Breaking through the clouds

I have read and reread a vivid metaphor for many years now that has played a substantial role in my journey through life. It is about an eagle, attempting to reach her home in the midst of a terrible storm. The sky is painted dark, clouds are black and thunder and lightening surround her as she fights to stay aflight. As she flies she becomes exhausted and even confused, fighting to keep her flight path, being dashed about and pummeled by rain and wind this way and that, attempting to “sweep away the clouds” with her wings. The author graphically describes how she “awakens the doves… with her wild cries and vain endeavors to find a way out…” The story concludes with the eagle finally dashing upward, with all her might, into blackness and valiantly breaking through the clouds, finding herself above the storm and then “all is light”. That final scene is etched in my mind, and I replay it over and over, often with chills up and down my spine. Such a powerful depiction of a battle well fought.

Out for a run earlier this morning I was growing tired, finding myself wanting to slow down, perhaps even walk for a bit. I have been stepping up my mileage and my pace over the past couple of months and some days that is more exhilarating and enticing than others. Today as I was pushing myself rather hard, that little eagle came to my mind, seemingly out of nowhere. All i could think about was this little eagle, flying through a raging storm, beaten down, wet, confused, exhausted, yet flying with all her might. I could visualize the entire scene in my mind, I could hear hear screeching and see her straining with everything she had. I could sense the darkness and the cold and the desire to be in a safer, calmer space. Then the moment arrives, when she gives it all she has and with one final gust, she emerges through the clouds. Hard not to be inspired. To want to push through. To keep fighting.

The effort. The struggle. The fight. Sheer exhaustion. I cannot help but resonate with that. It seems that life is never short of providing us ways to practice building stamina, endurance and will power to push through. I have experienced many moments in my life where I simply did not feel I had it in me to keep going. I see a similar battle in my clients that I sit with from week to week. I hear their stories, see their emotion, sense their drive and admire their courage. A battle is not won by hiding. A battle is won by showing up and using all you’ve got to give, and not stopping until it’s over.

Many people say that “it is in your blood” or “you either have it or you don’t” when they talk about courage, will power, drive and sheer determination. Perhaps there is some truth to that. But I tend to believe that if we were not simply gifted with such qualities, we can certainly seek them out, learn them, even obtain them. Perhaps grow to become them…

I believe that we as human beings are capable of change. We are capable of growth. We are certainly capable of being motivated, inspired. So my question becomes; how does one share the power and possibility of breaking through the clouds with one who is still in the storm? How does one practice their way through life in such a way that renders one ready and willing to stay the course when the storm begins to rage? How do we as connection driven beings, assist one another in the plight… of life?

The following link provides a powerful reminder of how each and every one of us are seeking to feel we are not alone, that we are somehow seen, heard, even cared for by another being. That someone not only sympathizes with us, but actually gets it, feels it, sits with us in it. Brene Brown did a fabulous voiceover for this little cartoon, in which she describes the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Dr. Dan Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and researcher uses the phrase “feeling felt” in his body of work around interpersonal neurobiology, a fancy way of describing how people connect and why. Feeling felt provides an almost sacred word picture for me, as i contemplate the actual internal feeling I get when the person I am with seems to get what i’m saying or what i’m going through or where i’m coming from. It is so powerful, perhaps even softening to ones soul…. to feel seen, heard, felt, for who you really truly are at the core of you.

It is a rarity however, and a feeling that many people have never experienced. Most often we walk around feeling very isolated and alone, even misunderstood or actively judged, for not being enough… smart enough, pretty enough, athletic enough, intelligent enough, fast enough, creative enough… you name it, we mostly feel inadequate and not only judged by others, but often times judging ourselves against how we feel others see us. It can be debilitating if we do not find a pathway through it, that allows us to create a buffer. Buffer against the storm, buffer against others judgments, buffer against our own feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt.

In therapy, we often use the phrase “grounding”. We are referring to a technique that is used to help those of us who become overly anxious, unstable in mood, “flighty”, or disconnected from self or others. The concept behind grounding is actually quite simple; soothe the anxiety, fears and instabilities that cause the person to feel out of control or distant from the present moment. Quite literally it means to root or ground the person to the earth beneath their feet.

We utilize meditation, often guided meditation to bring the focus of the individual to the present moment. An example would be to focus on the chair one is sitting on, how it feels beneath you, supporting you, holding you up from falling. Another example would be to imagine yourself flying through the air like a kite, and to feel the gentle tug of the string as you are being guided back in for landing. The concept behind the technique is focus. Where one’s focus lies, has a great deal to do with one’s perspective on life, and the individual moments that make up the larger picture of the journey.

This concept of grounding seems to come into play as I think about the eagle desperately flying through the storm and eventually breaking through the clouds to the sunshine above. Perhaps if one can find a way to sense the solid ground beneath ones feet, when we feel the world around us crashing down or swirling up… Perhaps if we could shift focus, see the strength we possess and even the purpose beyond the present moment pain.  Maybe we could connect with a larger picture, even when everything seems to be falling apart. Perhaps if one could reach out and connect with another being when loneliness threatens to engulf… One could find strength to stay aflight amidst the storm.

Perhaps even break through the clouds.

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The Power of Community

I spent a large portion of my day today grieving and processing the loss of a mentor and friend. In my own grief and sadness I could not help but watch the storm of messages being written on the walls of family members and the continual updates in news feeds about this man, and the impact he had on so many individual lives and the legacy he has left behind…. Hundreds of messages sent to his wife, words of encouragement and support and shared grief. His son made a post with a tribute to his dad part way through today, and over 270 likes and close to a hundred comments were displayed in response. This a community that bans together, shares in the joys and the sorrows. They show up. They make phone calls, mail cards, bring food and meals, send flowers and offer their hands anywhere they are needed. This is a community I have been a part of for the majority of my life and have taken for granted. 

Today as I watched the support stream in from every angle possible for this family, I was awestruck. While reaching out to my own set of connections and friends to share this painful moment with, I could not help but feel a sense of gratitude for community and all that it provides. The ability to know that someone else is there and they know what you’re going through and they want to be there for you. Powerful and life altering.

I have watched families go through this sort of tragedy countless times, and it is powerful to step back and see what a community can do for a family or individual, to rally around them and share in their journey. What I have witnessed is an enormous amount of strength and courage and an incredible resilience that rises up in these families and individuals that are surrounded by support systems, and not left to process life’s journey on their own. There is a shared space that we experience when we are aware that we are not alone, that someone cares, that somewhat has witnessed the unfolding of our day. 

In her 2004 movie “Shall We Dance”, Susan Sarandon has a scene where she describes why people marry;

”We need a witness to our lives.  There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything.  The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day.  You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”

This is one of the most powerful descriptions that I have ever heard regarding the real reason for marriage or commitment. A community can be each and every one of these things. Whether large or small, new or old, religious or professional, a neighborhood or organization. A group of people that join together in one way or another and end up forming a connection, a bond. We congregate together in order to share our lives, to bare witness to others lives and support and share in them, to find encouragement and care and concern, to seek wisdom and learn from one another. We are social beings, made to connect with one another, and to co-create meaning as we live our lives. 

One of the greatest tragedies that I see is when someone isn’t sharing their life with someone else. This does not need to be a marriage or family I’m talking about someone who isn’t connected, and doesn’t have others in their immediate world who bare witness to their life. We are not beings that function best or even well in isolation or solidarity.  We are social. We are fragile. We are vulnerable. We need an other in our world, to make it real, to bring it meaning, to simply survive. 

We attach to the person who is there for us most, and we attach securely when that person is consistent and reliable and unconditional in their care-concern. When attachment needs go unmet, illness and disease show up, they begin to infiltrate our minds and our bodies and wrecking havoc. 

The beautiful reality is that attachment begins between two individuals and has the ability to grow and expound from there. The growth of a community, the connection of a group of individuals is not instant and does not happen overnight. It happens in the mundane everyday realities of each of our lives. As we reach out, as we open up, as we allow others to share in our journey, we are invited in and gifted with the opportunity to share in theirs. To give and take, to grow and share, to expand. It starts simply, it happens slowly, but these encounters-exchanges of words or actions begin to build bridges of connection. They begin to foster friendship. And one day you realize that you are surrounded by people who know you and care about you and for whom you would do pretty much anything for.

You find that you are a part of a community, of a whole, and you are a small part, but a necessary part that allows the whole to exist. You find that you are more resilient than you ever imagined, that you are stronger than you ever thought possible and you are not alone.

Tonight I am challenging us to connect. I am challenging each and every one of us to connect in some small or big way. To reach out, to get involved, to share, to give, to open, to receive and to engage in the building of a community, even if that community begins with two.