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Wondering

I always find these end of summer days difficult.  There is the last spate of hot weather which I really dislike.  My sweet husband, a high school teacher, has summers off and so these slow days of spending time together will be coming to an end soon.  And probably most significant (more so than I used to give credit), the end of August and beginning of September bring both my father’s and mother’s birthdays.  Having lost both of them, this time is always filled with a spectrum of feelings: grief, sorrow, anger, rage, gratitude, wonder.  I am an only child, so I don’t have anyone to share this particular brand of sadness with.  Certainly my wonderful husband and friends will be present with me to these feelings.  But this sorrow is mine alone to truly experience. I imagine it is even the same with those who have siblings, a sense that your unique relationship to your own parents is gone.  Or if you are estranged from those brothers or sisters, perhaps the sadness is magnified further.  But this wondering isn’t about figuring out whose sorrow is greater and under what circumstances.

I have been watching some movies with my beloved in these last lazy days of summer.  A chance to unwind from a time of working so hard.  And I am discovering, as often happens, that seeing stories about families always brings up a wistfulness and longing in me.  A desire for a broader set of connections to others with whom I share a blood connection. Even stories of dysfunctional families fill me with longing for the real aliveness of conflict and reconciliation.

A thought has been floating through my consciousness these last few days and I think it may finally be landing somewhere solid.  What if my particular situation is precisely the place I was born into to do my unique work in the world?  What if my family, with all of its dysfunctions and compulsions and gifts, that often leave me feeling stranded and alone at this time of year, is exactly the setting from which I can emerge with the wisdom I need.

I don’t mean to imply a kind of determinism to the universe. I cringe when I hear people say that “everything happens for a reason,” as if in those five words the vast destructive impulses of humanity and the great grief left in its wake can somehow be explained and undone.  But I am also not writing this reflection about that either.

I am wondering, however,  if perhaps our souls do get to make some kind of agreement before we’re born.  This particular moment in history, this culture, this landscape, these parents and family members.  Maybe this is the matrix of our most wondrous being.  This is where our own most authentic selves are being birthed from.  This set of challenges and conflicts are the ones that will wrest beauty from us, sometimes in painful upheaval, but hopefully more often in quiet wonder. Precisely what will emerge is not determined, but I am wondering if there is an imprint on each of our souls that takes its shapes out of this set of circumstances.

What if the father I had with all of his compulsions and addictions leads me to understand myself in ways I never could with a different father.  What if this experience invites me deeper into compassion in ways that are uniquely my own?

I certainly have my share of life issues to wrestle with, as do each of you, and my wrestling is far from over.  I have found in my life that the things I bump up against call forth a strength I didn’t know I had. Perhaps these “issues” are not to be overcome and left behind us, but entered into fully in such a way that they are transformed, and we are transformed in the process, into our most beautiful and wise selves.  Perhaps the great wisdom of the universe is that our greatest struggles are also the place where we can emerge in wholeness and authenticity if we stop resisting. What if we stop trying to shake off the patterns and instead gaze deeply at them until we meet ourselves there and can embrace who we are.

I feel like this is something I have known all my life and somehow am only really just awakening to.  As if another layer has been peeled back and revealed to me in my wondering.

© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts

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10 Responses

  1. lucy, thanks for traveling this road with me. :-)

    Carolyn, one of my favorite Rilke poems, thanks for sharing it here, it fits perfectly.

    Bette, thanks so much for sharing your own vulnerability. That is a great deal of loss to experience in so short a time so I hope you are being very gentle with yourself. I appreciate the distinction between finding a reason for things and going with the flow. A delicate balance indeed.

    Tess, thanks for these words. I am intrigued by this: “we coexist with the past, present and the future, all in one moment. So yes our particular individual circumstances are our teachers AND our lessons are already learned.” Gives me something more to ponder.

    kigen, thanks for your exuberant support, I am really grateful! :-)

  2. Love you Christine, love your willingness and your openness to take on a subject like this in all its depth!

  3. I’m sure that our “issues” are part of who we are, from some kind of point outside of time. I’m not quite sure how to explain this, but I think that on some kind of soul level, we coexist with the past, present and the future, all in one moment. So yes our particular individual circumstances are our teachers AND our lessons are already learned. We just have to step back and see them. This is around your advice to “stop resisting”.

    And it’s about choices as well. For example until I read this post it would never have occurred to me to share my sadness at the loss of beloved family members with my siblings, even though I’m lucky enough to have some. We’re not estranged, we just don’t have that kind of relationship. But at some level I must be making a choice (as must they) not to have that kind of relationship.

    I’m thinking aloud, probably not very clearly, but this is a lovely post you’ve written!

  4. and on the lighter and happier side …….i think Christine has wonderful advice to ” emerge in wholeness and authenticity if we stop resisting.”

    less than a month ago in my blog i wrote about “art and acceptance”. so that is what is important to me to express myself…. to get back into my own understanding and get on with life! i say….” let us all create without resistance” :)

  5. This is the first time I’ve talked about my recent experiences, so please bear with my ramblings and Thank You for this place to do so with you. I feel accepted and trust this sacred place.

    After losing my mother this March and my brother this June and now my dad wants to get married to a woman he met two weeks after my mom’s funeral, I have felt so many emotions in such a short amount of time that I am so worn out and when I sit and wonder and try to figure out why or a reason for all that has happened, I realize that there is that fine line between trying to find the answers to life and in ” just living it “. When I try to analyze my life I usually just end up more confused and overwhelmed as I was when I was just accepting life and not thinking about it so much. But its that “fine line” ….like a fence…..trying to decide what side do I dwell on or when should I cross over or when should I walk on the fence like a balance beam trying to balance my thoughts or better yet….to find balance? I guess I lean more toward just living and accepting life within my own healthy boundaries without too much thought…..but still….it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

  6. ‘God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
    then walks with us silently out of the night.

    These are the words we dimly hear:

    You, sent out beyond your recall,
    go to the limits of your longing.
    Embody me.

    Flare up like flame
    and make big shadows I can move in.

    Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
    Just keep going. No feeling is final.
    Don’t let yourself lose me.

    Nearby is the country they call life.
    you will know it by its seriousness.

    Give me your hand.’

    – Rilke’s Book of Hours

  7. you so eloquently put into words the wonderings and findings of my own heart. to simply say, “this is the lot i was dealt” and merely deal with it, seems despairing. i truly believe that without all of the twists and turns, tears and laughter, i would not be exactly who i am today. my recent ponderings are whether my” i am” is enough. sound familiar? not so much, “enough” but rather if i am being the best me i can be so that others may be healed and touched along the way, thus helping them to be the best “me/they/you”. as we live into who we are, we can’t help but touch each other along the way…hopefully healing, possibly adding a few bumps.

    this morning you have added to my healing. thank you, friend. i am blessed to know you. xoxoxo

  8. Christine, thanks so much for this response. I’ll have to go by and read your critique of The Secret (a book which always made me shake my head). I appreciate that distinction between not excusing the abuser, and finding meaning for ourselves. A big part of my journey is precisely claiming the anger for myself at the terrible self- (and other-) destruction I witnessed.

    Thanks Amy, good to have company in the wondering. :-)

  9. I am wondering, however, if perhaps our souls do get to make some kind of agreement before we’re born. This particular moment in history, this culture, this landscape, these parents and family members. Maybe this is the matrix of our most wondrous being. This is where our own most authentic selves are being birthed from. This set of challenges and conflicts are the ones that will wrest beauty from us, sometimes in painful upheaval, but hopefully more often in quiet wonder. Precisely what will emerge is not determined, but I am wondering if there is an imprint on each of our souls that takes its shapes out of this set of circumstances.

    I often wonder this as well. Thank you for expressing it so beautifully.

  10. Christine, We are thinking/writing about similar things today — these very complex, intertwined, deep, and difficult spiritual principles that get oversimplified in the “marketplace.” (I wrote about why the “secret” doesn’t work.)

    Anyway, I have come to these same questions myself. I try to explain to people that thinking like this is explanation and not “excuse,” meaning, of course, that though I may try to understand the abuse that I suffered, this in no way alleviates the responsibility of the abuser. Just because I turned out okay, otherwise, does not make the abuse okay.

    Just because I have managed, through too many years of very hard work, to extract some meaning does not make the abuse okay.

    I say this as much for myself as anyone else…

    NOT to extract meaning — as we are meaning seeking beings — is, I think, to flirt too heartily and too frequently with despair.

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