Relentless Love

Lately I have had conversations and meditations on unconditional love.  Mostly from other parents who say that they love their children unconditionally.  It is not that I doubt their love or their statements about it.  I just prefer to think about it differently.

When I talk to a teacher and friend who also has an adopted child, we say things like “there is a reason they ended up wth us” or we talk of the special needs that adopted children often have in overcoming abandonment issues that someone not adopted with secure attachments does not have.  And I believe it to be true that my adopted kids are with me for a reason.  Not because my love is more unconditional that that of a natural birth parent.  But maybe because it is more relentless, driven by the longing that was never fulfilled in having my own natural children and all the hoops I had to jump through to have this beautiful family I call my own today.  And the extra work involved in walking my kids through some significant abandonment issues and self judgment that comes with having been left by someone.

I saw a quote by Jody Landers on mother’s day “A child born to another woman calls me mommy.  The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”

Honestly when we adopted the kids I had no idea what I was getting into.  I simply wanted kids like I had never wanted anything before in my life.  The longing was relentless.  I did not come from a childhood filled with love and support.  I did not even know what those things meant in daily life.  So when we brought them home, I loved them and took care of them.  It was a full time job as sick as they were.  But I did not know about relentless love yet.  I knew about a love that made me feel like my heart would burst open and I can remember thinking I would do anything for them because I loved them so much.  It would be several years after we adopted the kids that I began to learn about a love that is relentless.  And I did not learn it from my children or through them although I practice it on them all the time now.

Relentless love came to me through my therapist more eastern than western trained.  He told me once that he prayed for something really hard to do and I walked into the yoga studio where he taught and then became one of his clients.  I did not trust anyone, was deeply suspicious, often suicidal, hurting in unbelievable ways, desperate for someone that would love me but sure that no one would – sure that there would be something about me that would drive this person away.  And over the years of therapy, he sat with me during my anger and bitterness.  What a gift to have someone sit with you while you are bitter and just let that be.  He fought with me.  He set limits.  He did unreasonable things like come to my house to work with me and help me get through things.  He listened as I perseverated over issues.  He fought with me some more.  He connected with me.  He would hold me while I sobbed, releasing grief I had held onto for years.  He would spend all night on the phone with me to make sure I was ok.  For weeks at a time.  He would encourage me to say all the mean horrible thoughts that occurred to me and the judgments I had towards myself – have me say them to him as me to remove the “I” statements and discharge it out not in.  I learned in that process that I really could say anything.  And I said really horrible things.  I let go of shameful secrets that I had held onto for a lifetime.  The shame of not being good enough and the things I did to get attention to see if anyone cared.  And I built trust.  I connected.  It has been a really complicated therapeutic relationship.  Most therapists would not physically fight with a client and wrestle the way we did.  And through it all he kept me safe.  Safe in the fighting, safe in a space to discharge all the trauma and self hate, safe in a knowing that no matter what I said or did he would be there, safe in limits that increased over time.  And wow do I struggle with limits.  If I refused to do any more work, he would insist and threaten to come over with his kids if I did not cooperate and do my work.  He has relentlessly pursued my liberation.  It has been like nothing I have ever known before.  I truly have never met such a person as him before and his incredible willingness to do whatever it takes and be fully present.

It was through those experiences that I began to practice relentless love with my kids.  I do things with them and say things to them that I know most parents would not.  I trigger their issues on purpose to make them work on their stuff.  Especially my daughter who is still going through issues related to rejection by her birth mother.  So I trigger her issues and then hold her while she cries.  She has been able to direct her self hate towards me rather than herself.  For example, instead of saying “I don’t feel like I’m good enough and that is why my birth mother does not want me” she follows a protocol that would have her say to me “You are not good enough.  You are not worthy of love.”  Directing it out not in.  Because I am not confused here.  I know my girl loves me and I love her.  It is about her discharging enough so that she can work through what she needs to fulfill her dharma, her life purpose.  It is about saying no, setting limits for her.  It is about teaching her that she has a choice about a great many things but not about doing her work on herself.  It is about telling her that I know she still doesn’t trust me and that I will know she really does trust me when she says in anger that she hates me.  Until then she is still working from a place of fear that I too will abandon her.  It is about holding her night after night even though she is a teenager now just because she struggles with being alone and this terrible grief.  It is about listening to her talk about how special it is to come from someone’s belly and be born to them and her not understanding why her birth mother doesn’t feel the same way.  And doing that with only the intention of holding space for her even though it triggers my own issues of worthiness around infertility.  It is a willingness to have a conversation with her that is so authentic and true.  That adopting them did not fill the hole in my heart, the longing, to have children born to me, to have that experience.  And to let her know that I understand that likewise, she has me as a mom and loves me but that this does not fill the hole the longing in her heart for a birth mother she does not really know and who was so unkind.  It is about opening up consciousness enough to be able to intuitively know what needs to be done and to do it without worry about what that will look like.

All of this shows up differently with my son.  His challenges to make his world work are different.  He has more difficulty understanding things.  Educational delays.  Emotional delays.  His work is often in maintaining his self esteem even though he reads at a forth grade level and does math at a first grade level going into high school.  It is making a fancy award for him for all his hard work so that he got an award right along with his sister because the school system here does not recognize the work of the kids in the special ed program.  It is about not letting him direct anything inward.  He used to get frustrated and hit himself in the head.  So then it was about not only making him stop hurting himself, but also changing the message.  So he would have to repeat several times “I’m sorry body.  I won’t do that again.  I will treat you with loving kindness.”  And persisting even though he resisted at first.  And keep on doing it with him until he no longer ever went to hit himself and he no longer said things about himself that were unkind – like that he is stupid, or that he can’t learn, or that no one likes him.  At times it has been taking him to NYC for healing even though he did not want to go just because it seems to help so much with his behaviors and turrets type symptoms where traditional western medicine can’t help.  A knowing and accepting that he does not respond to traditional therapy but one session of energy work can get him to open up and talk about how he loves his sister but he is jealous because she is in the main classroom at school whereas he spends most of his time in the special ed room.  His work is in recognizing these feelings, these limits, the effects these have on his view of himself.

So for me it is not whether love is conditioned on something.  I set structure, limits, boundaries with my kids.  And myself now.  The love can be unconditional, can still exist, even among boundaries and limits.  The love is a separate thing from what behaviors are acceptable.

I don’t know the next steps on the path.  For me.  For them.  I constantly have to work on surrender.  My guru Amma says that staying in the present moment and surrender are the same thing.  Its letting go of the story of the past and not projecting into the future but rather staying right here right now doing the next right thing.  So I don’t know the path for any of us – even when my mind says I do know or at least have a pretty good idea.

That love is relentless and that this is different from unconditional is clear to me but challenging to express.  I think it easiest to say that it is part of my dharma to help the kids pursue their dharma, their liberation.  We each came here to do something that only we can do.  So my work is different from theirs.  But like this therapist who taught me how love can be relentless, I am relentless with my kids and myself too really.  Its about going to that next level wherever possible and knowing when its time to take a rest from reaching for that next level.  Making a rule and letting it bend or break if the circumstances warrant.  Being clear that the one steadfast rule is that we must do our work, we must fulfill our dharma.  I chose these kids by adopting them although I think our souls agreed to this arrangement lifetimes ago.  It is a knowing that no matter what the behavior is, we are all doing the absolute best that we can given our internal and external circumstances.  So a making space for behavior while setting limits around it.  But still seeing that divinity in the other person.  Or in myself.

This is a work in progress, an opening statement about it all.  I know I am doing my best and I know that I often fall short of the ideas I have about how good I should be at this for myself and for them.  But someone told me once that the greatest gift we can give our kids is to let them see us doing our work on ourselves.  I don’t know what it all means.  I do know that I’m working on it.  One moment at a time.


Why Does Everything Have To Be So Hard?

Over the last several weeks I have been asking myself this question a lot.  But it is the wrong question.

By way of background, in the last few months I have had major cervical spine injury confined to my house for six weeks in a hard collar and am now less confined but still in a soft collar with lots of limitations.  Most limitations come now from my body – the muscles they cut through in my back and neck, and just my neck altogether, plus the atrophy that occurred by going from pretty active to complete inactivity.  Healing is slower than I would like, a lot slower.  During this time my daughter was rejected by her birth mother she was reconnected with this past summer.  She is suffering and it is hard for her and for me.  And as I am trying to get healing and restore my body and get back in balance roadblocks to doing the things that I think I need to do for healing keep coming up.  So I get frustrated.  There is constant conflict between my husband and I and I am not sure that we can work through our differences and I’m not in shape enough to put much effort into it now.  So the marriage is hard.  And I ask the universe why do things have to be so hard?

The thing is that things are hard because of my mind.  Certainly things are challenging and emotional issues.  I have a teacher who tells me open up to things being hard and once you fully open to things being hard then they won’t be.  Not necessarily because they things I find hard will change but because I will change – my thoughts about them, my feelings, and opening to the universe allows change.  I get that.  And I still find that hard at times although it is getting easier.

My guru has a teaching that says surrender and staying in the present moment are the same thing.  I always had trouble with the idea of surrender and the how to surrender in the midst of trying to function and do the next right thing.  Attaching surrender to just staying in the moment I could understand.

Hard is a concept of the mind just like easy is.  When I can actually stay in the present moment while I might feel challenged I don’t feel like things are overwhelmingly hard such that I want to pick a fight with the universe.  Really hard exists for me when I am attached to things being a certain way.  Like healing from major surgery should not take this long.  Like wanting my children to always be happy, healthy, etc. when I know they too have come into this lifetime to do certain work and I can’t interfere with that.  My daughter came here, at least in part, to work through what it means to be abandoned.  Hard is an expectation that her struggle would not bring up my own abandonment issues because “I worked through that already”.

Hard and easy therefore come back to attachment and non-attachment.  They come up when I have an expectation that things are supposed to be different than they actually are.  When I think things are not, from a universe perspective, perfect exactly they way they are.  Letting go of expectations about outcomes is not easy for me.  Its really hard to sit with ok, full healing from surgery is going to take the time it takes and just be ok with that.  Because I get into my mind and I want to plan things, to manage things.  I know there is incredible arrogance on my part to assume that things should be different – i.e., that my daughter should not have to suffer so much with being abandoned when she has had two loving parents.  But nothing but her working through it is going to change it because its not about me.  Even a neck surgery I didn’t plan isn’t really about me.  What is about me?  How I choose to sit in each present moment and my ability to do that.

So after I had a big fit this past week about things being so hard I decided that I needed to change what I’m doing.  I need more meditation and less doing.  More being and less thinking.  Space between my thoughts.  I find consistency with this hard alone at home.  It is where I struggle the most in my practices.

Then I was reminded that I have to ask for help.  Over and over again perhaps.  Help from others, help from God, help from my higher self….  however, one looks at such things.  I’m getting better at that.  Slowly.

And gratitude.  Yes, I had a major surgery that changed many things in life or at least put many things I wanted on hold.  (check the wants and don’t wants…. note to self).  But my spinal cord is no longer endangered which means I can hug my children, walk, and feed myself.  Things I admit to being attached to.  So gratitude.  I go back to teaching yoga tonight.  A thing I love and have missed.  My daughter is essentially ok, she just has work to do, like we all do.  More gratitude.  My son who struggles in other ways is ok and he self esteem is in tact.  More gratitude.

Final note to self, its my thoughts that make things hard or easy and how attached I am to things being the way I think they should be.  So when I get space in between my thoughts through practices, my sadhana, things are easier.  When I am able to get to a place where I am not attached, or at least less attached, to things being a certain way then things are easier.  At the end of the day, breathe, meditate, and scrape your tongue and everything is ok exactly as it is right this moment.

Accepting Limits and Letting Go

I have never been all that accepting of limits and the things I have let go of generally have claw marks on them.  A friend once told me that my issues with authority were so severe that if I were dictator of the world I would stage a coup d’etat.  I once looked backed and saw how much of my life was set up so that no one could tell me know.  I had a lot of attitude and very little trust in others – a product likely of being on my own at such a young age.

But even as a grown adult now, there are few areas in my life where someone other than me sets the limits so when I bump up against a limit I really struggle.

Six and a half weeks ago I had major neck surgery – they cut out a section of four vertebrea in the cervical spine and put in two rods to hold my neck together.  This happened while I was in the middle of my 300 yoga teacher training with a very busy schedule of training, teaching 4 classes a week, two kids and just life happening.

At first I did not want to put teacher training on hold and wanted to miss as few days as possible and was working a plan to make up the time I would have to miss as quickly as possible.  Post surgery in a hard collar life started to change.  I could barely life my arms up to wash my hair.  I was not allowed to drive.  And was in too much pain to do much of anything.  Thankfully I had a strong community, sangha, that organized visits and taking me out so that I would not be too lonely or bored.  My surgeon cleared me to go back to training provided I did no asana.  I went for one day and was in so much pain that night and the next day.  Then I started dreading going back.

I have learned things in yoga.  One is called ahimsa.  Non-violence.  Compassion to self and others.  The other was non-grasping or clinging to things.  I sat with this for a few days and contacted the head of my teacher training and let her know that I would not be able to finish this year.  They are letting me suspend training and pick it up where I left off at no additional cost.  Very kind and gracious.  But it was a big letting go.  I could hear myself saying “I am not a quitter!!”  But then I could hear the quiet little voice saying – ahimsa, compassion.

But there was also the limits my body has set.  I could not drive for six weeks and had to depend on others for pretty much everything.  Hard.  I have a great and kind sangha but I struggle still with trusting that they will be there.  And the limits my body sets every day. That I can only walk slowly right now until my neck heals rather than do all that yoga.  That I can teach yoga now but I had to become practiced at teaching with more verbal instruction/assists and less demonstration.

Everything as I age – I will be 50 this year – is a new limit.  A new opportunity – welcome or not, to let go.  Its hard.  But the moment I let go is the moment that I get peace.  So that I can be happy for my fellow trainees who will finish this year without resentment or bitterness – which would have been a thing for me in the past.  And every yoga pose as I slowly start to do them will be learning what my new limits are and offer me an opportunity to meet myself with ahimsa rather than aggressively pushing through something to potential further injury.

And finally, as I age so do my children and there is big letting go there.  I no longer dictate all parts of their lives and have to let them figure some things out themselves.  Let them make their own choices even if it is not a choice I would make.  With guidance for sure but there are more and more areas where we talk things through and then I let them make their own choices.  Its interesting to watch the progression.  And the progress I make all the time in more easily and quickly, accepting limits and letting go.

As they say, let go and let God.  Surrender.