One of my mentors told me in an email that most of the feedback about my work was enthusiastic, then followed up with the words, “but there was some concern as well.”
Here’s what the little girl part of me heard, the one who is wired to be hyper-vigilant about any sign of threat to her sense of belonging: “We have all decided that you are not fit to be in this group and you have been put over there, out of the group. We’ll be over here looking at you with disdain, disgust, and a sense of superiority. We have the power to kick you out or keep you in and we don’t need to give you a reason for doing either. And while you are out, you have no support, no resources, no family, no food, no shelter, nothing beautiful, nothing comforting. We’ll happily watch you bedraggled, cold, shaking, skeletal, frightened, and longing ever so hard to be back in the group, wondering what you can do to save your life and be accepted back. And we’ll know that we have all the power, and we can play with you as much as we like. We have no concern for your wellbeing, for your happiness, for your safety, for really anything to do with you. You are useful to us only insofar as you meet our needs. We have no responsibility toward you. WE DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOU.”
And that all happens in one second. All of that feeling is conveyed instantly. It’s no wonder there’s another part of me that wants to instantly fix that situation – re-read the email, find out where the offending feedback came from, find arguments to defend my perceived failures, refuse to accept that there are failures, consider quitting (I don’t need them anyway), consider going it alone (I can’t be hurt if I have no close relationships), give up and become a nun, go back to my hometown (where there is this naive sense that everything will be better again, but with no evidence that that would be the case), send an email that says something like “F… you” (anger doesn’t need truth on it side – it has the freedom to just act out), etc, etc, etc.
All of this because of “some concern” that I have no information about.
So, what did I do?
My first response is panic (the little girl) followed by fixing it (the protector), then, another part of me sees this pattern begin and it knows that this sequence of events does not lead anywhere good. Anxiety and depression, tears, anger, a sense of isolation, numbness, neediness – this is where that pattern leads. As it has always lead, for as long as I can remember.
This time, a change.
First, mindfulness – without it, I wouldn’t have been able to describe the sequence of events at all; I’d be lost within the events, with no sense that the events were not me. Writing them down helps.
Second, feeling sadness for that little girl and for her gallant protector/fixer. They work so hard in such difficult circumstances. They’ve been working so hard for so long. It’s sad that they need to do this, but they have done this to survive and their work is honest and effective in keeping me alive (physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually). Feeling some gratitude for all their hard work. Feeling their exhaustion, their vulnerability, their despair. Not turning away from their distress and not denying my sadness in response.
Thirdly, quite slowly and gradually, letting the love in. After years of practicing with letting the love in, I just need to remember to do it. Allowing some tears out as the love comes in. No white light or embodied presence or sudden feelings of ecstasy, but the vision of loved ones who make me feel good, who remind me what it feels like to be loved: a favorite aunt, a beloved dog, a grandmother, a niece – beings whose love is uncomplicated. They come to me, and it dawns on me that they are the second collection of beings in this particular show. Maybe a reminder of balance. Maybe the mind’s way of showing a little girl that there are as many who love her as the ones she perceives do not love her.
And then, a lingering sadness and tenderness for little ones hurt. A remembering that little ones are hurt all the time, all over the world, and that we all do our best to make it through a life taking care of the wounds we suffered early. We’re all in this together. Every adult carries their wounded child as best they can.
Then a sense of peace, of completion. Mindfulness, kindness, common humanity: The book of the world in an episode of shame. There is nothing else to do. There are triggers and reactions and soft feelings behind hard feelings and needs behind managers. I am not alone. This is not something special to me. This does not isolate me – this, I share with everyone. Then, a feeling of expansion. The narrowed focus of the little girl and the protector changes to a wider focus of wisdom and understanding. The email still exists, and it can be addressed later. Those who do not care, and the wasteland, and those who love – all scenes in a play, all part of a story. Nothing unique about the play, nothing to isolate me.