8 years ago · transitionalw · 0 comments
We are all like seeds in the earth. Some of us were planted in fertile soil, having the love and support to allow us to feel confident and compassionate from a very young age. Others were grown in hostile and challenging environments, feeling alone, vulnerable, unloved, and unsafe.
In the latter case, it’s easy to blame ourselves, or our loved ones when challenging behaviors surface in our adult years, intensifying in times of stress. But once we’re able even to acknowledge the circumstances of our upbringing, we have a chance to live life with greater compassion and—here’s a key word—adaptability.
Nature offers abundant examples of this in the Galapagos Islands, where I recently visited. These islands are volcanic, offering little for the survival of life that inhabits it. Fresh water is very limited, even non-existent on most of the islands. When Darwin arrived in 1835, he observed different forms of life and how each had adapted to life on the islands. Iguanas, a land reptile, adapted to this inhospitable environment by learning not just to swim, but also to stay under water for up to forty minutes for their survival, to eat the algae that grows on the rocks beneath the sea.
Plants that required little water and no soil slowly sprouted from the lava rock, adapting to the cycles of rain for their survival. The giant land tortoises developed the ability to go up to six months without food or water, allowing them to survive until the rains nourish the plant life seasonally, then providing the food and water they need.
Darwin’s theory was not survival of the fittest. He proposed that it was not the strongest or even the most intelligent, but the most adaptable that would survive.
Human Adaptation: The Element of Choice
Life is tenacious. Just as marine and land life have adapted to survival in the Galapagos, humans adapt to the environment in which they’re born. Not all survive, but for those that do, they develop the skills to allow them to adapt.
As humans we have the capacity to choose the path of our growth. Choices of behavior that ensured our survival as small children may not be the best choices, once we have grown past the age of dependency. Yet we often make choices from habits we developed when we were younger that are no longer useful to us as adults.
It is essential to recognize that all behavior has a positive intention, and that at one time, a behavior did something positive for us. Over our lifetime, we all do the best we know how to do at that time of our lives. Wisdom comes from learning from our own experience and recognizing both our positive attributes and those patterns of survival we adopted in our early years that no longer serve us.
Then, over time, we can learn to replace those limiting beliefs and patterns with ones more appropriate for the life we have created as adults. Wisdom has taught me that I may not have choice about some of the circumstances that have occurred in my life, but I do have choice about how I respond.
Abandoned by my family of origin after my mother’s death, I learned to do for myself, having difficulty accepting from others. While this was the most appropriate response in the abusive foster homes, it continued long after my adoption. The mistrust I learned there was then transferred to my adoptive mother, making it difficult for us to have a loving and supportive relationship as I grew.
As an adult, this pattern of behavior made it difficult for me to ask for help from others, both at home and work. In turn, being a Lone Ranger has made life more arduous; no one can “do it alone.”
Over time, with the help of loving and honest family and friends, I was able to make small changes. While new behaviors of asking for help and joining with others to share common dreams and goals was at first painfully uncomfortable, they’ve become integrated into my expanded comfort zone. It now feels good to work together with others, welcoming the love and support that is available to me.
I think it’s essential to understand that life is a process filled with imperfection. I used to feel regret for some of the choices I made in my younger years. The wisdom I have developed from my life experiences allows me to view the consequences of those choices over time. I made choices, as we all do, based on more limited life experience, limited beliefs about myself and others, and a lack of knowledge of the different choices that may have been available to me at that time. I could have been a much better daughter, parent, spouse, and friend to those I love.
But while what I “could have” done is endless, what I chose to do has made me the person I am today. I know I’m not perfect; I don’t always live up to my own expectations of how I want to treat others, what I want to accomplish, or what I want to leave behind when I die. But I’ve learned that on any given day I can re-choose to behave differently toward others in my life, and, even more important, I can re-choose how I feel about myself. If I am not happy with how I am “being” in the world, I can change my own behavior.
A year from now I will view life differently than I do now. The wisdom and experience I gain over the next year, five years, ten years, and on will teach me that I have more choices than I realize today. But without some of the challenges I have faced during my life, I may not have developed the level of care and compassion I feel for others. The most important thing to me is, over time, I am growing, changing, and becoming more of the person that I want to be.
The measure of my words and my deeds is the love I leave in the hearts of those I cross paths with. Completing my life with dignity, knowing I have lived my life being the best person I can be, learning lessons along the way that have allowed me to grow into a person others admire—this is the ultimate reward.
Having taken this journey of self-healing has not been an easy path but it has enabled me to be a better caregiver to both of my parents. The more I have healed and accepted responsibility for my own actions, the less projection and reaction I have had during the stressful times that all caregivers experience. It has helped me to manage my own stress. If you are a family caregiver, the best way you can care for your aging or ill loved one is to heal the hurts, disappointments and traumas from your own life so they don’t come back to haunt you during your last months, weeks and days with your aging parents.
Morning Star Holmes M.A. is a Transitional Life Coach, Family Consultant and author of the book, Transitional Wisdom, A Guide to Healthy Aging & Completing Life with Dignity and a companion Transitional Wisdom Action Journal. She works with individuals and their family members experiencing age related decline, life-threatening illness and life transitions.
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Morning Star Holmes