Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved. The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of Diving union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken, the bird cannot fly.
St. John of the Cross
Thanks to the guidance of a handful of teachers, priests, and theologians, I have become a student of St. John of the Cross. This passage resonates with me today, as I have recently been even more conscious of moving through changing times with all three of my children, especially Sean.
Sean is not a moody or changeable child. He is sweet and kind and loving and pretty even-tempered. But I have noticed recently, since we began his cancer treatment, that he is somewhat changed. He is still incredibly loving; I would even say he’s more demonstrative with his affection towards me, and even more verbally expressive.
But I have also noticed more frequent mood swings, and to be honest, even for this conscious parent, there are times they can be tiring and triggering. I am aware enough, though, to acknowledge that if I feel “off” or frustrated by his attitude, it’s me. I look at myself first. I ask, “What am I feeling or doing to invite this behavior, and why is it bothering me?”
It is then that I feel the soothing embrace of John’s passage. My inherent response as a mother, especially now, is to love Sean completely, endlessly, and hold him tight in my arms and in my heart. I want to comfort and protect him when he feels sick or scared or frustrated, and I want to share and even immerse myself in his everyday joy. Of course this is understandable. After all, isn’t a good mother ever giving, ever protective, ever comforting? Of course, superficially this makes sense. But unfortunately, as a culture, we’ve morphed healthy love into enmeshment, co-dependency, and love that can be constricting and suffocating. This is not the way.
As all wisdom teachers tell us, it is not in the attachment to the Beloved, even our children, that we arrive at “Divine union,” but rather, in the letting go, in the setting free. I have been asking myself for days what it is I’m doing wrong to invite Sean’s moodiness. Last night, I even went so far as to take his behavior personally (a real “no-no” in conscious parenting).
And then today I was able to begin to turn this dynamic around and understand that not only does his behavior have little to do with me, but that it is also a testament to the health of our relationship. What if, instead of Sean’s emotions signaling an imbalance, they are revealing how safe he feels to express himself to me? And what if, instead of my feeling heavy under these ups and downs, I experience them from a lightness of detachment and observation, choosing to hold the space for him to self-express?
My intention is to continue to evolve as a loving presence who mothers with openness and understanding and compassion, not from a neediness born out of lack. I don’t want to hold my children by a “strong wire rope” or “slender and delicate thread.” I intend for them to fly, free, unencumbered, and sovereign.