In one of my coaching trainings a few months ago, we were charged with the task of writing down a list of things we couldn’t “be with.” The goal of the exercise was to become more aware of our blind spots so we could more effectively manage ourselves as coaches. I started thinking of things that really boiled my blood and couldn’t deal with…bigotry, cruelty, lack of respect of boundaries, etc. You get the picture. But the one that kept popping into my head that I didn’t want to see or hear was this: my daughter’s whining. Really? Is that really one of the other bedfellows of things I can’t “be with” along the lines of cruelty and bigotry? Ouch.
I’m ashamed to admit that, but it’s the truth for me these days. At 3, my daughter’s personality has blossomed and I am honored to witness this. I love the conversations we now have – amusing, often silly, sometimes deeply profound. I love watching her master new skills and make new connections. And…then there’s the whining. It’s a bit reminiscent of a 3 year old version of Louis C.K.’s daughter. It’s loud. It’s very regular. It fills the house. And for some reason, it can produce in me the kind of nerve pain I experience at the dentist.
But after my reflective coaching training on “being with”, I decided I needed to get curious about this rather than being ashamed of it. I needed to “be with” my daughter’s whining. So for the next week I did just that. Whenever I felt that nerve pain stimulated by the whining, I took a breath. I let her whine. If I was nearby enough, I might say after a minute of non-stop whining: “You sound frustrated. Can I help you with something?” And I noticed two things: First, that Pavlovian response of whine –> pain for me didn’t go away, but it lessened as I let her be. And second, when I let her continue whining, I noticed how it (usually) died down after she figured out how to put a puzzle together she was struggling with or get the cap off a pen. And through that experiment, I saw that her whining was often just part of her learning. Yes, it was still annoying, but it was just a symptom of her struggle to figure something out or master a new skill. And through noticing that, something shifted for me and something tender emerged. I stopped hearing the whining only through my ears.
The other connection I made by “being with” the whining, was that my own version of whining is fidgeting. It’s very hard for me to sit still (blame it on my genes – ask my mom). In fact, during the writing of this blog post, I’ve gotten up several times to make tea, fold laundry, get the mail, empty the dishwasher, reorganize my desk, etc. I’ve stopped writing to check email and random web pages. Fidgeting is my whining. So I’m trying to take some of my own medicine and “be with” my own struggle – the struggle to flesh out an idea, to create a website, to build a business. All things I’m struggling with, and trying to at the same time, be with. And I’m reminding myself that the fidgeting means that I’m doing something I care about. I’m creating something. I’m learning something. And the fidgeting, like the whining, is just part of that messy, beautiful journey.
What’s the thing you can’t be with? And what can you learn about yourself by being with that thing?