Ask Dr. Rosie: Anticipating the Vulnerability of Being Human

As some of you know I’ve just become a grandma as of last week. Not only that, I’ve also taken up winter residency in Niagara Falls, Ontario for the next month, supporting my daughter, her husband and sweet, little, baby Andrew. Though the birth of Andrew was expected and my visit to Niagara Falls planned, the birth took place three weeks earlier, which makes my stay in the Great White North much longer than I intended.
The temperature here has been consistently below freezing and it’s been snowing every day since my arrival. I’ve got my own clean, well-lit basement apartment within which to write, see clients and hang out while the new parents acclimate themselves to their roles as parent, which includes all the challenges of breastfeeding, fatigue and frustration that comes with finding their way.

For these new parents, they’ve anticipated the arrival of this baby and yet they never expected having a baby in the house to be as challenging as it is. Regardless of all the preparation, no one can prepare you for the adventure that lay ahead in the realm of parenting, grand parenting or life itself.

For me, I too anticipated this event and have been looking forward to mothering my daughter through this transition. But, I too was not prepared for how life would be different than anticipated. Having been away from the Niagara Region for over thirty years and an absentee mom for as many years has distanced me from a way of being that includes being available but not over-involved; helpful without enabling and being loving but not maudlin. To step off the plane and immerse myself into someone else’s reality “ well, you have to be prepared to be unprepared for anything!

Expectations of what’s to come are based on assumptions, fantasies and interpretations of the context we are about to enter, which also includes our ability to think up worse case scenarios. We are never prepared for the reality of what is. We have to step across the threshold into the unknown and explore the situation with curiosity, fluidity and compassion for self and all those involved. It means transitioning from the known reality “ just before I got off the plane in Buffalo to the unknown or the lesser known. It didn’t feel like such a big deal before the doors closed behind me on that airplane but hours later, finding myself in a different time zone, different weather and different social and cultural environment; well it takes a lot to acclimate and reorient myself to my new surroundings.

One client of mine, Shirley is also experiencing a transition process that she never anticipated. Though she chose to take the leap from her corporate, executive, high paying, high status position to what’s next, she wasn’t prepared for the reality that’s emerging in this moment, just beyond what she’d always known, which is: you can never prepare for the vulnerability that comes when you allow the full experience of going for what you want, or in Shirley’s case, creating a trajectory away from what she didn’t want.

The corporate environment Shirley landed herself in two years ago seemed like the perfect next step for her. Her brilliance, wisdom and experience set her up perfectly for the career choice she made. Days into this new position, however, Shirley realized that she’d made a big mistake. The environment and mindset of this particular corporation were not in alignment with her well-being, integrity, accountability and respect for the thousands of employees that worked for this company. Her expectations were dashed. She needed to regroup and choose how to be in her current circumstances without losing herself too much.

Blood pressure medication helped her cope physically with the emotional and psychological stresses that came with being in an environment that was juxtaposed to her well-being. Shirley was willing to endure the adversity of the situation for just so long. It was demoralizing to witness the annihilation of the human spirit of the employees she was there to serve. From her years of experience she knew it’s far too common for corporations to be more invested in their product and the bottom line then in the care and nurturing of their human resource. Take away the dignity of any individual in order to promote human doing and you destroy the essence of the human being, which will annihilate any spark of life force “ the seed of creativity, innovation and the very foundation of the individual’s value and worth. In so doing, you devastate your workforce. Shirley no longer wanted to be part of such a process.

Another client of mine, Marjorie is 83 years old. She too is transitioning from a life that has provided her with a great deal of freedom, companionship and well-being to one where she is more isolated, in constant pain and is losing her capacity to make choices on her own. Her health is deteriorating and like Shirley, she is having to make choices that she doesn’t want to make. But, if she doesn’t make these choices in the service to her own well-being her children will step in and make them for her.

The realities that both Shirley and Marjorie are facing are inherent in being human. The choice-making that both of these women face forces them to be fully present to their humanity, to the failings that come along with being human. Facing our human capacities and incapacities includes taking leaps of faith into the unknown. My job as their coach is to empower them to stay mindful of the inevitability of having to make extremely challenging decisions, and to persevere through what feels like too much vulnerability. In the end, though, the dignity of having stayed the course on one’s own path, beyond the known reality, beyond the shadow of their doubts and beyond the limitedness of their thinking, is so worth to journey. Finding the capacity to be vulnerable without being annihilated is a gift we must give ourselves if we are to have the quality of life we say we truly want.

As for me, the willingness to step into the unknown of this world I left behind three decades ago has allowed me to find a deeper, more intimate connection with my daughter and my son; not by pushing or controlling but by allowing an unfolding to occur. This allowing process has also brought about what feels like a completion “ a healing of a festering wound between my ex-husband and me. The willingness to be open to the infinite potential of what’s beyond my assumptions and expectations, literally brought me to my knees in gratitude, for my prayers for acceptance, and more importantly, peace, have been answered.

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