“I don’t know what they want from me!” Kirsty tells me angrily, then mimics a whiny voice “’You don’t spend enough time with me’…”
She’s talking about her handsome, loving, supportive husband and beloved, beautiful, talented child. She has what one would describe as a happy family. In the important ways, all is well with them – but she feels frustrated and scared because they always want more from her.
Kirsty, you see, is a warm, nurturing, strong woman and others gravitate towards her. When she turns the light that is her onto others, she metaphorically scoops them up in a wonderful embrace that they never want to end. She’s very good at looking after people – less good at looking after herself.
She can’t carry on like this anymore so she’s here seeking change and it scares her a lot. She tells me, “The other day I thought, if you’re going down a river you can approach rapids with fear or with exhilaration.”
I’m excited to hear her say that – it means she’s starting to open to the adventure that is change. “Actually” I reply, “if you think about it, the physical experience of fear and exhilaration are the same. Beating heart, rapid breathing, adrenalin pumping… The only real difference between them is whether you judge those sensations to be good or bad.”
Quietly I think of how I’ve been facing recent rapids in my life river. Maybe not loving that adrenalin so much…
And in that moment she gazes at me with awe, admiration and self-judgement in her eyes. “What makes you so calm in all this?” she wants to know.
Huh? What? Really? Calm? Me?
Anyone who reads my blog can see I’m not always in calm waters. But then again… there is this one thing…
“I’ll tell you what gives me some sense of calm even while I’m being tossed about on the waves” I suddenly answer.
“When I’m heading for the rapids and I panic, I
look around for myself. ‘Hang on, wait. Wait! Where’s Eilat? I can’t find her. We can’t go without her. I have to look for her… Oh, its ok, she’s here, I found her. She was just hiding under a bench. All ok – we can go on now’.
I have to captain my own canoe. I can’t go man overboard from my own canoe – that ends badly. If I know I’m on board, I can go anywhere and it’ll be ok – somehow or another. As long as I’ve taken me with.”
An un-captained canoe ends up on the rocks. We’ve all seen people like that, right?
If you let outside things or people make your life choices for you, at some point you end up where you never meant to go. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
Kirsty has been leaving her own inner-life canoe and stepping onto other people’s inner-life canoes and telling them, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll hold this for you. Just sit on back and dangle your pretty lil’ feet in the water’. Then when she’s exhausted from captaining too many canoes – and her canoe is off-course – she hides under a bench because it’s all too much for her. That’s when they get angry and say she never gives them enough.
She takes responsibility off their shoulders in the way she takes care of them. That’s not helpful to anyone.
As nice as it might feel for people in the short term, it’s disrespectful and disempowering to captain their canoes. We just avoid our own journey and prevent them from mastering theirs. Not helpful.
Children’s canoes, since you ask, are probably connected to yours with a long rope. They can come on board yours when they want and need – in between exploring and practicing to captain their own. Even so, we have to guide our children to captain their own canoes eventually. Anyone other than your child (or genuine dependents) gets to sail alongside you – each of you captaining your own inner-life canoes.
So who is captaining your canoe right now? Are you making your own choices? Are you where you want to be?