I was talking to two new friends yesterday about my daughters, explaining that I feel so connected to them energetically – I mean, when they are joyful, my spine sings with energy and when they are overwhelmed and anxious, my skin crackles with angst – and I don’t often know how to contain it. I talked about how I’ve learned, over the years, to close my eyes and ask, is this mine? It is a way to get space, to begin to discern whether the weight I’m carrying, the clench of my jaw and the tightening of my tongue against my soft palate, is vicarious or coming from some deep place inside my brain or body.
Often, this question gives me some relief. A way to distance myself a bit from the physicality of the connection if I determine that the anxiety, the frustration, the overwhelm is not mine. But yesterday, as we talked, I began to question whether it matters or not. If what I want is to maintain that close, empathetic connection with my daughters, perhaps trying to find boundaries between what is “theirs” and what is “mine” is something I learned from colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy. A protective mechanism that assures me I am separate and, therefore, not responsible for someone else’s strong feelings. And while I am not sure I want to assume responsibility per se, I don’t wish to completely divorce myself from being able to stay in tune with what my beloveds are feeling, especially their deepest, most intense feelings.
This morning’s walk on the beach was an exercise in “I Don’t Know.” The dogs were pulling at their leashes back in the direction of the parking lot, there were none of the usual birds standing in the shallows, there was more beach glass tucked in among the rocks than ever before. I watched as my mind tried to go down different paths – looking for explanations and attempting to find answers – and noticed that when I do that, I become blind to what is around me. When I preface my observations with I don’t know, I am able to simply notice what is.
I don’t know why there is one amorphous patch of brilliant bougainvillea on the hillside tucked in among the shrubs.
I don’t know why one rock has so many enormous mussels on it and the one next to it has anemones only.
I don’t know where the birds are this morning.
I don’t know why some of the rocks have marbled streaks of white in them.
There are certainly answers to all of these things, but those answers are not important to me. On my wanderings in the morning, paying attention to what is takes my nervous system from jittery to still. Widening my gaze and finding a steady, rhythmic gait sets the foundation for a slow heartbeat.
Texting with my daughter this morning about her sore throat, I was reminded that I read somewhere that our nervous systems develop in the womb before we ever have skin or bones or hair. Before we have physical form, we have nerve cells that will receive information and translate it to all the parts of our eventual bodies.
I wonder what my mom was doing when my nervous system was developing. I know she was on bed rest for much of her pregnancy, but I also know that it was stressful, with a toddler running around. I doubt she felt very zen. I wonder what effect maternal emotions have on a developing fetus.
This is not about blame. It is about connection. It is a wondering about all of the ways we are connected, and have been for longer than we know. It is an acknowledgment that there are so many ways in which we are designed to be together, to grow and learn and be part of each others’ experiences. And it is a reminder that being energetically connected to my children is something that is normal, natural, and likely immutable. So from this point forward, when I feel a strong emotion that comes to me from one of my daughters, rather than asking whether it’s mine, I will affirm that it is ours. Together. And we will ride that wave in solidarity until we can breathe deeply and resist asking why, because sometimes it is a huge relief to start the sentence with “I don’t know”