Honoring the River

“I don’t know why I feel like I always need to look like I have it together.”

Someone in particular said this to me yesterday, but it could have been a number of people. I know I have said something like that. We talked about the lost opportunities that arise when we do not admit to others that we are not as together as we want to look. Anger boils over into a conflict that an honest admission might have averted. Hurts that could have been shared and healed linger and deepen. Resentments build because we do not share our longings. And even if we dared to show each other our needs and vulnerabilities and the other person refused to join us, we would at least know who is not worth our hearts.

I have also seen people admit that along with their bravery and apparent having-it-all-together-ness, they feel vulnerable or bruised, sometimes discouraged. Frequently others respond to these admissions is with an encouragement or praise, an effort to harden that façade of strength that can leave the vulnerable person feeling as though it is not okay to feel weak, to be a little moody and irritable, to be vulnerable, to ask for help or even just want to be seen. Unfortunately we do not see how allowing ourselves these moments helps us to become more resilient and whole. If we could allow ourselves to really feel sad, defeated, or whatever it is we feel, that energy could move from its stuckness and re-enter the river’s flow.

How often is it when people are hurting the first instinct is to tell them to stop feeling? “Don’t cry.” “Don’t be sad.” “Oh, you’re better off.” We think we’re saying, “Be happy, focus on the good,” but what we’re generally saying is, “I don’t have the time or tolerance for your feelings now.” We want to believe we can choose and reorient our feelings, but often the choice is to experience them all or experience nothing. There are people, of course, who become stuck in particular feelings and seem unable to move no matter how much they process, vent, or share, and we have every right to set boundaries about how much we can stay with them.

Grand Canyon Horse Shoe Bend, Christian Mehlführer

How would life be if we could allow ourselves to feel sad together without needing to fix it? What if we trusted that these moments of vulnerability could be honored without diminishing all the other wonderful things about ourselves?  What if we also were willing to say, “This is as far as I can go with you and we’ve had this conversation several times now. I think you might need to talk to someone else.” What if we gave each other the opportunity to treat us with respect, thereby treating ourselves with respect?