“I’m here. I’m listening.” That’s enough.

Dear Hearts,

If you reply with “Yes, but…” or “But, at least…” when a friend brings a slice of her precious Life to you, you’re not listening.

No. No, you’re not.

You may be trying to help, which you’re also not, by the way. You may be uncomfortable with where your friend is and so you offer distraction. You may have been taught (directly or indirectly) that it’s your job to remind others of what YOU see as their reality or to encourage them or to relieve their roiling emotions—as if you could even be that powerful. As if there’s something wrong with their feelings. As if there is something wrong with them.

Notice. All of that is about YOU. Good ole well-meaning YOU, with the desire to help so hard-wired into your system that you spring into action like a rescue dog after a drowning soul, before you even realize what you’re doing. Good ole well-meaning YOU, who wonders why the eyes of your friends glaze over when what you’ve said was meant to be nothing but helpful. Good ole well-meaning YOU, who wonders why people sometimes pull back from you when they’re hurting.

It might not be their hurt that’s distancing them. It just might be YOUR inability to let them hurt and simply be present as a witness to their wounds.

What looks like a breaking down to you may well be your friend breaking open.

I can get away with all this finger-pointing “YOU” language because I am YOU, too. Thanks to the hard work I have done over the long haul in psychotherapy and study and making of art, my role of being too helpful is manageable, compared to what it was decades ago, and still the doggone thing pops up. And Dear Hearts, I’ve been at this for decades.

It’s a stubborn role and it doesn’t go down easily.

I know that role of trying so hard to help, pointing out what seemed obvious to me, that I cut people off.

I couldn’t hear the groaning of the hearts of others, so deeply uncomfortable was I with the groaning of my own heart.

If I take the risk and allow myself to shut up and lean into the pain of another person and listen, heart to heart, I am going to hear my own honest emotions, along with those of the other, and I won’t be able to deny any of it.

It’ll be out in the open and I’ll have to decide what to do with it. Oh, mercy. I’ll have to take responsibility for managing those emotions and some of them will feel like a tsunami headed straight for me!

I can’t tell you how to do that responsibility thing with your emotions. Your path is yours and it won’t look like mine, nor should it.

The one thing that’s worth passing along is that it took actively wanting to respond differently to others, and I very much did want that. I longed for relationships that were at least lake-deep, instead of the puddle-deep things I’d had.

As I set my heart on having relationships of depth, the healing path with kindred hearts and opportunities opened before me. No farther than I could see in the moment, but it was there and it was enough.

It has led me to ocean-deep relationships, where saying, “I’m here. I’m listening,” is more than enough and it all started with actively wanting more and recognizing that “Yes, but…” was a cut-off to honest connection with others.

Broken Open

 

~~~jaylenewhitehurst

The Ragged Phoenix

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They watched her

we knowThey watched her
Once again abandon her Life
The one she’d patiently cobbled together

Using the best parts of her fragmented dreams—
The mosaic that sparkled with a vitality that a straight road and a smooth pavement
Could never have mapped for her.

She abandoned the Life she’d consecrated to making beauty from shards
One more time

Desperate

Hoping for the consideration of a family
Who could not value her
Who would not grieve her
Even if she died.

They watched her relentless silent plea to be known by those who didn’t know themselves

Shrivel her into the unrecognizable
A dry shell of the woman she’d once allowed herself to be a
nd they grieved her

While she screamed inside herself
Not aware that she was dying.

~~~Jaylene Whitehurst

My heart is broken open with a recent intense awareness (more intense than usual) of how many of us dear human beings are giving up our own precious lives, because we’ve been taught that we must have the approval or attention or understanding of our families in order to fully live.
I will not tell you that this is easy, this creating a life that those around us likely never will understand.
I also will not tell you that it’s impossible. We do it when we make connection with those who can connect to our longings and when we release the grasping for those who can’t.

And I’ll never tell you that it’s not worth it.

~~~jmw

 

 

 

A very few words on staying in trouble…

 

Misery is trying to please everybody.

Misery is trying to please everybody.

This is my shortest blog ever, but there’s nothing else to say:

Trying to please everybody will endear you to nobody and keep you in trouble with somebody all the time.

Either you’ll be miserable most of the time or you’ll create misery in the lives of those you love, or —more likely—both.

Misery all around. Is that really what you wanted?

~~~jaylene

You Lift Me Up: The Crucible of Compassion

You Lift Me Up: The Crucible of CompassionMagnolia Regional Hospice in my hometown of Corinth, Mississippi, asked me to create a piece representing our community to be part of a traveling exhibit honoring the hospice experience. The exhibit will travel for fifteen months throughout Mississippi and Louisiana. The handprints belong to the staff of Magnolia Hospice. The fragments are broken mirror pieces.
Following is the essay I sent along with it, as it begins its journey today:

You Lift Me Up: The Crucible of Compassion
Acrylic/Mixed Media on canvas
Jaylene Whitehurst

I am not at the end of my life, not yet. When that time comes, if I have illness or am wearing out (as compared to an accident), I want the kind of compassionate support that hospice offers, to ease me and sustain those who love me, as I make my transition back to the Light from which I came.
The hands of Magnolia Regional Health Center Hospice employees form a crucible of support where the patient can face transition with support, many hands blending to shape one unit of compassion, a vessel, in which palliative care eases suffering and lifts the patient tenderly toward transition.
The bits of mirror reflect that the experiences of dying, death, and caregiving are unique to each person. As light bounces off the mirrors, constantly shifting as we move around the painting, our experiences shift as we move through the processes of caring for the dying and as we face our own mortality.
The mirror fragments are symbolic of a transition to a state where we are no longer broken, but where we are freed from pain and illness.
It doesn’t matter to me whether you see the winged shapes as angels, birds, or something else. It matters to me that you bring your life’s experience to this image and allow it to be what it is to you. Trust your own vision.
My perspective will not be yours and yours will not be mine. Yet, there is a common longing to see Light at the end and to know that our lives have mattered.
The supportive crucible of Hospice holds the patient, the family, and the staff itself in its embrace, where all lives matter.

The Red Toolbox: Lessons on Living

Red ToolboxThe Red Toolbox is now mine. An open wooden rectangle, cobbled together from leftover scraps of previous projects, it’s not too big. Made for use, it has a round dowel handle, easy to grab and go.

That old box has been a part of my world for so long that I have no idea when my dad made it. The red paint’s worn a bit chippy from decades of projects and repairs, a disconcerting number of those at our house. “Go get my hammer out of the toolbox.” “Put the toolbox in the truck.” “Leave that tape measure in the toolbox.” The thing was ever present. I grew up and grew older with it.
Oh, sure, there was a bigger toolbox, also handmade, but The Red Toolbox was the go-to box with the dependable basics: Daddy’s favorite hammer, nails and screws, heavy duty tape measure, a couple of crescent wrenches, several screwdrivers, nail set, small chisel, pliers, scissors, those flat carpenters’ pencils that intrigued me as a child, and a couple of last-minute items that got tossed in.
Daddy always kept a few tools in his vehicles, a set of wrenches and a screwdriver. But if he was going out of town, The Red Toolbox rode in the back. Just in case….
His toolbox and his workshop were basic to my image of him and the foundation of how I knew the man. I called on him to fix everything because I thought he could. As a son of the Depression and sharecropping parents, keeping tools and machinery in repair was a way of life that stayed with him.
Giving care to what he had was a ritual of appreciation for the use of what God had given Daddy. He attended to what he used. Keeping things in good shape was his giving back; fixing what was broken was his creativity. Leaving things in better shape than he found them was his “Thank you.” He was a simple man and it was simply the right thing to do.
In my own life, attending to brokenness took a different form. I became a counselor, an attendant to the pain of being human.
Caring for brokenness calls upon a common wisdom, whether it’s a human spirit grown dry or a hinge, un-oiled and rusting. Both creak for attention, habitually and loudly. Wisdom doesn’t rush the process of caring.
Daddy brought to his projects what he brought to his life: practicality, confidence that he could figure out a solution to whatever was awry, and a worrisome stubbornness that left me thinking he was determined to get hurt rather than get help. The man would look at a problem inside out and upside down with a dogged determination that could my impatience threadbare.
It was exactly that tenacity that had him putting a motor in a car when he was eighty-one because he’d never done that before but he thought he could, if he took his time.
Clearly, when it comes to a model for dealing with whatever is broken in this experience of being human, I don’t have to look far.
Daddy never jotted down a list of rules. Like so many of his generation, he didn’t need to.

These tenets were simply how he lived:
1. Be sure your foundation is solid. Fix it if it’s not.
2. Get familiar with the problem you’re tackling. Look closely. Look at problems from every angle. Get down on your hands and knees
3. If small repairs need to be done before the big job, DO them. There are no shortcuts. It’s time well spent.
4. In painting or staining, do the prep work. Prepare the surface to be receptive. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
5. Keep The Red Toolbox handy. You never know which tools you might need. Put the tools back in it when finished.
6. Buy the best quality materials you can afford.
7. Seeing a job as a puzzle of small pieces makes it manageable. Oh, and lay the pieces out in the order you removed them so you know where they go. Every piece has its place.
8. When a job isn’t coming together, take a break. Go work on something else awhile, even a little task. It’s good to accomplish something, even if it’s not what you intended.
9. If that still doesn’t help, do the best thing you can come up with at the moment. If it doesn’t work, you can rule one thing out.
10. Have good resources: make friends of the guys at the local hardware store and garage. The folks at Biggers’s Hardware and the Gilmore boys are your friends.
11. Good tools make the job easier. Keep them sharp and dry. Never put tools away dirty. Absolutely never!
12. Fixing one board saves a whole wall later. Do the job while it’s small.
13. There are times, when in spite of your best efforts, repairs won’t hold. The original is simply too worn to work with. That’s when it’s time to let it go and start fresh.
And
14. ALWAYS clean up after yourself. The job’s not finished until the floor is swept.

No, Daddy, you had no need to jot them down. You were living them.
I was watching.

Happy Father’s Day,
J.C. McCrary
July 11, 1923—May 9, 2009

This column was published in the Daily Corinthian newspaper, Sunday, June 15. 2014. I am happy to share it with you here.

Peace,

Jaylene

Thoughts on Ripples and Chance

It’s been a while. Okay, it’s been a long while since I’ve blogged. Seems I hardly got started before I was missing-in-action. Maybe you’ve had those seasons of Life yourself?

Here’s the clincher: I’m not sure where I’ve been.

I’m wondering if I was MIA or ME (Me Exploring) or if it even matters. Still, a vague something about the months-long process seems significant. I’m continuing to process what the “something” is.

There’s been action: major house repairs/remodeling with one change birthing another, health concerns in the family, storm damage, death in the family and the changes that grief brings. I’m going to call that messy mix LIFE, in all caps.

Still, when I step back, the action is less significant than the internal exploration that followed the intensity of change, especially the uninvited change. I’ve been hurled into the melee that I think of as relationship realignment. It’s what happens when what slams one person ripples throughout the system.

Ripples. That fits if I allow the ripples to fluctuate into waves and the occasional tsunami. It’s the need to create meaning within my Life changes that’s had me riding the ripples into the coves and inlets of roles I’ve played with before but not dived into.

A poetry group I’ve been a part of for a couple of years now has a larger place in my Life. Hearing the perspectives of others, as we explore the human experience together, has given me welcome connections and new community.

With these folks, I’m creating meaning for these moments. For NOW.

Here’s a recent poem:

journal

By chance

She came across the journal,

College-ruled and bound in black and white.

Hardly used, it ended,

Bluntly with unexpected words:

 

“Maybe I shouldn’t have called,

But if I hadn’t

I’d have never heard

The tone of his blindness

Morph into fatal words.

I tasted the bitterness of his anger,

But I did not swallow.”

 

By chance,

Today

As she was set on forcing the blind to see

She came across the journal again,

Not at all by chance.

~~~~jaylene

“NO” with no angst…

Many of us grew up with little or no modeling for what a lively and healthy relationship looks like. As a result, because we didn’t have that model in our younger lives, we’ve been unconsciously drawn to what was familiar as we got older.  Yucky, but yet familiar!  Automatically, we still found ourselves around people whose ways of relating to others replicated what we experienced in our youth. That’s natural.

Even when it’s uncomfortable, we find ourselves in repeating patterns in relationships until our awareness of the bigger picture supports our developing new roles to play in relationships.

I’ve found, in my own life and in working with clients, that it helps to develop a few key indicators, a baseline founded on personal experience, to signal our boundaries to ourselves.  This can be particularly helpful when we’re working our way out of the old patterns and new ways of relating aren’t yet comfortable.  I call the itchy-scratchy phase!

One of my key indicators, in any kind of personal relationship, is the freedom to say NO to the other person without experiencing fear. If we have pangs about the consequences if we say NO to a person we are in any kind of intimate relationship with, it bears exploring.

It could be there’s nothing about the other person that’s threatening and it’s our own hard-wired fear that goes back to something that happened in the past that creates a knot in the throat when NO needs to come out. The past has come into the present moment with us and cuts us off from being there with the other person.

It could be something about the relationship itself that makes NO an unsafe word.  The past may have come into the present moment with us and need to be unlocked so we can allow ourselves to have new kinds of experiences. The past (where we saw parents and other influential people interact in limiting ways) may need to be cleared up, so we can let go of the automatic draw we feel toward domineering, or perhaps passive aggressive partners, or those who simply cannot see (and honor!) us as human beings with our own desires and priorities.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the complexity of relationship …that’s all for us to each look at for ourselves, our own explorations. A competent therapist can help with this.

Here’s what is true for me now: When we co-create relationships where NO is a word we can say without angst, relationships where what we want/need is honored by the other person, then we’re developing mindful boundaries and have the potential for a lively, invigorating, respectful relationship.

Travel lightly,

Jaylene

P.S. I must add, and this goes for all I post here, these comments are no substitute for therapy. They do not constitute professional services. They simply are my observations and experiences, which I offer in the hope they might jog a bit of personal questioning and awareness on the part of the reader and enrich my own Life experience too.