Walking the hot coal path of personal evolution
Good advice is not often served in our favorite flavor.
Sometimes, wisdom comes to us gently on a wafting puff of delicately scented inspiration. Sometimes it arrives with fangs bared and claws extended, drawing blood even as it sinks in. No matter its delivery, wisdom is a gift that we cannot afford to turn away.
A very, very long time ago – 41 years ago, actually – I found myself an interim mother, albeit a deeply unwilling one. She had six kids of her own and it was all she could do to parent them. She wasn’t looking for another one, especially one as intense and damaged as I was. Still, I persisted. My heart was so hungry that I would take whatever crumbs I could get. I’m not sure she ever knew how much I loved her – and, in fact, still do, even though I don’t see her too often these days.
I was just out of my abusive childhood, my stint as a street kid and my time in a juvenile institution. My PTSD was brand new and raw as a bleeding wound. I was awkward and cloddish and had no idea what people expected of me, let alone how to give it. I talked too much and too honestly and was generally bent on pouring out the contents of the abscess that was my heart. I’m not sure I could handle a young person like I was, either – even now. On top of it, at 17, I had married a young man who first announced his intent to sleep around and then proceeded to develop a toxic combination of drug use and alcoholism. These were not my happy, golden days.
This family and I had some very sweet times, but they were, at the very least, brutally honest. While some of the kids had golden hearts, one of them told me his opinions of me in a way that would strip paint off a car. To say it hurt would be like referring to a tornado as “a little wind.” There were days that I would leave that house feeling as if I was exsanguinating from a chest wound.
And yet, I knew there was truth in what they were saying. They might have approached it with a sledgehammer, but I suspected that I needed to hear what they had to say. After all, I was beginning to see that I was in desperate need of evolution. I was stuck in such a hurtful place and it was getting me nowhere. I had to grow and evolve, because to stay where I was would literally be my destruction.
So, I listened. I listened even when it felt that my heart’s surface was being abraded clean off. I listened and I examined it for truth. I asked myself if I did whatever it was they were saying I did, and if it was true, I tried to figure out how to stop. To do better. To evolve. I looked hard in the ugly mirror they held up – and sometimes whacked me upside the head with. Where I saw truth, even though I had to breathe my way through it, I embraced it. I worked with it until I had grown past it.
Usually, this meant I only managed to reveal something new I had to work on, but now – all these years later – I realize that’s the nature of things. Each layer of the onion we peel away reveals more onion – and onions are notorious for making us cry when we peel them.
Slowly, over time, I winnowed through it all and I grew. I changed. Mind you, these changes often went unacknowledged. I was working as hard as I could and I could get no credit for it at all. It took distancing myself for a few years to reset the relationship and start it off anew on better footing.
And I am deeply grateful. Even though the delivery was similar to being forced to walk barefoot on a bed of hot coals, I was being inoculated with valuable wisdom and the fact that I listened to it has brought me to a place I value and enjoy.
So it is, when I offer an opinion or information – respectfully and carefully – I am shocked when I am shot down so quickly that it actually bruises when I hit the ground. The fact is, everybody knows something we don’t. We can’t live every life possible or have experienced all there is to experience. It’s not physically possible. In addition, if somebody has lived significantly longer than we have, there is some chance they’ve had the opportunity to learn things we haven’t yet.
There is valuable wisdom in age, believe it or not.
I actually believe deeply that every age group has its own powerful wisdom. I have gotten advice from very small children that I would put up against the wisdom of elders any day. Children and young people have different perspectives and often are unhampered by old and foolish paradigms. However, there is value in the simple experience of how long time takes (which makes more sense than it initially seems, trust me). There is a potential for valuable information just because somebody that much older has been there and done that for twice as long – and has lived to tell the tale.
In the end, we may well decide it’s all hooey – or simply isn’t for us. That’s fine. But before we throw the baby out with the bathwater – we must first listen. If we are so busy making a wall of noise to prevent the invasion of something other than our own knowledge and opinions, we might be missing something we might really need. I’ve been stuck in place more than once, and it’s a hard place to be. Growth may hurt, but it’s better than drowning because I refuse to swim.