Follow me, I said to my husband. Do everything I do. I want you to step inside my shoes.
I wanted him, for those precious five minutes, to inhabit me. I wanted him to sink, surrender and meet me at a level beyond words, commands, a fleeting gaze of our eyes. I wanted him to experience my internal beat and rhythm without either of us saying a single thing.
I am a kinaesthetic soul at heart. I lean towards silent dialogues spoken with energy and weight. And weight of what’s not there. This I understand well. I hear presence in my body, through my cells. Here my connection kicks in.
It’s an acute sensitivity that evolved from childhood. It was essential for my survival. And there are benefits to such a heightened level of sensing. However, my skin can feel too thin at times and this is when I hide, when I climb inside my heart, too scared to be seen.
And so my dance of longing so often dances on. Wanting, yearning for this connection and my desire to be met here. And too afraid at times of revealing, exposing what lies within. At times, my anger. At others, my burning for witness in this deep well, this magical place of home.
And so we were offered an opportunity to do Special Time with our partners or another close being if partner not there. This was Grow the Grown Ups Part 2. Aka our second year of attending the programme.
I was spinning a wheel of delight in the preceding days. Knowing for almost six whole days I would be free of cooking, cleaning and attending to our children’s day to day needs as specifically as I do outside the world of Embercombe. Here, in the kind hearts and wonderful arms of the Play Team, I knew I could sink back and trust the spaces they are cared for in. With minimal phone signal, no screens, compost loos and food steeped in pots and hands of love, my being, in these preceding days knew of what was to come and started to drop back already into letting go.
I was full also of a desire to dive in. I was ready to embrace the intimacy of the Listening Partnerships that lay ahead of us. Ready to voice what I have been processing the last few months since we’ve moved and ready, so very ready and excited, for the level of wholehearted engagement that warms and nourishes my soul.
Yes, Bring it on! I wanted to swim in the unknown. I wanted to greet and be greeted in these depths.
I was excited too for the forthcoming connections with kindred folk. These have been a lonely few months, getting to know and make new friends, with dear old ones far away. Bring on this happy, challenging merriment, I felt, Bring it on!
And then as we drove up the winding country lanes to our destination, turning back from time to time, marvelling at the glorious view overlooking the new city that is now our home, something within me said, This is too much. And then, I don’t want to go there. And, unusually for me, I thought to myself, Hey, this is OK. If it’s too much, don’t go diving this time.
Back home now, sat in my bed writing, I can see why I felt this and I can see the why and how the week unfolded in the way in which it did.
It was a struggle. But not like last year’s incredible roller coaster of movement of rawness, vulnerability and the whole. No. This time I spent much of my time with my inner-school girl. Fretting. Anxious. Socially in limbo.
Joanna Watters, who runs the programme, had wisely suggested to both my husband and myself on the first evening, to seek out listening partnerships throughout the week to help us process the difficulties that we were encountering in our parenting and were hoping to explore during the week. Sterling idea I thought, there was so much I wanted to voice and hear aloud, things that I sensed a clarity about and others vague and cloudy.
I’m good at making things happen so I tried, in earnest, yet a surprising unease held me back. From our first afternoon session and my readiness, or maybe not readiness, I suddenly felt an overwhelming awkwardness at opening up to strangers. Not all were but Joanna had encouraged us to connect with a new comrade in enquiry, which so often seems like a welcome dynamic but in retrospect, in that moment, I wish I’d chosen a familiar face.
One of Joanna’s first invitations was to ask each other in our partnerships what was good about how we were parented. I froze inside as soon as she said it. I couldn’t think of one thing and desperately wanted to run. And, so desperately didn’t want to say to the woman in front of me whom I’d only just met the day before, despite her big beautiful eyes full of warmth and gentleness, how shitty my childhood had been.
And Fuck. There it was. Fear set in and my internal wall locked down. Triggered and protected, all at once. Boom!
Yet, the strange thing was, very like last year, some part of me felt a need to let everyone know my story. Last year my inner-child had wanted all to know I was grieving. I wanted everybody to know the wretchedness that was playing out in my family. I was ready to wear the T-shirt. And this year, I wanted everyone to know my growth. In truth, I wanted a, Well Done Soph! And a, Wow, look at you (in your work and enquiry)! and, somewhere in the background irksomely, What a good girl! I wanted recognition, acceptance and a solid pat on my deserving back. From others, some of whom I did not yet know.
Ironically I’m not great with attention. As much as I want to meet and meeting, direct attendance from another often sits uncomfortably within me.
And so the dance played out like this and the third child in our family of four that I had brought with me that week continued to shriek out in her neediness, SEE ME! Everybody SEE ME! Then wanted to hide and not be seen by a soul.
It was dualistic ride of longing to reach out for connection and a needing to retreat. Yearning to belong yet trying to ascertain where it felt safe. Safety and care seemed indeed all around but old wounds were flaring and my inner-school girl was wandering an internal playground full of uncertainty, bubbling with apprehension. And I knew the wider context of this was within our state of transition outside of the week. Our landing and making new friendships and relationships in a new homeland here in Devon and my secret kernel of wanting to be part of something, in something, not just floating on the edge. To belong.
Confusing? Yes. Exhausting? Yes. Draining? Indeed. It was pervasive this, almost frozen, so familiar of old, state of limbo.
But then, in our following session, Joanna offered a delicious window of opportunity in her intent-fully lead and carefully delivered afternoons. It was her invitation for a window of Special Time for us. The Grown Ups.
After stating my request to step inside and feel my shoes, leading, I started to walk across Centre Fire, the ginormous belly of the room in which the sessions are held, with slow measured footsteps, my husband at my side, following. Then I wiggled a bit, did a little jig, and he did too. Then I whizzed behind a sofa. And, he did too. AND THEN I RAN. And he chased me. Wholly flipping chased me and our game of mischievousness was ignited. Yes, our play began, he following I throughout and, as the timer went off to finish and we collapsed on the floor laughing, I realised – WOW!
My inner-schoolgirl had received being met exactly how she wanted, needed, yearned for in those moments. My inner-schoolgirl, my delicate inner-child, had been the centre, exactly how she had envisaged and I realised the crazy, awesome value of these moments.
It was OK to need attention. It was OK to be centre.
It is OK to need attention. And it is wholly OK to be centre.
And here my essence was glowing, witnessed in my desire to play deep from within.
I had learned as a child, that for my parents it was essential for them to own centre stage. I have understood as an adult that they both needed to be there, each of them individually, and that both struggled not to be bang in the middle surrounded in drama and power games. I learned to survive as a child, that I needed to be in the background, in the wings, my needs quietly being quashed, slowly silenced. I learned not to reveal my own rich essence for fear of being screamed at, ignored, shamed, laughed at.
Fuck. It was hard.
And I twigged, post Special Time, in the moments when I haven’t received this particular engagement; being witnessed at centre just for a handful minutes, that over time this need has tended to ooze out of the edges of my firmly held lid. A shitty mood. Resentment. Shut down responses. Not too different in reaction from our children who’s often unrequited desire to be met can transform into what we deem ‘bad behaviour’. The phrase, Your child isn’t giving you a bad time. They’re having a bad time, translates too to us adults when we’re unable to meet ourselves in our places of disconnection and unconsciously seek another to help us reconnect.
My time at Grow the Grown Ups didn’t evolve this year as I had imagined. My expectations, unbeknown to me until our arrival, had been scorchingly high. We had made some sterling friendships last summer that had helped us greatly carve our footing in the months thereafter towards moving down. Twelve months ago it took us over ten hours to drive home and we had no idea how our journey would evolve to get us back here permanently. Twelve months on, we’ve landed with only twenty-minutes homewards and knowing we can hop-foot it back to Embercombe pretty much whenever we want, as a family as well as alone. A wonderful feat, and treat, for sure.
I had appreciated the warm, glowing bubble from our previous experience and the significance of it’s unfolding but I hadn’t appreciated how high I’d set the bar for my own personal journey this time round. My openness to show up genuinely and honestly took a different path. It was overshadowed as I retracted inwards which I found tricky to sit with, it felt an entangling. The old familiar nervousness kept firing and intimidation wound it’s way around my projections onto others. Mostly; They’re doing the real deal and I’m a lower-cast member. And, Where do I, or do I, fit in?
Stepping back, I sense the ripples from this year’s experience are far subtler than I had dreamed. The connections I made externally were warm, generous, kind, many sublime. Those internally had a different edge but, somewhere along the line, had a new assertion of self-care. More forthright, open, direct, in what was said and what was not, than I have known before. And I sense to a healthy rebellion in my growing. Yes. I am learning over this last year and now to know when it is enough. When my journeying is enough. What I am doing, and not doing, is enough. Before I was ready to dig endlessly, to not stop. It is an recognition that is wholly new and considerably welcome though still unusual and sometimes shocking in my internal conversing. I am still learning to temper the two lands and acknowledge a wider vision of here, now, inside and out.
And I guess some very yummy part of me over the course of the week had a bit of forward thinking. Somewhere I realised our resources on returning home are minimal. I haven’t established yet the level of support I had made available to me in London. Now, I knew somewhere within it all, is not the time to go delving and open too greatly my rawness.
How super is that!
Such abundant growth and understanding within this transformative circle of a year, for us as a family as well myself individually. One of my hopes for the week had been for us each to return home with softer edges and centres, which has definitely transpired. And I can see in us all a yielding inwardly which I know will hold us in good stead over the coming months as the power of the week continues to ripple outwards. My understanding too in my parenting has widened, especially the rewards of Special Time for our children and us alike.
My pledge this time a year ago was to turnaround my own self-neglect, grown out of motherhood as well my own childhood, a familiar story, and I know I have made good strides here. I am on an on-going journey of remembering to welcome and value my experience, however harshly I might judge or demean it in some moments. This is something within me that I know deserves my generous attendance. And this year my pledge is to continue to hold myself gracefully with lightness and love and to stoke my fires of courage as I navigate a journey of learning to hold, witness and love my being in my very own centre stage.
It’s been a long time coming.
Image: Taeeun Yoo