Marry the DisturbanceMay 18th, 2009 by Patti P
Recently I went to an evening of brilliant storytelling by Laura Simms. In the midst of this astonishing night, one line stood out above the rest, staying with me for days. Laura was in the middle of telling one of
those classic shipwrecked-sailor stories in which a man must use his wits to overcome obstacles and demons and to somehow find his way out of impossible circumstances so that he may return home. Danger
and peril mark every turn he takes. In the middle of the story (when the man was asked to marry a demon’s ugly daughter or lose his life), Laura paused to say, ”Whenever you are on a journey, you must marry the disturbance.” Marry the disturbance? Wow! Now there’s an idea! What did she mean, exactly? I carried those words around in my heart for a few days, knowing they were profound and wishing to understand them better. The whole idea of ”marrying the disturbance” struck me deeply.
How much of our lives do we spend running away from or trying to otherwise escape the disturbances of our lives? For most people, the answer is ”a lot!” What does it mean to ”marry the disturbance”? My
sense is that it means to take our troubles to heart, to accept what is, to simply be with what is. Instead, many of us try to change others so we don’t have to experience our disturbances. I thought of how easy it is to discount a child’s feelings or try to tell her that she isn’t feeling the way she is obviously feeling, just to move forward with the day. ”Oh, you fell down; you’re okay now.” Marrying the disturbance in this instance would require a different response. It would mean stopping what I was doing and consciously acknowledging what was really happening. ”Yes, Aidan, you fell and it hurts. I’m so sorry you are in pain.” (Even though he has been crying for what seems like an inordinate amount of time over a little thing.)
Who am I to determine how long is enough for someone else to cry over his pain? Is not my job as a mother to be there as a kind witness to the pain and a source of comfort; not lending undue attention,
mind you, but offering just simple comfort? How long would he really cry about a little owie if I held him close on my lap and didn’t say anything, if I just listened to his woes and offered him my heart? Would it
take all day? Can I do this without reserve?
It is so easy to make judgments about what another person needs, but is this supposition really ours to make? I don’t think so. In parenting, part of teaching our children to have compassion and understanding
for others comes directly from our ability to offer compassion and understanding to our children. I had this experience yesterday with Aidan. He and Heidi had been playing peacefully all afternoon. Suddenly,
something shifted. Heidi was mad and poked Aidan roughly with a stick. Aidan came running downstairs hurt and indignant, crying inconsolably. Immediately I picked him up to hug and hold him while he tried to tell me what had happened in between his tears. When he was done talking (but was still crying), I tended to his little bruise by rubbing a dab of aloe vera on it and then gave him another big hug. We talked for a bit
more, he doing most of the talking, me doing most of the listening. As he talked, his crying gradually intensified. At first I thought he was really making a big deal out of a little thing. I encouraged him to go sit in the chair by the fire and wrap up in a blanket, hoping the cozy warmth of the fire would help him feel better. But after a couple minutes of this, tears still streamed down his face. I walked over and sat down on the arm of the chair, resting my head on his little head as he cried and cried. Suddenly, the real story came out. All day, things had been going wrong. Heidi’s small push was the last straw. Things he had made at school had been taken away or destroyed by others, When Heidi got mad and hurt his feelings upstairs, it was just too much. He wasn’t crying about Heidi. He was crying about a whole day’s worth of frustration.
If I had somehow silenced him, or told him he was okay before he really was okay, all those tears would have been left bottled up inside. But by creating a safe space and actively listening to his tears, a whole
day of frustration was resolved.
When our days are rushed and harried, it’s hard to allow our children enough space to feel the intensity of their feelings. Crying children slow us down. They make us late. And sometimes, they even make us
mad. Children experience their emotions on a pure, in-the-moment basis. They have no trouble ”marrying the disturbance”; they become the disturbance until they are on the other side. And then, when they are on the other side (if they are truly allowed to experience their emotion), they let go of it. They move beyond the trouble.
Obviously, as adults, we can’t throw fits the way a small child does, but we can allow ourselves to embrace the obstacles in our own way. Maybe in the process, we will find that the disturbance is actually the
universe’s way of trying to bring us a gift. This certainly was true in the story Laura Simms told—underneath the smelly, ugly veil that hid the demon’s daughter was the most beautiful woman in the world. The sailor found his way home a rich man—rich in gold and in spirit.