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Dr. Cara Barker

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What To Do When Someone You Love Is Hurting

Posted: 05/06/09 10:36 AM ET

"Our wounds become the womb." ~Julian of Norwich

Last night, as I trundled off to bed in the dark, I did so accompanied by rain pounding harder on the windows than I've ever remembered. The torrents of water so strong and dense, that nothing beyond was visible. That sort of nature's extravaganza that leaves us humbled, and aware of how very small we are in the face of the elemental.

We're Taking a Pounding.
How like these days. What I did not know at the time was that tornadoes would be ripping through the South, and that an athletic facility would be collapsing over the heads of a team and coaches. What I did know was that my world, including that of my intimates, was taking a pounding. One colleague had just been told she's out of a job, and is expected to show up for work the next six months without pay to 'keep the business running.' No joke.

Three friends in the last week have suffered massive heart attacks; my brother-in-law has been given bad news about his heart. My longtime soul sister's been given the diagnosis of cancer. It's noteworthy that each of these six people are Resilience Champions, well-practiced in weathering harsh conditions.

Neighbors are losing their home. Beneath torrents of shed and unshed tears, the future remains obscured. Meanwhile, the Swine Flu carries on, with or without new packaging, as does the war, political blame-gaming, piracy, and other nasty adventures. Yesterday, the guy on the treadmill to my right, put it succinctly: "Look at that news," as he points to the monitor overhead. "Just how much more can we take?"

By dawn this morning, the birds are singing, the sky's blue, Puget Sound is like glass. Two heron face one another atop the pilings in the water, in between which, swim two mallard ducks. I cannot help but think of Noah, loading the ark with creatures "two by two." Just now, two larks perch outside on the railing from where I write, as if to say, 'Don't forget to include us.' Two is in the air.

Two Sides to the Equation.
Two sides to everything: storms and glorious calm; darkness and Light; overwhelm and clarity; despair and hope, suffering and healing, life and death, endings and new beginnings. Regardless the nature of our global, national or personal storms, the real question is: 'Who are you becoming out of the conditions before you?' The question holds true on both sides of the equation: for those on the receiving end of personal bad news, and, those of us who are friends and family. I am reminded of the song from Les Miserables where the father prays to the Divine 'bring him home...' In poignant music and lyrics, we meet ourselves: that longing to protect those we love at any cost, including to self. Like Jamie Pugh in his audition, whether we show it or not, we are rendered awkward, overwhelmed in the face of the unexpected. Only in his case, there is a happy ending.

Hints from Nature.
Reflecting on this week's 'load' of resilience building opportunities, I began to ask where the birds go during their storms. Last night, I didn't notice them flying around in it, that's for sure. There are times to lay low. Think Mexico City. These are the times to give all that striving and driving a rest. There are times to pull back from crowds and become still. This is, after all, the place where Wisdom dwells. These are times for holy waiting, for incubation, and gestation of who we're becoming.

Sue Monk Kidd puts it this way:

"To incubate means to create the conditions necessary for development. What were those conditions I wondered. Then it hit me: darkness. Everything incubates in darkness. And I knew that the darkness in which I found myself was a holy dark. I was incubating something new...Whenever new life grows and emerges, darkness is crucial to the process, whether it's the caterpillar in the chrysalis, the seed in the ground, the child in the womb, or the True Self in the soul, there's always a time of waiting in the dark."

While Waiting in the Dark Together.
What do you do when those you love are hurting in the darkness? What do you do when it's not within your power to change the outcome? How can you be most useful? How can your love be a 'womb' for new moments of life worth living? You can step into the torrential downpour with them, or, you can do what you can by offering a literal or symbolic shelter for the heart, light the hearth, prepare the soup, fluff the comforter, and welcome them into a place of refuge, and reprieve from the chaos that precedes a changing life direction. We can meet them where they're at, rather where we need them to be. We can cultivate skills to hear with a listening heart. We can offer Presence. We can commit ourselves to a deeper, truer way of being present, refusing to turn our backs, even when we're rattled. To do this requires that we first not turn from taking care of ourselves, getting more rest, nourishing our bodies and Spirits with what heals. Because when you witness those you love hurting, it takes a toll on you as well. We're not here to become Mother Teresa-wannabes. She already mastered her role. But, like her, we are here to be ourselves, to bring this Becoming Self to good use through love. As Mother Teresa put it so well:

"God is love in action."

Sometimes the best action is giving it a rest.

After the dark, the light. These morning mama and papa birds are scampering above us on the roof, returning from the storm with scraps from foraging at dawn. They're building a nest. In the distance, awakening seals are barking for their breakfast on this new day of life. Time to kick back, and savor our own before the next winds of change.

If you are a mama, or a child of a mama, I wish you gratitude for the one who mothered you, and celebration for those who mother this Mother's Day. Let's see what we can do to let those women who've made a difference in our lives know just that. As always, I welcome your remarks, clips, questions, and additions, and will get back to you personally as promptly as possible. To life, Cara

 

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