Becoming more generous with the pace of our unfolding as we come to understand that growth is an ever-ongoing process, not an achievement or the reaching of Nirvana.
Growth is a Process
Growth is a process, not an achievement. When you feel discouraged,
take time to lovingly acknowledge how far you've already come…
There is always further yet to go!
I remember, at 23, sitting with my first therapist – a warm, compassionate, fiercely maternal man (who helped me to save my life). I had come to him awash in soul-crushing despair, suicidal and desperate to find a way to fix my broken self. He seemed so wonderfully calm, so beyond the kinds of problems and conflicts that plagued me. His whole being radiated peace and serenity.
That impression of someone living-in-Nirvana, beyond struggle, became my benchmark, the image of the place I wanted to reach. Though the gap between that place and how I was living in my own life felt huge and nearly unbridgeable, I enthusiastically signed on for the project.
As with anything I undertook in those days, I hurled my self into the work, hell-bent to be the best-ever patient: to be cured in record time. If he addressed my hurry, I mostly did not hear it. Whenever the barest hint of a question about it might reach me, I dismissed it as being patronizing. Already a dedicated super-achiever, I was perpetually racing ahead of my self, often able to make enormous strides at incredible speeds. All the while unaware of the cost to my being of this break-neck pace. (See Going 75 mph for more about that.)
When I graduated from our working together a year and a half later, I felt substantially fixed. No longer suicidal or immersed in despair, I had learned some empowering skills with which to navigate my typically intense emotional life. I continued to believe Nirvana was attainable. But, by then, I'd realized that some time and living might be necessary in order to arrive at that serene place from which life would become a matter of coasting. Twenty years, five therapists, considerable spiritual searching and several cycles of great despair later, I finally got that Nirvana, as I'd imagined it, didn't exist.
During those twenty years (until, at 43, I began the work I started with my last therapist) I would be filled with self-loathing, disappointment and an abject sense of failure each time I, once again feeling broken, cycled through yet another season of despair. During these feeling-broken times, I was convinced that the strong sense of self and wholeness I'd felt in the preceding periods had simply been delusional. If I'd truly been as whole as I'd believed my self to be during those periods, how could I possibly wind up so undone again?
In that last therapy (that ended some 26 years past), I first discovered and then began reclaiming and re-parenting, the wounded Little One(s) inside of me. (See The Little Ones Story for more about that.) It's work that I continue to do even now. My own immersion in this process and my witnessing the healing journeys of the hundreds of women with whom I've worked during my more than 48 years as a therapist, has given me a very different vision of the ways in which we grow throughout our lives. This one is more generous, more realistic and more forgiving than my old vision of reaching Nirvana and then coasting.
All of these journeys repeatedly teach me that growth is an ever on-going process, not an achievement. The way of our healing is not a linear but rather a spiral path. Over and over again we pass through the same fixed points, but at a new level each time we spiral around. These fixed points, the coordinates through which our spiral of growth unfolds, are the issues we have come to work with in this lifetime. At each new threshold in the spiral – each time we are moving to the next layer in our process – we are likely to encounter another, more subtle version of these issues that we had indeed resolved at each earlier level in that spiral.
A narrow, shortsighted view of these moments leads us to criticize and disparage our selves for being-in-the-same-old-garbage again. The same shortsightedness makes us believe that the progress we thought we'd made till this moment was illusory.
The truth is that when it seems that we are passing through the same old place again, it is a new self that is passing through a new iteration of that old place on the way to a still newer emerging self. So, each time we notice that we are confronting some form of the old dragons again, we can – instead of doubting our selves – feel assured that we are indeed in the midst of moving forward, through a threshold.
Like so many of us, I grew up having the psychic/emotional responsibility for mothering/parenting my own mother. With this emotional initiation, one of my fixed points/coordinates is the repeating terror and challenge around choosing to respond to my own needs before responding to the intuited or spoken needs of any other who touches my heart. At each new threshold in my spiral of growing, Spirit pushes me into making some new, more fine-tuned form of this choice. As I make the choice I inevitably feel, in some little part of me, a familiar (though lessening) terror of murderous, dangerous retaliation from the person to whose needs I am not responding.
I hold this frightened part of me close. I lovingly remind her of how many times we have passed this test without something terrible happening to us. I promise her that I will continue, without fail, to protect her. I assure her that I will always stand between her and whatever anger the other person might have about how we are choosing. I let her know it will be safe for us to hear the other person's feelings, that those feelings cannot/will not destroy us. In time she feels safe again.
Another of my fixed points: in my emotional history, a recurring wave of unaccounted for despair, of feeling broken and lost is usually a clue that I'm about to open into a whole new place/part of my self. This lost, despairing feeling is the anticipatory grieving (in some little part of me) for the imminent ending either of a chapter/season of my living or of a way of being in my self.
The little part of me needs my reassurance that she will not be abandoned by me as I move into the new spaces of my life and my self. She needs my loving comfort in her fearfulness and grief. I hold her close. I remind her of how many times we have gone through this kind of threshold before. I remind her of how very far we've already come without me ever leaving her behind or alone. After some while, she seems done with feeling both the fear and the grief. We move into the new season of our life-long adventure holding hands.
When you feel discouraged about your progress, consider reminding your self of the more generous view of the growing process offered here. Remember, too, to be loving and comforting to your inner little one.
And, consider lovingly holding your own little one's hand as you grow.