I have found myself struggling as I work to break through the latest layer of growth I am encountering. Like a chick working to break through the hard shell of the egg; like a butterfly taking those first tentative wing flutters after escaping from the cocoon covered in heavy mucous; like the birth of a baby; like a woman entering menopause… when it all falls apart, it’s messy and it’s difficult, and I want to just sit in a comfortable chair and read a good book and hope it’s over by the time I turn the last page.
Yesterday I asked my husband if he ever experienced self-doubt. He asked me what I meant. In other words, “no.” Defeated, I turned over in bed and tried very hard to keep from crying. I pulled out the tools I have learned over the years of therapy, workshops, and spiritual training. I asked myself how old I felt. If I was close to tears, I was obviously in a child state.
Ahhh yessss, “I feel like I’m 5 years old, and I can’t do what’s being asked of me.” My child mind shows the memory to my adult mind. The images dance in front of my third-eye space like I’m watching a flick at the drive-in movies, but the screen is the back of my own eyelids.
I’m living in Japan in a village where no one speaks English and they don’t really like little girls much. They love my brother because they dote on sons. My dad is holding onto the back of the seat of what I remember as a huge, turquoise, men’s Raleigh 3-speed bicycle (it belongs to my father). In spite of the wooden blocks he had carefully measured, cut, and attached to the pedals, my feet barely touch, and I feel as though the black asphalt of the road is light years below me. He’s pushing me down a narrow street lined on one side with wooden houses of rice paper walls and tatami mat floors and a benjo ditch on the other side. The benjo ditch is where all the sewage is dumped for the village. It smells horrid. For some reason that stands out in my memory.
He thinks I can ride this bike. I am quite certain he’s wrong. It turns out, after proving it by falling several times, garnering matching skinned knees on both the right and the left sides of my body, and wailing as loud as I could to indicate my abject fear, I was right.
The meaning I made up in that moment? I’m not athletic.
The belief I created? I’m not good enough.
The behavior I adopted in order to adapt to that crippling belief? Become perfect in every other way.
Lying there in bed, my adult-self went back and picked that little girl part of me up from where she lay on the road with the bike on top of her. I held her on my lap, rocked her, stroked her hair and told her how much I loved her and how proud I was of her for giving this whole bike riding thing a good effort. I let her know that her father was just trying to be a good dad. He was working with the only bike he had access to. He didn’t realize it was too big for her. In his usual MacGyver way, he had come up with a cool way to make the bike fit her small body, or so he believed. He could visualize her being able to have a bit of freedom in a new country if she could ride a bike and feel the wind in her hair and feel like she had a little control over her own destiny in a land where girls weren’t really valued. He loved her just that much.
I let her know that she hadn’t failed, and she wasn’t a klutz. She was perfect just as she was, and her fear had actually interfered with her balance. I told her she would grow up to be quite athletic and competent and didn’t have to try to over compensate for this one moment in time any longer. I taught her that fear always interferes with equilibrium.
In bed, my adult self released a big sigh. Fear always interferes with equilibrium. Of course. I had just published another book and had a deadline to write the proposal for an agent for my next book. Books are like little windows into the soul. They invite others in. My books are written from my heart and reveal all of my very real vulnerable soft spots. I was afraid. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the upcoming book proposal. The subject matter is, to my knowledge, something that no one has ever written about. I was afraid of being shunned, shamed, ridiculed, and castigated publicly. I went through this fear with the publication of my first book too. Why was it coming up again?
“Ahhh…of course.” I can only “hold it together” on so many fronts. When too many of them start crumbling, I want to go to bed and put the covers over my face at the very least; in my darkest moments I want to die. It was all falling apart on too many fronts at the same time. My dear teacher and mentor is dying. My father has cancer. My daughter is moving to another country. Last month I suddenly lost my company’s team without warning in a way that didn’t match my desire for integrity in my relationships. Without these foundational relationships in my life, I feel more buffeted by the harsh voices of people with axes to grind against anyone they disapprove of.
I realized that the usual hard-won understanding I have finally learned over my years on the earth that “what others think of me is none of my business” had gone and what was left was a quaking 5-year-old girl who adamantly refused to believe she could ride that bike. What was really left was that 5-year-old’s belief that she wasn’t good enough and couldn’t do this. And her belief was strong.
In the next breath, with this new dawning realization of what was really going on, I let it all fall apart. I stopped trying to hold it together. I let myself cry for the loss of my dear friend and mentor. I allowed the bereft feelings of loneliness to permeate my mind, heart, and cells. I sobbed and I grieved. I came to grips with the fact that my father has a terminal illness that will not get better. I felt into what the world will be like when he no longer inhabits his body. I visualized picking up the phone, the “laugh until you cry” laughter that we can spark in each other, and the loss of those belly laughs. I allowed for inevitable removal of two relationships that anchored the needle on my compass, and I helplessly watched the dial spin erratically. I let the spinning be felt as a gyroscope in my body. That out-of-control spinning was what I had been trying to stave off as I “held it together.” I cut the umbilical cord yet again on yet a different level with my oldest daughter. I kissed her and encouraged her to take flight and stood on the edge of the cliff as she tried out her new wings, at once proud and also feeling the tears slip down my cheeks. I whispered “safe travels” to all three of them and then tended to the wreckage within.
When things fall apart, it’s an opportunity to rebuild. If permitted, the phoenix will rise yet again in another form. Reincarnation happens if it’s allowed to. What does this new chapter in my life need to look like? What is the legacy I want to leave on this planet? How do I want to spend the remaining time I have under this earth’s sun? It is time to mentor myself, to parent myself, and to honor the child within myself. It is time to let her know she is perfect in her imperfections and she can do this. She can do anything she wants to do and mustn’t do the things others tell her she “should” be doing. She’s too old and too wise to spend time on those things. Time is precious. Life is precious. Laughter is precious. More of that please.
I turned over in our bed and hugged my husband and whispered, “thank you.” He didn’t know what the appreciation was for but was visibly grateful for it. He hugged me tight and told me he loved me. That…is enough.
Each inhalation is a mini-birth and each exhalation a mini-death. I am reincarnating with each breath. Just being mindful of that is enough. I can take my next breath. I can. I don’t have to hold it together, I just have to be mindful of this breath in this moment. I can choose to love this breath in this moment. Fear interferes with equilibrium. It stifles the breath. Love this breath and this moment. That is all there is to do when it all falls apart.
Note: If you’re going through the kind of transition that I describe in this blog, you might find my Freedom to Forgive self-help program helpful. This program for healing past hurts has been so helpful for me personally and for many of my patients. Such transitions are inevitable and are blessings–especially when we are able to go through them with vulnerability and an open heart.
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