Or: Putting Relationships in their Rightful Place
This piece is inspired by a reading I did in 2011 with Angela Deutschmann,
and the journey that has followed since.
I just came back from a wonderful week in Europe, attending and co-facilitating the ALIA Europe Leadership Programme. If I am to be honest, as I was leaving Zimbabwe, it felt like a bit of a distraction to leave everything that was going on here, at home in Kufunda, but it turned out to be a week of deep connections, with others and myself. It was a sort of coming home away from home. Much of what I have been working on during the last weeks and months came into clearer perspective, being in a rich community of friends and fellow travelers on the journey of becoming more fully human, more fully me.
I returned home, after ALIA, to a house full of people, my family and friends who were visiting from South Africa with their kids. It was lovely to return home to a sense of community: Children running free and wild, dogs excited to see me, other kids visiting from the farm, and the trees, that are increasingly becoming a part of my felt sense of family and community, standing in their deep stillness as an anchor for me. They were calling me to come and greet them in the forest. It took a few days before I heeded the call, and yet it was only after this that I felt that I had truly returned home.
And so as I reflect on my last few days, I see that I have lived through – in a microcosm – the challenging balance that I am learning my way into in a bigger way. On paper it sounds simple and perhaps even quite easy. In reality I am finding it incredibly difficult.
It is this: To not forget myself in my relationships – to not devote more energy and attention to my relationships, than I devote to myself.
I realize I am writing in the negative. So let me turn it around. I am in a process of learning to honour my relationship with myself, and to nourish this. It includes my conversations with Life, my musings and ponderings, my connection with God, with the Trees, with the quiet voice inside me. It is tapping into and following my Joy, my Me.
I know that taking time to stay connected with myself makes me a much more interesting and wholesome person to hang out with, and yet – and yet when it comes down to it, I struggle to prioritise this most important relationship in my life – being a mother, a partner, a colleague, a friend seem to distract from my essential relationship with self. In the midst of the busyness of life it often feels a little selfish to attend to Marianne. And this was my experience this week of returning. Of wanting to go and spend a little time just with me, to touch in, to integrate – and yet initially not finding the clarity to simply claim it – even though I know that no-one would have resented it.
In a reading I did last year, this came up as a strong theme: Learning to put relationships in their rightful place. It appears that this is a area that girls more so than boys grow up struggling with. As we grow up we put on masks (all of us do) to fit more fully into the world. And many girls, it seems, pick a role that has at its essence (in its many different manifestations) to make relationships the point of life. We learn the art of pleasing, of making mom and dad happy, siblings, teachers. We learn to sense into what is wanted, needed, required of us, and we offer it happily, because it gives us a sense of belonging (and perhaps also to an extent because of a nurturing instinct). Most of us are very good at it, and yet, it is for many of us, or at least for me, also a defence mechanism. Instead of my true, full, wondrous (and sometimes wounded) self showing up – it is more often the self that has learnt the way of earning its worth and place in the world that is actively present. I show up geared towards making you happy. And that is not to say it is being manipulative. Until the reading I was not particularly conscious of this pattern of focusing on other, over myself.
However the point of my life is not the quality of my relationships, at any point in time. Nor is it yours. This may seem somewhat startling, but let’s take it a little further. My message was simply this: If the quality of my relationships comes at a cost of my expressing my authentic self, then it is not worth it. My relationships cannot be more important than my joy, the longing of my heart, my freedom, my inner life and so on. If my relationships override these, they will come with a hint of resentment, of subtle strings attached (a need to be thanked and acknowledged for everything I am giving, because I give it instead of tending to myself).
And whilst this can be turned to seem profoundly selfish, the beautiful paradox that I know to be deeply true is that:
“When you put your relationships in their rightful place, they in fact get better. People can feel, even if they can’t articulate it, even if they can’t process it cognitively, even if it is subconscious, people can feel the weight of your expectations or hopes on what their relationship with you is meant to deliver. It is a service to your loved ones to allow those relationships to be valuable, but not to dominate your life. The quality of your relating with your loved ones will improve when they are not the most important part of existence to you.”
What a liberating invitation this is. And a little terrifying . And how incredibly difficult to step into.
So here it is, I can choose to claim my full freedom, and in that be a richer member of my family and community. I have made this choice for myself, and in it I am learning each day just how difficult it is to let go of years of conditioning that have taught me that to be a ‘good girl’ I should put others first, even if I do so reluctantly and resentfully. I am learning the balance and the peace and the grace that comes from following my soul’s desire, even if I don’t do it all the time . I am learning ever so slowly to cease to do from a place of should. To show up strong and clear and beautiful, because I am tending to myself. And sometimes I show up messy and confused (I am human after all), but at least with a sense of being in the right place for me – being on my journey, not yours.
It is like the oxygen masks on the plane – we must put them on ourselves first, and our children second. Not because we are selfish, but because we know that this is the way to care for others: To make sure we are okay first.
So this is the journey I am on. And I experienced this last week, having come home from a strong and important learning journey to Europe, to a house full of people, how hard it was for me to leave the wonderful madness of my family, and go out into the forest on my own. To listen to the needs of my soul. I figured it out eventually, but it took a good few days, of not really arriving because the choice for Me seemed like a radical one to make when I was surrounded by others.
It is early Sunday evening as I complete this. I am feeling gratitude for this journey that I am on; that many of us are on. I am beginning to have more and more lived experiences of the wisdom of tending to me.
It is when there is a fundamental imbalance between my soul’s priorities and my intellects’ (my shoulds for example) that I feel the stretch and tension. And it is when I am not tending to myself that I lose touch with the voice of my soul. “You will not really feel any difference between self, work, marriage, children when you are in deep connection with your Divine voice.” It feels a little like a new relationship, with an incredibly interesting, wise, witty person who I had no idea existed inside me. What an honour it is to be getting to know myself – My divine voice even . We each have one.
How much time do we spend getting to know it? And to follow its wisdom for our life? Dare I follow my wisdom for my life? The release is in beginning to recognize that if I listen I can find my way.