“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” - Pema Chodron
We’re thrown out of the nest when we don’t get something we want, or when we do get something we don’t want.
I get surprised every time. I have a string of sunny days and it seems that literally everything is magically going my way. Then it rains, and rains, and rains… At the end of the string of rainy days it feels like something’s wrong. And of course there is – I’m not getting what I want — endless strings of sunny days.
Your thing might be the 5 pounds you gained while dieting, or wanting your partner to load the dishwasher the ‘right’ way, not wanting a Dear John email or text (not even a phone call!), a partner or child you think is drinking too much, or getting critical feedback at work for something that ‘wasn’t your fault’.
Whatever it is that throws you out of the nest, it will be because you didn’t get something you wanted or you got something you didn’t want.
What to do?
After the initial shock and resistance wear off, we almost always face the challenge of how to manage yourself and communicate with others about our discomfort. There are very few disappointments that in one way or another don’t involve other people.
Obviously there are countless ways to take care of ourselves. Each has its pros and cons.
Let the experience resolve itself.
Before you do anything you can take a chill pill and Pause, Breathe, Notice your story, Soften your body.
Ask yourself what is it that you need? Give it a moment. Clarify and state the facts as you know them, with no intention to have someone do anything to take away your discomfort. You’re not asking anything of the other person. You’re stating your concern and expressing awareness that you’re responsible for managing your disappointment.
Sometimes all you need is time, reassurance, or more information, or a combination of the three to deal with your disappointment. For example, “I feel worried when I see that you’ve been drinking — and I want to find a healthy way to handle my feelings.” Attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting can provide both reassurance and information.
The moment you take responsibility for managing yourself when you’re thrown out of the nest is the moment you are no longer at the mercy of getting thrown out of the nest.
Make a request.
If it becomes clear that you need more than time, reassurance or information, a request is another way to meet your needs. Figure out exactly what you want and then ask for it, understanding that the other person has every right to say no, yes, maybe or I’ll think about it. Because it’s a request, not a demand.
A request has little or no attachment to the answer. “I wonder if you might be willing to make an appointment with your doctor for a check up, to make sure that drinking isn’t affecting your physical well being?”
A request is usually accompanied by some degree of curiosity around what will happen, which is different from attachment to a specific outcome. It doesn’t carry a hidden ultimatum.
Non-attachment to an outcome can be tricky. What looks like a request on the surface can be perceived as a demand if your tone of voice and facial expression communicate that there is only one ‘right’ answer to the request.
In an article by Parker Palmer in Daily Good, he used two words to summarize how he thinks Americans can stay grounded during this time of political upheaval. I am borrowing his words because I think they define the heart of a request.
The words are chutzpah and humility. Chutzpah says my voice is important, it needs to be heard, and I have the right to speak. Humility means I accept that my truth is always partial and may not be true at all, so I need to listen with openness and respect to ‘the other’, as much as I need to speak my own voice with clarity and conviction.
Make a demand.
Your third option is to make a demand.
Demands are made with the expectation that the other person must change their behavior. When we’re thrown out of the nest we make demands because we want somebody or something to save us from this awful, heavy feeling.
Most of us are familiar with demands, either through giving or getting them. Somebody’s not getting what they want, so whoever is unfortunate enough to cross their path first may be the likely recipient of a demand. ‘I’m not getting what I want so you better give it to me, or I’m going to make your life a living hell.’
The boss criticized you, you’re still feeling vaguely uncomfortable, and before you can stop yourself you get home, walk in the door, and scream at the kids to pick up all their crap. What happened?! You went on automatic pilot, and that’s what we do when we’re on automatic pilot. We make demands.
A demand can be direct, as in “I need you to stop drinking right now!”. But often it’s indirect, as in “I can’t stand your drinking any more but it’s your decision if you want this family to implode”. Both demands.
Sometimes a demand seems like a reasonable response to bad behavior. But what really happens? A demand forces you both to take a polarized position and stick to it. And no matter how slick someone is at disguising a demand to sound like a request, you know it’s a demand because you feel an internal pressure to comply.
The primary pro of a demand is that it gives us short-term gratification – and there’s nothing I like better! The cons, however, are pretty daunting.
Some of us are habituated to jumping right to demands. The good news is that it’s a habit, not a characterological defect. A habit is a learned behavior and any learned behavior can be replaced with another behavior.
For the next two weeks I’m going to notice how I handle myself when I get thrown out of the nest. Join me?