January 6, 2023

Sometimes Love Can Feel Like Love

Love can push and be painful. But love can also take a deep breath and be open. I'm choosing the latter.

I’m going to share this thought from the middle, mostly devoid of precatory content or context. I’m doing this because it feels less burdensome and because I don’t think you need any of the trimmings to get the message.

I recently experienced a dissolution of a group of friends and allies in this Conscious Leadership work. It may or may not be a permanent dissolution, but I am confident it is a death of an instance of that group doing that thing it has been doing from that mindset. The events that led to this result and the result itself felt painful, at times frightening, and deeply sad.

I spent hours during the days following this “ending” wondering what I’d done “wrong,” knowing all the while that there is no wrong. Where did I take less or more than my 100% responsibility? What pre-gathering signals felt “off,” and how did I let those slide? How did I pay such poor attention? No line of thinking, no owning my part, no inquiry offered any salve to my mind or heart.

After the period of beating the heck out of myself with the “how” questions, I launched into the “why” questions. Those felt a little less personal, a little less blame-y. But I realized that the WAY I was asking WHY was in some ways a hero move to myself. If I could only understand the why, I would FEEL BETTER. Right? Hooey.

Then I entered pure desolation. I sat and walked and turned over in bed with the disgusting metallic taste of grief in my gut and a raging headache. Somehow, that taste signaled surrender, forgiveness, letting go, and some semblance of unappetizing acceptance.

Today, at last, I woke up with more mercy and love. For me, for the group, for the individuals, for the experience, and for the severance.

So much of this happening felt painful and even punitive to me. Yes, I can see how I created the punishment for myself, and I can see that the facts and circumstances generated what I felt as pain and punishment in general. From this experience, I made up stories that I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough, that I wasn’t “conscious” enough, that intense, sometimes searing, challenge can be an expression of love.

I know all of that. I practice all of that. But my personal growth work in these last few years has been about injecting or allowing more love into my heart and my work. This feels like relaxation to me, taking that extra breath to open my heart along with or ahead of an observation or feedback to a client. This move has allowed me (at my best) to coach with clarity, believing that what I share or offer will not only net out as love upon reflection but also might feel like love in the moment – to me and to you.

I realize today that in almost any situation, I am going to learn something, and it will be valuable. I am an avid, hungry, passionate learner. I interrogate assumptions, I parse, I judge, I realize, I expand.

But I also get to make a choice that I don’t want to be in situations where what feels like punitive pushing is happening around me as a theoretical method of catalyzing a breakthrough. Where learning itself is associated with pain.

There are lots of ways to learn, of course. And today I know that I don’t want to teach or coach from a place where I believe that learning or positive change is necessarily associated with push or pain.

Like everything, toughness can be a wonderful tool, but it rings false to believe that it is an essential teaching tool or the best tool. It’s just a tool.

I am not afraid of being tough with you or with me. I’m not afraid of other people being tough with me. I’ve lived much of my life buying into the story that the toughness of my early life made me better. It probably did, but I obviously can’t compare that formative unfolding to any alternative. Still, as a function of my stories about the formation of my personality, I can see that the causal connection that tough equals love or that tough sparks learning has lived in my blindspot.

The toughness I experienced this past week already has made me better, more self aware, and more creative in my outlook about what’s meaningful in me and what’s next for me. But I don’t need things to be hard in order to grow. It’s an old story I am ready to retire. When I am just me, or just here, many approaches come through me. I like that range.

On our way home from this gathering, Eliot asked me whether I would choose to do it again if I knew exactly what would occur. I wondered. I added up all of the learnings I’d garnered, and I said “absolutely not.” And I meant it.

That, alone, feels so meaningful to me. I experienced what I felt as the hardest thing in a long while, and instead of girding, going back into the ring, and fighting for learning, I realized that I no longer wanted to choose it.

Photo by I.am_nah on Unsplash

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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