Striving towards Life
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Striving towards Life

Today’s selection — from When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
In May 2013, at 36, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. At first, Paul prepared for death, then, he and his wife Lucy decided to have a child.

” Flush in the face of mortality, many decisions became compressed, urgent and unreceding. Foremost among them for us: Should Lucy and I have a child? Even if our marriage had been strained toward the end of my resi­dency, we had always remained very much in love. Our relationship was still deep in meaning, a shared and evolving vocabulary about what mattered. If human re­lationality formed the bedrock of meaning, it seemed to us that rearing children added another dimension to that meaning. It had been something we’d always wanted, and we were both impelled by the instinct to do it still, to add another chair to our family’s table.

“Both of us yearning to be parents, we each thought of the other. Lucy hoped I had years left, but understand­ing my prognosis, she felt that the choice — whether to spend my remaining time as a father — should be mine.

” ‘What are you most afraid or sad about?’ she asked me one night as we were lying in bed.

” ‘Leaving you,’ I told her.

“I knew a child would bring joy to the whole family, and I couldn’t bear to picture Lucy husbandless and childless after I died, but I was adamant that the decision ultimately be hers: she would likely have to raise the child on her own, after all, and to care for both of us as my illness progressed.

” ‘Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?’ she asked. ‘Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more pain­ful?’

” ‘Wouldn’t it be great if it did?’ I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.

“Years ago, it had occurred to me that Darwin and Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteris­tic of the organism is striving. Describing life otherwise was like painting a tiger without stripes. After so many years of living with death, I’d come to understand that the easiest death wasn’t necessarily the best. We talked it over. Our families gave their blessing. We decided to have a child. We would carry on living, instead of dying.”

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Who Rescues  the Rescuer?

Who Rescues the Rescuer?

Being a rescuer of others in emotional distress is a popular gig. As children, many of us learnt that fulfilling this role afforded us a modicum of immunity within our often volatile family ecosystems. Being the emotional support of a sick, depressed mother, or alcoholic personality disordered father may have brought a degree of proximity with the largely absent parent, it made one feel important, needed and provided at least some form of emotional nourishment to our emaciated emotional bodies. We learnt to stifle our own needs in service of the beloved, damaged other, we developed an almost supernatural attunement for signs of distress in others honed by years of hyper-vigilance.

Slowly as adults we drifted often into toxic codependent relationships where we tormented ourselves with guilt and anguish if we dared peek at our own unlived lives. At times, there were breaks in the powerful repetitions, moments when our soul beckoned, imploring to be freed from servitude to the Other. Many flee from the call, too afraid, or unskilled to take their own helm, choosing rather to be steered by the life of another, or drift aimlessly until they can attach themselves limpet like to someone else’s distress. There is no shortage of wounded others and a painful but necessary truth is that rescuers are doomed to wander as hungry ghosts if they continue to attempt to heal their own primal wounds through ‘rescuing’ others.

But now and again, some of us emerge from this unconscious default.
Midlife is ruthless in the interrogation of our internal operating system, it demands that we re examine our relationships and our roles within them. Change, whether it be brought about by illness, divorce, retrenchment or the death of a loved one can be violent catalysts for the disintegration of rescuers perpetual codependence…

Those of us who escape are often blinded by the brilliance of having to take the reins of our own lives. Huge surges of repressed libidinal creative energy can bring intense and often disconcerting feelings to the numb parts of our disregarded selves. It can be a confusing, disorientating rebirth to find oneself responsible only for ones self.

I’d like to share a poem with you, kindly submitted by a client of mine who is going through this awakening, with his permission.

Deep Below
You get used to the quiet
When you live underwater
Your fingernails rust
Your eyes cloud with
Salt.

They released me for a day
Allowed me to play in the sun
I felt the wind on my face
Watched leaves tumble
And felt the joy of love
And dust.

They took me back
To the forest of kelp and coral
And wrapped my hands
In bandages.
I made my bed on mussel shells.

I lay in the dark
And understood the language
They speak deep below
Where there is no moon.

We Rescuers, we too deserve the care and love we bestow on others without a second thought. Learning to discover our own inner terrain, to forage and nourish our own needs without crucifying ourselves with guilt becomes what one may argue is the single greatest personal challenge a Rescuer can encounter.

love and courage,

J

 

 

 

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A Loving Equation
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A Loving Equation

It’s been a tough couple of months.
Love and I have had some fierce skirmishes.
I’ve retreated from the field, confused, battered.
Now is time to examine my strategy, courageously, honestly.

“Love is the hospital for our old wounds”- Hollis wrote.
Love changes us, as it works on our painful personal histories (loss, abandonment, betrayal, jealousy etc), it also elevates us towards our highest human potentials, at times of synergy, the sum of its parts are greater than the individual. It allows us to break from our solitude and then, if we are skilled, to be finally transformed into something firmer.

Anais Nin wrote-
“Where the myth fails, human love begins”, “then we love a human being, not our dream, but a human being with flaws”.
It appears that the more we mythologize and idealize the person we love, the more disillusioned we grow as we come to know their imperfect humanity.

My need to cut and run under extreme emotional duress, was gestated and nourished by a difficult childhood, it is both my saviour and the single most self-destructive defense with regards to perceived abandonment. It’s not on a hair-trigger, but it always waits in the wings to rush to my aid when it senses danger, much like my beloved dog (Peabody) who would jump into the pool when I swam as a child in an effort to rescue me. I’d often end up fighting for my life as the dog’s misguided attempts at rescue drove me further beneath the water, scratching my flesh, leaving us thrashing, exhausted and ultimately in my dragging his well intentioned, heaving, heavy body to the shallow end.

My experience of long term intimate relationship tends to support the theory that closeness and familiarity can bring with them a shadow of growing disrespect and thin layers of contempt which collect in the corners of unspoken words.
How to hold a relationship stable, while tending it with mindful attunement, deep listening, loving speech, acts of service and creative spontaneity, all the while preserving respect for one’s self AND the other seems to have eluded me in spite of my best efforts. The difficult dance between intimacy and independence seems to have many scalps on its belt.
And yet, after spending most of my adult life in pursuit of this elusive quarry, I have learnt a lot about its movements, it’s promises, it’s mirages and deluded ravings.

I am not ready to retire permenantly from the search, I will continue to learn the painful lessons that are offered to its followers, I will endeavor to not blame the other for my own injuries but instead will watch as love moves as a sea between the shores of our souls.

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