And it’s really, really hard being an adult, competent in so many ways, and yet finding yourself in this state of newness – in essence, being a beginner, feeling clumsy, lacking in knowledge, unsure and full of questions that only experience can truly answer.
There are certain moments in life, beyond childhood, where we are given an opportunity to grow into a new way of being that throws everything we thought we knew about ourselves, about our lives, into chaos…and ultimately reshapes us, and reshapes our view of the universe. I’ve been lucky enough to have this happen twice in the past…and to be experiencing it a third time at present…so I’ve been remembering this, and remembering what it feels like, and thinking back to the times I experienced it before.
The first time I experienced this kind of change was in my early 20s, when I lived abroad for the first time, immersed in a language that was not my mother tongue. This may not sound like much to those who haven’t experienced it. But to fully immerse yourself in another language, another culture, is transformative. Language in many ways shapes our thoughts – there are some things that can only be thought within a particular linguistic structure, there are some ways of being that are only open to us when we are within that way of being, expressing, understanding.
One moment that stands out for me in the first experience was a day when I had begun to think in this other language, to dream in it, become fluent though still with many holes to be filled. Walking home, I had a moment where I suddenly felt caught between this new language, this new grammar, and the old, my mother tongue – as if I might lose the old before I fully acquired the new and be left in a strange state lacking in linguistic order or certainty. It was a little scary to be honest. In that moment, on that edge it felt really possible that I might lose that old ‘me’ completely and be left only with the as yet unformed new ‘me’. Of course it didn’t happen that way – ultimately these different parts of self continued to evolve and become integrated into a new sense of self that encompassed both.
The second time was in becoming a mother. It was something I underestimated – something I think we all underestimate! I naively imagined myself carrying on with my usual activities while my baby slept peacefully in a moses basket nearby. Ha! Reality? The first weeks of motherhood my body hurt in a way I never imagined possible. Everything about motherhood hurt. And despite all the reading I had done, despite having spent a lot of time around babies and children in the past, I was a beginner – struggling to feed and care for my baby, needing help with all the things I’d previously taken for granted. Of course it got easier over time. But I was impatient, frustrated with myself and the lack of skillfulness in my hands and in my body. Learning painstakingly how to breastfeed, how to use a baby sling, how to soothe my baby’s colicky crying that lasted for what felt like endless stretches. Growing slowly into competence and into motherhood.
In reflecting on these experiences I’m reminding myself of the following and sharing these truths with anyone who may be in this process of expanding into some new way of being…perhaps into motherhood, or perhaps into something else. In a way, this isn’t so much about being a complete beginner (to use the languange example, I had studied for two years and spent about 6 months immersed in the culture before I hit the point I’m talking about…with motherhood it will be different for each of us). It’s more about that shift on the spectrum takes us from struggle and awkwardness to competence and confidence…a shift that requires surrender of old ways and habits as well as the acquisition of new ones.
So here’s what I’ve been reminding myself of on a regular basis:
*it can feel really frustrating because we are so used to knowing so much, and moving through life with such competence and relative ease – sometimes I hate it, this awkwardness and just not knowing! but it is worth it, and this time will pass
*the process takes as long as it takes, and the more I can relax into it and accept where I am right now, the easier it is and the more smoothly I progress
*there are some things we can learn from books or people – these are the foundation, they can be incredibly useful if wisely chosen, but they can only take us so far
*there is another level of knowing available to us, but it’s not in the realm of rational explanation! (which I don’t know about for you, but for me is incredibly frustrating because I just want to know, to have it all explained for me – yes, I want it to be easy!) – it’s very much about opening to intuitive ways of being and understanding and acting (and yes, this was true of the language acquisition too! it’s when you stop trying to undertand each word and instead let yourself be in it that it begins to make sense)
*sometimes when you are being in this state and a beginner, feeling your way forward, you will only know when you’ve done something wrong – and you will make lots and lots of mistakes! don’t be too hard on yourself but do take the learning
*don’t underestimate that change of this sort will work on all levels – you will feel it in your body, in your mind, and in every part of yourself, and that usually takes time and patience with yourself
*sometimes it will feel overwhelming, confusing, too hard – that’s okay – keep going!
*having strong connections with people who have been through (and/or who are going through) the process is essential – the best people to connect with are those who are not prescriptive, who accept that you will follow your own path, but who are competent in knowing the necessities and structures (for instance, with motherhood, it’s a given your baby needs to eat but someone who claims there is only one scheduled and prescriptive way of feeding a baby…well I’d say that’s not helpful because you and your baby are individual human beings not machines).
Since I first drafted this blog, I’m already noticing some changes in myself, a shift along the spectrum and deeper acceptance of change – this is good!
It’s not always a straightforward or linear process! There are some days when if all feels very clear, close and easy…and some others hard on the heels of ‘easy’ days when all ease has fled, as if I am lacking in all skill apart from that of getting it wrong. Take heart, mamas! We all go through this, if we are honest. It does get better. And that competetence, when it comes, is worth it.
Are you a doula or aspiring doula who would like to connect with other women moving through this process of beginner to competence? I have 5 places left for the new deepening into birth work programme starting in Feb 2013 (and there will be a distance programme beginning in September). Contact me for a chat about where you are now and where you’d like to be.