We need attachments to other people, places, and to God. Yet transitions have a way of shaking up those attachments—even healthy ones!
Today we’re talking all about how to balance our need to hold on to others - and also the need to let go. It takes skill and self-compassion to navigate these seasons of wrestling for more health, more connection, or more freedom.
Here’s what we cover:
1. Healthy & unhealthy attachments
2. The 2 competing relationship needs everyone has
3. The reality of attachment voids
4. Practices to anchor yourself
5. The role of liminal figures
Do you have questions for Dr. Alison? Leave them here.
Thanks to our sponsors:
Go to www.organifi.com/bestofyou today and use code BESTOFYOU for 20% off your order today.
Go to AquaTru.com and enter code BESTOFYOU at checkout to get 20% OFF any AquaTru purifier!
Ritual’s Essential for Women 18+ is a multivitamin you can actually trust. Get 40% off your first month for a limited time at ritual.com/BESTOFYOU.
This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Give online therapy a try at betterhelp.com/BESTOFYOU and get on your way to being your best self.
Get 35% off your first order of Sundays. Go to SundaysForDogs.com/BESTOFYOU or use code BESTOFYOU at checkout.
Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
Related Podcast Episodes
Episode 16: What are Attachment Styles and Why Does it Matter?
Episode 88: Navigating Transitions—What to Do When Change Stirs up Anxiety, Uncertainty, or Confusion
Other episodes with Rowena Day:
Episode 44: Why Anger is a Surprising Friend, What Happens When You Avoid It, and How to Create Space for Healthy Expression of Anger in Your Family
Episode 63: Spiritual Direction, the Power of Listening, & How to Attune to Yourself and to Others
Episode 31: Peace-Keeping, Anger Avoidance, and How to Start Using Your Voice
TBOY Episode 89
Alison: Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You Podcast. I am so glad you're here for part two of my conversation with Rowena Day about transitions. I heard from so many of you that this first episode on transitions was so helpful to you as you think about what you're going through in your own life.
And so many of you were saying that naming those words like uncertainty and disorientation and even confusion was really freeing and normalizing as it relates to one of these transitions that you're going through.
So today we want to talk about some of these more challenging transitions and in particular, we want to focus on the role of attachment in transitions. Now, we talked in depth about attachments in episode 16 where I went through attachment theory and different attachment styles.
We're not going to do that in today's episode. Instead, we're focusing on attachments in a broader sense. These could be our psychological attachments to other people, but they could also be our attachments to places, to organizations to communities, even to habits or aspects of ourselves, old versions of our identities.
These attachments that we have make it really hard for us to lean into transitions, especially when those transitions involve a shift in one of our relationships. Transitions are challenging because they get at those attachments. As I think of these transitions, I think about that path that we so often talk about on this podcast.
It's as if you're heading up that path and suddenly you find yourself on a little bit of a cliff. You're at the edge of a steep slope and you're realizing that the path you've been on has to change dramatically in many ways. And maybe you can see off in the distance, the next peak that you need to get to, it's there.
You can see it, but there's a gulf between where you are now and where you've got to get. And it's scary when you're standing there at the edge of that cliff. All you can see is that gulf. And it can feel like one of these defining moments where something needs to change. You're aware that you need to go through something, but all you can see is what feels like an abyss in front of you.
And it can feel lonely and anxiety-inducing because the very nature of a transition is that it invites us to let go of some of our attachments, to let go of some of what's felt familiar to us, some of what's made us feel tethered in many ways.
And so we have to let go of something so often in order to move through one of these transitional seasons and allow something new to emerge. There's a reason that these transitional seasons stir up a lot of complicated feelings inside of us.
In today's episode, we want to join you there, because a big component of braving these transitional seasons is not doing them alone. It's finding safe people and safe places that understand the nuances of what you're going through, and can help give you wisdom and encouragement that you're not alone as you face this journey.
So without further ado, I want to welcome back Rowena Day, my dear friend. She's also a spiritual director so she brings a really beautiful lens to this conversation about the role of attachment in navigating these challenging transitions.
Thanks so much for joining me for part two of this conversation, Rowena.
Rowena: Thanks Alison. It's been really meaningful to journey with each other in some significant transitions of our lives. So it's also really meaningful to be able to talk about all the things that we've learned in that process together.
Alison: Yeah, exactly. This really flows out of our shared experiences these last couple of years as we've tried to find names for what we've been experiencing. And it was really a conversation this fall where you started talking about this phrase, transitions, and you even use this word that we're going to get into in this episode, attachment void, that really stood out to me.
And I was like, oh, we need to talk about this. This is really helpful stuff to identify what we're going through in these seasons. Part of what makes transitions so hard is that we're attached to people. We're attached to old ways of doing things. We get attached to places and none of that is all bad. So walk us through a little bit, some of these different types of attachments.
We are driven and wired to seek attachment and it's written in our neurobiological wiring the drive for closeness and contact emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And I think it's really about seeking out safety and connection in life. We're not wired to be alone.
Rowena: I think we're pretty familiar with this relating to people, but we can also think of attachments in terms of being attached to places and objects and definitely with God.
We are designed to have healthy attachments with other human beings and this looks like a beautiful interdependence where we are open to one another, where we are separate and differentiated, and where we are equal. And so that's really when the fruit of a beautiful attachment relationship can be born and thrives.
Both parties in the relationship are able to engage in this mutual way where they're open to each other, to the thoughts, feelings, and needs and preferences of the other person as well as their own. In healthy attachments, you consider each other as equals, not thinking of yourself as superior or inferior. You have some healthy separateness and differentiation also. And that is the paradox of beautiful attachment, is that there is separateness at the same time.
Each person is working in the relationship to understand and live from their own healthy boundaries, while also respecting the boundaries of the other. And together, it creates this beautiful dance of a mutual relationship.
We can also think of being attached to places and objects. We can get attached to particular cities that feel like home, and particular geographies. Some people might feel more comfortable in the mountains. Some people might feel more comfortable by the ocean.
We can get attached to working for particular organizations, jobs, and institutions. So there's a variety of other parts of our life that play huge roles in our sense of belonging and place in the world.
Finally, and most importantly, is our attachment to God. I think God allows us to receive the secure attachment that only he can provide so that we can have that changeless anchor for our souls that holds us fast through all the storms of life.
And this helps keep our other attachments in their proper place. It allows us to enjoy these attachments even more without reverting to either of the extremes.
Alison: I love this picture you're painting of the dance that we need. Attachments are not bad. They provide us with anchoring, especially when they're ordered.
I love how you're saying that when our primary attachment is to God, it allows us to hold these other beautiful attachments that keep us tethered to this world. They help us find our place in this world. These are really wonderful gifts.
Rowena: Blessing the need for healthy attachment is really vital because we are created to be in relationship for our survival and our flourishing and the immense richness and depth that it creates. At the end of our life, the quality of our relationships is of utmost importance and is what is eternal.
Navigating life, we are in an ongoing process of learning how to be healthily attached to other people, to love really deeply while also holding people loosely. Knowing when it's time to let go is incredibly hard and can invoke a lot of grief and that's not abnormal, that's normal.
Alison: Yeah, exactly. And that's where these transitions come in because so often they are invitations to do some of the letting go. I love how you're saying again, these attachments are a blessing. I think sometimes some of us have been taught through our faith traditions, or we get taught this through our culture, that we shouldn't have these attachments, that we shouldn't need other people, that we shouldn't be over-attached to a place.
That we should be able to move on. And therefore we shouldn't have these transitional seasons because we should be able to get from where I am now to the next place easily.
So I think there's some nuance here with this word attachment. What is an unhealthy attachment?
Rowena: Yeah, so we could be avoidant of attachment or excessively attached, and those are the two extremes. Neither is healthy.
Thinking about our society and culture that we live in, the West is highly individualistic, and so it errs more on the avoidant, counter-dependent side of the spectrum. We are not as woven into a larger community as we once were, and we've moved away from having healthy interdependent attachments.
We live in a much faster-paced world than we ever did, and with tremendous workaholism. With this addiction to work and not recognizing our need to be healthily attached to others, we see a big epidemic of loneliness in our society. That is a result of how our culture is now structured, with much weaker social ties and bonds.
Whereas in reality, our hearts, minds, and our nervous systems are wired and designed for attachment and deep connection.
On the other side of the spectrum, we could have attachments that become overly or inordinately attached to other people–more on the codependent side where you're enmeshed or there's not enough separation between the two parties.
This requires a process of detaching from other people a little bit, and reestablishing more separateness. It comes back to those three things I mentioned earlier, the open, separate, and equal, and keeping those all in balance and all in tension appropriately.
And navigating life, noticing when things start to get a bit off, and that's a huge part of the transitional process, is learning how to make those changes and tweaks in our attachments to help get them into their proper place of healthy attachment.
Alison: That makes so much sense. I love how you describe those three qualities of, have I gotten too attached? Do I need to create some more healthy distance? Are there situations where I need to get more attached to other people?
Maybe I've become too self-sufficient or isolated. So these transitions, especially these relational transitions, could also be when we're invited to reconsider an attachment to a place or an object. Opportunities to look at how tightly or how loosely we're holding things and make sure that we're in that proper balance.
So we need attachments and also there's always an invitation to be looking at our attachments and reordering them and these transitions are a part of that process. They're often disrupting the stability and familiarity of our existing attachments.
They're invitations to do the deep, important work of allowing ourselves to surrender to a season of adjustment. Sometimes these transitions get forced upon us. We don't have a choice. It's out of our control. Maybe we lose a job or we lose a person.
Maybe they move away. Maybe there's a breakup that wasn't our choice. This also can happen with death. We're going to touch on that a little bit more in next week's episode because there's a little bit of a different connotation with death when we talk about grief, although all of these involve some form of grief.
Sometimes we choose to enter into a season of transition where we start examining ourselves or our relationships, and we start to notice, like you're saying, maybe we're too close or too attached, or maybe we're not attached enough, and we need to either release a little bit or shift something to make a change.
Any one of these things launch us into one of these transitional seasons. And again, we're naming that because so often, as you said, in our fast paced culture, we're not invited into this season of discernment of noticing there needs to be a change.
It's going to take a minute to discern how to do this without either blowing up a relationship or pretending like everything's fine, but really noticing how we move through a relational transition. And sometimes this surprises us. Not always are we consciously aware, oh, I'm going to discern the nature of that relationship.
Sometimes we find ourselves in one of these seasons where suddenly we're aware that some sort of attachment figure is changing and we're in that abyss. We're in that place of discomfort and we're trying to scramble to figure out why.
Rowena: Yeah. I've been through several of those. I think one of the biggest sort of multi-transitional periods of my life was 10 years ago, being at one of those transitional cliff edges. My husband and I had been living in Boston for five years at that time and it was a really beautiful stable time in our life.
Where we were both flourishing. And it was a place that I had come to feel the most rooted as an adult. And we lived in this beautiful apartment, but my husband's schooling had come to an end and we had made the decision to move to D. C. for his new job. We were also expecting our first baby, and the creative work that I had been enjoying so much was also going to experience a significant shift as I became a mother.
And so it was time to move on from this apartment and this ending was really difficult for me and I was surprised how attached I had become to it. And it represented all these deep things, a place of stability, a place of home, a place of flourishing. And parts of me were scared to let go and walk away from that.
And other parts of me knew it was time. We were looking forward to starting a family and getting ready to say goodbye to our twenties. So it was a lot of transitions colliding at one time and it resulted in a tremendous upheaval. It didn't shake us to our core, but it was a lot of transitions happening at one time.
Alison: Yeah. New city, new job, new baby, new role. Everything all at once. Actually, one rule of thumb, people will say, if at all possible, try not to do a whole bunch of transitions at once. But sometimes it's not possible. I've had the same experiences, but it makes sense that the apartment became this sort of attachment figure of loss and grief and even this uncertainty, this sort of, oh my gosh, I've got to let this go. And it felt destabilizing to some degree.
Rowena: Oh yeah, the tension it creates between the different parts of us and the need to create room for this inward transitional process of adapting to a lot of external change and not expecting the letting go process to happen overnight.
Alison: Exactly. Giving yourself permission. Not to beat yourself up, but to give yourself permission. Okay. I need to honor that this is going to take me some time.
I want to talk a little bit about these relational transitions, especially when we have some choice. Especially when we're noticing a need for a change. I love how you're describing these parts, Rowena, because I think this is so common where we start to notice, like in your case, it's an example of a decision that has been made.
Your husband had taken a job. You were pregnant. You didn't have a lot of choices. This was going to happen. And so you had to enter into this season of wrestling with all of those changes.
That's hard enough. Those are hard enough when they're in the context of some good things, even. Then I think about these transitions where we have some choice, where we're noticing maybe something needs to change in our lives.
Maybe we need to change the dynamics of a relationship. Maybe we need to change a job situation or relationship to a church, but we're starting to notice the need for a change, and we've got some agency there and we're maybe standing at the edge of that cliff going, I don't want to go into that uncertainty and I've got some choice here and I don't want to descend down that path.
We've got a couple of options in that moment. We can choose to face the feelings of uncertainty and fear and even grief and disorientation, or we can shame ourselves that it's hard for us to do that, which is also not helpful.
But regardless, if we're really honest with ourselves, we're aware that we need to be paying attention and that we might need to make a change. And let's talk about this specifically for the sake of this episode in the context of a relationship change.
I want to focus on these situations where we need to make a shift in a relationship. Because again, those are often our most pronounced attachments. We get attached to people. That's not bad. That's there for a reason. Sometimes we can get attached in unhealthy relationships,
What are some of the cues when we're standing there and we're feeling some of that internal stuckness?
Maybe we're noticing there's a need for a change. I'm noticing that I'm longing for something else, but I'm terrified to go down into this valley of making a change. Let's name some of the internal dynamics that can help us in those moments where we're actually in the middle of a relationship transition that's really hard for us to face sometimes.
Rowena: The work of Gabor Maté has been really influential for me here because he boils down the needs of human beings in relationships to two things, and that is the need to be attached and the need to be authentic.
So in healthy relationships, both of those needs should be able to be met. We should be able to be attached to the other person in healthy ways and to show up authentically and for the other person to be attached to us while being able to show up authentically themselves.
When in a relationship dynamic where those two needs are coming into conflict with each other, that's where it can get really challenging and messy and be complicated and extremely activating for our nervous systems. When we feel like we have to consistently sacrifice authenticity for the attachment, there's an indication that something needs to be looked at more closely.
If there's an ongoing pattern of that, it's going to require support because those can be very challenging dynamics. So the need for attachment is so strong that it tends to win out over the need to be authentic.
Alison: I can think of examples, Rowena, of exactly what you're saying, where you're in a relationship, there's an attachment there, this person matters to you. And also simultaneously, you're noticing, man, there are these patterns.
Maybe I'm having to lie. Maybe I'm having to betray certain aspects of myself. Maybe I'm having to be a little bit fake in order to maintain this relationship. I'm noticing this tension internally. That's the authenticity side of things. But at the same time, I feel attached to this person, and that makes sense.
There's a reason we feel attached. And so the red flags that we might need to transition in this relationship, whether we leave the relationship or whether we create a shift in the relationship to try to show up more authentically can really create a lot of inner turmoil and I think this is where we get really hard on ourselves.
We start to beat ourselves up that we're not making the change. Sometimes well meaning friends will come in and say you need to get out of that relationship. You need to leave, or we can try to numb or shut it down or avoid those feelings, neither of which is healthy. But the reality is this is really where we're starting to do that work of wrestling.
And I think about what you said last week about these transitional seasons being marked by endings, neutral phases, and new beginnings, where we're really wrestling with the possibility of an ending. That ending might be the end of a relationship, or it might be the end of a way of being with a relationship, the end of a way of coping in a relationship.
It might be the end of one of those responses you described. The end of pleasing, which we don't know how that's going to change the relationship and what's going to happen, which evokes all of this disorientation and confusion and anxiety, and this is where we get really stuck. So I think that's a really helpful paradigm.
Rowena: This is where the parts work comes in because you need to notice how different parts of you are feeling about this relationship and the potential transition, and to honor the complexity of these parts. Different parts of us want to find a way to stay attached, and other parts, probably from our body, are picking up the fact that there's something that's not right there.
And so it creates that internal conflict that can create so much distress and discomfort on the inside. And that's where it's really important to get curious about what each part is thinking and feeling. You can't really move forward unless you look closely at each part and widen your window of tolerance to endure some of that distress and discomfort on the inside.
Paradoxically it's when we begin to honor all the different parts of ourselves that we can actually gain a little bit more of the calm that we need to eventually allow us to discern and take a step in a direction, one step at a time.
Alison: Yeah, I love that. I love that. And I love that we're saying that widening that window of tolerance, our ability to tolerate the distress, is what paradoxically allows us over time to make those changes that we need to make. Basically, if you think about that cliff metaphor, we don't want to stay on the edge of that cliff, but we also don't want to jump down or race into something before we're ready.
And so when we think about that metaphor, this is where, again, we need people to come around us and help us with naming. Yes, this is hard. Let's look at the different parts of you. We're not going to rush ourselves, but we are going to honor the fullness of what's really happening.
Rowena: Yeah, and the inner distress that can get us to freeze and then we feel like we can't access our agency anymore. It's really allowing ourselves to feel some of that discomfort and allowing ourselves to be in that place of pausing and noticing and saying yes, I would like to have some agency and figure out what my choices are.
I'm not there yet but with support and by noticing my internal world, I can slowly build to that place of regaining agency.
Alison: Yeah, this is where that term “attachment void” really stood out to me. This is the fear that we have in these moments of internal wrestling–this attachment void. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Rowena: Yeah, I think the term attachment void hits the nail on the head with what we can be feeling on the inside when we are wrestling with a relationship transition. The sense of void, deficiency, or the absence of what used to be an emotional or relational bond. We know that the goal of life is not to avoid having attachment voids–they're natural, they're part of life.
Relationships are meant to ebb and flow; some last for longer, some are for different seasons, and so we can't avoid them. I think that's a little bit difficult in our culture because there's a lot of pressure to be happy all of the time, which really prevents you from navigating these tough transitional seasons.
So the presence of an attachment void does not necessarily indicate that there is an unhealthy situation there, which might be the assumption that people make. So I think it's important to distinguish the difference that attachment voids can come in. When you lose somebody, when there's been a healthy attachment with a friend who has moved away, these attachment voids can stir up a lot of grief, and that's normal, and that is okay to experience feelings of grief.
When the attachment voids come from a relationship where there is unhealth, then it gets more complicated and those relationships can be the most activating for our nervous systems as we might enter into a hyper-aroused state with fight or flight or go into hypo-arousal freeze or fawn. It might be that our nervous system is confused and can go back and forth between some of those over the course of time.
But our nervous systems, our bodies are wise and they're detecting that something isn't right here and they always know before our mind. They signal that there's an unhealthy attachment potentially. We don't want to experience anxiety or distress in our nervous systems and we tend to discount the positive messages that they're trying to bring us.
I think widening our tolerance for some anxiety can be helpful in noticing the symptoms that our body is sending to us so that our mind and body can belong to each other. And we can go through the work of discernment with mind and body integrated and connected together.
Oftentimes if you're at the cliff, you might be feeling pressure to make some movement, to descend, or to jump, and oftentimes we might need people to join us at the cliff and sit with us in that place while we tend to our nervous systems and try to bring ourselves back into a more regulated state so that we can reclaim some agency and figure out how to navigate those more challenging dynamics in relationships.
Alison: I love that you're saying this, and I think it's so important for the listener to hear, because I talked to so many people who are wrestling with this very thing. They might be in a relationship that they've become aware isn't as healthy as it could be, or isn't healthy at all.
And then there's shame involved in not being able to make that change when in reality, it's a process. We have to equip ourselves. We have to get ourselves the nourishment and the care and the support and the resources that we need in order to make that change. And again, it can feel like you're descending into one of those attachment voids.
So I love that you're naming that, that part of this process, especially when our bodies are beginning to cue us that there's some unhealth, is to allow ourselves that process of noticing of paying attention of letting each of the different parts, the part of us that says, I've got to make a change and the part of it says, no way I am not doing it.
It brings to mind a story when I had to break up with someone. This was long ago, and I remember I had a couple of people–I call it sandwich support. I had some safe people who anchored me on one end, and I knew I had to do it because it was one of those things that I couldn't delay, but the whole car ride to that conversation, one part of me was saying, I need to do this.
And one part of me was saying, I'm not doing it. I'm not doing it. I'm not going to do it, and I let both parts coexist. But by the time it came for me to have the conversation, I had done enough work that I had enough tolerance, as you're saying, for that conflict inside of me that I could do it, but it took a lot of work. It took a lot of support and it took a lot of time.
This is a process. So as we think about Rowena, these seasons where we're wrestling, oftentimes initially inside of ourselves, I want us to talk a little bit about how we anchor ourselves. We need to create a space and name it. This is a discernment season. I'm not going to do this quickly, but I am going to put some things in place to help me get resourced so that I can make this transition.
There are a number of ways we can do this. Tell me some of the things that come to mind for you.
Rowena: So the first, I think, is to name it as a passage. This is something that is unique to a particular phase of life and so is going to need different things. It's going to need naming and acceptance, which is a process in itself. And then it's going to need your attention.
It's going to need stepping away from the busyness of life even more and creating a little bit of extra bandwidth and room in your life. So cutting out whatever commitments you can, allowing yourself the time and space to sit and think and journal or talk with friends, to get good sleep.
Like it really requires slowing your life down. So that's, I think, the first step. You can't really get anywhere if your life is at a high speed and you're trying to make important decisions and changes. The next, I think, is really, and slowing down helps with this, but really attuning to your body and to your nervous system, noticing what your body needs.
Does it need to be out in nature? Does it need some space? Does it need beauty? Does it need silence? Does it need music? Do you need to lay on the floor on your stomach and feel very grounded? Do you need to do deep breathing or walking, stretching, whatever urges your body has to help your mind and your body come back to each other and reach a more regulated state?
So as you can pay attention to your body and help your nervous system shift from the hyper-arousal or the hypo-arousal to a place of regulated calm, you can begin to get creative with the beauty of “even though” statements combined with “I wonder”.
Even though I'm in a place of uncertainty in this relationship, I wonder what possibilities are ahead. We can't really hold the complexity of our experience if we're in a state of dysregulation. So whatever we can do to bring us back to that place of calm is extremely important.
I find art to be incredibly powerful. Finding visual images that really represent something that I'm feeling on the inside. I'm really lucky to have the National Gallery of Art down the road. And I have been really impacted by a number of paintings there. Recently, I saw a painting called The Bend in the Road by Paul Cezanne. And seeing this beautiful painting of this road taking this bend, and you can't see what's on the other side of the road, brought such calm within and such an acceptance.
Almost seeing something physically in front of me that shows that there's an end of the path and you can't see what's ahead. Times of big upheaval and distress, there's another painting there that's called Ships in Distress Off a Rocky Coast. And it depicts sailboats caught in a tremendous storm.
And the painting of this tempestuous storm evokes such emotion and resonance during really difficult transitions in life for me. Another example that I find of art that is extremely powerful is the Voyage of Life series by Thomas Cole. And these consist of four paintings that depict the journey of what it's like for a baby to grow into a young adult, to reach adulthood, and then eventually old age. And it depicts this all using the river as the passage of time.
So the first painting is of a baby in a boat. And there's an angel in the boat with the baby, and everything is lush and green around in the setting on the banks of the river. The sky is bright and beautiful, and it is a picture of abundance and promise. The next painting depicts a young adult on the boat, leaving the bank of the shore, and the angel is now standing on the bank, waving the young adult off.
And in the distance where the young adult is looking, there is an ethereal castle in the sky to show the promise of a future. Or the hope of a good future ahead. And then the third painting, which is most relatable to being in the season of transition that we're talking about, is of a man now in a huge storm raging in the water and brewing in the sky.
And he's standing up in the boat and he's got his hands clasped together in prayer, desperate for help and for guidance to get through the storm. And there's a light behind him, and you can see an angel, the angel's back there, but the man can't see it. And then if you look closely at the darkness of the sky, you can see these really creepy figures to represent the immense darkness that he's feeling outwardly and inwardly.
And then the fourth painting is the man in old age, and the angel is returning to the boat and guiding the old man out of the dark place towards this beautiful sky in the distance and the light ahead. And seeing these paintings and sitting with them, seeing the totality of life before my eyes with these four paintings is so beautiful.
It's been so meaningful and can give me such courage. We only live our one life and we only know what it's like to be us, and so to have outer representations of what other people go through can be extremely profound and so I love the power of art for that.
Alison: Yeah, I love that. And we'll link to these images, but they show us the bigger picture, which is what we need when we're stuck on that cliff and we're wrestling with ourselves. These images help us recognize that what we're going to go through, while it’s going to be hard, there is an image of hope on the other side. Art really paints that picture for us when we can't see it for ourselves, which gives us the courage to maybe take that brave step we need to take.
Rowena: Yeah, and if we think about the pathways of fear that can get turned on in our bodies, that anticipation of bad, and then if we think of hope as the anticipation of good, it can be a challenge to slowly get our minds, our hearts, and our nervous systems to be on the pathway of hope, anticipating good.
Having that secure attachment with God is so helpful because that is what he's the master at, is helping us turn away from dwelling in a state of fear, and bringing us slowly, mysteriously, toward a pathway of hope as we walk through the wilderness, through the dark valley. He is with us.
Alison: Yeah. I love that. The other thing that those pieces of art show is this term I learned back in my doctoral program, and I loved it. These attachment figures show up when we're in transitional seasons. They're these kind-of angels but they're not really angels.
They're people that surprise us, that come in to support us when we're going through something hard. And oftentimes these are therapists or spiritual directors, they're these anchoring figures that we really lean into when we feel so disoriented and we're not sure.
And that's so healthy too. You don't want to do this alone. These figures show up and they don't do the work for us. We still have to go through it, but they're guiding us through it. And sometimes we bump into people who will surprise us.
We might notice ourselves thinking about a friend that maybe we've lost touch with, but we realize, man, that friend went through something like this. And I couldn't relate to it at the time, but now I'm going through it. Maybe they'll have some wisdom for me.
Or you might be surprised that you're connecting with someone new because they've got some wisdom that's really helpful to you during this season. So we can also be surprised by the figures that show up in that quote unquote attachment void, where we have descended into a valley.
It feels hard. It feels scary. We feel alone, but we're more attuned to the people that can actually help us walk through it. And again, oftentimes we're surprised by who those people are. It may not always be who we think it's gonna be.
Rowena: I think that is so helpful and so necessary to find those liminal figures in addition to having people be of support to us. I think one of the single most powerful practices that I've learned over the past decade is to do Lectio Divina. And that means ancient reading.
It's a really powerful way of slowing ourselves down with a short passage and reading it over and slowly digesting it and mulling the words over in our minds and noticing if a word or a phrase comes to our attention and that there's a reason for that. So the Psalms, I think, are really beautiful for this.
It helps these messages of hope really penetrate into our nervous systems, to help our minds and our bodies connect to this deeper reality that God is using all of these hard things for our good and it doesn't deny or bypass the reality of what's hard. The Psalms hold the reality of what's hard while also providing hope in the midst of the transitions and those dark valleys.
And so I think, because we've been talking about the valley so much, Psalm 23 comes to mind, of course. It's so famous, but it's so rich and so powerful in the way that it honors the difficulty of walking through a dark valley while also clinging and trusting the fact that God says He is there with you.
And that his goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, like repeating that over and over again. That surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. It has become such a transformative phrase for me in helping me transition from those pathways of fear to more pathways of hope in an embodied way.
Alison: I love that. I agree with that. I found that in my own life. I know for me, having a little bit more of an avoidant disposition, when I'm giving myself permission to make a shift to let someone in, which is also a transitional season, I've gone through Psalm 23 over and over.
I can feel shame that I find myself needing someone in a new way. And so I will, very similar to what you're saying over and over, Lord, my God, I put my trust in you. Do not let me be put to shame. No one who hopes in you will be put to shame. And I'll say that over and over. And for some reason it quells whatever that fear is in me, that there's going to be shame involved, in this discomfort of, in my case, often allowing somebody in.
Which can feel like a valley. I don't want to disrupt the system. I don't want to try something new. And that Psalm, really anchoring on that, reminding myself of that truth, can be so helpful. I love that, Rowena. I love the way you put words to these things.
And I'm so grateful that you have been someone with whom I can sit on the edge of the cliff and you don't rush me–you sit with me and help me look at all the different pieces. That's such a gift that you have. And I also love that you are someone who sometimes walks with me down into the valley and you're also someone who will celebrate with me on the other side, when we reach those new beginnings
Rowena: Party on the other side.
Alison: Yeah, exactly right? We've got to do that too. We've got to celebrate the, “we did it!”. This was hard. We did it and it's such a rare gift. And I'm so grateful for you and grateful that you were willing to lend us your time and expertise to this conversation.
Rowena: It was a lot of fun. Thanks, Alison.