What does it mean to have regard for someone? For yourself?
The origin of the word regard is Old French and is made up of “re-“ which means back, and “garder” which means “to guard”. Regarder (the Old French verb) means “to watch”. So, regarding is watching or seeing in a way that is protective, that circles back to safety.
The way I think of it, regard is about allowing someone to have their full humanity. That includes the imperfections, the suffering, the disagreement, the joy and their right to choose their perspective. It means that they are not disposable, that it is not OK to shame or punish them, to tell them what their experience is, and it means that banishment or exile is not on the table. Regard does not, however, require me to agree with them.
Holding someone in their humanity means that our fundamental orientation is that they deserve respect and dignity. If I disagree with them I do not have the right to infringe on their humanity. If I feel hurt by them I still do not have the right to infringe on their humanity. Regard is being able to set boundaries or make agreements without denying the humanity of any of the people involved.
Regard is like love, in that it’s both a place we stand to see another person, and the way we behave toward them. Like love, if we don’t act in a way that lets the other person know how we feel, then they may not believe in our regard or love. Regard is both the things we hold to be true about someone from our vantage point, and our behavior that communicates our perspective to the other person. It is the acknowledgement of the person, and it is the circling back to the safety and validation of being held as a human worthy of respect.
We can also have self-regard. This is the perspective that I hold for myself… one of self-compassion and acknowledgement of my own humanity. The associated behavior is treating myself with respect, honoring that I am having a (likely imperfect) human experience, but that I do not deserve to be shamed, abandoned, or punished… not even by myself. Self-regard holds me to treating myself respectfully, and it holds my inner dialogue to a standard of nourishment and protection rather than criticism and berating. The degrading voice in my head is not mine, it cannot coexist with self-regard.
Ultimately, regard is embedded in a culture of shared humanity, care, and connection. It is also the bedrock of such a culture. Regard also feels like a lighthouse, a beacon, for how I want to be in the world. When I don’t know what to do, or how to handle a situation, I can ask myself what regard would look like if it were present… and I can do that.
Oh so many heartbreaks in a human life. How do we do it? How do we keep living with broken hearts? How do we ever resolve them? Forgiveness? Strength? Moving on?
Honestly, I've learned so much about tending to heartbreak lately. Certainly the current state of the world gives us all fodder for heartbreak work. It returns us to our smallest selves, our vulnerable and soft places. These places are not aligned with the "just do it" mantra of our society... the encouragement to just keep going... to not pay attention to the stuff that bothers us. But, one thing I do know, is that if we don't tend to our heartbreaks, they accumulate.
Tending opens a soft space for being... like laying on the couch with a million blankets, wrapping up in a comforting gentleness, a bit like being held like a small child. Yes, to tend is to hold gently. It is to be with, to sit down next to something or someone and hold their hand. It is not to fix, or to advise. The wisdom of tending gives space to the heartbreak to do its work. To lead the heartbroken through the landscapes of grief and anger... arriving at a hill with a bit of a view... a place that provides context.
It takes time to make this journey, and tending is the attention we give that liminal space so that we can find our way through. This is deeply important work. the tending of heartbreak.
I have always struggled with the concept of forgiveness. And, I can tell you that I've only every found genuine forgiveness (or anything that could look like it) on the other side of tending to heartbreak.
Tending takes showing up again and again, for things that feel like nothing... sitting under the tree, lighting the candle, or sorting stones. Tending is being with a process at the particular place that it is, and allowing it to run its course on its own time. This is hard. It takes longer than you think it will. It moves at the pace of the natural world. And it cannot be rushed.
Tending is also one of the biggest gifts we can give to one another. It builds relationship because it moves slowly and is done one small bit at a time. It creates reliability because it requires us to come back over and over. And tending creates connection because it is based in care and devotion.
Sometimes I notice that more than one of the Landscape of Mothers archetypes will address whatever I'm turning over in my mind. This fall, as is common at this season, change seems to be at the forefront of people's minds. If we listen to the land as we move into autumn, we can learn about how to release, how to let go, and how to grieve. Several of the Landscape Mothers hold ways of being with change, because the quality and tone of it can be so varied. This encourages us to inquire into what nuance of change we are experiencing in our internal world as we see the seasonal change happening in nature.
The Sun and Moon Mother is about the kind of change that is a rhythm, a cycle, some way that we repeat and anchor our lives. She holds the cycling of seasonal activity, celebrations, or simple recurring tasks that we perform that help us know where we are in the scheme of things. Those rhythms might be always having a holiday meal at a certain person’s house, or the constancy of what makes up the meal itself. Or it might be giving a loved one a hug before they leave the house for their day. It doesn’t have to be big, but it does repeat again and again… and so it is the constancy of our rhythmic movement in our lives.
The Wind Mother is the one who introduces change as an environment shift. She picks you up and carries you somewhere else. She is the kind of change that instigates a beginning. She is the seed sower, the interrupter, the creative spark. Things change with The Wind Mother around in a way that the environment is different, more than maybe you are changed by it. While you may mature here, there is a continuity between where you were and where you are not.
The Desert Mother is the change of loss. You don’t get picked up and put somewhere else… you are fundamentally altered within. This is the realm of grief of the things that did not happen, or happened overwhelmingly, such that things will not be the same again. You are not the same. It can look the same on the outside, but nothing is the same on the inside. Things die here. It is a broken open kind of landscape.
Potentially every one of the Landscape Mothers has her version of change or resistance to it. But I see that these three Mothers have a particular kind of relationship to change that helps me locate the nuance of what I’m navigating in my life. They describe not only the way I might be seeing or feeling the changes, but help me identify what emotions I might carry about them. Do I feel anchored and supported, excited and maybe afraid, or am I grieving a loss? What might that mean will be most helpful for me in being where I am? What do I need to give myself in order to be true to myself? What might I want to ask for from others?
Oh this is so good... I love it when the days get a little shorter, encouraging me to my bed just a bit earlier. I thrive on getting good rest.
I love how things slow down after a frantic summer of launching ourselves into travel, gatherings, adventures. I appreciate reclaiming my own inner pace... which is always so much slower than the pace at which the world moves. I stop pushing myself through all the excitement of summer (and honestly, I'm not really good at it... summer is not my most aligned season).
Autumn makes the invitation to really settle in and notice the spectacular change of colors, the beauty of the seed pods, the way nature is preparing for her own down time. I feel like I see nature better when the light gets down to a certain angle, when it's not so intense. The play of shadows and light always gets my attention... it's so like life, isn't it? To have both things, right there together...
There's a practice I learned from a therapist years ago about finding your own innate pace... how you feel like moving through the world right here and now. If you are curious what your internal (or natural) pace is, you can get into a place where you have some freedom to move around... and just let yourself start to walk, crawl, roll, or sit in a chair and move your arms, face, roll your neck... it doesn't matter what part you move... what is important is paying attention to how fast, or slow, you want to move.
Let the impetus for movement come from within, from your bones, from your depths. Notice its quality, is it smooth, direct, sinuous, jerky? What does that suggest about what you might want in your current situations (if anything... it doesn't have to). Invite that movement into your repertoire as you move through your day.
Today, I am noticing that I crave stillness and rest. I am off to lay down for 10 minutes before my next meeting. I am going to fully surrender to the pace of stillness. And for the rest of the day, I'm going to give myself a moment to take three slow breaths as I transition from one task to another (if I can remember... because that's always more difficult when I get into get-it-done mode).
I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be together in this life… like, have each other’s backs… even-while-we’re-spread-all-over-the-world kind of together.
I’m noticing that I’ve been conditioned to think that if I’m in a room alone that I’m alone in life. But the under-everything-truth… we do not do this life alone.
The concept of “together” is starting to take on some nuance for me. I am reminding myself that even though the people in my life are busy, they do love me, they are crossing their fingers for my success, and they do care what I’m going through. This challenges the idea that I’m truly floating unattached in the world. I am not.
The other place I’m thinking about “together” is where actually being in contact truly IS this important part of being able to hold the sense of not being alone when I’m the only person in the room. That is, I need connections… real ones, physical ones, committed ones. As a social species, our nervous systems are organized around connection with others, we find an internal sense of safety through belonging, it’s just how we are wired. We’re wired to need each other.
“Together”, for people who have attachment wounds, is sometimes truly problematic. It’s fraught with lessons we received about not being allowed to have opinions, needs, being too much, etc. And so “together” can be a land mine. And sorting through the landscape of all of it might seem downright dangerous. Honestly, there’s no requirement that you do this kind of work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You are allowed to protect yourself in whatever way you feel is right for you.
And, if there’s something in you that feels like connecting, repairing a sense of belonging, and/or taking care of the one in you who feels desperate to be accepted or loved, might I suggest flying with a flock of songbirds?
Songbirds gather in groups in which they somehow manage to balance cohesion with crowding, following with leading, and safety with access to resources. They exhibit a grace of these qualities of togetherness + space.
What does that look like for humans? I think, often, we assume that it’s people we need, and while that might be true, for a lot of us with past trauma, people feel dangerous. I didn’t have what I needed to navigate safe connection with humans.
Instead, nature… the earth, trees, the ocean… they held me. I connected to nature first. I saw in nature so much of what I was trying to figure out. But it was opinion free. It was simply a reflection of one way nature has solved the problem.
So, if something is weighing on your heart, and you want some feedback, but people feel like tricky business… ask a tree, or a river, or the spider building a web attached to your trash can (seriously… some of my best advice has come from spiders).
Be willing to sit and see what’s there. Join the songbirds and notice what you notice about how they communicate together, how they forage together, how they move together.
Sometimes nature conveys her brilliance in a huge understanding, sometimes in a tiny thing we ponder for a long time, sometimes in such a subtle way that you never realize that you received it.
Today I’m imagining my flock of songbirds… the ones who carry and hold and love me… often from afar… and those I carry and hold and send love to when they need strength and I have it to give.
If it feels good to a part of you who needs soothing… know that I care… truly. I am way out on the edges of your flock of songbirds, singing up your name to energize whatever it is you’re asking for today.
We don't know what we don't know. And the things we learn early in our lives, we often don't question because we get taught so much... and so much of it unspoken... about how relationships and love and connection and meeting needs works. We just absorb these lessons and sometimes we don't realize things could be different. Especially if we spent a lot of time alone as kids.
And not only that, we swim in the waters of our cultural assumptions and traditions every day, and many of those reinforce the lessons we learn from our families. Which is why it is important to create spaciousness in ourselves... to back up from the things we think we know... so that here, as adults, we can fact check them with our own senses. Do we believe what we were taught? Do our cells resonate with a gnosis (an inner knowing) that feels like "what we know to be true" really matches our inner felt sense of it?
The Sun and Moon Mother is the archetype in the Landscape of Mothers who embodies this spaciousness. She is the Mother whose gift is Wholeness. She knows it takes a little room to figure out what belongs to us. She can help us find it.
By spaciousness, I mean, creating more room in both time and space. This invites us to slow down, take a breath, and step back mentally from what is squeezing the situation (what is keeping us feeling righteous and right).
Lots of mindfulness focuses on this space... taking a breath or counting to 10. If we use this technique in conjunction with intending to settle into our own values, we make room to see something differently and know ourselves relative to it.
We make room to truly listen, observe, and understand the roots of the issue. And, it so happens, in that space we can also find our truth. I think back to a situation with a friend where we got stuck in a discussion that was hard for us both. In retrospect, I think it would have been helpful if I'd had the spaciousness to step back and formulate in words that my struggle was rooted in some of my basic safety needs. I suspect that hers was too. We never did recover from neither of us having the spaciousness to step back and assess what we were needing.
My "stepping back" practice is Metta. To the best of my knowledge it is a traditional Buddhist prayer that I believe has been modified through the lineage I received it from. Saying the words is only part of its healing properties for me.
The other part of it, the part that knocks around in my bones and creates spaciousness, is that, for me, it is about softening toward myself, wishing myself well, amidst the chaos and mistakes, and nourishing my inner child who fears judgment. The prayer goes on to acknowledge the humanity of everyone around me... and wishing those people well too. It refocuses me on my values of compassion, kindness, and respect.
This is the healing... coming back to myself to meet the difficulties out in the world. Then I can have my own back in any situation. I can know my needs, I can rise to meet any struggle from my own solid ground. And this is what restores trust between me and my inner child. She sees that she can trust me to hold her carefully, to defend her where she needs it, and to always have her wellbeing at the center.
A couple of weeks ago I decided that I wanted to move onto a big piece of property so that no one could cut down trees without my knowing and approval. I was adamant that this control over my environment was critical. Truthfully, it just makes things feel safer, doesn't it? To think we have control? To be able to predict the possible changes so that you can get used to the idea? To not have things happen that you don't choose?
When we double down on control of the situation, I think that's when we tend to really lose control. Life is made of the shifting and changing of everything. In general I don't like quoting dead white men, but I think it was Heraclitus that said "the only constant is change" (or something like it).
When the world is swirling and feels ungrounded and the emotions are up it seems that the result is usually falling into some sort of distraction... social media, game apps, bingeing on TV. The more tired I am, the more likely I am to use this technique.
And I also know that when I choose myself instead, and turn to the practices that nourish and protect my inner self, that's what really helps me weather the storms. That's what really takes care of me. Those practices make a little more space between me and whatever is going on. I can usually find a breath there... one that soothes my bones and unravels my nerves. A breath that reminds me that I am not what is happening... I am still myself.
From there I can see the ground, I can breathe deeper, and I can tend to my nervous system with my practice. For me it's a way to settle, to remember, to take myself out the fray long enough to reorient back toward my needs (often that's soothing, kindness, and well wishes) and my values (often it's autonomy, gentleness, and respect).
Our practices do not need to look the same to be effective, they just need to tend to the core of things. They need to soothe the deepest of your insides into the "thank goodness" slump (can you just see someone who realizes that help has arrived, or that the situation is about over... and they almost collapse with the feeling of relief?). Like that. When you feel that inside... that's your practice. That's the thing that's new, that takes you out of the chaos, and deposits you back into yourself.
When my daughters were 2 1/2 years old and 8 months old we moved into a new house that had birch trees growing just outside my bedroom window. Over the years, when the trees would broadcast their minuscule seeds over the yard, a seed would land in the garden bed outside the front door and it would begin to grow. This only happened three times in the 12 years I’ve lived here. So I saw the sprouts as magical and I potted them to be replanted in the yard where they could grow tall.
I heard somewhere that, in magical traditions, birch trees were thought to confer protection to children. This made me feel that no matter how many times I felt like a failure of a mother, the birch had my back. The unchanging presence of the birch mirrored back to me the persistence required in parenting... the inevitability of bumping into my own wounds and fears... that I could still keep going in the face of struggle.
The hardest part of parenting for me has been the ways in which I’ve grown up with my children. As they’ve grown, I’ve bumped into the wounds I experienced at those ages. That’s the difficulty... reparenting myself by showing up differently than I was treated when the wound is so active. Oof.
Motherhood (probably parenthood in general) invites us into broaden ourselves to encompass more inner ground, to have more access to ourselves. This is a practice, an opportunity to devote ourselves to this stretching and reaching and gnosis. This invitation to fully explore the inner landscape of who we are and who we can be.
When I first started walking here 10 years ago I was trying to find out who I was. I had left behind my dreams of becoming a professor of biology and decided to be a full time mom. I was scared of the change in my life, and I let the forest hold that for me. It meant I was often afraid here walking by myself.
But, I knew I was safe at the heart of it all. I brought the fears, and I walked with them. And I walked with me. And I realize today that so much has shifted. I'm not at all afraid, I'm so comforted by the trees, the wind, and even the people. I realize, it's because I am at home here. I am wild and domestic, I am light and dark, I am messy and true as a redwood tree. I am at home. I belong.
The Ocean Mother is the one who holds all of the things that we ignore, don’t tend to, or left behind because we didn’t know what to do with them. It’s a lot like throwing things we hope to never see again into the depths of the sea. But, the psyche, and the ocean, don’t work that way.
We get the opportunity to address these things again, the wounds, secrets, and shames of the past. This can make the Ocean Mother feel daunting and enormous. It’s why it can feel like she could swallow you up. But it’s important to remember that we have control of our process (most of the time) and we can simply go to the shore and let the Ocean Mother lick our toes. Small steps… little bits at a time.
The Ocean Mother asks us to learn to make enough room in ourselves to hold all of the complexities and paradoxes of being a real human. In many ways The Ocean Mother is the antidote to the dichotomy of Good Mother / Bad Mother.
How to begin to hold more “this thing” and “that thing” in our lives… even though those two things feel at odds? Step one: acceptance of things as they are. Not in a doormat kind of way, or a collapsed and throw-your-hands in the air way… but as a willingness to be in the tough place of feeling torn between two things. The desired outcome is to let both things be true, even if both of them being true simultaneously defies logic!
The more I’ve let myself stand in this place, two things have happened. One, is that I’ve become much more tolerant of myself and others. And the second, even though I was originally fearful of stepping out of the logical place, as if I was giving up all ability to steer the ship, I actually found a lot of clarity and sense of knowing my own truth when I was willing to stand in the “in-between”.
So, what if, instead of falling into “this side” versus “that side” in daily life, we were able to tap into the rhythm of the Ocean Mother and allow ourselves to just flow back and forth between them until we found what we needed? What if the "answer" more like a bridge than a place?
Author: Jill clifton
Hi, I'm Jill. My intention with this space is to share how exploring the archetypes of motherhood can make room for us to be whole people within our roles of nurturing our children.