The Spaces in Between

I have a complex web of personal relationships, as many of us do. The constellations of relationship have grown more complex over the decades of my life. It began with the family I grew up in, my dad still alive and my brother living hours away in another province. I have two children from a first marriage who are now in their early twenties with long term girlfriends who also have families – near and far.  My third child, who is still a preteen, is from a second marriage. There are negotiations and navigations and scheduling conversations with the two fathers, more so with my youngest and especially around the holidays.

If that is not enough complexity, in the last decade, I found out I had a whole other family – a birth family. That has varying levels of relationship and its own complexity.

And I entered into a new personal relationship a few years ago that crosses an international boundary as well as the work-life boundary. And he has his own constellations of relationships with his mother, siblings, kids and grandkids. And none of that even begins to touch on friendships here, there and in places in between.

IMG_1120It is the space between Christmas and New Years. I am in an in between space too. This morning I drove to the airport twice – once to drop off my son who has been living with me so he can travel to visit with his girlfriend and her family for New Years. Once to take my beloved to the airport after having him here for Christmas, on his way home. I’ll visit there in a few days with my youngest for New Years.

And in this moment, I am in a space in between. The only person in my home today. A quiet day. A day of puttering – electronically and physically. A day that stretches in time. An in between day. In between Christmas and New Years. In between Christmas decorations and putting them away. In between 2014 and 2015. In between home and travel. In between a full house and an empty house. In between vision and manifestation.

I feel the fullness of the day. The fullness of the in between space. I miss my company. I miss the energy of a full house. I appreciate the quiet of the day. I experience the contrast of full and quiet. Of companionable and alone. I notice the in between space. How it feels. How I feel. Drawing breaths of the in between. Letting what was settle. Letting what is to come bubble up in anticipation. Letting this moment wash over me in the fullness of the beauty and challenge of the day.

The in between space. It is not a blank. It is full in its own way. Feeling the fullness of the in between spaces.

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Redefining “Til Death Do Us Part”

marriage quoteBy now you have probably seen the photo (like the one here) of a very old couple with some version of the following question and response inscribed across it: “How did you manage to stay together for 65 years?” “We were born in a time when if something was broken we would fix it.”

There is so much implied in this statement. That all those couples that managed to stay together for all those years actually had good marriages, “fixing” whatever didn’t work.  That for those of us who didn’t manage to “fix” our marriages that we never tried or that we didn’t try hard enough, left on a whim.  It assumes there was something fixable or worth fixing.  That we failed, maybe even that we were failures. I certainly know enough people, including me at one time, who took failure on as part of self-identity.

I don’t know many people who have left a marriage or other long standing relationship on a whim, without a great deal of reflection, pain or agony. Without understanding that an individual’s or couple’s decision has far reaching ramifications for their children, their parents, for other extended family, for friendships, for all the financial and asset unraveling, to legal procedures and more. It is not a simple thing to leave a marriage. Not the first time.  Not even the second time for those of us who have been through it twice. (Can’t speak for more than twice but I’m sure others could.)

Every time I see that particular image, it gives me a quirky little pause. Lots of thoughts register.  So much is implied, intentionally or not.  Mostly I think about appliances and gadgets like televisions and radios that used to last “forever” and could be fixed that now seem to be designed for obsolescence, fixing them often costing more than replacing them.  But marriages are not appliances. And the word “fix” always seems to need quotation marks as I think about it the context of relationship.

I find myself wondering, “Really? People ‘fixed’ broken marriages “back then”? All of those couples that made it to 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, longer?” I’m sure some of them did and I’m sure many of them didn’t actually “fix” their marriage but they found ways to stay in it – healthy or otherwise.  How many of them lived in pain and hurt that was never addressed? Learned to co-exist because divorce would be a failure worse than death? Stayed together because of obligation or religion? Died inside and lived as hollowed out shells of former selves because it was the only way to stay?

Many of us have a keen sense and eye for the state of relationships.  It is pretty easy to tell when couples are happy together, connected, loving each other, supporting each other, when they are working it out, appreciating each other or co-existing, living separate lives under the same roof, sleeping in separate rooms or when they are not happy, not working it out, hating each other, dying inside. The energetics and dynamics of physical interaction conveys loud and clear the state of the union, even to untrained eyes.  Whether individuals speak about a significant other or not when they are in relationship also speaks volumes and what they say about their significant other is another indicator.

While one person can influence whether a relationship works or not or how it works, it really takes two people to want to be in the work of relationship together for healthy relationship to thrive. Healthy relationship needs healthy individuals. If one person or both have to “disappear” to keep the relationship together, is that “fixing” it? The dynamic give and take of relationship is hard work.  Not all relationships are “fixable”.

Twice divorced, I’ve given a lot of thought to marriage and relationship.  Had I known more in my first marriage, maybe it could have been “fixable”.  By the time I allowed myself to see how bad it was, how unhappy it was, it was beyond repair.  I thought my second marriage would be a dream and it was more challenging than I could have anticipated.  And this one, this second marriage, I, and we, tried hard to “fix”.  But for many reasons it was not fixable and the “cost” of staying together was rising as time went by.

We discovered we were each being invited into our own individual reflection and journey, which in the end did not bring us together but showed us the need to go our separate ways.  We became aware that our relationship had come to a place of completion, that we had learned with each other some things we might not have learned otherwise. For me it was embracing the stranger in me – embracing all those elements of myself – the ones that wanted to make me small and the ones that wanted me to fly – to come to wholeness; to open my heart fully through strength and vulnerability and to find compassion for myself and for others in the journey; which is an ongoing daily practice.

With continued reflection and in conversation with friends also going through separation and divorce, I began to ponder the notion of vows and particularly the vow of “til death do us part”. I wondered about death taking forms other than physical death – like death of relationship, death of marriage, death of aspects of ourselves.  And I wondered if the vow is not actually “until completion” instead of “until death”? Which then raised the possibility for me that completion might be something that happens in one lifetime – in minutes, over months or years or until physical death.  And maybe it could also be something that crosses lifetimes – that some relationships and some patterns are not completed in one lifetime. Perhaps some of the things we are completing now are from previous lifetimes and some of the things we are in at the moment might not be completed until another life time – if you believe we have other life times.  A long time ago a soul friend of mine offered to me one of the most heart wrenching but true things I had ever heard, “Kathy, some things are not meant to be completed in this life time.” And, it would seem, some things are.

I am not anti-marriage.  I celebrate and see great hope in enduring couples that clearly have a healthy, loving, mutual relationship.  And I am sad every time a relationship ends, even when it is clear that it needs to.  And I bow to the journey of those who stay in marriages, able to make things work out with varying degrees of success and challenge; and to those who do make great sacrifice, if that is their path – who am I to judge?

These are the cycles of life, of relationship, of marriage. Would it have been that I could have been married for 30 years or 50 years, but not at the cost of dying a little every day, of losing myself, of never really living life to the fullest in the way my soul kept – keeps –  calling me to. I followed the path that called me into difficult life choices because this was the path that called me to integration and calls me into living in the fullest authenticity I know how to live every day to varying degrees of success – in this moment and the next and the next.

You Are Not the Story Someone Else Wants to Tell About You

Stories.  They are how we make meaning of the world.  What happens in your life shapes who you are. The stories you tell about your experiences, the interpretative lens you put on the experience, shapes you more. Sometimes it is hard enough to remember that you are not your stories.  It gets even more complicated when other people tell stories about you, to you and maybe to others, well intentioned or not, that they want you to believe, that may or may not reflect your own experience of who you believe or know yourself to be.

And it is, if you take a moment to think about it, surprising how many people have a need to tell a story about you or about other people. (Oh, and you do it too, just in case you thought this is all about “other” people.  If you are honest with yourself, you will acknowledge you also tell stories about who other people are that you want to believe or you want them to believe – good, bad or indifferent.)  It is a dynamic process of being in relationship – from intimate relationship to “I don’t even know that person but I’ve read what they’ve written or I’ve heard about them”.

Case in point, how much do we project onto celebrities without really knowing anything about them other than what the media, paparazzi and twitter feed would have us believe? Or, rich people for that matter? Lots of judgment.  Lots of projection.  Lots of blame, as if other people having money or success somehow directly affects whether you do or not.  It’s actually not about them.  The sooner you stop focusing on what’s not in your sphere of influence and start refocusing on what is, the sooner you reclaim your power, your sense of self, abundance and flow in your life.

Part of the way you learn to distinguish the stories you are telling of yourself – or the stories you own or need to own as ours – is in relationship and interaction with others. Others provide a reflection back to you of where you are in your journey.  But it can be difficult to distinguish when it is a reflection of your journey and when it is a projection of someone else’s view of you.  And projections abound. The less sure you are of who you are the more likely you are to be influenced by the story someone else wants to tell about you.

When you are unsure of who you are, you are more likely to seek external validation, in fact, you are more likely to invite projection.  This sometimes happens when you want to please others, meet their expectations of who they want you to be in relationship to them. Sometimes it happens when you do good work, are seen to be a good leader or get magnified to some super human status (to greater and lesser extents depending on how well known you are). Then you feel good, but it is fleeting. More often you disappoint others.  Sometimes you argue with them about their view of you.  Often you do not feel seen or supported.  The irony is, in intimate relationship in particular, the opposite is also true – the other person also does not feel seen or heard.

It is always interesting when others disagree with you about you, insisting their view of you, their story of you is the right one and that you need to do something about it. (And, again, read that you also do this to others.)  That may be true.  The question is, what are you responding to?  Someone else’s need for you to be different so you fit into their view of who they want you to be or your own need to walk a path of personal alignment or integrity which might invite you into your own journey of growth and change? You have a choice, although you are not always aware that you do, or even happy about it.

Messiness of entanglement. Is another person providing a reflection of who you are or a projection of who they think you should?

Messiness of entanglement. Is another person providing a reflection of who you are or a projection of who they think you should?

It can get really messy. Different people have different hopes and expectations of you in the midst of all their own struggles. Even one person’s expectations of you can shift and change, sometimes over a period of time and sometimes suddenly with no warning.  Or not change at all, even though you do.  It gets way more complicated when there are many people you are trying to please or appease. Either way, as long as you rely on others to validate your experience or your sense of who you are, you give away your power and the ground beneath your feet is really sand that sweeps away and upends you as the tide shifts – which it does continuously.

We all have people who wish we would live into and believe the story of us they carry in their own mind, their own interpretation of their experience of us, as they seek to understand their own identity in relation to us.  When others need to believe a certain story of you it is likely that they themselves might not have a very good understanding of who they are.  They might be giving their power away – even trying to give it to you and then, sometimes, blaming you for it.  It is easier to look at others and assign blame to them for your business not growing, your abundance not flowing, your relationships not working, for you not being happy than it is to understand how you step into your own power.

It is alluring to want to believe other’s stories of you when they are stories of success.  At the same time, if you do not see or own that success for yourself then you have dissonance within yourself that will rise to the surface in some way, often in self-sabotaging kinds of ways.  It is more impossible when the story others want you to live into is how you disappointed them.  But, you are not that story any more than you are the story of success that you do not own.

You can step into your own power and not take power from someone else.  Are you willing to put your power on and own it instead of wondering when someone is going to come and take it away from you? Or wait forever for someone to give you permission for what is yours all along? You have a choice. You have many choices. You can choose to discover who you are in your own journey to openheartedness.  You can choose to live into the stories of how you want to live. You can choose to be powerful in setting the course of your own life.

All Things Are Here – In My Life and Experience – By My Invitation

When my youngest son was a toddler and a preschooler, he could throw a temper tantrum like I had never experienced before or maybe even believed possible.  He could throw them in private at home and he could also throw them in public places, equally well.  I once did my whole grocery shopping with him in a fit because my options were limited.  When he was in a tantrum, which could be set off by seemingly inane things, he was beside himself, working himself up into more of a tempest with each minute that passed. Yelling.  Screaming. Throwing himself around. He was truly inconsolable and, believe me, we tried many different ways to soothe him. Nothing worked.  Anything tried only made him worse, as well meaning friends and strangers sometimes found out.  He needed to exhaust himself from whatever swirl of emotions was in him.  When he was done, he was done.  He was ready for apple juice and a snuggle, to let go of where he had been and to move forward – almost as if nothing had happened.

I have no idea how many temper tantrums he threw.  Enough to observe a wide range of reactions and responses in myself.  Learning, as difficult as it was, he needed to be left alone, to be in his own journey of discovery of how to self regulate.  It was challenging to bear witness to and challenging as a mother to seem to have no strategies of success to help him feel better.  So many things activated in me – disappointment, frustration, my own rage, sadness, despair, feelings of failure – as a mother and a person.  Also fear when that moment became projected into the future and images of this child as a temper tantrum throwing adult made me fear he would not find his way in the world, find his way to maturity.  Learning not to personalize his behaviour, not to make it about me instead of about his experience. Learning patience, to move at the pace of guidance – one of the seven whispers in Christina Baldwin’s book of the same name.

Maybe the most significant learning was in letting go.  After what could sometimes be an hour or more of a temper tantrum, my son was ready to let it go.  An awareness and curiosity arose in me as I pondered what seems like typical adult reactions – the desire to make it about the relationship, to see it as personal attack, to want the other person to suffer as much as we perceive that we have suffered at their hands, as a result of their behaviour. “Just because you’re done, doesn’t mean it’s over. Now you need to bear the consequences of what you just did – to me.”  We want to stay grumpy even when the other person has moved beyond it.  Why do we do that? He was not angry at me.  He was not deliberately trying to ruin my day.  He was caught up in his own experience.

Staying grumpy, staying mad, seeking retribution, sometimes seeking apology, wanting the other person to admit they are wrong, are ways of externalizing our power – giving it away to someone else.  A toddler in a temper tantrum.  A person we care about in their own disruption or projection.  We want them to make it better.  We want them to pay. And who does it serve to be that way?  No one.  Especially not us. Not the relationship either.

“In my life, I have told many stories that externalize or give away my power.  Learning to own my own experience and my own power has been and continues to be a significant part of my journey.”  Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness (Chapter 1)

Candle in hands

All of this has me reflecting on relationships – the ebb and flow, beauty and challenge that show up, sometimes in equal measure although sometimes it just seems that way, because of where we focus our attention.  When we have an argument with someone dear to us, sometimes that argument and the energetic imprint of it takes precedence and becomes the defining energy of the relationship.  If we focus on it, focus on how wronged we feel, that is what we grow.  But we have a choice.  We could choose to focus on the beauty, the joy, the qualities of the other person that we admire, adore and love.  They are there in equal measure and often more.  These could be the defining qualities of the relationship.

To know we have choice invites us into self reflection and self hosting – to discern what is our own to take care of and what needs to be taken care of in relationship, so it does not become the shadow underbelly given life by trying to repress it. This is a discernment and we may not always get it right.  But what if we could be in relationship in an attitude of appreciation, love and forgiveness?  How would that change the dynamic, flow and connection in relationship in contrast to when we focus on the moments of hurt, pain, disappointment?

I often need to remind myself that “all things are here by my invitation or attraction of them in one way or another.  If I were not attracting these experiences, the insights that arise from them could not be in my experience.  This includes people, events, situations, timing and flow.” Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness Chapter 1.  This is the invitation to hosting myself, to be self reflective.  If I can find clarity in this, then I can know how to show up in relationship, what I can heal within myself and what I need to bring to the relationship, not through righteousness or justification but through generosity and curiosity to understand how to deepen relationship, to create the invitational space to show up in the fullness of who we both are as human beings – in our strength and our vulnerability, to not feel the need to hide or the need to defend.

“With great intentionality, I have been shifting my focus to tell more and more of the stories of appreciation, gratitude and love.  I am telling more of the stories of the way I want my life to be rather than of how I don’t want it to be.” Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness Chapter 1.  And this is an ongoing, often daily practice.  It would be so much easier to live a cocooned life but people are always going to show up in one way or another no matter how hard we might try to shut them out.  Easier isn’t necessarily better.  The opportunity for growth shows up in those moments, invited whether we think they are or not.

A beautiful example is my son.  Not a toddler anymore.  A young person who has been learning how to self regulate his emotional experience who no longer throws temper tantrums.  Now it is a beautiful journey to witness.  He is such an old soul teacher for me in this journey to openheartedness, embracing all that shows up on the path.