Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ebb and Flow

I used to start each day with an impossible-to-complete to-do list. I used to wake with the focus on what I hadn't accomplished the day, week, month, or year before. Each day was begun with a sense of deficit.

I used to spend hours each day on the telephone, bemoaning the particular circumstances of my life, my lacks. I spent a vast amount of time and energy on relationships which were little more than codependent proppings-up of egos, expressions of mutual long-buried, never-healed scars...what I wanted from these relationships was seldom what I got from them...and I always assumed it was up to me to make the other provide what I needed.

I was battling my way upstream in floodwaters, trying to climb Niagara Falls, so to speak. There was lightning, and a huge hole in my tiny little raft.

I might have kept on like that forever, muscles screaming for rest, soul demanding solace, if my raft hadn't shattered on a huge jagged rock, and disintegrated beneath me, leaving me alone to find my way.

Okay, I was playing with imagery above. Often, that's how I first come to understand my inner life - through images.

The rock that demolished life-as-we-knew-it was Elijah, our second son, who lived only 12 days of 2003, but whose presence has changed everything.... we went, in that short span of days, from eagerly awaiting the birth of our healthy baby through shock and hope and fear and sorrow...and, somehow, before he died, we found acceptance.

Everything changed. And that is our blessing, as a family; that we were shaken out of one way of being and were forced to find another.

Nothing outside of us could help. All the answers needed to come from within ourselves.

And so began our journey, very slowly, almost imperceptibly. As a family unit, and as individuals, we began to look into our souls, and bit by bit, things began to change. Small things at first. Surface things...a better diet, more exercise, more attention. The surface had been scratched, and a faint glow was visible far beneath...

There have been times when it seemed nothing was changing, that all had grown still and silent. but the quiet was deceiving. Those were the times when things were gathering, building, ordering themselves....then would come a surge of new exploration, a hunger for new knowledge, new perceptions, deeper ways of seeing, and of being.

Always, after these quiet times, the inward surge of new input, would come the deepest rest. I can feel it, now, when it comes...I am like a twig, gently circling the outer edge of a small whirlpool. The journey seems aimless, but I can feel the pull toward the center. If I can remain still, neither trying to resist the impending journey into the vortex, nor attempting to hurry the trip, I am eventually carried closer and closer - and, once I swirl into the heart of the vortex, I enter another pool beneath, deeper still...

Life ebbs, and it flows. We have absorbed it into ourselves, now, given up all those unnecessary worldly concerns and beginning to simply bob along effortlessly, carried on the flows and resting in the ebbs, gathering strength for the next surge...

Some thingshave needed to be discarded, to live the ebbs and flows of our lives. We've given up being a dual-income family, so that I can be home and fully focused on the raising of our children. Unschooling well means paying attention. Paying attention when your children speak; answering their many, many, many daily questions; keeping food available not by the clock but by when people are likely to be hungry; noticing when a child is getting tired, or bored, or frustrated, or angry, and knowing what to do for each of these, and doing it before they become more than the child can handle; knowing what fascinates them, and using that to provide them a life rich with what they already love, and liberally seasoned with new experiences which might spark new passions; knowing when to help and when to step back; when to be busy and when to be still...

When a relationship no longer feeds the joy in life, when to step back, redefine it in new terms...

Or simply let it go.

I've been considering that a lot, in the past few years. Actually, when I think back, it's been much longer. The earlier years were spent mostly in understanding how I tended to attract a very specific type of extraordinarily needy people, and disentangling those to whom I was not related or deeply attached to.

But with Elijah's death came the awareness that we were not free, amongst certain family members, to express our grief or make any casual mention of him. There would follow a coldness and tension that was palpable, as though we'd woken the tiger they'd left sleeping in the middle of the room. It took some time for that awareness to become realization that I could not live without being able to speak about all three of my children, that I was not willing to only be the mother of my living children, and allow the one who died to simply fade into family lore, as an odd curiosity in a family where no one else's baby has died.

It took a while longer to gather the courage to begin to shift away from the types of gatherings that caused the most stress, to begin to redefine for myself what I was willing to give, and to stop expecting what the other did not have to share.

In the months since we truly began to understand the beauty and freedom of an unschooling life, to honor our children and place our family at the heart of our life, I've become strong. Strong, and mostly fearless. I've come, finally, to the place where I am certain of myself, my husband, my children, and of the life we are living. As a friend put it, derisively, I am "so utterly certain" that I would risk every friendship I had if that was what was needed to ensure the joy and peace we've found in this life, the delight we have each and every day because we've chosen to commit ourselves to this life.

A relationship that cannot sustain one's chosen life cannot survive. At least, not in its current form. If it cannot change, flow, move in tune with the lives it encompasses, it will die. Because a relationship is not an entity of its own. It is nothing but the people who are relating to each other.

But people tend to get stuck in relationships as static, rigid things in which each participant has a role to play, and, if they don't, they're breaking the code or contract of the relationship. i've been called, in recent years, haughty, arrogant, grim, defeatist, ad several other things...for no other reason than that I changed, and could no longer maintain the status quo of those rigid relationships. That seems to be hugely threatening to those who focus more on the "Relationship" than on the human they're relating to.

But I have changed. I have found, after 40 years, what my soul has always longed for.

I have found the joy of relating to myself.

And it has changed everything. I cannot be who I was, and I cannot relate as if I am. I have awoken, and I see a depth and breadth I never even suspected.

I have found the joy of relating to my best friend, my husband, my accomplice, Jim. We are finally together without the need to blame, to be right, to make wrong, to win...we are simply together. When we disagree, we find a solution we can both accept if not love. Mostly, we just bask in each other....and that two people from opposite sides of the country could meet in the wait alley of Moqui Lodge, at the Grand Canyon, and that, twelve years later, could be so much more deeply in love...there is a certain magic in our ever having met at all.

I have found the joy of relating to Jeremiah. At eight, he is a young Rennaissance man - inventor, gamer, architect, sculptor, dreamer, television and movie critic, scientist, explorer, evironmentalist, stater of deep thoughts in simple words, the long tousled blonde curls, china blue eyes, round cheeks, and gap-toothed grin that make him look like a surfer angel. He is gentle and kind to his younger sister (usually). He is not embarrassed by his parents. And we are not embarrassed by him.

I have found the joy of relating to Annalise. At five, she has an innate sense of balance the rest of us are slowly relearning. She delights in physical challenges, horses, gorillas, intestines, drawing, painting, writing, Little Toot, singing, and WORDS! She narrates her life as though it were an amazing story, and she's the main character (and, of course, she is!). She's an adventurer, a comic, a born performer. She is affectionate, exuberant, boundlessly herself. She is the smallest of us, but the biggest in spirit.

I have found the joy of relating to like-minded others. Those to whom everything I've written here resonates with their own lives, or a life they lived years ago, when they came to this place, or maybe with a glimmer of a life they've just begun to sense, or hadn't ever considered the possibility of, but now can't ignore or let be. These others are unflinchingly honest, but never with hostile intent. They keep me from being complacent, from thinking that "good enough" is the same as "as good as I can possibly make it, and then stretch for more." They have, between them, vast stores of wisdom, and they offer them freely and often, for no other reason than that children might lead lives of joyous wonder, growing up whole and with all that makes them unique intact.

And so I release to what will be all those rigid, unchanging, walled-off relationships, and those who may be clinging to an image of me that is no longer real. Perhaps, in time, they will relax, join again the flow of our lives. If not, I wish them well, and whatever they would consider peace, i hope they find.


Jessie V said...

WHAT an incredible essay you're written, speaking of the power of knowing yourself and your family. i LOVE that you're here, and sharing this with us. thank you!

Shilpa said...

........maybe with a glimmer of a life they've just begun to sense - That's me ! I loved your post

Shan Jeniah Burton said...

I know - this is a VERY late reply! I just wanted to take a moment while I have it, and thank you belatedly for your kind words. At the time you posted this, I had no idea how to post comments......

Shan Jeniah Burton said...

Dear Spinning - I hope, in the time since you posted your comment, that life you were starting to sense has gained shape, life, and substance. Thanks for taking the time to post. =)