“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
As a child, Adam did not have many of his emotional and physical needs met by his mother. Basic needs such as listening and affection were hardly honored. Naturally, over time, Adam believed that his needs and desires were of no value. Anger and hopelessness filled his vulnerable being, and in an act of self-preservation he gave up asking all together. Continuing to believe that he could have his needs met was just too painful to bear. It was easier to just not ask at all. He would avoid the pain that came with rejection.
Adam eventually made the unconscious choice to believe that he didn’t need anything at all. He identified with this belief so much that he lived within a cloud of self-deception, shrouded from the basic needs and desires of his heart. He pushed them away the same way his mother did. This delusional and destructive pattern stayed with him into his adult years. Only recently, at the age of 60, has he come to terms with how long he denied himself the right to ask for and have what he wants; to ask for help, or even for a cup of tea. The old protective dragon was that committed to keeping him in its lair, away from getting hurt again.
“Children see magic because they look for it.” ~ Christopher Moore
As children, our dragons are quite small and tame. For the most part, we arrive into this world unencumbered by them, and buoyed with an insatiable spirit of desire—a spirit of what I simply call Yes!—a bubbling, burning Yes! to life and all it holds. Everything is possible, and we undoubtedly believe our eager desires can and should surely be met—our desire for more; to create, explore and have; to feel and touch; to embrace; to hold dearly in our little arms.
Unlike adults, children are not afraid to ask, or even demand! They know it is their right to be an explorer of this world; to experience it to its fullest. I had dinner at my friends’ house the other night and enjoyed watching their three-year hold son state, in no uncertain terms, “I want jam!! IIIIII waaaaannnnt jjjjaaaaaammmmm!!!!!!” He meant business, and expected the goods to be delivered.
Over time, this ebullient inner Yes! that children embody and express with abandon is slowly molded into a No! by adults. It is true we need to say “No” to children, but it is my opinion that we say it too much, and often without sensitive and kind communication. Parents and teachers are busy and can feel burnt out. Naturally, their tolerance levels for the wild exuberance of little ones can be low. But more deeply, adults muzzle the vibrant Yes! of children because many have forgotten how to play, dream and desire themselves. They have a child inside their heart that is wounded, whose needs were not met; who received many prickly No’s and Yes But’s that dampened the burning flame of dreams and desires. Without a healthy relationship with their own childlike impulses, adults can find it hard to value and respect the bountiful needs of children.
“Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” ~ J. Isham
A few years ago I attended a conference where the keynote speaker said that, on average, mothers are present with their children only three minutes a day; fathers, only 40 seconds. While you may wonder how this statistic was researched, and its validity, take a moment to consider how much time your parents spent connected to you, present with you. Asking how school was while busily washing the dishes is not the presence I am talking about. I am speaking about truly being with you—listening, hearing, validating, appreciating, encouraging, supporting, and ultimately, loving; meeting you where you were at with their whole being. How much of this did your parents give you a day? These are the basic needs and desires all children are hungering to have fulfilled. The survival of their Yes! depends on this validation. Yet, for so many children, these needs and desires are barely being met; and as they grow up, the lack of worth born from this deficiency seeps into the fabric of their adult relationships.
Not being able to ask for what we want is an epidemic in our culture. Asking—valuing and articulating our needs and desires—is one of the great challenges of the heart because of the vulnerability and often trauma attached to making this declaration. Our society struggles to see beauty in its natural desires. It filters them through a lens of shame rooted in insidious beliefs that feeling, asking and having is bad, wrong or selfish. The pain associated with these beliefs, and the hurt of being denied so many times, has not been properly grieved. It has not been adequately loved.
I witness so many struggle to own and express their desires in my communication playshops—to ask for help, to express their desire to be alone, held, or heard; to claim their space and their desire to have a voice. Their basic right as a human being to be loved and respected has sunken deep into the uninvestigated murky waters of sorrow. They have pushed it down in an attempt to cope with the trials of life, to be strong, and have lost themselves in the maze of distractions we call reality.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” ~ Joseph Campbell
The struggle can end if you muster the courage to feel your fears, grieve your past, and learn, once again, to ask for what you want. One vehicle for this process is your relationships. You can use them as a safe container to heal your wound and reclaim your deservedness and desire. The relationship must be with someone you are close to, and with whom you love and trust. Because the exercise requires you to have the other person in your relationship commit to fulfilling your needs. And you must commit to stating them on an ongoing basis. You practice asking, and they gift you by answering with a long-awaited Yes!
There are four simple steps to the process. The last two may inter-change in order—you may feel the need to do step three then four, and then step four again followed by three.
- Ask them to participate: First, ask the other person if she will support you to ask for what you want, fulfill your needs and desires, and, in the process, help you heal your old fears. This may feel like the toughest ask. But if you have a history of good openhearted communication with this person, you can trust she will be willing to hear and honor your request.
- Design safety, comfort and parameters: Share what will help you feel safe and comfortable to ask for what you want. Perhaps you feel the need to ask for non-judgment when stating your needs, or their willingness to offer you their full presence. Ask for these things from them as part of the design process. After clarifying your needs, ask what they need in order to feel safe and comfortable participating. Perhaps they need you to make reasonable requests (and you will need to define what “reasonable” is together); or they need you to sense an appropriate time to ask—to be sensitive to when they may be busy or tired, and thus unable to meet your need. Other things you may discuss together are:
- A consistently used sentence/question that signifies the need for help, such as, “I need your help”, or “Would you please help me?”
- How long you want this process to go for. Perhaps it is indefinite, or just a week.
- A goal for how many times you want to ask a day/week. Having a specific goal is helpful. In knowing it, your partner may at the eleventh hour gently and kindly prompt you if you are one short of your daily goal.
- Feel your fear: As you begin to consider asking for what you want, fear may bear its sharp teeth. This is natural. You are, after all, invoking the dragon—dagger-like talons, teeth and all. It will have a word or two for you causing you to feel afraid, to feel the waters that you have not allowed yourself to enter into. Courageously be with it. Feel it in your body, deeply, fully. Hold the fear tenderly like you wished your mother had held you. Grieve your old pain. Allow it to metabolize, creating room for something new. And then ask.
- Ask for what you want: The final step is to begin asking for what you want. Start by asking for simple little things like a cup of tea or a hug. You can then expand into larger requests like asking for a ride or to review an outline. Pay attention to your needs and desires. Give permission for the natural impulse of desire to rise within you, to have it heard, honored and loved.
It may also help you to journal your desires. Journaling can lift the anchor drowning your needs and wants so that they bubble more readily to the surface of your heart. Every day write down as many things as you can that you would love in your life, or for that day; not necessarily from your partner, but in general. If you don’t know what you want, write down what you don’t want and then write the opposite of each. It’s sometimes easier to start with what we don’t want than what we do want, especially if we are not used to tuning into our desires.
It may also help you to access extra support in the form of a counselor. I recommend those practitioners with a somatic-based approach, versus those who only practice cognitive talk therapy. Depending how deep the trauma is, it may be tricky to access it. The dragon can be strong and elusive, too much for you to overcome without a professional to walk you through the dark corners of your lair.
Love is service and service is love.
Relationships are vehicles for healing and growth. In supporting the other to heal and move into their power, you act in service, and in service you love. This is the new paradigm for relationships—to serve. We are not in relationships just to hangout, procreate and parent; to laugh and have a good time. We are in relationships to also help each other reach into the dark corners of our psyche; to swim fully and courageously in our tears of joy and sadness; to shed light on the abundant being we are and, in the process, reclaim our deservedness and desire—our insatiable Yes! to life.
We are all here to, as Ram Dass said, walk each other home. That is our deeper purpose for being here—to support one another to reclaim our precious sense of Self; to live in, and as, love. We do this by saying Yes! to the scared and hurt child within ourselves and others, and setting it free.
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By Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
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Check out Vince’s book: Wild Empty Spaces ~ Poems for the Opening Heart