I had the pleasure of hanging out, two nights ago, with one of my very closest friends. Kerri and I have been dancing together since 1999, at first barely acquaintances and now the very best of creative collaborators. We hadn’t seen each other in ages, and were catching up. I was telling her about our new quest (and struggle) to night wean Fern. She asked, “Have you tried any flower essences?”
The question stopped me in my tracks. No, I haven’t. And why not? After all, Kerri said with surprise, “That’s your whole cup of tea.” I don’t know that Kerri has ever taken an essence, but as all good friends do, she holds all of who I am, despite the differences between us.
I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought about it, except that I often overlook myself when it comes to healing. (That sentence, in and of itself, is telling.) It is easier for me to remember what’s in my tool bag when I am offering help to someone else. A lightbulb went on, and the complexity of the night weaning process was illuminated before my inner eye. Of course, there is so so so much more going on here than “just” a transition.
There is the entirety of Fern’s sleep experience since she’s been out of the womb, filled with distress, discomfort and frequent waking. There were the months of looking at possible physical complications with her digestion, and the elimination diets, her weight loss and subsequent gain. There is the whole history of our breast feeding journey, our travelling companion the painful latch and low milk production. There is my own push and pull of wanting to be and do everything for her, and the polarized opposite of just wanting space. There is that moment frozen in time during her first weeks of life, where I reached out to bring her in closer to snuggle while sleeping and Jeff suggested I let her alone and allow myself to turn my back and go to sleep. It is a moment I still feel unsettled about, because I went against my intuition for someone else’s idea of the “right” thing. (Albeit, I trust that someone else, but still). We are not simply night weaning Fern. We are holding the loom and looking back at the weave of the last 20 months and checking for frays and missed connections.
The next morning I got out my Flower Essence Repertory and looked up “children”. I had an inkling, but I wanted to be sure. I looked through a few suggestions…Chicory, Mariposa Lily…there was some resonance there in the descriptions, but not quite fitting. And then there it was…I turned to the page of my inkling…Chamomile…and the chimes went off.
As I read the description, I could not only see Fern’s symptoms described clearly, but was also deeply struck by the undercurrent of my own experience, my own process.
“People needing Chamomile tend to accumulate psychic tension throughout the day, particularly in the stomach region. They will often have difficulty letting go of their emotional stress at night, and thus suffer from insomnia…” (Flower Essence Repertory, Kaminsky and Katz, 1986)
I felt my epiphany go through my body like a shock. I allowed myself to feel what I am always carrying around with me, what I also ignore and push aside out of a sense of hopelessness, of fear.
Along with chronic physical pain, the dominant experience in my body, 24/7, is of tension in my solar plexus. Sometimes I identify it as anxiety, fear, terror. Much of the time it is just tension. When I hold my daughter close to my body, I can feel the tension in my stomach pushing against her, even as I try to hold her in the softest embrace.
Often it is so great that my emotional state is frequently one of irritation…I feel so irritated and unsettled inside, that when I encounter the chaos and noise and over-stimulation of the city I feel bonkers. I contract, close off, want to be left alone. I have felt this way much of my life, but I recognized it as being ongoing in my early 20s, after I left home and began the long road to becoming an adult who could emotionally take care of herself.
Does it sound alarming, or terrible? It does to me, as I read what I just wrote. And yet. it is this experience, at the center of my being, that I ignore. Even though it was not always there, this sensation became my new normal a long time ago. And besides, I think…who wants to hear about it? Who can do anything about it? Who even knows what the eff it is?
After I had this epiphany, I remembered a quote by Jung that a friend (Hi Heather!) had posted on her blog,
Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.
In my case, it feels like the unlived life is my shadow. There is a whole aspect to my life that I am not living, that I am not facing, that I am not dealing with, in a futile and misguided attempt to make it go away. I’m not talking about an untapped mysterious subconscious following me around. I’m talking about the burning inferno of worry swirling around in my stomach. There is life and feeling and thought and dreams and grief and the keys to happiness all whirling around in my own personal tornado. And then I think of this quote by Jung as well:
We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.
I can no longer condemn and oppress this experience of mine. Not only is it trapping me, but I also believe that my daughter may be picking up on it. I believe and understand that children swim in the cultural waters of their family. I might try to emanate relaxation and joy to her, but it’s bullshit if the puddle I’m standing in is actually one of tension and anxiety. I might be able to lie to myself and to everyone else in the world, but I can’t lie to the soul of my daughter and I certainly don’t want her to be the one who holds the shadow in our family. The stress in our living situation is not something we pay due attention to, but it’s there, regardless.
Yesterday we went to Rainbow, and I bought us some Chamomile essence. I looked for a super-sized bottle, thinking the whole family should take it, including the dog. For now, we will start with Chamomile, and perhaps integrate the others as time goes on. I will also cease to gloss over Fern’s distress when she doesn’t get what she wants, I will no longer write it off as “typical toddler behavior” and instead hear what she is really trying to say. That she doesn’t know how to handle how she feels. That she is a little scared. That she needs mama. Perhaps that she needs a mama with a soft belly.
(I have been listening to Angus and Julia Stone a lot, including while writing this post. This song doesn’t necessarily speak to my words, but it’s one of my favorite by them, and the music is what my shadow is dancing to.)