Embracing the Mystery
Acceptance In Uncertain Times
“Excitement gets caught like a lump in my throat and won’t pass through,” said my husband the other day and I was reminded of the reflection my son offered this summer… “I don’t get excited about plans because I know they probably won’t work out.” I’ve been wondering about why after vaccinations abound, there seems more stress in the air – for myself and others around me. It seems we’ve not only grown weary of a pandemic and all of the restrictions that go with it, but now we live a strange and complex existence where we are sort of cautious, where the specter of illness stills looms, but we are back to school and work. We have new restrictions that govern our lives but there’s no real clear set of rules that define our daily choices – only complexities and at times, paradoxes.
Making plans continues to frazzle the most unflappable of us as we attempt to go about our lives and nourish our relationships and yet continue to manage difficult choices and the resulting circumstances – “her daughter is sick. We don’t know if she’s been COVID tested. Should we keep our plans with their family?” “It’s raining and we were planning to meet at an outdoor patio. Now what?” And “Part of our friend’s family is vaccinated but there are a few who are not. How do we manage that situation?” There seem to be more illnesses whether its the common cold (it’s made the rounds in our family, how about yours?), more injuries, more deaths (whether COVID-related or not), more individuals who are dealing with serious depression and/or anxiety. And we are pairing those conditions with our inability to participate in the rituals of life that we rely on (oh, we didn’t realize how much!) for our social and emotional well-being including funerals (how do we mourn without our community around us?), weddings, and other important rites of passage.
One lesson that returns again and again is the idea of acceptance; of surrender; of embracing what is instead of expecting something to occur regurgitated from an old, outdated playbook. This means that we have less control than we often expect. Our scripts have fundamentally changed and it’s not as easy to predict how life will evolve. When my son interviewed older family members for a history project last year about their times of hardships during war or civil unrest, one consistent theme among them that kept them strong was faith. And though they hail from various religious traditions, I think they were speaking to this acceptance of the mystery…that there are a number of factors outside of our control. And instead of feeling the victim to others’ choices or the changes in the weather, we accept that we are part of our bigger universe. We trust we have a purpose in being here. Our unique constellation of gifts is ready for our meaningful contribution. And that bigger picture is unfolding in complex ways we may not always understand.
Synchronous moments — those joyful times in which things happen smoothly and beautifully — are when connections are made in harmony and beyond explanation or our meddling. These only happen when we are present to the moment and flowing with the changes around us and within us. So what gets in the way of our living every moment in this way? We attempt to control. We force and push and stop our feelings — what our hearts say to be true — because actually fully experiencing the feelings could be too painful. We fear fully feeling pain, rejection and disappointment. But we also fear fully feeling the good stuff too – excitement, joy and happiness because what if things change rapidly and our happiness is ripped away. How could we bear it? So our feelings’ prevention strategy – what we may call “coping” – actually removes us from the flow of life. And our active engagement in stopping our feelings creates anxiety and compounds those repressed feelings so that there’s a rumbling and a welling up of emotions that grows like hot lava inside of us and eventually, will surface and run over (and perhaps, not in a constructive way).
So what does it mean to feel all the way through the feeling? How do we know when we’ve allowed our feelings to emerge? I’ve asked this of myself many times and my simple answer is this… We know when we’ve fully felt our feelings when we’ve gone through the sensations, named them in our body, hearts and spirits and accepted that they exist. Often it also helps to answer the question: where did those feelings come from? What current conditions are creating those feelings and when did I feel those same feelings in the past? If we can ask these simple questions of ourselves — and our children — we can begin to take care of ourselves. To allow our feelings to flow. We can begin to dance with the universe (who is always dancing) and engage in swaying with each moment.
One of my favorite poet/philosopher’s Mark Nepo wrote:
Honoring the mystery means staying open to the many things that invite us or force us to widen and deepen our sense of unity and reality…we are called to live from the center, trying to bring our inner lives and outer lives together as a starting point from which to enter our days. For we access a different sense of wholeness when integrated than divided.1
So what does embracing the mystery have to do with confident parenting? In short, everything. As stress runs through the air waves like wi-fi — invisible but ever-present — our children feel their own set of stressors from school, friends, social media and the complexities of their development along with a heaping dose of the stress from all of the significant adults – caregivers, teachers – in their lives. Yet for children, though they feel that adult stress, they can’t always name or understand what it’s concerning. And they are unable to reflect on the causes of the stress contagions they feel. If we are to bring presence, intentionality, and confidence to our parenting (or educating), then we have to work on our trust in the universe. Yes, it will take a good workout from our social and emotional skills including:
- Self-awareness – What am I feeling? Why am I feeling it? Are my desires coming from impulse or ego? If so, can I quiet my mind enough to listen to my inner knowing? What thoughts or stories am I holding on to that are fear-based or destructive? What new stories can I tell that are growth-led, love-oriented and constructive?
- Self-management – How do we allow the feelings we fear? How do we fully accept the messages from our hearts? And when we allow those feelings, how can we experience them in growth-filled ways that do no harm and allow for deeper reflections?
- Social awareness – How can we view others pain and suffering with empathy and compassion without taking on their suffering?
- Relationship skills – How can we dance with others in collaboration and in co-creation? This certainly will mean power must be shared between partners including our children. It also requires trust and faith in others, the ability to let go of controlling outcomes, and engaging in a dialogue that is unpredictable and uncertain.
- Responsible decision-making skills – These skills have gotten an exceptional workout within the last year. Though we must think ahead to consequences for ourselves and for others before making essential decisions, there remains the element of uncertainty as we, for example, navigate a virus that is unpredictable in its effects and patterns of influence. We do the best that we can in making choices that align with our deepest values as we proceed in the flow.
We have fundamentally shifted as individuals as our world has fundamentally shifted. And the race to adapt to the rapid changes can be the very definition of anxiety unless we become intentional about how we want to show up in this moment – for ourselves and for our children. As I dealt with a health crisis with my mother while my son was home sick this past month, I was reminded that I couldn’t think about tomorrow. I needed to focus on the moment at hand to be helpful to whoever I was with at that time. Flowing with the moment helped me fully commit my attention to the person who needed my support. The way through and beyond was trusting that the universe is bigger and moving in mysterious ways that I cannot always fully comprehend. Surrender no longer represents a tragic giving up but a courageous “yes” to now.
Nepo, Mark. (2005). The Exquisite Risk; Daring to Live an Authentic Life. NY: Random House: Three Rivers Press.