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Walking in the forest

Living Through Questions, Towards Perspectives (how seeking answers might lead us astray)

Photo by Trevor Brown

“The quest for wholeness – for congruence between one’s inner and outer life – never really ends. It’s not a place you get to. It’s really a matter of asking the right questions, wrapping your life around them and living into them.”

― Parker J. Palmer


There’s only one question I need to ask myself when I notice myself feeling slightly off, out of sorts or disconnected: when was the last time I journaled or practice self-reflection?


What happens next is usually a naturally unfolding series of moments and realizations that bring me back to the insight or knowing I need, in this moment.


I’ll turn to my journal, I’ll sit in quiet contemplation, or I’ll ask to speak to a friend who I know can listen well and ask great questions. 


In our schooling, we are typically only rewarded when we give the right answers.


What I’ve come to realise though, is that our resilience and fulfillment really lies in asking the right questions and, as Parker Palmer would say, “wrapping our lives around them.”


This means asking the right questions of ourselves, but just as importantly, of others also.


Answers are static and contextual. We can carry questions with us.


In the pursuit for answers, most notably the ‘reason for my being,’ I find myself get caught up in thinking there is a right answer, in a fixed and static state. That I’ll find the magical answer and it will quell my need to continue the ’search.’


Some days I would get up and one answer would feel alive and brilliant, some days another answer feels brilliant. At first, this leading me into the dreaded existential spiral of wondering if there is even a ‘reason for my being.’ Without a reason, am I worthy or even good enough?


After years of fighting myself and my reality, and after reading Parker Palmer’s, Let Your Life Speak, I decided to try connecting to the questions that brought light into my life. 


Why do we feel disconnected from ourselves sometimes?


Why do we feel disconnected from others at times?


How do we find our way back to ourselves and each other?


What role do our systems and physical spaces play in facilitating this?


I noticed something profound shift inside me. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert’s memorable assertion that “human beings are works in process that mistakenly think they’re finished,” became a visceral experience for me.


The searching was gone, I felt that I had arrived. Yet, the curiousity had just begun!


I started living as if I was a curious and compassionate detective. Living through my series of moments, intimately connecting to their textures and exploring these questions.

Each experience and each interaction bringing up new clues and fragments of answers to my questions. Slowly piecing together a puzzle of fragments that might even begin to shape a formed answer. However, that wasn’t the point anymore. 


Questions breed curiousity, awe and wonder!


I’d come to find that my connections with others became even more juicy.


More questions were asked, we’d come to these lovely new shared-realizations about topics that meant something for me.


My connection with the world around me became more intimate and inspiring. Of course it can sound like the greatest cliche to say that “you can see the entire universe in a blade of grass,” and it will sound cliche until you open to letting that experience move you for the first time.


Most importantly, for me, was how my connection to myself became more compassionate. There was no where else to be, my questions had me land in the right place no matter where I was or who I was with?


This sense of an inner-compass brought with it a strengthening and grounding exhale. 


Elizabeth Gilbert makes the distinction between the ‘Hummingbird’ and the ‘Jackhammer.’ The Jackhammer, sets a goal (this might be to find an answer), then strides heavily and violently until it thinks it has reached said goal. The Hummingbird though, flies gracefully from tree to tree, listening to the impulses and curiosities calling for attention. 


Living with Both, and.


Living completely as a Hummingbird – again, for me – flying from tree to tree and never settling on an idea or a path has led to burnout. Also, living as a Jackhammer, driving myself steadfast toward a place I’d thought I needed to be without taking poise, stepping back, rising above and looking down, also led to burnout. 


It isn’t either finding answers and then living with them, or finding your questions and living into them. It’s a little of both. Both perspectives will soothe you in different ways. The ability to dance between both modes of being is the art. 


As with all things: the paradoxical nature of our reality means that our ability to dance between each pole is where our resilience and fulfillment lays. The ability to have range.


For me, and I observe for many, the preference our culture places on answers and ‘getting it right’ does place necessary pressure on the pole of finding those answers and sticking with them.


Hence, recognizing and living with questions might seem like a healthy balancing force for our time. 


So, what questions bring light and curiousity into your life? Is there a way you could soften into leading with questions?



Would you like a copy of my ‘Orienting Towards’ self-reflection guidebook?


It’s a great tool for connecting with some of the questions that might breed clarity and curiousity into your life, I’d love to send it across. But yes, I will need your email 😉 so if you join my muse-letter below, it will be sent across for you 🙏

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sitting in silence together

Why Silence is Sometimes the Best Solution (holding space for someone’s process)

Photo by Stephanie DeAngelis


“In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
― Rumi

Sitting opposite my therapist, gleaming at each other, the birds whistling outside as the setting sun shone through the leaves; my palms sweating, my heart throbbing.


I’d come for guidance. In a time of transition and feeling overwhelmed by the many changes taking place around me, I wanted at least him to tell me what to do. How relieving it would have been, to hear from someone else, what I thought I didn’t know just yet.


The answers weren’t given to me this time around. Instead, we sat there in silence. His presence and commitment to silence, holding me and inviting me to allow the emotions swirling inside to come to their natural resolution.
Then, there were some light affirmations, and more questions.


Leaving the room I felt light, I felt clear in the answers that had emerged through sitting with all that was in me. I felt held and almost most importantly, not alone in my experience.


In sitting with someone seeking guidance or holding, we can all too often fall into the pattern of problem-solving. In many cases, this can leave the person feeling more alone, less empowered and shortcut their natural process.


Sometimes we must consciously choose to hold the position of the listener. The position that sits, listens with a whole heart, and slowly allows the other person to come to their own resolutions.


So why is silence a precious commodity and how can we embrace it as a way of supporting others?


The urge to problem-solve.


How many times have you courageously shared something that wants to be heard in you, something vulnerable, tender and fragile; only to walk away feeling more alone, more distant and more uncertain?


How many times have you had someone share something with you and in your feeling-lost-for-words-or-ways, seek desperately for something useful, smart and soothing to say? 


Let me tell you, you are not alone in either of those experiences!


Many of us have been taught very well, through our schooling experience, to find the answers and to get it right. This tactic of finding the answers and getting them right, is how we feel we will be of service to the world around us.

This does serve in some contexts, of course, but it is definitely should not be a blanket approach for our dealings with others.


In jumping straight to problem-solving, we do 4 things:

  1. Take their power away by assuming that they don’t have the ability to come to conclusions themselves.

  2. Support their belief that there is a ‘problem’ by offering a ’solution.’

  3. Distance ourselves from them, placing ourselves in the ’saviour’ role and them in a ‘wounded’ role.

  4. Shortcut the process they need to go through, to reach a natural resolution.


As someone is sharing something from that we know very well is tender for them, through our innate capacity to empathise, it is normal to feel the heat and vulnerability of their experience, ourselves. This can be uncomfortable to sit with. So, we can turn to wanting to help them come to a resolution sooner rather than later.


This might be as much of a selfish motive, as it is self-less. We are also feeling the discomfort in their experience.


As this is a function of our innate capacity to empathise, what if instead of shying away from the discomfort and seeking to sooth and play the saviour, we met them there. 


What if we dropped into feeling how we were also feeling in this moment (not thinking, feeling), recognizing we are connecting with how they are feeling and from this place, asked ourselves how we would like to be held in this?


When we notice the story of the saviour, or the desire to resolve this discomfort, can we drop into the discomfort, meet the other person there? Can we sit with them?


Connecting to silence, restoring wholeness.


At the end of life, and in palliative care, silence often plays a big role in caregiving encounters. In spiritual and religious traditions, silence is considered a core part of the spiritual and existential dimensions to healthcare.

Sitting in silence can be described as: 


a way of being with another person, complementary to speech and non-verbal communication, which evokes a sense of companionship and connection. The caregiver takes both an active and participative role in the silence to create a space that allows the other person to be with themselves in a way that they may not be able to alone. 


Silence provides a way of, and medium for, communication that is well-beyond the capacity of words. It allows the person’s process to take its course in the safety and container of a relationship.


What we are holding for someone in these moments, is the space for them to know they’re not alone, and to slowly come back their own sense of wholeness and ‘enoughness.’ 


An invitation.


No of course, I’m not providing a solution here 😉 I’m hoping to expand the box, invite another layer to our way of being, together. 


An opportunity to have something now to catch ourselves with, when we are sitting with someone. Hopefully you will be able to notice, “oh I’m doing that thing again, problem-solving,” and return to listening and sitting. 


There will be times when this may not be possible, and that’s ok. Having the capacity to sit like this, with someone else, when you need to and can, is something we must all build if we are to re-weave a culture that can hold the wholeness of who we are.


What resonated with you in this piece? What’s still ringing inside you and stuck in some way? Let me know, as well as any thoughts or comments on the topic!

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grandmother and granddaughter sitting together

Passing the Baton: Acknowledging Transgenerational Narratives (and what to do with them)

Photo by Rod Long from Unsplash.com

“If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it – usually to those closest to us: our family, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children” – Fr. Richard Rohr

Diving deeper into my own inner-work – the work of reconnecting with the parts of myself that I’ve distanced myself from or protected myself against – I’ve come to realise how subtle, nuanced and insidious these patterns are. They show up in almost every way I relate to myself and others in the world around me.


What is unnamable and overwhelming is passed onto those we are closest to. Our loved ones carry what we cannot. We do the same.


What is clear to me, and after speaking to many, is that if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, we must start to unpack the outdated narratives and patterns that contributed to us being in this place. We must walk with curiousity, compassion and courage. 


For many years, as a teenager I remember my internal world butting up against the narrative I thought to be true about what it meant to be a man. But I didn’t like football, I didn’t enjoy going to the bar, having drinks and talking about ‘chicks.’


There is nothing wrong with living like this, but sold as the only way a ‘man should be’ in our society causes an overwhelming inner-conflict.


I became more and more aware of how emotionally-disconnecting and isolating the condemning of my vulnerabilities was. It was also becoming obvious that these notions didn’t need to be true simply because they were told to be, and were up-kept by a vast majority of men I witnessed in the world around me. 


We can and we must free ourselves from them, expand the box and re-write what these narratives mean for us. We must.


What is Transgenerational trauma (or, narrative-binding)?


Transgenerational trauma (or, more broadly, narrative-binding) is not new. It is more real and alive for me right now though, as I grapple with our responsibilities as a generation. 


The concept of transgenerational or integenerational trauma become apparent and originated in the decades after World War II. Studies had started to prove that children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors showed certain symptoms of trauma. Their nightmares, emotional and behavioural challenges showed that the original trauma of the grandparent or parent had been transferred, from the past, into the present.


This is due to these trauma being alive in their parents and grandparents and therefore effecting the child-rearing style and environment of the children. 


In Lost in Transmittion: Studies of Trauma Across Generations, M. Gerard Fromm explores the idea that “what human beings cannot contain of their experiences – what have been traumatically overwhelming, unbearable, unthinkable – falls out of social discourse, but very often on to and into the next generation as an affective sensitivity or chaotic urgency.”


The ‘We’ is in the ‘Me.’


Whilst some of these narratives are deeply personal, to our own internal map of the world, based on our family system and biographical data; many are also shared across a generation. There is vertical transference and also horizontal transference.


Our resilience as individuals, and a species lies in our ability to belonging to and band together. We weave narratives together, to create shared-meaning, to bind and to co-exist. We’re incredible in this way!


However, these narratives must have timestamps attached to them. In the same way that as individuals, as the world around us inevitably morphs and evolves over time, so too must we develop psychologically and emotionally. As a collective, we must learn the are of ‘updating our software’ so-to-speak.


This process starts inside ourselves as individuals. Whilst these narratives might be held in our family system, or our culture more broadly, they show up for us, within our own experience. They are as much yours as they are ours. 


Passing the Baton.


By this point I feel we are on the same page: we are all carrying narratives and stories from the past. Whether it be threads of patriarchal conditioning, ambiguous-anxiety passed through generational trauma, or many other forms of holding. It’s normal, human, messy and beautiful – gee we’re such intelligent beings oriented towards connection! 


We all also carry the responsibility to bring these into question. To at first acknowledge them, then to re-write them. We must do this for ourselves, to free ourselves from stories that are not ours to carry. We must also do this for our human family, to re-write and re-weave a cultural narrative that is more nourishing to the wholeness of who we are.


In doing this we not only get to experience the lightness in our own lifetime, the hope is that we pass the baton to the generations to come having done what we knew we must. Of course, we will always gift some ’stuff’ to the next generation to work through – it’d be boring without it, wouldn’t it? But, let’s hope we can pass them something that has been at least acknowledged and brought to light.


Doing the work.


I don’t have answers, but I will share some ideas, some perspectives from experience. Know that even having read this far into this piece is – in my opinion – the work itself. The work of peeling back the layers, being curious about the basis on which we are crafting our own lives, and our lives together.


Compassion 


These patterns are no one’s fault. They are fate. I have spent many hours sitting in the heaviness of believing that “I made a mistake,” and therefore feeling shameful or condemning myself. I’ve also spent just about an equal amount of time blaming others, and carrying a sense of being small, disempowered or taken out of the driver’s seat in my life. 


It’s not your fault and it’s not anybody else’s. It’s fate, and it’s a gift to know this.


Curiousity


From this place of compassion, we can then start to be curious about what it is we are holding. This might be through a self-reflective practice, working with a therapist, or any number of self-inquiry practices. 


With the knowing that this is not yours or anybody else’s fault, what is here?

We don’t know what we don’t know, and so working with somebody or crafting relationships of accountability is crucial here. Someone who has permission to ‘call you in’ (not ‘out’) and hold you accountable to this curiousity is a great gift for this.


Compassion


Yes, again! As things arise and as we start to uncover the many ways in which we have been touched by stories that are not ours, it is easy to take it personally. I was always told,


“take things seriously, but not personally.”


As in any meditation, and this is why a meditation practice is so brilliant in cultivating these mental states; acknowledge all that arises whole-heartedly, but hold it lightly – not too close.


Courage


It takes courage to even begin this journey home, but of course if nothing changes, nothing changes. Here is where we are required to listen to a good dose of Brenè Brown, acknowledge where our comfort is, then play with the edge. 

This might mean having conversations that need to be had, consciously crafting new habits, working with that psychotherapist or seeking support when you need along the way. 


The courage to take the work beyond the knowing, and into the doing. Then comes the great un-becoming and re-becoming.


Connection


Often on the other side of comfort, once we have danced with courage, is often a deeper sense of connection. This may be with ourselves as we know ourselves to be truly, or with others as we’ve leant into deeper intimacy and vulnerability.

Once we’ve met what is no longer ours to hold, let it move through and taken the courageous leap into what might be on the other side a new sense of what it means to be our true selves emerges.

A deeper knowing, a stronger foundation of beliefs and frameworks that you’ve chosen!


An invitation.


This can be a lot to acknowledge and sit with. Yes, it can feel like a never-ending rabbit hole. This is why compassion is so important. 


We’re always balancing the great paradoxes right. The notion that “there is always more work to do,” and the one that says “there is nothing to be done.”

So tread lightly, don’t take it personally but take it seriously. It’s not a reflection of you, none of this is actually YOU. We are uncovering that bit by bit, again. 



If we are to evolve as a species to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we must do this work. If we are to experience a life of TRUE freedom, free from stories that are not ours to carry, we must do this work. If we are to gift the generations to come with at least stories that have been acknowledged and brought to light, we must walk this path.


What resonated with you in this piece? What’s still ringing inside you and stuck in some way? Let me know, as well as any thoughts or comments on the topic!

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