We need boundaries to grow

Dear quarter lives,

This is a short story about letting go, about growing apart and growing healthy. It is a story about our need for space to grow, about our need for boundaries, even with our most beloved mothers and fathers.

***

One day someplace where there were streets and crossings, a young mother and her son were about to cross the street. The little boy was very afraid. He had never crossed a street before. He had seen stories on the news of people who died crossing the street, but never about those who had survived crossing the street. So he assumed that people just died crossing the street. He didn’t understand why his mother would want him to do such a thing as cross the street, but he didn’t question her, she was his mother. The boy held his mother’s hands as tightly as he could, to the point he was hurting her just a little bit. You could see his little hands latching onto her big hands tucked in and protected by their sheer size. Her big hands were nothing compared to her tall body, like a walking tree beside him, she protected him. As he stepped onto the zebra crossing, his eyes began to sparkle, wondering why the marvelous lines changed colour so frequently. Black. White. Black. White. Black. White. And as his mother took a large step in front of him, she cast a long shadow over him, a shadow longer even than she was. 

The little boy fell into a deep darkness. His mother falling only a split second after him onto her knees and over him. Her shadow now much stronger and much closer. He slipped further and further away into the dark. She did not know what to do but to hold him close. And the closer she held him, the further away he went. ‘Let go!’, someone in the crowd shouted. ‘I can’t, he needs me.’ ‘Let go of him. You have to.’, they shouted again. ‘I can’t leave him alone. He’ll be so afraid.’ Her tears were falling on his face.They came closer now. Their hands held her shoulder, ‘We’ll be here for you. He needs to come back alone. You must leave him now. Trust, dear mother. Trust him. Trust yourself. Trust us, your community. There is nothing you can do but trust that he will come back, but you must let him go.’

‘Can you help me let him go?’ ‘I can stand by you, but I cannot remove you. You must choose to get up. You must choose to stand separate from your son until your are distant enough that you cast no shadow onto him.’

And with all the love she could find in her heart for her little boy, the mother stood up slowly, as though she was a toddler standing up for the first time, not knowing whether to trust gravity yet. And as she returned to her tree-like posture, stable, standing and grounded, she carried her legs with all the power she could muster, for they were the heaviest three steps she would take in her entire life. Now standing away and across from her son, she no longer cast a shadow on his heart. There was a long silence. The silence of waiting. Tears still rolling down her face, puddles forming at her feet, now at her knees again, all she could do was think, and when she thought, she doubted. She doubted herself, she doubted her son, she doubted her community. But her community stood by her, reminding her they were still here, reminding her to trust, ‘Trust does not betray those who make space for it in their hearts, so make space, dear mother.’ 

And as she drew in one more breath and exhaled another, she looked over to her son. His eyes were beginning to open. She almost ran towards him, but a hand held her back and whispered gently in her ears, ‘I know it is painful, but that is what we must do. We nourish them until they can nourish themselves. We support them until they no longer need us. You see, dear mother, it is our duty not to smother ourselves onto our little ones. It is our duty to let them grow into their own being, that is our role ― to teach them how to fill their space, to show them that boundaries are essential so they can spread roots and reach the light themselves without help from any mother or mediator.  You see young mother, if our shadow remains cast on their bodies, we are no better than weeds whose shadow and needs kill all that is around it. Parenthood is a journey very few endure in truth. It is the hardest lesson to learn. It is one intended for the growth of the mature spirit, and the subsequent survival to youth of the infant soul. So rejoice my daughter, your pain will transform you. And soon he will have grown into a parent himself, then he will come to you for guidance and support, for his turn too will come when he will have to let go of his young ones. So let your child go, give him back to the universe, let him scour for his food, hunt and grow, and as the cycle continues, he will ask for your hand one day as you have asked mine. Do you remember me now? I am your mother from long ago. Today, you have passed the most difficult test of all. Today, you have truly mothered your child into being. Today, you have let go of your attachment to your child. Now, you are both free.’

***

Thank you for reading. Thank you for accepting this invitation to contemplate.

With love and peace,

S.A.

A Prisoner named Anger

Dear quarter lives,

This might be the story of my prisoner, but there are many similar stories out there where one captures an emotion, a memory, a person, and hides them deep in the dungeons within. There is no man, no woman, no human without a dungeon. They form inside of us when we are children. They are as old as our breaths. They help us feel safe, like an army of sorts. As children, it was how we dealt with what we didn’t know how to deal with. We felt safer knowing that all that was dangerous, all that was unwanted was locked up inside, deep within us, in a room far far away. We tied these rejected emotions to heavy iron chains so that they would sink forever with no way to escape or surprise us.

But something happens when they have lived there long enough — we get attached to them. It is ironic indeed that what we have chosen to hide away because we were afraid of, we now become so attached to and dependent on that we might actually only feel safe when they are with us, a Stockholm syndrome of sorts. And so at this point of attachment, when you can no longer separate your sense of self from your prisoner’s sense of self. Your identities now intertwined, you have now merged. A new symbiotic relationship now exists, you become each other’s hosts. Your prisoner resides in you, and you reside in it. And so it was, after many many years of holding Anger captive, I realised that I am as much a prisoner to him as he is to me.

And for all prisoners, the goal is always freedom. But not all prisoners are created equal, some become vengeful, others are more forgiving and spare your neck. And those prisoners are the wisest because they remember, unlike us, who they really are. No matter how blurry the lines get, they remember that they are not us. That we are not the fear we hold within. That we are not the anger we have suppressed. They remember that their purpose is to express our experience but they are not us and we are not them. The danger comes when the prisoner is angry. Angry at us because we have not allowed them to speak, to express themselves. Instead we have blindfolded them and hid them in places so deep and so dark that they became so sensitive to the light that it becomes dangerous for them to leave even if they wanted to without getting us a little sick first.

And so with Anger, especially with Anger, when we come to make peace with it, we must show up ready to surrender, ready to assume responsibility for the abuse we have inflicted on ourselves by holding back our anger. We must acknowledge the abuse we have allowed our prisoner to endure by hiding them away so absolutely that we forgot they even existed. In those cases, where the attachment is not even acknowledged, the prisoner’s pursuit to freedom becomes even more complex, even more dangerous, to us and to them. They begin to plan for our death. They decide that if they cannot see the light through merging with us, they must seek desperate measures, they must seek the light by removing the physical barriers of us, by removing our bodies, by destroying them, by killing us. Only then is all energy within us released back into the Universe, and when that happens, Anger can finally be free.

And so when we refuse to communicate with our prisoners, they have no way of even warning us, or threatening us. Sadly, we have cut our own ears. We have refused to listen. And now, we must bear the consequences of seeing the storm only when it is too late. We must too realise that who and what we decide to lock away in our dungeons is always our choice, even though our choice could’ve been the result of serious hardship. Often it is due to a heightened sense of the perceived threat from that particular thing, be it an emotion or memory. We might’ve witnessed an unpleasant expression of Anger growing up and vowed to avoid it at all costs. And so within us lives this exaggerated fear of expressing our anger thinking it might injure or even kill us. Ironically, that is exactly what it does when we cut off all contact with it. And so the only way to approach Anger, I believe, is with love and with a lot of trust. We must trust that our anger does not exist to hurt us. We must communicate with it. We must listen to it. And when we do, we will realise that Anger actually came to protect us. Like a house alarm, Anger acts as a signaling tool when our boundaries have been crossed. Anger alerts us to take action. To speak up. To better assert our space.

Anger has long been misunderstood. It has a bad rep because it often presents itself as aggression and violence. But it is not the anger that does this, it is what we do with the anger. It is our reaction to Anger that has been aggressive. But we have instead pointed the finger at him, deeming him the unwanted/unpleasant emotion and locking him away as if to punish him for his bad behaviour when in fact it is our behaviour that has been bad. So to heal this complicated relationship we have with Anger, we must first open our hearts and go deep deep within until we reach the dungeon, and then we must consciously and intentionally choose to unlock it. We must choose to free our prisoners. We must choose to set Anger free. And as we do so, we must apologise. We must open our entire body to listen. And as we listen to the wounded within us speak, we must give them our love for they have given us theirs all these years.

Before I go, let me just remind you of one final thing — our prisoners’ pursuit to freedom is also our pursuit to freedom. For when they are free, we become free. It is always us who are the captors, the torturers, the unreasonable tyrants, never the victims. It is us who hold prisoners, not us who are held prisoner. So let us never forget the fact, for it is a fact worthy of our memory. It is fact through which our power can be realised once again, and our choice recognised. It is always up to us! Remember that, always, if you are ever to be free. 

May you be free forever,

Shahinda

Some days, we just need to be Hermits

Dear quarter lives, 

Indeed life does not remain the same, and neither does our youth. Us, twenty-somethings, will soon enter the beginnings of mid-life. It is not far. It does not come slow. Everything we have worked to push deeper within ourselves will begin to emerge, just as everything we have worked so hard to resolve will reward us greatly. So think about what you have prioritized in your twenties and what you have intentionally  delayed for later, and what you hope to delay forever but know you cannot. Think deeply and think wisely. Do not escape, for there is no escape. Do not whine, for it is of no use but to paralyze you by getting you thinking you are a victim of life’s circumstances. You are not. You may cry, for that has many good uses, particularly for releasing tension from the mind. Cry and cry a lot, because that is how you get your power back. Cry, because you deserve to feel again. Cry, because it is natural. Cry, because you are human. Cry, because it is how you realize you come from God. And when you have cried all the tears necessary for your mind to calm and your body to relax, sleep. Sleep well, like you have nothing else to do and nothing useful to wake up to. Sleep, so you can finally rest. Sleep, so you know what it feels like to rest. Sleep, because you’ve been awake for too long. Sleep, so you can finally become who you really are — peaceful. Sleep, because that is how you transform. And when you’ve finally slept all you needed to, wake up and see what a beautiful life you really have. 

Love, 

S.A.