There is a wonderful fable by Aesop called The Bundle of Sticks.
A farmer, who had a quarrelsome family, after having tried in vain to reconcile them by words, thought he might more readily prevail by an example. So he called his sons and bade them lay a bundle of sticks before him. Then having tied them into a bundle, he told the lads, one after the other, to take it up and break it. They all tried, but tried in vain.
Then untying the bundle, he gave them the sticks to break one by one. This they did with the greatest ease. Then said the father, “Thus you, my sons, as long as you remain united, are a match for all your enemies; but differ and separate, and you are undone.”
I love this fable and it is so true. Over the years I have witnessed the power, strength and boundless possibility of unity, I have also witnessed when the bundle is broken, divided, and we are left weakened and vulnerable. My greatest example of this fable in action is my family over the last two years. We were working as a bundle, no doubt about it, and we are still in a tight bundle and as strong as ever. I recognized this strength in numbers, as we navigated cancer, caregiving and ultimately loss. This unity has inspired me to keep my other bundles tied tightly. Those bundles or connections are; my friends, my neighbors, and my co-workers.
I wake up every morning and give thanks for all the gifts and blessings I have been given and all my bundles are high on the list. Those areas in my life where I feel like a single-stick; vulnerable and weak, I am working towards creating more unity and tying a bundle. We all have those areas where unity seems a bit more challenging and all we can do is recognize it and take action from there. For my action, and I feel a bit like the little engine that could, I have been reconnecting and reaching out to friends from my past and people I have wronged to clean up old messes. It was really scary to reach out to people whom I had things I needed to clean up, and honestly the result has been beyond my imagination. I definitely have not batted a thousand but I have created unity with several people I wronged in the past. I am very humbled and blessed by their compassion to forgive and their capacity to love. So never give up on unity.
Anyone who knows me from my childhood would be amused at the notion that I see strength in numbers, I was a very independent little thing. I liked to do things my own way, by myself. I remember my goal from a very early age was to educate myself enough so I could get a decent job and totally rely on myself, I did not want anyone to take care of me or be responsible for me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with self-sufficiency, and I must confess I tend to do too much for my kids and need to let them do more for themselves, but while teaching responsibility one can also teach unity.
I was talking to a friend who has two boys and he was basically describing to me how important it was to him that his boys had a tight bond. He has taught them to never disparage the other in public and to always stick up for each other. I thought this was very intriguing because I feel the same way but never set out with the intent to teach this to my kids, I have just been reacting to behavior that does not support this philosophy. Now, I realize as I write this how absurd that sounds and my strategy was flawed, but at least I recognized it was flawed, ok. It is kind of funny, we have things we want or desire and instead of educating ourselves or others towards that end, we simply react if we don’t get what we want. Well back to my friend’s boys, they got into a little trouble and basically would not nark on each other to dad, they backed each other up. They did not tell a lie, they just would not tell on their brother. My friend basically let them off the hook, he felt it was more important that he reward their unity than to punish their infraction. I took his lesson to heart. I am extremely close to my brother and I want my children to have that same close relationship, while I did not start out as early as my friend teaching unity, I am now.
When I see siblings that are treating each other badly it always makes me sad, when my kids treat each other poorly it hurts my heart. What I really dislike is to see parents pairing with one child over another, or disparaging their children in public, oh it hurts me right to the core. It feels like a little bit of the universe dies when that happens. And in a sense it does, there is a loss of connection and energy that feeds our universe.
My dad’s family was a tight bundle, in spite of, or possibly due to the fact that, growing up they lived in a very dysfunctional situation. My dad would not disparage his parents nor his siblings, my dad would not disparage my mom even after their acrimonious divorce. He did not want to affect our unity. I remember hearing my dad talk about his sister and brother’s and you could feel the unity and strength of his ties to them. While I may not have mastered this skill as well as my dad I know he planted the seeds with me because I feel it to my core when I see unity and when I see division, particularly in families.
We have so many horrendous role models out there in the public arena untying bundles left and right (pun intended), that many of us need to remember the result is a weakened society and a weakened universe. We need unity for strength, and it really begins at home. We need to model unity at home if we do not have unity at home how can we have it a work, in government, in our place of worship, in sports or anywhere else. Share this fable with your kids, grandkids, cousins, nieces or nephews, what a marvelous and powerful gift of love and unity.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
Yesterday while I was at Yoga we were doing the tree pose, one of my absolute favorites, I love the balance poses, my beautiful teacher Jan reminded us not to be worried about the constant movement and adjustment, that builds strength. She went on to share that when the Biosphere 2, a completely closed ecological system built in the early 1990’s to mimic earth’s system for research purposes, was created the trees grew quickly, but they fell over and they determined it was due to the lack of wind. They also realized the trees had softer wood than trees in the wild. So while they grew faster they were harmed in the long run due a poor root system and soft exterior. So the wind, in other words the turbulence around the trees, actually created stronger, healthier trees.
I thought about how my yoga practice improved when I no longer resisted the poses and actually yielded to them. I still remind myself of that, when I am at my edge in a particular pose. The more I resist the pose the more uncomfortable it feels and I can feel I am hurting myself instead of building strength and flexibility. It actually reminded me of when I was in labor and when I would have a contraction my first response was to tense up and resist the pain, which actually made the pain worst. When I would consciously breathe and practice relaxation the pain was much more tolerable. The same is true with my long distance running, when I felt myself resisting and tensing I would start to feel discomfort and fatigue.
I reflected on how the last two years of turbulence in my life has actually made me stronger, I feel strong inside and out. I am less likely to resist the turbulence in my life, I breathe and yield to it. I recognize when I am resisting and remind myself this is part of my conditioning as a human being. I lost a friend to cancer last week and rather than resisting my grief I yielded to it and allowed myself to express my feelings. It was probably extremely uncomfortable for some people around me but it was very balancing for me.
Jan, my yoga teacher and prophet, also shared with us how the salmon when spawning and swimming upstream can find themselves bumping along the rocks at the edges of the stream and they try to find the steady stream of resistance where the path is difficult but clear, because that is their purpose. What an analogy for life, I have found myself bumping along the rocky shore many times and realize I need to get back into the steady stream where it requires steady action but my path is clear. She reminded us that intention is the key. Living life and making decisions fully aware and engaged with your intention is the way to the clear path, that does not mean that it will be easy, but the path will be unhindered.
While Jan was sharing the story of the spawning salmon, I reflected on a recent conversation with a girlfriend who is a single mom and has two daughters in college. She was sharing with me that she was reading a study about how today’s mom’s unwittingly hold their daughter’s back in an attempt to help them, and she was fighting the urge herself. My friend’s daughter had decided not to come home for the summer and instead was going to a large metropolitan area to get a job. My girlfriend started with a litany of safety concerns and financial concerns to justify why she did not want her daughter to go. You see my friend found a job for her daughter that would pay well and she would be home. My friend finally confessed to me she really wanted her daughter to come home and be close to her. My heart went out to her because I have a daughter and I love being with her and I knew how difficult this must be. She told me she knew her daughter needed to do this, so she supported her decision and said she would use me as her audio journal to share her trepidation without holding her daughter back. We talked quite a while about this and I told her to remember, we learned from our mistakes, and it’s time for her to learn from hers as well. Again difficult but clear. I only hope I remember this advice when I need it in a few years.
I am very connected to mother earth and look to her for inspiration and life lessons. She always provides both if I am open to receive her gifts of knowledge. Everything we need to understand in life is reflected by mother earth, she is a strong system particularly when we yield to her rather than resisting the natural order of things. The greatest lesson we all can learn is that strength and balance are intertwined, if we do not develop strength we cannot develop balance. Mother earth has taught us that, as we have tried to create more convenience in our life, we as a civilization have weakened ourselves and thrown ourselves out of balance. I have learned over the last few months as I have embarked on a more balanced system for myself, one that more closely reflects nature, eating more whole foods, drinking lots of water, movement, working hard, playing, engaged in my community, engaged in my family, staying connected to others, as I stay true to this path I feel amazing and balanced.
The message here is that we need to grow strong roots and exterior by weathering the turbulence of our life and as a mother I am reminded I need to allow my saplings to grow strong roots and exterior too, not by sheltering them from the wind but allowing them to yield to the wind. I will remain alongside them until it is my turn to go back to the earth, so they know I am there with them, witnessing them growing stronger.
“As mother’s of future generations and steward’s of mother earth we must resist the urge to take the convenient path, for in the end it leads to misery. Instead we must take the more challenging path filled with uncertainty for as we hike this path we learn strength, balance and sustainability.” – Marsia Geldert-Murphey
Do you have a story of strength and balance you are willing to share? Or do you have a tip or suggestion for leading a more balanced life? Please share your stories here.
I can do it myself! You probably think I am referring to my kids with that statement. Actually that describes me or at least it described how I used to be. I absolutely hated asking for help, I always wanted to do things on my own. I even trained for a marathon running every training mile except 3 miles by myself. I felt asking for help was a sign of weakness. I would even get myself into some ridiculous predicaments by not asking for help there are so many examples its hard to isolate one or two. Let’s just say I have broken a rib, just about swamped a boat in the Mississippi River and had heat exhaustion all because I was too prideful to ask for help.
Then this past year happened. I was too tired, emotionally exhausted and yes too weak to do it all myself. It initially started in small increments. I asked for help. I felt like a drug addict turning a trick to feed my addiction, seriously it was that kind of shame for me to ask for help, not that I would know what it was like to be a drug addict or to turn a trick, but the shame I felt, I imagine would be the same. Ok let’s use a shameful analogy I have actually experienced, it felt like when the waiter comes back with your credit card to a table of people you just bought dinner for and they announce your card was rejected. Ok pretty shameful and embarrassing. So it started small like a leak in a dam a little trickle here, then the water really starts to flow and pretty soon you have a gushing river sweeping through. That is what my little experiment with asking for help looked like this past year.
I asked my friends to help out my husband while I was out-of-town this past year taking care of my parents. Then I asked people at work to help me covering meetings, projects, assignments, and finally whole departments. All while I was in and out of the office. Next I asked a whole group of friends and family to help me fix my house so my dad could move in with us. But the coup de gras to my prideful past thinking was asking my business partner if I could take a leave of absence to take care of my dad during his final days, and then time after he passed to get it together. Whatever that means. And I discovered something during all this asking for help business, I was not getting weaker, I felt like Popeye – I was strong to the finish (because I was eatin’ my spinach). I really did feel stronger through receiving help from others.
It was a very long and sometimes strange road to get here from where I started. You know how it is when you learn a new skill, like when I learned to water ski it was so incredible, I wanted to ski everyday. I wanted everyone I know to learn to ski, I thought it was so liberating, so exhilarating. I really felt that same way when I shifted my paradigm about asking for help. I want everyone to understand the power of allowing others to help out. So I notice when others have the same affliction I did. Except as strange as this may seem it’s almost as taboo to tell someone they have the “I can’t ask for help” problem as it is to tell them they have bad breath. My first impulse is to jump all over it and share with them all this fabulous insight I have gained and all the connections I have made with those that have helped me. However, sharing my keen new skill has been met with denial, rejection or the polite nod with the accompanying non-committal response which in it’s most literal translation is “you may be right but there is no way in hell I will ask for help”. I can only smile with the compassion of knowing I walked in their shoes and I am sure along the way, left a wake of my own rejected wanna-be helpers.
I have a friend who is faced with a very difficult situation, he very recently lost most of his sight. He is the type of guy who is quick to jump to the aid of anyone, but I cannot think of one time he has asked me for help. All of sudden he is faced with a serious situation where he has to ask for help everyday. This has really been very difficult for him. I spoke to him about my experience, he is still struggling, but I have hope that he will come to see the blessing it is to not only ask for help but to realize how many want to help.
I know of other beautiful friends that have convinced themselves they have little or no resources to ask for help, I am not sure if they actually believe it or are telling themselves that so they can avoid asking, I only say this because it was a strategy I employed myself. I hope that one day everyone recognizes the enormous gift you can give your circle of support by asking for help. There are so many out there that want to help, but if we have sent the message out that we can do it ourselves, others are hesitant to offer help, especially if those offers have been politely declined in the past. Hope is not lost though, it just means we have to find our voice and use it.
Over the last year I received so much help it has been overwhelming. Now it is my turn to return the gift. I have been seeking opportunities to help others and it feels great. So please the next time someone offers help and that little voice of pride that speaks to you and tries to convince you to reject it, ignore that voice and take it, accept the help that is offered. You are not only doing yourself a favor, you are giving the person offering the help a gift. And ask for help from your whole circle, not just one person, expand your horizons you will be amazed at the results. I believe we would live in a more peaceful and loving world if we would return to our tribal roots. Where helping each other was not only a way of life it was a means to survive. In the tribe everyone helped each other it just had to be that way for the tribe to thrive.
There is a wonderful quote by the poet Kahlil Gibran, “generosity is giving more than you can and pride is taking less than you need.” Please be strong and generous but also ask for that which you need.