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.
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.