Early last month, to kick off the New Year and celebrate my 37th birthday, I decided to take part in a native shamanic ceremony. I gathered with a small group of beautiful souls on New Year’s Eve and eventually found myself sitting quietly amongst them in meditation. As my mind settled down and my body found stillness, my attention was drawn to noticing how many times in recent months life had been inviting me to look at one of my old primary patterns, that of being a caretaker.
Over the years, I’ve seen firsthand just how many of us are taught that caretaking equals love. Our society drives home the message that we can show others how much we care by doing or being something for them. And it’s not just women. Men often learn to glean value from fixing things or remedying situations. On the surface, this sneaky and persistent pattern can look like love. But underneath it is really about control, taking you out of your own experience and into trying to manage someone else’s.
Like so many of my clients and friends, I had internalized this pattern at a young age and came to believe that my worth was tied to how well I could provide for others. With a lot of awareness and practice, I’d become quite good at staying connected to myself in relationships with acquaintances, colleagues, clients and students. Yet, when it came to my closest inner circle, this caretaking pattern was still showing up in a big way. I’d been watching it with compassion and curiosity for a while without clearly seeing how to release it.
That night in meditation, scenes from the past year played out in my mind’s eye. I saw how when my boyfriend was wrestling with a personal issue last summer, I stayed to discuss it with him much longer than I actually felt called to. The moments when I felt like setting boundaries or giving him space, my inner voice would immediately chime in with something like, “It doesn’t matter how long this takes, I need to be sure he knows how much he is loved, so I’ll stay here and keep listening.” Interestingly, he often became more frustrated the longer I committed myself to being there for him.
I saw how earlier in the year when a significant disagreement arose between me and one of my best friends, I was paralyzed by fear. My inner voice once again went into my worst nightmare scenario: “She might come away from our conversation not knowing how much I love and respect her.” When I tried to convey my love, she felt like I was controlling and it created further distance between us.
And I saw how just recently when visiting family over the holidays, that same voice had questioned if I was giving enough of myself and my time. “Do my family members know how much I love them?” It asked. “Is there more I should be doing?” This sense of guilt and pressure caused me to feel stressed out and agitated. Rather than connecting, all I wanted to do was disconnect and take a nap!
In each instance, every time I was seeking to be loving and supportive, my plan backfired, creating more confusion, disconnection and in some cases even conflict—the exact opposite of what my heart was yearning to create. Why was this happening?
As I sat on my pillow, a vision emerged… I saw myself as a six-year-old child. I saw how at that time in my life, when the pattern was forming, caretaking had beautifully restored my sense of safety and connection to others. It was a survival skill that I had needed at a time when I didn’t have other experiences or wisdom to draw from. When I moved forward in time, however, and witnessed that same pattern playing out in my life as an adult, I could see that it was so clearly not the fullest expression of my love. Rather than allowing me to enjoy the depth of my feelings, my need to caretake took me out of my own experience of love and into trying to control how others experienced me.
Horses have shown me so many times over that love is not hard or tedious. It does not require struggle or sacrifice or even doing. Love is simply a state of being. When it is present, it fills you from the inside out and overflows so effortlessly onto those around you. We are nourished by our own experience and expression of love, and whether others receive it or not isn’t up to us.
In the stillness of the moment, something in my awareness began to shift. I felt such gratitude and empathy for my young self who simply wanted to be loved. I felt a deep peace in acknowledging her desires and limitations. I also felt newly present to my own truth and trust in my own experience of love. For the first time in my life, I was ready to close the chapter on my old identity and lovingly say goodbye.
Extraordinarily, in that very same moment, I received a text message saying that my grandmother had passed away. Over the holidays, I had made several visits to see her. She had been struggling with Alzheimer’s and could no longer care for herself or recognize those around her. Thinking back on her life, it dawned on me that my grandmother had been stuck playing a similar role. She had always sought to be the good mother, the good homemaker, the good wife. But this caretaking often came from a sense of not being enough and ended up created distance in her relationships. In a funny way, the end of her life was the first time I felt like I truly got to see her. She wasn’t trying to be anyone else. She wasn’t trying to live up to a vision of perfection. It was the first time she allowed me to simply be with her.
Rather than feeling sad at this news, I felt an incredible rush of love, peace, and openness. The moment felt so much like a sliding door— the ending of an old karmic cycle and the birth of a new way of being. I rode the wave of that loving energy for the rest of the night and am riding it still!
I returned to California feeling ready to open myself to the magic of life. Ready to surrender control and trust in my own embodied love. If you notice similar patterns playing out in your own life, I invite you to gently bring your awareness back to yourself. Ask yourself, are you enjoying your own experience or are you concerned about how someone else may be experiencing you? Are you operating from a state of fear or a state of love? I know deep in my heart and my being that when we are in a state of love, that’s always enough.
Oh Koelle. what a beautiful piece of writing. I so get what you are saying here. Thank You