I am the proud mother of a wonderful (and sometimes wild) three year old boy. Lately, our favorite bedtime story has been Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. Each time we snuggle up and read it, I am moved by the timeless lesson it teaches about how to face into things that are raw, brutish, scary, demanding, and overwhelming. Especially when those things are inside us.
In the book, little Max gets sent to his room without supper for making some poor choices. There, the room magically transforms into a jungle-like world, where a herd of scary-looking wild things greets him. They roar their roars. They bare their claws. They gnash their teeth. Max is frightened.
But instead of running away, Max does something unexpected. He faces the wild things full-on. Standing tall and quiet, he simply stares directly into their "terrible" yellow eyes, and says "be still!"
This move instantly tames the wild things. Max becomes their ruler. And then, the wild rumpus begins! Max stomps and dances, parades and swings, with the wild things. It's a primal party of epic proportions.
Eventually, Max decides the rumpus is over. Though the wild things roar in protest, he calmly departs, and returns to the safety of his room (and a warm supper).
Lately some "wild things" within me have been roaring their terrible roars.
Heartache. Compulsion. Worry.
But I've found, like Max, that by not looking away (or running away) from these raw parts of me, they can be tamed. They're not scary - they just want to be seen, accepted, known. They want connection. And so, when heartache roars, I take a deep breath. I stand within my true Self, who is strong, wise, and compassionate. I gaze calmly at the wild and hurting parts of me. And I say, lovingly, "Ssshh. Be still. It will be okay. Be still."
And then, the rumpus begins! I find that when I face my wild parts, there is a curious release of beautiful energy. It comes out in different ways. If I'm rumpusing with heartache, I'll write. If I'm rumpusing with anxiety, I'll run around the house five times with my toddler. If I'm rumpusing with a compulsion to do something self-destructive (like eat an entire pan of brownies), I'll hop into a bath that's obscenely full of yummy therapeutic epsom salts.
As we round the bend to 2021, may you, like Max, find the courage and equanimity to gaze with strength and compassion upon your untamed parts. May you bid them 'be still." May you relish the rumpus. And may you thereby feel enfolded within a profound sense of safety, nourishment, and homecoming.
Watch Me Read the Book
Click below to be directed to a YouTube link where I read aloud Maurice Sendack's Where the Wild Things Are.
Note: The link is non-public (unlisted) due to copyright laws.
A friend recently told me a story about how her brother, Jim, used to handle her nephew, Mason, when he was young and misbehaving. Jim--a "tall, unflappable man with dancing blue eyes and a disarming laugh"--would lift Mason high in the air, turn him in the opposite direction, place him down gently, and say, "new direction, new start!"
Yesterday was the winter solstice. The sun is far from the equator, and our hours of light are precious few. The dark gets into us, doesn't it? And it isn't just the meager sunlight that shrouds our hearts. It's the dark of pandemic, of loneliness, of political strife, of inequality, of mental illness, of cabin fever, of homeschooling, of relationship stress, of addiction, of illness, of missing people.
But today is the day after the darkest day, my friend. Today, there is more light than there was yesterday. Like little Mason in his dad's corrective arms, we have been picked up and turned around. We are facing in a new direction. As my friend put it:
We are longing.
We are choosing.
We are trying.
We are imagining.
THE LIGHT IS COMING!
What's your new direction? What is the nature of your turning? Caring for yourself a bit more? Tuning into your desires a bit more? Daring to hope a bit more? Trusting the process a bit more? Letting go a bit more? Paying attention a bit more? Feeling what you actually feel (without judging it or running from it) a bit more?
May each infinitesimally brighter day bring you that much closer to the Life that's calling.
Yesterday was a hard day. I was experiencing a good amount of sadness with regard to a relationship with a loved one. To care for myself, I did something I don't do too often: I went and got a facial. That is, I paid a lovely stranger to rub my face for an hour while I lay in the cozy darkness and tried to forget about it all.
Except, I couldn't forget. I'd be trying to focus on how good the aesthetician's fingertips felt as they slid across my forehead, and then I'd get this nauseated feeling in my gut. Anxiety. Grief. Thoughts racing.
Then I wondered something. What if I try to be present to the goodness of the face massage along with the badness of the emotional pain? I tried it.
What happened next was a little bit magical. I somehow found a way to extend hospitality toward my suffering. While the aesthetician's fingers encircled my eyes, I stopped trying to run away from the pain, and instead, I moved toward it:
"Hello, pain. I am glad you're here. You probably have something to teach me. Welcome." This is what I heard the wisdom within saying to the hurt within.
It was wildly freeing. Instantly, I wasn't caged by the sadness anymore. It didn't hurt as much. And I had the odd sense that my sadness would turn out to be ally rather than foe.
One of my dearest friends loves to remind me: "Andrea, there is only fear and love. Choose love." I have her words on a post-it note on the side of my computer.
Relating to our pain with fear by ignoring it, numbing it, minimizing it, or judging it is a surefire way to make it bigger and badder. The way to healing (and relief!) is to relate to our suffering with love rather than fear.
The next time you are emotionally distressed, try to (1) intentionally relax yourself with healthy self-care (facial or otherwise), and then (2) turn toward your hurt. Look at it. Bid it welcome. Ask it what it might be there to teach you. You might be surprised.