How do you spell love?” – Piglet.
“You don’t spell it…you feel it” – Pooh.

A.A Milne, ‘Winnie the Pooh’

There’s a New Yorker cartoon in which two women are standing together and looking at a child who is playing on the floor a few feet away from them. “Nature or Nurture” one of the women says to the other, “Either way, you’re to blame”.

When my fellow parent showed me this cartoon one night last year, I laughed so hard. ‘They’ve nailed it again!’ I said between fits of laughter. The ‘they’ to whom I was referring was the New Yorker cartoonist whose comical depictions of parents’ struggles had become for us a much-appreciated source of comic relief. I laughed so hard, and then I laugh-cried.

Last year I fell down the proverbial rabbit hole of, ‘This child’s struggles and challenges are proof of my parental failings’.  If you are also familiar with this rabbit hole, then you too may have experienced how it can lead to a potent cocktail of self-blame, self-criticism, guilt and shame. Moreover, if you are the one who carried said child in your womb, gave birth to them, and fulfilled the role of their primary carer in their formative years, then you may also be familiar with the super-sized version of this same cocktail of suffering.

In my case, this suffering was further compounded by a barrage of ‘shoulds’ in relation to my child: namely, that as a Counsellor, as a mother, and as someone on a ‘spiritual’ pathway, I should know, do and be better…so much better.

In order to tell you about my rabbit hole experience, I first need to introduce you to the statue in this photo. This statue stands on a shelf in our family living room. I had wanted one of these statues for years, long before I had met my partner, let alone had a child together. There was something about the flowing inter-connectedness between the two adults/parents and the child – the attitude of gentleness, love and care that connected them to one another – that really touched me. One day a fair-trade shop I frequented were having an online closing down sale – and they had one of these statues! Without hesitation, I bought it.

When the statue arrived in the mail, I immediately unwrapped it. In my excitement when I had made the online purchase, I had overlooked the website’s mention of some ‘damage’ on the statue. As I now held the statue in my hands, I saw the damage was a crack on the base, between the child and one of the adults/parents. I didn’t mind the crack; it didn’t dampen my joy in the least.

As I look back now upon the years since I bought that statue, I realise that so much of the suffering I’ve experienced, particularly as a mother and a woman, has come from perceiving what appears to be a huge and terrible crack that is simultaneously in need of repair and beyond repair.  I realise what power I have unwittingly given over the years to those stories about myself that see not beauty; not lovability; not goodness; not courage; not wisdom; not innocence; and not power – but something inherent within me that is both cracked and damaged.

Here’s another story for you. Many years ago, in a job I had in the B.C era (Before Child), I received a phone call. The caller was an older man and he was very distressed. He’d been in a motor vehicle accident a few months earlier and, as he went on to share, he’d lost all memories of his life before the accident. Having forgotten so much of his past, he was now trying to piece it together with what evidence he could find: a house of photographs of him with people he presumed were his family; the absence of any visitors whilst he was in hospital or  since he had returned home; a phone book full of numbers that, when he called them, no one answered; a laundry filled with bags of empty bottles. From this evidence, the man was coming to fear the worst. ‘Who am I?’ he cried. It was in this state of distress, despair and loneliness that he had called that day.

During our phone conversation, I realised that he and I weren’t so different. That realisation has remained with me over the ensuing years. It is of course not the same as that caller’s own experience, but I too know the suffering that can come from a certain kind of ‘memory loss’.  I’ve experienced this memory loss in various ways over the years, including as a parent: last year, the further I fell down that parent rabbit hole, the more I seemed to lose the memory of who I truly was. I wonder, don’t we each know, deep down, the suffering that comes from that kind of memory loss?

Don’t we each know what it’s like to believe that our inherent worthiness can be diminished by our past choices and deeds?

Don’t we each know the exhausting and futile search to know ourselves, by reference to who or what is present – or absent – in our lives?

Don’t we each know what it’s like to experience our environment, including these bodies, in a way that serves to disprove our innocence and lovability, and to prove our separation from each other?

Don’t we each individually know the pain and dis-ease of this collective amnesia about who we truly are?

“Either way, you’re to blame”: oh boy, in the lead up to that New Yorker cartoon, there were times when it was as if I had completely forgotten that there was any goodness in Sarah and that she was worthy of love, kindness and compassion.

I used to be ashamed of talking about my experiences of suffering. Now however, whilst I’m not here to advocate or glorify suffering as a path for awakening to our true selves, it is also true that good has come from my experiences. My ‘memory loss’ experiences have ultimately taken me to a kind of honest and raw state of feeling that has been capable of piercing through layers of falsities and lies about myself from which I’ve been unwittingly living.

It was through that (rabbit) hole-y time that I came to more deeply feel, and therefore directly experience, something I’ve known to be true about Love for some time; a ‘personal truth’ of sorts. I am going to pause here for a moment because I can inwardly sense that something is coming….I can feel it…It’s a subtle and internal pulsating sensation…I can feel it in my solar plexus region…Now it’s rising up to, and through, my heart area…Now, it’s settling in my throat…There are tears coming, just a few; they rest now in the corners of my eyes…My breathing is becoming slower and gentler…Everything is slowing down now as my focus turns more deeply inward…

With my inner vision, I see now a white dove flying up into the sky.

More tears are gathering into warm and wet pools in my eyes…The breath returns now more fully – at once a soft and flowing, and alive and energising, presence…

It is here – from this place in which I am in feeling-contact right now – that this deeper experience of my personal truth has come as a result of my hole-y time as a mum:

Love is everywhere, in everything. Nothing in the past, present or future – no choice, no deed, no object, no feeling, no thought, and no relationship with another person – has the power to make this more, or less, true. It’s only the depth of my own direct and personal experience of Love that can ever change.

The other day, I heard someone quote a Leonard Cohen song: “There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in”. Yes, I thought, there really is a crack in everything! But my personal experience is that the ‘light’ doesn’t get “in” through these cracks; rather, the cracks can reveal how the ‘light’ is already inside.

Love is in everything – and that includes this one called ‘you’ and this one called ‘me’. I am already who I am. You are already who you are. The cracks we experience in our lives don’t need to be proof of our imperfections; they can help more of us to emerge – the already whole, radiant, beautiful, lovable, good, courageous, wise, innocent, powerful us.

The cracks are helping to set more of me free.  Last year, the parent rabbit hole of amnesia offered me an opportunity to suspend belief in those stories and their characters who say, “This is serious, Sarah”; “You have really failed now”; and “This is real and you are powerless to change it”. Over time, I began to press the ‘pause’ button on these stories. No amount of loving, compassionate and wise support from my partner and friends; or professional knowledge and skills; or spiritual studies and practices, could alone have done that for me. All of these forms of support were very important (perhaps even necessary) for me, but they weren’t enough. Ultimately, the decision to suspend belief needed to be a choice that was made from within me, by me. I think the age-old suffering I was continuing to experience, now in the form of a parent down a rabbit hole, ultimately brought me to that place within of making that choice for myself.

The effect of suspending belief in those untrue stories was like being given a magic wand and – when I waved it at the seemingly solid and impenetrable forces before me – fizzle, pop, zing…they transformed before my eyes! I began to choose for myself to respond to the challenges I was facing as a parent with…more of myself, including more of the playful, creative, spontaneous, and light-hearted me. It was a process of actively re-connecting with and appreciating more of myself. This re-connecting process wasn’t hard inner work in either a spiritual or psychological sense. Quite the opposite. It became a form of self-pleasure because I was not only embracing more of my self, but enjoying – with great pleasure – more of my…SELF.

At one point during my challenges as a parent last year, I made a poster and stuck it on the wall beside the bed so that I would at least see it every morning and evening. It served as a visual aid for me as a parent. On the top of the poster I had written: “I appreciate you, I appreciate your creative and playful spirit”. The “you” was intended to refer to my child, but in practice, it was us both. As the daily challenges continued, these words became a living love letter to us both. I was feeling and expressing appreciation for both of us and all of us.

So that really brings me to the end of the story that I wanted to share with you about my hole-y experience as a mum last year. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering what became of that caller from years ago. In that job, callers phoned anonymously so there was never any opportunity for a follow-up. What I can tell you is that, by the end of the call he was crying again, but this time for a different reason. After sharing story after story with me of his experiences since his car accident, he was beginning to realise just how much he was loved. Remembering this, talking about this, brought him to tears.

I suspect that in all of the writing I share with you, all of my ‘talking’ from the Heart, that’s what is happening for me too: I’m remembering just how much I am loved. I’m still a parent and the parent rabbit hole still exists, but nowadays my trips down there are less frequent and shorter. It’s as if my journey down, through and out of the rabbit hole last year has helped me to more truly take up my rightful place within the real-life version of the statue; I am more fully becoming both the giver and the receiver of the gentleness, love and care that had first drawn me to the statue all those years ago. The New Yorker cartoon still makes me laugh, but I know that I’m not “to blame” for the nature and the nurture. I am responsible (response-able).  And I continue to discover how much easier and wonderfully liberating and enjoyable it is to be able to respond with Love; a Love that I can’t truly spell, but little by little can more truly feel.

As the moon shines through the curtain-less windows of our house each night, I can just imagine the statue in our living room coming to Life…three figures singing and laughing and dancing – with tears of gratitude in their eyes.

It is my joy to share Sarah’s Circles – and your support is appreciated.

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