I sometimes make myself sick over conflict with others. I just hate the feeling of disharmony between us. It is as if there were flowing currents of water between us, and suddenly the currents freeze, break off, and become sharp, pokey ice shards. I feel tender and vulnerable, and confused about what to do with the ice shards in my hands. Sometimes I feel that the shards are pointed at me, either aggressively or just defensively. Sometimes there is a part of me that wants to stab and swipe. Always I don't want to hurt or be hurt. It sets me up for quite an internal conflict.
I have a difference of opinion with a close friend about a way that she is dealing with her life. She has a serious problem. She is working on some of the internal and external factors that contribute to this problem in her life, while working to stay in touch with joy and peace. Who could argue with that? But the thing is, the problem is not shifting, and it needs to shift – in my opinion, and in hers – in order for her to step into her wholeness and her full power.
I realize that I have understood my commitment of friendship to be both supportive of my friend, and to challenge her when I think she may be "off the mark" so that she can consider a different solution. I know we have that commitment to each other. But there is a vast, luminous space between the place of emotional support and the place of loving challenge. Sometimes a person needs the support more, sometimes the challenge more. In my experience, when I most needed the challenge, I fought most strenuously against it.
So - I believe I see something clearly that my friend is too involved with the problem to see. Yet, when I try to talk with her about it, she doesn't want to go there, she wants to stay in the feelings of joy which help her stay grounded and regulate her feelings of fear. (This is a great strength of hers. I know many folks who stay stuck in the more difficult feelings, and who continue to feed them, which then feeds the problem.) But, as is true for all of us, her strength is also her challenge.
An approach that has worked for me in facing the very, very difficult feelings is to run smack dab into the middle of them, to confront them, to take them on, to let them flow. When I have done this, I learn things about myself that I cannot learn without that contrast of intense feelings. And when I have received the learning, the intense feelings about the issue leave, for good, while my core being – my power and wholeness - expands. I do not turn away from the feelings. I do not try to shift them or change them. I let them be themselves. And I watch them - to the best of my ability - as they flow on through.
I believe my friend is trying to escape from the more difficult feelings about this problem. I believe that she is afraid of the period of time in which she would be "out of balance," when joy would not feel anywhere near at hand. I can surely be wrong in believing this. And, if I am not, I can surely understand the escape. Because, in the end, there don't seem to be any guarantees in life. Everything is a risk, based on one's faith in Spirit and Earth, self and others, Love and Life.
The internal conflict is this. Do I support her as she requests or do I challenge her according to my sight? If I support when she actually needs challenge, I'm not being faithful to our friendship and our commitment to each other's growth. If I challenge her when she needs support, I am hurting her and risking our friendship.
I suffer to see her suffer; I want to help her, I want to midwife her labor, to provide her something to push against when it is time, to give her a cool cloth when the labor abates for a bit. I want to hold her and love her as she walks into the storm. But my sweet friend does not want this kind of help. And the risk of hurting her by offering unwanted help is greater than the risk of being unfaithful. I have to respect her wishes because it is, after all, her life, and her journey, and her shadow, and her choice. And because she may be absolutely right that walking into the storm is my way, but not her way.
As I write, the ice shards in my hands are melting. I am remembering Grandmother Rita's lesson from her preschool days: "When you walk among people who are not like you, don't say a word. Just watch." I am to cultivate my own practice of quiet watchfulness. I am to witness, loving her and the ways that we are different, as well as the ways we are the same. I am to help in the ways that she allows me to help. I am to remain, in this way, her faithful friend.
And I am learning, again, how important it is not to interfere – unless asked. It is surely difficult – for me – to remain close and compassionate, without interfering, when a loved one suffers. My own suffering, witnessing hers, begs me to help her so I can suffer less. And so I discover while the ice is melting – that it's my ice, not hers! "Lordy, lordy," as my own grandmother would say. That was a good one on me!"