Let Go of the Rope
Early yesterday evening, I was in my own version of Mecca (WalMart) and from around three aisles over, I could hear a kid just going for it. There was all kinds of screaming and ranting and threatening and of course, it got louder the closer I got to it because it was not actually moving and I was. As I rounded the corner – and you know how long it can take to get through three aisles of groceries in a store – I saw a mom who was probably in her mid-late twenties standing by a cart. In the back of the cart sat a kid of around five or so and that child, whose gender I did not notice because the other one commanded so much attention – played quietly and looked unaffected. The kid who was in the kid seat of the cart was probably three or so and was still in full Klaxon mode. As I got closer, I could tell that the child was screaming because he wanted a Hot Wheels car and had been denied one for whatever reason. The mother looked reasonably tense, but resolute. Admittedly, as the jaded old woman I am, before I rounded the corner and saw her, I was a little irritated. I have been taking care of kids since I was around ten-years-old, starting into taking care of my own at sixteen, and I have heard enough tantrums to last me a lifetime. I also worked administration in a preschool for a few years and of the ninety-six kids we had in enrollment at any given time, we had some really vocal ones. Tantrums from children or adults tend to shoot me into the “Oh Dear Goddess Kill Me Right Now” mindset.
The young mom was looking toward the back of the store, obviously watching for someone. Now and then, she would say something like, “I said no and it will be no” or “Absolutely not” in response to his shrieks of “I WANT A HOT WHEELS CAR!!!!” My heart melted with pride for her. A few people walked past and stared with those hard looks of people that say, “Would you do something? You are interrupting my calm shopping experience by leaving that kid here while he is wailing.” I was still a bit of distance from her when she smiled and acknowledged a man who was walking quickly from the back of the store. “Time to go,” her expression said, and they hurried quickly to the check out in the gardening department, which was much closer.
I had to move fast to catch up with her, but I got there as she and her partner/husband/baby daddy/whatever were paying. They must have walked directly up to the register; good for them! I went around to the end of the register and I saw her tense a bit. I said to her, “I don’t know if anyone ever tells you this or if you get enough reinforcement in your life or not, but I just want to say that you really did a great job in there. I have raised six children and what you did was not easy.” She relaxed and smiled and said, “I will not give in when they have a tantrum.” The check out woman, who was slightly older than me, said, “Every day, I see people being rude to parents whose kids are crying and let me tell you, I would much rather see a parent let the kid cry than to give in to the tantrum.” We all high-fived and moved on.
It made me think of the parenting advice consensus when my kids were small, being that it is essential that you not only refuse to give into the fit, thereby reinforcing that particular behavior as an effective way of getting what you want, but you must also stop what you are doing and leave the store, removing the offending child from ear range of the other shoppers.
This never set well with me because you know what? Sometimes, it’s just not feasible. If you have shopped for over an hour in a store with little ones and have a cart full of items that you very much need and limited opportunities to go get groceries, it is foolish to walk away and leave it just because someone might be uncomfortable that your child chose that moment to be a total idiot. There could be perishables in there that would ruin if you just walked away. Perhaps her husband had the cash for the purchases in his wallet and she needed him to be present to check out. People looked at her as though she was a bad parent because her kid was screaming. Sometimes, your kid is screaming because you are a good parent.
Our own particular species propagates by means of children. That is known. If we stop having children, we stop having people. The fact of the matter is that sometimes, children are assholes. It is not always the parent’s fault that kids are behaving badly. As my husband wisely pointed out at one time, “I am sure the prisons of full of criminals who had really good parents.” Could be. Kids learn by testing the waters and pushing the limits and when they hit the wall, it is not always pretty. How much easier would it have been for that young mom to say, “You know what? Here. Have the dollar Hot Wheels car and just shut up.” There is no doubt that the second that cardboard and plastic package touched the kids hand, the screaming would have ended…until the next time. Instead, she took the less popular and more difficult route of holding her ground, which will ultimately teach the child, “Screaming and throwing a fit does not get me what I want and is a waste of energy.”
Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that a whole lot of people never got that message when they were growing up and learning how to act. We can see this every time we watch the news (which is one of the reasons why I never, ever watch the news) in the guise of religion and politics. Their mamas never taught them, “Sometimes, the answer is just ‘No, you cannot have that.'”
I see this in my practice as a life coach a good bit as well. Sometimes, a client is determined that a loved one or a co-worker or other associate will behave in a particular way; “toe the line,” so to speak. Often, their own happiness is completely dependent upon someone else doing something. “If he will only leave his wife…” “If she would only lose weight…” “If he would only get a job…” “If she would only give me the promotion…” They are leaving their joy and definition of success up to something that is not theirs to control because ultimately, we all make our own choices based on the promptings of our individual personalities and the cumulative filters and lessons created by our experiences. We can beg, threaten, cajole, blackmail, bribe, or any other means of attempting to goad a person into doing what we want them to do, but ultimately, it is their decision. Who was really in charge of that mother-child exchange I witnessed in WalMart? In this case, thankfully, it was the mom who said, “No.” The person who says, “No, you can’t have this” is the one who is wearing the control hat. Sadly, as humans, we tend to be more influenced by what we can’t have than by what we can have. We often feel lack more than we feel gratitude for what we already have. That is why it is such a discipline to train ourselves into gratitude. What is a country’s first action when they want another country to behave a particular way? Embargo. Sanctions. Deprive the country of what they want and see if they relinquish control. In essence, we respond to someone who is not giving us what we want by taking something from them. The child attempted to control his mother by taking away her peace and dignity. Was this a conscious decision? I don’t think so. I think he wanted something, was denied it for whatever reason, and his emotions took over. The end result, however, is the same.
“I did not get the promotion I wanted and do not feel I have adequate opportunity for advancement, so I will not perform my current duties as well.” “You did not lose weight as I wanted you to, so I am going to withhold my acceptance of you.” “You did not marry who I wanted you to, so I am going to make the family uncomfortable by withholding my approval of your spouse.” Our natural response to things not going our way seems to be, “Oh really? Well check this out…” That creates an ongoing struggle in many of our relationships. I have noticed that when there is lack in one part of our life, it tends to bleed over into others: lack of money creates lack of intimacy because of tension, lack of self-esteem creates lack of acceptance in others, lack of companionship creates lack of self-esteem, etc. Soon, we are living a life that is defined by our lack rather than our abundances. This creates a society that is based on wanting and craving specific outcomes and often, back to the initial message of this article, it is an outcome that depends on the action of another person.
We are an interactive society and there is little chance we would want to change this even if we could. How can we break down the unhealthy reactions of control struggles surrounding what we lack in our lives and build up healthy relationships instead? How can we fix this dilemma since it would seem that even it requires the actions of another person?
We start by recognizing that the dependence upon the action of another person is really an illusion. Now I know for a fact that some kids have some long-term resentment and anger. My son, David, who is now thirty-three, was one of those kids. He held on to every grudge and cataloged (literally) every slight against him. Presuming that the kid in WalMart was not a David-type, he likely got over the fact that he was going home without a Hot Wheels car. With any luck, when he wakes up today, he will be in a much better mood and will have largely forgotten that his toy collection did not grow by a small piece of metal and plastic. His investment will likely be in the fact that he loves his parents, has a safe and warm home, and probably more than one toy of his own. These are presumptions, but I believe they are safe ones.
What if we just get over it? What if we learn to accept that sometimes, the answer is ‘no’?
The grown up version of “Sometimes, the answer is ‘no'” was never so succinctly explained to me than it was around twenty-five years ago by a dear friend who was a clinical psychologist. I was not ready yet to fully accept the lessons he was giving to me and I would give anything to talk to him about them now. Unfortunately, he died many years ago and I did not have a chance to know him once I was on the other side of that particular mountain, so I have to remember and benefit from his wisdom in retrospect. He related to me the Laws of Existentialism, which I have never again been able to find broken down as he interpreted them. He described the basic truths as:
1) You can never have absolutely everything you want at once. There will always be lack.
2) You can never have everything you want sequentially. There will always be lack.
3) Every choice is bittersweet. When you choose one thing, you lose another. There will always be lack.
There was another one that was a real zinger and I can’t remember it, which is terrible because as I said, I can’t find this duplicated anywhere and the dude to told me is dead. Such a shame.
Anyway, the upshot is that although we can craft a life that is based on happiness and fulfillment, there will always be lack and we basically need to get over it. That does not mean we shouldn’t aspire or have goals. It doesn’t mean we should be treated with disrespect by others. It means something even greater.
It means that all options are open.
As an old person who has employed many different strategies for getting what I want in life over the years, I am able to look back and see what worked and what didn’t. I have certainly had more than my fair share of tantrums over not getting what I wanted. I have acted out. I have tried to control and manipulate others. I have used passive-aggressive behavior in an attempt to create guilt in others. I have raged. I have begged. I have shut down and given up completely, sort of an emotional hunger strike. I have cursed God and raged at the Universe for not bending to my will.
Over time, I found the antitheses to these behaviors, which is summed up in one word: faith. As I look back over my life, I can see that a lot of the times,things did go as I wanted. Most of those times, sadly, are not as poignant in my memories as the times when they didn’t. We have things go right every day. We get in our car and it starts most of the time. Are the hundred times that it started as significant as the one time that it doesn’t. Rarely. We are able to pick up a device no larger than the palm of our hand and communicate with someone we need to reach by means of a signal that is bounced off of a satellite in freakin’ space. O_O We go out to eat and the food is good. Our child arrives safely home from school. Our alarm fails to go off and we wake up for no reason five minutes after it would have sounded. Our favorite TV show is renewed for another season. The grocery store has everything in stock that we need. The letter we expected arrives in the mail. We have devices in our kitchen that will not only preserve our foods in a cold environment without freezing us as well, but will also cook those foods without the necessity of starting a fire. We have septic/sewage systems that take our body wastes out of our homes. Every day, we have literally hundreds or thousands of things go right that we barely notice. Again, our focus is usually on the lack.
When, however, I look at the times when what I very much wanted was expressly denied to me, it is rare that I cannot see a good reason why. Invariably, I ended up in a better place than I would have landed if I’d gotten my way. That sounds cliche, but it is true. There have been times when I wanted a particular thing so much that I seriously thought I would die or never, ever be happy again if that *one thing* did not happen. There have been people who I have loved so passionately that I was certain if I could not be with them, my heart would never again be whole. My spirit would never again sing. Sometimes, the answer was just “no” and in time, I was able to see that the Universe was far wiser than I was about the relationship. There have been jobs and opportunities that were denied to me that I was passionate about, only to find something better came along to take its place because I was available to receive it instead of engaged in a lesser option that I truly thought I wanted and honestly believed was best for me.
In those cases, my tug-of-war was with the very Universe and the vestiges of fate itself. I was so certain in my arrogance that *I* knew best what I needed. I was the kid in the cart screaming for the Hot Wheels car and the Universe was the wise parent who had the foresight and experience to gently, but firmly say, “No. The answer is no.”
Does this mean we should never trust ourselves? Far from it! It means we should proactively work to create the best life we can live. I also means that when we are being “redirected” and can clearly feel that we are meeting serious resistance on an issue, we should immediately release control and open ourselves to other possibility. This is another way of loving ourselves and honestly, trusting ourselves to recognize when we are obsessing and not listening to the flow of Life and what it is telling us.
“Trusting the process” is like letting go of the rope. We are wise enough to usually make our own choices and find our own way, but once in a great while, that All Knowing Power, whatever it is and whatever you call it, has to step in and save us from ourselves. When it happens enough, and we take the time and effort to notice, we learn to trust it. When we are denied what we want, instead of having a fit and acting out, we think, “Something amazing must be coming!” and we open to the experience. When we are re-directed from a path we thought was the right one, we say, “Thank you.” This strengthens our relationship with God and eliminates the anger, the fear, and the resentment from not getting our Hot Wheels car. Our relationship with God is no longer contaminated by childish tantrums and resistance. Imagine the different experience everyone in that store would have had if the child had instead accepted the mother’s decision about the Hot Wheels car and moved on to talk about other things. Our acceptance and trust affects the people around us as well as ourselves and our own well-being.
Just as a focus on “lack” bleeds over into other circumstances in our lives, a focus on gratitude, acceptance, and abundance does as well. When we truly begin to work on faith, things just seem to click into place faster and easier with a lot less drama and fear. Worry begins to vanish because we know that whatever happens, we are moving unerringly toward a better situation, whether by our own actions and design or not. We begin to trust others to work on their own relationship with the Universe… or not… as is their choice. We learn that our responsibility is then to decide with discernment and wisdom how their choices impact our lives and whether or not that is something we can embrace. If it is not, then it may be time to part ways. As we relinquish the control of others, we allow them to stand firmly in their own truths and that allows us to see them more clearly, more as they really are. This, in turns, lets us make good choices about their place in our lives, not from a perspective of who’s better and who’s worse, or who’s right and who’s wrong, but from the place of an energy that does or does not work with our own.
This is yet another way of “letting go of the rope” and disengaging the struggle. It is not “giving up.” It is accepting the fact that others will always make their own choices and that your impact in that is really quite minimal. It is taking back the energy that you bleed into trying to control the decisions of other people and channeling it into crafting the life you want to live through your own empowerment rather than through the manipulation of others. It is walking through the wide open front door of your own destiny rather than trying to break into it by way of the back door or the windows.
This is not an immediate process or a light bulb moment that suddenly changes everything. It is like learning to ride a bicycle. You decide you want to do it, that you should do it, and you make some initial efforts that are somewhat impressive, then you fall, then you give up, then you get back on it and try again and pretty soon, you are riding the bike without even thinking about it. There are some successes and there are some cataclysmic failures, but if you keep at it, you will get the hang of it. Trust me, it is the best bike you will ever learn to ride and it really does get you safely to some truly amazing places. That is the beauty of non-resistance. It creates a life that is beyond what even you can imagine for yourself.