Written by Billy Potocnik in 2020
Change and growth are very difficult, as we often cling to those things that we know hurt us, don't serve us, get in our way, keep us from deep intimacy, and even destroy our relationships. This seems ridiculous! Why would I ever do that?! Because we are all (excuse the term) “f*cked up”. And we don't know any other way and have decided to define ourselves intentionally or unintentionally by our "story"... Our trauma, drama, short-comings, mistakes, hardships, imperfections . . . But, here’s the thing, once we take ownership of our “f*cked up-ness,” we are able to truly realize how beautiful and amazing we are and always have been!
We live in an overprotective culture. It’s natural to want to protect our kids from harm and the cold, harsh realities that life will bring on them soon enough and things like that, but I am not talking about that kind of “protection.” And though this is not necessarily about our children - some of this may, in fact, directly apply to your relationships with your kids. This is about us. This is about YOU. And, this is about ME. This is not about HIM. This is not about HER. It’s not HIS fault or HER fault so the sooner you stop blaming them and take responsibility for your crap instead of trying to defend, protect, and justify it, the better you and that special HER or HIM in your life will be! We spend so much time protecting EVERYTHING... Our money, our possessions, our “favorite” this, our “favorite” that… But, no act of protection is so fruitless and destructive as how we protect our “feelings,” “opinions,” “stories,” and our “ways of being.” Can any of you relate to this? It’s true, it’s not HIS or HER fault, but we learn a lot about how harmful these things can be in any relationship when we find ourselves on the other side of that ‘protective wall’ and not being allowed in, or leaving someone we love in the cold outside of the fortress that we built.
When we do this, we are basically saying, “That flag has been planted, the line has been drawn and don’t you cross it and don’t you take it! It is mine!” When we do this, that person across from us — oftentimes someone that we love deeply — is now perceived and treated as an “enemy,” an “invader” and an entity that cannot be trusted. At this point our body and cells start to abide by the thoughts in our head that we are “under attack.” Literally, we are being attacked! We put our opinion, thoughts, needs, and “feelings” out into the world and they weren’t met in congruence with “OUR ALMIGHTY EXPECTATIONS”! How dare they?! Who do they think they are?! Missiles prepare to launch...
Even more baffling is when our high-tech defense systems go up when someone like our husband or wife tells us things like, “You always look so beautiful,” “I believe in you,” “You are so talented," “That’s my fault,” “I misunderstood you,” “I never want to hurt you," “I am sorry,” “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “I love you,” etc. We may smile and say, “Thank you” or whatever the appropriate response is, but deeper down our body is defending and protecting, albeit fumbling a bit more to find the little red button, arm the shields, and sound the alarms. There is an enemy outside the gates... Or is there? Chances are, most of the time, the only enemy is ourselves. The enemy is our inability to accept, listen, and see clearly. ‘Seeing clearly’ means that we need to be able see the truth. The truth is that our “feelings” — as “real” as they may seem — are often based on our thoughts that, in times of stress, anger, and sadness, come from a place of fear and dysfunction. We weave and create intricate stories and narratives in our heads that come from thoughts and feelings that — to put it bluntly — are simply untrue and inaccurate. Our thoughts become feelings birthed from untruths that come from places of fear, scarcity, and the trauma and pain points of our stories. We cling so viciously to our feelings because we are desperate to validate them. We want to be right and make someone else wrong. We protect the thoughts that come out of our head as if it were a part of our physical body in mortal danger.
We are so good at giving but so threatened by receiving. How could we not be? Receiving can be frightening because it so often brings up our inadequacies more rapidly and readily than any other action required of us. True receiving demands us to give up control, trust, assuming the best in someone else, and know that we are worthy and enough! True reception is very vulnerable and intimate and it can be scary for us because it demands that we let go of our story and step into the reality of our lives right now and recognize the beauty of being truly seen by someone else. To be seen by someone else is one of the most beautiful and vulnerable gifts we can experience as humans — as we are receiving someone’s understanding in that moment as all that we are and all that we need. When we allow ourselves to feel this, it encourages us to give from a more intimate and meaningful place without controls, parameters, or expectations. Our giving becomes the constant act of receiving not because it simply “feels good to give,” but because it feels liberating to be seen, understood, and trusted in this way and we want to give that feeling back. When we are in this place of giving from constant receptivity, our parameters, expectations, and controls are obliterated and we feel boundless in our lives and in our relationships. We never feel depleted by giving, and giving becomes an expression of constant gratitude and effortless service. The true expression of love with no fear!
All of the sudden we went from high-tech defense systems, red buttons, and missile launching to — seemingly — boundless love, peace, and understanding! How did that happen? It’s like an illusion! Because it is! Our suffering comes from the illusions of our stories, that make us take everything personally and as an attack and an intrusion on our ‘self’. But, that isn’t our “self,” but rather our insecurities masquerading as our “self.” Our “self” that needs walls fearfully built around it to protect its own existence. We fall for the illusion of protecting and defending what doesn’t need defending. Every time we put up the protective shield and launch the counter-attack, we validate what we are most fearful and resentful of in ourselves! Oh the irony... Sure, we may hurt someone else, but we are hurting ourselves most of all because we are hiding behind the illusions of our own walls that keep us from owning our responsibilities, blindspots, and shortcomings... Our crap! We can change and see what is possible when we really ALLOW ourselves to let go of the stories and the narratives that we have been running through our minds for years and — often — decades.
Pragmatically, we can start by recognizing some simple things; discussions do not have to be disagreements, disagreements do not have to be arguments, and arguments do not have to be fights. But when the fights do come — because they will (we are human after all!) — we can recognize what’s happening. We can insert some humor into the conversation, laugh at ourselves, take some breaths, revisit the topic later, or step back and ask ourselves what can often become the most difficult question to answer, “What the hell are we fighting about again?!” Or, as I read somewhere .. . When arguing with your spouse, for instance, take off all of your clothes and argue naked! Perhaps, there’s a lot more of an invitation and metaphor in this last one than we thought… Seems like all the bases may be covered! Either way, however we recognize the conflict, in any relationship, our perceived disagreements can be opportunities to explore, be curious, to hear, and to be heard. We can understand the simple truth that has been referenced from the beginning of our human existence - we ARE NOT our thoughts. Truly understanding someone we love requires this sort of bravery and openness to empathize and relate. We are bound to “fail” from time to time, but we learn to more quickly recognize it, change course, and step into the “never threatened” zone where we can learn, connect, and understand.
I am often not good at any of this, but — with practice, patience, and awareness — I am getting better. But, I look back on my life and some of my most uncomfortable and shameful moments, and they are always rooted in defending, protecting, and — unfortunately — attacking. My “demons” being triggered by someone else’s “demons” or vice versa and — voila! The troops have been mobilized, the weaponry activated… Bombs away! In these moments, the dysfunctional narratives around my emotions took over all of the more attractive possibilities of the moment. I get a visceral reaction in my body even when I think about these times in my life now because I know that I hurt and misunderstood someone I loved and — less obviously, but just as importantly — I hurt and misunderstood myself. As I rushed into a place of fear and insecurity, I defended everything in me that was worth recognizing and understanding but never worth defending. An intimidating posture, a violent tone, unreasonable expectations, or a blindness and lack of recognition to the kind of communication or love needed from me to someone I love.
The collateral damage in ourselves after these battles lasts much longer than the actual event and we are left to sort through the mess. As we sort through the carnage, with guilt, sadness, regret, and whatever else, we have the biggest opportunity of all — but the hardest opportunity to see. We get to collect the pieces and realize that all of the pieces are our own strung out among the debris of our own imperfect selves. Naked for all to see! Each item mirrors our reflection back to us, and — with bravery — we get to look back at it and understand, learn, and — hopefully — grow. The items are not worth keeping as they served their purpose and no longer carry the same power and meaning. We get to let go of some of our stories, insecurities, traumas, and all of those things that scare us and take us away from our stronger, more loving, and kinder selves. We move from ‘naked and afraid’ to naked and empowered!
I have always loved the story of The Buddha sitting underneath the Bodhi tree on the brink of enlightenment when Mara comes in to shoot arrows at him and distract him from seeing the truth. But, through his awareness he turned the arrows into flowers and the petals peacefully fell all around him. This, in some ways, is the grand story of our lives. This is always our opportunity! When our crap is bumping up against someone else’s crap, our FEAR will convince each of us that the other person is a threat to us and they are to blame, and we grab our bows, load our arrows, and we let them fly. I am right! You are wrong! I will defend my territory! But, when we fearlessly take complete ownership of our own dysfunctions, faults, and blindspots fully and with no excuses or caveats, we find that the arrows have no power. We don’t just let our defenses' down, we realize that there is nothing worth defending. We find ourselves empowered by our vulnerability, liberated from our fears, and standing in a place of clarity, understanding, and love where we can see and be seen.
I don’t remember where I heard it but I love the saying, “There is no pride in love.” When I first heard this, it was like an arrow piercing the veil of my own illusions. I think one of the strange reasons that I like it is because of the potential to misunderstand it. Someone could easily construe that it means, ‘there is nothing to be proud of in love’. And, maybe they are right, but I don’t think so. I think it serves to remind us that love is so big that there is no room for our fragile pride. It recognizes the shadow that our “pride” is capable of casting. If we are really going to live in the verb of LOVE — the activity of LOVING — then our pride only separates us from the deeper understandings of our own heart. Love doesn’t care about the validity of our stories, fears, and excuses. Love only cares whether we are willing to step into the depths of our messiness, own it, and do the work that allows us to change, grow, overcome, see, and be seen, in all of our struggles, challenges, vulnerabilities, and imperfections. Love is the hand that always chooses to open and the heart that is brave enough not to close. Love demands us to speak all of the languages that turn arrows into flowers.