Beginning... Again & Again is not Failure; it's How We Grow.
Currently I have (I think) 3 drafts that I have started to you that I have been simply unable or uninspired to finish. The thoughts forming these lines and paragraphs have simply not felt cohesive. I have not felt cohesive, and yet I have.
For many years I have—like Alice floating down the rabbit hole, making her way into Wonderland—been drifting down a well of sorts of my own.
To say I have been digging is, in some ways, an understatement; excavating more accurately summates the process. There is something “down there”. When I was a child I remember watching a movie called “The Rescuers”. The main protagonists were 2 mice, Bernard and Bianca, whose voices were played by Bob Newhart and Zsa Zsa Gabor. They were sent to rescue a kidnapped orphan who had been tasked with being sent down a well to retrieve a ginormous diamond.
Though I had a mix of parental supervision and care from my grandparents, I resonated with being an orphan even then. Coincidentally, that (the orphan) is one of the aspects our inner child can take on when we are either actually, or even feel that we have been abandoned.
Abandonment does not necessarily look like being dropped off in a baby basket on the steps of an orphanage, or even being seized by some government identity. Abandonment can be emotional and somatic and it can occur right in front of our caregivers.
How is this possible?
A parent who is severely stressed, addicted, overwhelmed, or emotionally vacant can fail to attune to us. They may be physically present, but when it comes to feeling our emotional state with us, or even meeting our needs, there can be significant gaps.
Due to financial and other stresses my parents gave me to my great grandparents to be raised for a time as a small child. My great grandparents fed me, clothed me, spoiled me—loved me. I was most certainly safe, but I’m not sure I was really emotionally attuned to. To be honest, I’m not sure how many of us growing up really are. Is this some catastrophic failure on the part of our parents and caregivers? Hardly. I think it serves us best to assume that they were doing the best they could, and—as far as meeting our developmental and other needs—that may not have been good enough.
Grasping the “they did the best they could (and) it wasn’t good enough” paradox is actually fundamental when it comes to us maturing.
We need to come to terms with having needs. This is often something that gets bypassed, spiritually, and in a hyper-individualistic culture that has been severely infected with capitalist and colonial values, needs are often made illegitimate in comparison for the value that is placed on productivity. And this prizing of productivity is not some ephemeral or philosophical construct; it is how we pay the bills, keep food in our bellies, and a roof over our heads.
The requirement to remain productive so as to meet our survival needs is likely the reason why so many of us missed out on crucial physical and emotional bonding. How often do you hear a parent saying, “I’m working hard to give you what I never had”. But on the more serious side, they (we) are often busting our ass just to keep afloat.
Aside from the real and pressing meeting of basic needs many people were raised in a social climate where the leading advice, in regards to infants and small children, was to “let them cry it out”. The asinine and unfounded assumption at the time was that babies would become spoiled by being “handled” too much, and as a result many children were left in emotionally distressed states to just figure it out on their own. One of the many problems with that philosophy is that if a parent or caregiver is not in frequent contact with the child then they are unlikely to even know their cues. Does that mean a baby might not get fed when it needs to? It could. Does that mean a child could sit in a soiled diaper? It could. How would a caregiver know unless they were actually there?
These early developmental traumas are one of the reasons some of us have a hard time “getting going” in life.
We may fire right off out of the gate, but then lose steam. We may lose months or years to procrastination. We may become such perfectionists that even if we do start, we may never finish for fear of it not being good enough. This feeling of “not being good enough”, as I already said, is actually fundamental for us to tend to in regards to us maturing. When we constantly feel like we are not good enough, it becomes difficult for us to question or confront behaviors in ourselves, and in others that may not be good for us.
So let’s revisit this key paradox: they did their best and it was not good enough.
Acknowledging that someone—a parent, caregiver, friend, teacher, or lover—did their best, does not actually excuse us from addressing any wounds or disappointments that their behavior may have caused. This is the double-edged sword of accountability. In order to levy it on someone who we may have experienced hurt from, we also have to be willing to pierce ourselves with its point to take responsibility for our own well being and care. We are not throwing the “others” under the bus, when we do accountability well, we actually wind up liberating everyone. The key of this paradox (as is with most others) is AND.
We need to be able to hold 2 or more truths simultaneously: we have been hurt, abandoned, neglected, abused, rejected, disappointed etc, AND the other parties involved were—with the emotional and developmental skills that they then had access to—doing the best they could. Now we get hurt, disappointed, angry, confused, sad, depressed, anxious, furious! All the things. And we need to take accountability for those feelings in us and the needs they evoke. Sometimes we can ask others to take a hand, but it is rare that those who dealt the wounds will later in life develop the skills to help us tend them, and waiting for that to happen can be crazy-making.
We have to tend to what has been ruptured in us alone, and with skilled and caring others be those friends, lovers, or professionals. This is profoundly sacred work. It has no progress rating. There is no “You have achieved….” medal. There is just the slow and steady care of the self and how you notice the effects of that in your own life.
Yes, of course we all want to move forward, to achieve goals, and hit new milestones. However, sometimes the key to moving forward is recognizing that “forward” is not always linear. We like to think of steps as being sequential 1, 2, 3…etc. But, especially when it comes to personal growth, progress is often cyclical.
We may go through periods of immense growth and productivity and then experience what might feel like hitting a wall, creatively. (That’s where I have been for a while.) And though it seems easier to track our progress with clear external markers, due dates, and finished projects, some of the richest growth is actually quite quiet, and may at the time even feel regressive.
Sometimes when we are depressed or exhausted, our mind/body is giving us an opportunity to tend to something deeper.
Depressed has been rephrased as “deep rest” by some, and though I think that is often a valid context to put that experience into, it does not cover the whole thing. There are certainly biochemical processes that also need to be taken into consideration, as well as social and relational ones. However, when we do hit that place where we need “deep rest” a certain kind of magic can be born there.
If we can experience depression, anxiety, or other psychological malaise as being health challenges AND calls towards spiritual processes, we may find ourselves in very different terrain.
I have, for some time, made a practice out of what I call psychospiritual descent.
Descent may occur in the midst of depression, exhaustion, or illness. It may be a result of feeling rejected or abandoned by a friend, family member or lover. It is characterized by the need for solitude. It is marked by a loneliness that others’ company does not alleviate. When I descend, I can imagine that I am like that orphan girl that I mentioned above from the movie “The Rescuers”. She is sent down in a pail to locate a ginormous diamond by the swamp witch of a character who cares nothing for her; she just wants the precious stone. When I go down I become all these characters as well my adult conscious self.
I become the orphan in the bucket, the heartless maud who is searching for the diamond, and I become the diamond itself. I am the tiny mice coming to my rescue. I am the jewel that I am looking for; I am down there somewhere. I am also the me that has been doing this work for nearly 20 years. I am the woman who walked away from a toxic marriage and a debilitating addiction. I am the mother who gave birth at 18, and the grandmother I became just shy of 40. I am the lover who grapples courageously with her anxious attachment, who wants to learn how to hold herself even more than she yearns to be truly held. I am a writer, a healer, and a witch—and I send myself down in that bucket to find that missing little girl and that ginormous diamond.
I am down there… somewhere.
How many times have I made this journey? As many times as Kore, the maiden has become Persephone the wise woman. Infinite times in this life and maybe others, I have made this journey down, and claimed my initiation. Every time is an ending and a new beginning. Every time something is shed and something is born. Every time I return with more of me.
Can I mark this progress externally or linearly?
I can feel the stability I have developed in my body, in the way my muscles contract less when I am stressed, and in the way my neurons no longer burn with old fear. I can mark my progress in my relationships—how I withhold less of myself and second guess my heart and its desire to share itself, to speak and be heard. I can mark my progress (occasionally) in my ability to articulate these concepts to you, my readers.
And that contact—at this moment, after what has felt like too long of a period of being exiled from this place of creativity—brings me to tears.
Image: Nishant Kulkarni
For my paid subscribers, the audio recording of this includes a brief guided meditation at the end of this reading. Also please note: if you are curious about the type of work I describe here this is what I do with my clients.
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