This handsome gentleman was preening himself in our backyard yesterday afternoon when I went upstairs to open some windows. He kept an eye on me as I raised the shades but soon returned to a careful grooming of his feathers; such a beauty!
And then, this morning, in Parker Palmer's book, A Hidden Wholeness, I was reading about his conviction that "fixing, saving, advising, and setting each other straight" has to be excluded from a circle of trust if we are to create an environment in which our souls might learn from their deepest wisdom.
Fixing, it seems, is like naming: it puts things in a safe box so we can move on. If, as I also learned recently, the brain develops habits as a way of not working so hard, this is one of the habits that does much to create distance, as it interferes directly with the connection and compassion we so long for and need to feel.
I know this. I also know I struggle with this sometimes: it's hard, when someone's grappling with something I think I understand, not to share what I've learned from my own grappling. But what I hadn't realized -- at least consciously, though I suspect I understood it already at some deeper level -- is why this response is so strong in me.
"In the face of our deepest questions -- the kind we are invited to explore in circles of trust -- our habit of advising each other reveals its shadow side. If the shadow could speak its logic, I think it would say something like this: 'If you take my advice, you will surely solve your problem. If you take my advice but fail to solve your problem, you did not try hard enough. If you fail to take my advice, I did the best I could. So I am covered. No matter how things come out, I no longer need to worry about you or your vexing problem.' The shadow behind the 'fixes' we offer for issues that we cannot fix is, ironically, the desire to hold each other at bay...
"The best service I can render when you speak to me about such a struggle is to hold you faithfully in a space where you can listen to your inner teacher. But holding you that way takes time, energy, and patience. As the minutes tick by, with no outward sign that anything is happening for you, I start feeling anxious, useless, and foolish, and I start thinking about all the other things I have to do. Instead of keeping the space between us open for you to hear your soul, I fill it up with advice, not so much to meet your needs as to assuage my anxiety and get on with my life. Then I can disengage from you, a person with a troublesome problem, while saying to myself, 'I tried to help.' I walk away feeling virtuous. You are left feeling unseen and unheard."
In the language we used to use back in my born-again charismatic christian phase, I felt "convicted" by this. Seriously. So to everyone -- especially my children -- I've ever short-changed by trying to "fix" you and get on with my important life -- my deepest apologies.