not work to heal and grow.

So I find it fascinating when I see the little examples of where my daughter projects. She moves past it and back to her happy place so quickly that it’s just a flash but when it’s calm, I try to guide her back to where it’s safe so we can remove our defenses and own our feelings and mistakes. It’s the only way we can take down the screen and really see what kind of day it is.