On a recent Sunday morning, I called a meeting to nurture a challenging conversation, in a relationship where my stellar communication skills pretty much always fail me. I wonder if talking to your parents when they think you’ve fucked up gets easier after 27. Stay tuned.
Our relationship as of late has been pretty tense. Wrought with layers of deep hurt brought on by words that can’t be unsaid, actions that can’t be undone, energies that can’t be un-felt. The dialogue on that humid Sunday morning across our family table was a long time coming, long overdue in fact. In many ways, I’ve been readying for it for close to two years. That’s two years too long, but hey, human - guilty. Work in progress - also guilty.
As I sat across the table from the two people who brought me into the world, I asked what they wanted to get out of our conversation that morning. With a shrug of their shoulders, they more or less both expressed the same desire. A solution. What I know about us is that even with the best of intentions, we can be defensive and stubborn with each other, and from there a total shut down occurs pretty rapidly. In wanting to alleviate suffering for all of us, I knew that there was only one way to move forward if we were going to land without crashing...
And so I softened into listening. I received all of the ways I’d caused them pain. They were angry, and it's essential that there’s space for that to be felt by them and heard by me. The first step towards healing is acknowledging the sensation as it rises, and giving it a name. I’m inclined to think that the second step is being able to share that narrative with the trigger point for that sensation. In this exchange, I showed up having already committed to a place of neutrality so that the space I was agreeing to hold for them was as safe as it could be - with room for humanity in all of that. This looks like having taken the time to process my own feelings around the situation, and explored the different tributaries of responsibility off the main river of “relationship”. It also looks like asking if I can share my narrative too, and allowing myself to be “in the feels” as they say. (i.e. crying while NOT eating the Everything bagel in front of me which should clearly express to you that I was in the aforementioned feels…because a Jew doesn’t pass up a bagel on a Sunday morning)
In listening to these tales that form their current individual, and collective realities, I was inspired to share with them, a thought that has brought a cool breeze to the fiery temperatures that rise up in my own heart when I feel hurt by someone. Watching my mom in body language that was rigid and combative, her face contorted in anger and assertion, I saw her in a way that is so essential to the formula of true healing: I saw her as a human being who is having the experience of a primary, unmet need.
Let’s just go ahead and get it out of the way that I’m not perfect. But you knew that already because you’ve been doing this human-ing thing for a while and have definitely figured out by now that “perfect” and “human” aren’t exactly in the same realm as “peanut butter” and “jelly” as far as two things that go together are concerned. If not, well, spoiler alert. Anyway…I’m super flawed, BUT in the process unlearning years of faulty programming and discovering where there is healing to be done, I’ve learned a thing or two and taken note of lessons that invite more love in. More sweetness to round out times that hit my tongue with bitterness. One of those noteworthy lessons is to let compassion be the filter through which I view others who are the catalyst for discomfort, or who are perceiving me as the cause of their strife.
Through this lens, we get to remain whole. When we break down the scenario that’s preventing someone from experiencing you as an ally and seek to understand what basic need isn’t being met, we instantly shift into compassion. If I can put my own ego aside for a second and hear the person I’m relating to from a neutral place (as in, not making anything they’re saying good or bad, right or wrong, and just receive it as information that supports me in being able to relate) then I can find a way to meet them, right there. Because of the fact that I, like them, am also a human with basic needs, I can understand what not having that need met feels like. Needs like feeling loved, feeling seen or heard, feeling safe and secure. Essentially all gaps in our ability to experience the other as our ally, rather than an enemy, can be boiled down to these basic rites of our humanity going unserved in some way.
There’s no doubt that I too, was moving through layers of hurt as I showed up to this conversation with Momma and Poppa bear. But when we’re rooted in the desire to continue to relate and to invite healing into the environment, equipped with sympathetic consciousness, we’re able to shift out of the “enemy” mindset that automatically triggers with the recognition of a pain point. What I ask myself in times of tension between myself and another is this: “What need does this person have that isn’t being nourished by this moment?” From there, we come to a meeting place that looks something like eye-level. It is only from this place that we can see each other.
The guts of this strategy though, is the choice to take responsibility for each other, even when we’re identifying with hurt. It’s not an easy choice, but it is one that moves us closer to the heart-forward world of our dreams. It is consciously stepping into neutrality in the effort to alleviate one another’s suffering.
In the scope of our humanity, there are endless possibilities in how we choose to relate to each other.
But first, compassion.