Saturday, July 11, 2009

Don't turn off the baby monitor

Last weekend I stayed with friends who have a 1 year old son. We had a great time. Some stuff that happened got me thinking. There is something about staying with them that makes me reflective. Last time I stayed with them for a weekend I wrote this.

Not having children of my own, I'd forgotten how much young children cry. It is their primary method of communication. It amazes me how the mother has learned to distinguish the different cries and interpret what they mean - hungry, tired etc. they all sound the same to me!

Night times were especially interesting. We would put Baby down and turn the monitor on and sit in the other room. If he started crying we would generally wait 10 minutes or so and see if it was a 'I'm tired but I don't want to go to sleep really' cry, or if something else was wrong. The parent's had learned that 10 minutes was a good judge for that. If after that time he was still crying someone would go in and see what was wrong.

Of course for that 10 minutes we had to listen to amplified wails coming through the baby monitor...

... we could have created peace and quiet in the house by turning the monitor off, but it would be a false peace. The baby would still be crying, we would just be deaf to that sound. Far better to deal with the 'Problem' of the crying child than the 'Symptom' of the crying.

I think all of us have an 'inner infant' who cries sometimes. We all carry a certain amount of pain from our childhoods that hasn't been resolved, and when something happens that triggers that pain we start to 'cry'. Part of growing up is learning to listen to the cries and interpret them like a mother interprets a child.

Some people live much of their lives blissfully unaware of the crying baby, they've found a way to turn off their baby monitor so they don't have to hear it. Addicts use their addiction of choice, but even non addicts have strategies of avoidance. Alcohol, Sex, Drugs, T.V. Books, Work etc can all be avenues for silencing the crying. And once you start listening, the crying can seem overwhelming at times.

Many of the Christian Mystics (and Mystics from other traditions too) write of the need for us to 'Wake Up'. To become aware of our own inner life. Anthony DeMello writes in 'Awareness' "You only change what you understand. What you do not understand and are not aware of, you repress. You don't change. But when you understand it, it changes."

Waking up can really ruin your sleep. I've heard addicts say that 'Alcoholics Anonymous really ruined my drinking'. What they mean is they now have awareness about what is going on with their behavior around alcohol they can't participate in that behavior with the same ignorance anymore, it has been ruined for them. Once you begin to 'wake up' you have to grieve the loss of 'sleep'. Those activities that once worked for you are no longer solutions. Once you know that the baby is crying, turning off the monitor doesn't bring relief, because a part of you is aware of the tears even if you can't hear them.

All of us are on a journey of learning to interpret the crying. It's tiring, exhilarating, exhausting, fulfilling....and I think it's the only way for us to 'grow up'. Sometimes the hardest thing when I'm crying is to be still, listen to my pain, and see what it has to teach me...

But that is the path of healing.


Staci said...

Wow, Peter. That is really profound. And really true.

kathy kelley said...

i can no longer turn the monitor off. i am very exhausted with crying. i am awake

Rima Bonario said...

Great post Peter. Awake is the new sleep!