The Wonder and Mystery of the “Negatives” in our Lives.


    I penned a version of this essay on Mother’s Day 2021.  I invite us to consider the idea of finding our way into appreciating the gifts hidden in our impossible life situations, those things we cannot change, but deeply wish we could.  To shift our gaze and adjust our narrative about our difficulties and treat them as unfolding mysteries that we do not, cannot yet, comprehend but that we trust that one day, we will be able to make whole the fragments and brokenness of our individual lives.

    As an example of that I offer you this piece:

    “I have been well mothered in my life, but not from my mom.  Instead true mothering came to me via my dad, my siblings, my friends and even from strangers. My own mother had considerable talents and gifts for cooking, for piety, for sewing and constructing things, and for creating order and structure in our daily routine, which was incredibly important with four young children all two years apart. But in addition to those things, another equally important part of raising children is the ability to mirror and align with the the child. To witness them and see them as distinctly separate from you. To see the unique intelligence and the destiny in the making, unfolding in this other human being.   In this endeavor, curiosity and wonder are the coin of the realm. These were not my mother’s gifts.

    But within 48 hours of her death, I realized that everything I love most about myself, arguably my very destiny was determined because she lacked the specific gifts not because she had them. Out of the suffering of not being seen, of being often criticized for my otherness was born a deep desire, honed over many decades, to truly see each human with a particular wonder about who their deep intelligence wants them to become.

    I write this missive on Mother’s Day 2021 to remind myself and us all that the “ ideal” lives, parents, jobs, friends, partners, bank accounts, etc (you get the point) that we long for are not what will turn us into the lit angels we came here to be. I write this for everyone reading this who finds themselves in conditions not to their liking. I urge us all to consider stepping outside of that complaint and into the ocean of wonder.

    Consider this “wondering” question: “If this/these conditions were created to help me give birth to something unique, a gift to me and others, what might that gift, capacity or action(s) be?” Pick one thing in the external world that affects you, that you struggle with, and apply that question to that thing.

    Thank goodness that two decades before my mom died, I was finally able to give up the wish she would be different. I realized I was judging her as “less than” and how hurtful that was to her, and to me. I was doing exactly as she had done. Oh the irony! But it wasn’t until her death that I realized her soul gifted me with my destiny in a roundabout way.   Our human personalities both suffered. Neither of us could attain the depth of friendship we both wished for, but we did retain our deep love for each other.

    It has taken me this last decade to apprentice myself to her gifts of order and structure. With my random, creative brain, I can only approximate them, because while they were her nature, they are far afield from mine. But as I do this, I find increased empathy for what a challenge my nature may have been for her and how she steadfastly loved me, even though she didn’t often really like me. Even though our relationship felt and was conditional at times, (“mama doesn’t like you when you are sassy”), even at those times I still knew the love was unwavering. I knew she might rail at me for my mistakes, but I also knew she would never not love me. She struggled to like me. AND I always knew that. Even when I was young I would say to dad, “Mamma doesn’t like me but she loves me”. I don’t recall him ever making a response to that. 

    It hurts to live with that, and I really suffered when I was younger. When a child believes a parent doesn’t like how they are made, they are in a terrific bind. They need and are attached to the parent and they can’t do a lot about how they are wired. Although they might try. I tried. And in the trying I/we contort ourselves. And in the dissonance of that contortion, I/we have the chance to grow because of that very constriction.  This is really the point I am making.  The “negative” of my mother’s inability to truly like how I was wired hurt me, but the story doesn’t stop there…it also created Me!  

    Back to mom and me.   How human of my mom, right?  Don’t we, don’t you struggle to like someone so different from you when you have to do daily life with them, at work, or in your family? I sure do. I don’t understand why the world seems intent on delivering this experience to all of us… intent on giving us someone or something completely immovable to our desires and needs.   The 20th century poet Maria Rainer Rilke who also struggled with a sense of exile from dominant society his entire life wrote:

     “Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows, by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings”.

    “Winning does not tempt this woman. This is how I grow, by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.”  Beings such as my mother, whom I could not bend to my will. But also, by conditions that I cannot change but must navigate. Personal health challenges. racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, all the other ways we separate ourselves and disconnect from each other. They still break my heart as much as when I was little. As they should.  These are the result of a civilization that fosters disconnection rather than connection. Many, if not all of us feel a sense of exile. Maybe from some part of ourselves that we have othered, and therefore banished, or from others, or maybe because we don’t seem to fit the dominant ideal.

     But…another wondering question comes to mind: “How could it be true, that the very conditions or people that we feel imprisoned by or exiled from in our lives, are actually inadvertently helping us give birth to some new capacity that can navigate this reality and evolve us, into an ever more human and humane version of ourselves?”   And what happens when we focus on this new growth within ourselves, instead of our complaints about our current circumstances? 

     I am not suggesting we deny our suffering.  Nor am I suggesting that these negative conditions are made tolerable by what we can wrest from their grip.  They are not.  I would much prefer a lifelong connection and affection going both ways between my mom and me.  Denying the level of impact of our suffering leads to negative psychological and biological costs. BUT I am suggesting we give ourselves something forward moving, (our becoming and our own growth) to focus on instead.   Because really what else can we do that is life giving, in the face of our losses and suffering?

    In the words of Rilke,  “…until some distant day, without hardly noticing it, we will live ourselves into an answer.” An understanding or insight will find us, much as mine did 48 hours after mom’s death. Maybe it was a gift from her? I like to think so.  BUT it was also a gift from myself.  Those years of growing and becoming a woman who could love well even in the face of disappointment and disconnection set the table for that insight to find me so that finally both of our hearts were at rest.





    June 19th, 2021 | admin | Comments Off on The Wonder and Mystery of the “Negatives” in our Lives. | Tags: , , , , , ,

About Nancy


Nancy C. Wonders is an interior designer. The “interiors” she designs are psychological, not physical, space -- a client’s personal interior landscape, or the emotional barometer of a team, or an entire organization. Nancy’s office includes a “design bar” where clients have a chance to re-invent how they see themselves and/or their organizations. These re-structurings result in discovering what is fresh, new and alive. This discovery prompts profound, immediate change, on both the inside and in interactions with others. Read more»

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