porous, Fix You, and simply witnessing another

I listened to Fix You by Coldplay on repeat yesterday morning on my commute to work. It was my second to last day in the office, and my fear of change is really taking root. As I’ve written before, I’m not good at change. I’m especially not good at endings, which feel like they’re piling up right now. I know intellectually that what lies ahead is going to be good, but emotionally I’m still fearful. Because of this I’m in a state even more porous than usual, reflective, melancholy, thoughtful.

I listened to Fix You, over and over, remembering a post I’d written about it last summer. I thought about the notion of being fixed, of needing to be fixed in the first place. I remembered Bindu Wiles’ beautiful post that asserted, in no uncertain terms that constructive critiscim … is a scam. I recalled Kelly Diels’ powerful essay about how we are not put on earth as a corrective action. And I thought about how the idea of wanting to fix someone implies unavoidably that they are broken.

I find myself returning to one of Kelly’s sentences: I am going to meet you where you are. I am not going to try to force you into what I think you should be; instead, I am going to witness you as you are. I am going to try to remember that people are who they are mostly because that is who they are, not because of anything to do with me. I am going to try harder to accept the light and the dark that exists inside everyone – most of all, myself – because to do otherwise is frustrating for me and hurtful for them.

I wonder, though, where the line is between useful, productive self-improvement and accepting the self. I know few things better than that expansive, hopeful feeling of: yes, that is a good point, thank you for seeing me so clearly, let me do a better job with X and Y. I’m not saying we should not listen to others’ input and strive to be better and more mature. In fact I think “self-acceptance” can often be code for not trying to overcome our flaws or redirect bad patterns of behavior. And I know I have learned things from others that have essentially changed how I think about myself and the world – for the better. But how to remain open to this while retaining a fundamental commitment to my self-worth? That is the tension I don’t quite know how to navigate.

One of the myriad reasons I read is to learn about people seeing, knowing, and loving others for their fundamental truth. One of my favorite stories about this is The Time Traveler’s Wife, a book that is, to me, a beautiful meditation on accepting people for who they are, limitations and all. It is about loving someone and being willing to embrace all of the things about them that make them who they are, even the uncomfortable and inconvenient ones.

I suppose, really, all of this focus on relationships with others is just a prelude to working on the relationship with self. As Jung said, the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. Maybe my working to accept others fully, to honor their complexities, is a first step towards offering myself that kind of forgiveness and love. Not an easy thing for me to do. I am as bad as the next person at clinging to my hopes of how someone else will react to me, of stubbornly wanting them to behave a certain way, rather than simply meeting them where they are. I realize what this implies in terms of my expectations of myself.

Maybe this time of flux, when it feels like the ground beneath my feet is heaving around, is the perfect time to address some of these challenges. I feel reminded, in a visceral way, of the fact that I am simply not in control of the world around me. May this serve as a reminder also that I am not in control of other people either.

It is, really, very simple. Compassion. Remembering that people are, mostly, doing their best. That behavior that hurts and stings me usually comes from somewhere deep in the other person that has nothing to do with me (I know, shocker, right?). In many cases, in fact, I should feel privileged to be exposed to the molten core of all that is unresolved and difficult for another person. And perhaps I can turn some of that gentleness onto myself. And see that maybe, just maybe, I don’t need fixing myself.


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13 Comments

  1. jeri
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    I love this post Lindsey. I have been working hard on this concept of meeting people where they are. Hard for type-As like us, but oh so liberating when I can manage to do it. Keep on keeping on, my friend. xoxoxo

  2. Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Wow. So true. So so so true. A beautiful, courageous post–one that I wish everyone would read. Send acceptance to others…and especially, always, ourselves. xo

  3. Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Porous, what an incredible descriptive (and spot on!) word!!

    Love how you articulated (one of) the reasons you read: “to learn about people seeing, knowing, and loving others for their fundamental truth.”

    This post is going to be on my mind all day today (and, hopefully, longer)! Thank you for sharing these beautiful truths!

  4. Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I crave conversation with others. I crave their words in any format, really. Email, IM, blog posts, novels, little notes on a napkin. I am enthralled with how very different we all are. And how each of us handles life as we know it. Our viewpoints, our priorities, our insecurities, our fears.

    Coming to a realization that we don’t need to fix others or fix ourselves is huge. We need acceptance. We need to realize that we are only in control of ourselves. That the world is greater, much greater, than us. That we are not the main idea, individually, but rather collectively, and as a whole.

  5. Christa
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Bless you, Lindsey…just the words I needed today, and most days lately. The line, the porosity, and the simplicity of compassion all resonate deeply.

    If it helps, you are absolutely not alone.

    Many, many thanks.

  6. Posted June 2, 2010 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Hey there, found this site on Twitter via Musings de Mommy. Love this post, and I’m sending it over to someone I know.

  7. Posted June 2, 2010 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    One of the cornerstones of the type of coaching I that I was trained in and do (the Co-active model through CTI) holds that everyone is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. No one needs fixing.

    And, full disclosure: I struggle with it. I WANT to fix, heal, nurture back to health and love into greatness. Hard place to coach from when I’m making it about me.

    Thank you for giving voice to this. There is such richness here…as ever. In you and your words.
    XO

  8. Posted June 2, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Oh my goodness, so much here.

    First. Lindsey, beautiful. I’m with you, all the way.

    Second. TANYA! This:

    “I WANT to fix, heal, nurture back to health and love into greatness. Hard place to coach from when I’m making it about me.”

    I’ve been struggling to articulate this, because I do this in love relationships, and I’ve had this subterranean feeling that it is controlling and egotistical. You just explained it, perfectly.

  9. Posted June 2, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    And Lindsey hits it out of the park. Again. In a just universe you would become famous and thrive for doing what you do. May it be so.

  10. Posted June 2, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    That line about saying that someone needs fixing and that it implies that they are broken really hit home.
    And I never thought about The Time Traveler’s Wife in that respect – I don’t know why, because it really makes sense. I read it quite a while ago and have been meaning to reread – one of my favorites.

  11. Posted June 2, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    There’s so much here, Lindsey. Most of us don’t need fixing. Most of us do need fixing. Somewhere in that amorphous space is an individual reality at a point in time, and with no absolute – some measure of improvement that is not destructive to the self, but expansive and kind.

    I would probably not use the term “fixing,” as it seems so clinical. Something’s broken, so you fix it. By the time we reach adulthood (sometimes sooner), we may have fissures, but we aren’t necessarily broken. We aren’t irrevocably broken, anyway. But we could use adjusting, tweaking, our own compassion, understanding, a broader perspective, more seasoning, and wisdom that only comes with more living, more hurts, more confusion, and moments of clarity.

    Life is a muddle. Those of us who reflect too much live it in a greater muddle at times, then with lucidity. And around, around we go.

    I think we need compassion for ourselves, of the same sort that is so much easier to offer to others.

    You always make me think.

  12. Posted June 2, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    I think this seeming paradox is a challenging one for those of us raised in this culture.

    The best way I have of thinking about it is to think of a child. At each stage of the child’s development the mama loves that child utterly and completely for who they are in that moment also trusting that they are going to naturally develop, grow and become more and more of who they are.

    The loving mother doesn’t think to herself, “Well, I better not love and accept you just as you are, crawling around down there, because if I do that, well, then you might never walk.”

    This analogy highlights our false belief that our growth, our becoming, is dependent upon our critical vigilance. That we dare not let up or we will surely become fat, lazy and out of control.

    The truth is the opposite – our becoming depends on an atmosphere of nurturing love. In loving and accepting ourselves we are creating the conditions for our natural unfolding, our natural development. Those things we consider flaws or bad patterns of behaviour will drop away naturally as we realize we don’t need them anymore as they are almost always originate in an attempt to get love or be loved (with the exception of true pathology.

    Consider this, an account of a meeting with the Dalai Lama from Sharon Salzberg that highlights how deeply we are steeped in this in our culture:

    “What do you think about self-hatred?” I asked when it was my turn to bring up an issue for discussion. I was eager to get directly to the suffering I had seen so often in my students, a suffering I was familiar with myself. The room went quiet as all of us awaited the answer of the Dalai Lama, revered leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Looking startled, he turned to his translator and asked pointedly in Tibetan again and again for an explanation. Finally, turning back to me, the Dalai Lama tilted his head, his eyes narrowed in confusion. “Self-hatred?” he repeated in English. “What is that?”

    All of us gathered at that 1990 conference in Dharmsala, India-philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and meditators-were from Western countries, and self-hatred was something we immediately understood. That this man, whom we all recognized as having a profound psychological and spiritual grasp of the human mind, found the concept of self-hatred incomprehensible made us aware of how many of us found it all but unavoidable. During the remainder of the session, the Dalai Lama repeatedly attempted to explore the contours of self-hatred with us. At the end he said, “I thought I had a very good acquaintance with the mind, but now I feel quite ignorant. I find this very, very strange.”

  13. Posted June 3, 2010 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Hi Lindsey,

    Beautifully stated, beautifully lived.

    Porous as perfect—less you would be no boundary and thus no self, too much ego and defense against others would cut you off from contact (with self and with others).

    Just as our kids grow change/transition, adjust to it, grow change/transition once again, it seems we grown-ups continue this all through our lives.

    One fun way to think of your current transition is that you have somehow mastered the lesson of that chapter and you are now transitioning to the next lesson.

    Further to Jung, I suspect that we build our self however we can (especially by accepting the full range of that self), but then we turn to making the Self (or the soul). From there we make our way to each other and the collective SELF (the totality from which we come in the first place).

    The paradox of the opposites is to each be our unique selves, clear that we need not fix or change others, but rather evolve our own consciousness—and then widen this consciousness to include the idea that everyone and everything else, taken in aggregate, may actually be a truer and wider “identity.”

    Keith says you deserve to be famous, in a just world—I would intuit that we would all hope that your sort of authenticity would be more widely valued and recognized—for in the world we would prefer, the notion of “famous” would probably mean for actually contributing in some manner—representing the group.

    And yet if our culture does not need to be fixed any more than we individuals, the gift of the way things are may just be the joy and suffering that coaxes us together in these mysterious interchanges, as swelling communal wish to be real, and not let anyone define us as broken but merely growing… together.

    Namaste