Today I spent a little time sitting along a stream.  It started as a hike, but the high temperature, my mindset, and the appeal of the water brought me to sit on a rock along the stream bank. I sat still for about ten minutes before I started to see all the activity in the water. Dozens of tiny fish darting, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in a solitary search.  As I started my hike, there were more folks swimming and tubing in the river than I anticipated.  It was loud and somewhat crowded.  People were engaged with their friends and their family, unaware or ambivalent to what was going on under the water. 

I then noticed the surface changes, some abrupt and some subtle.  The presence of underwater rocks and some large, exposed boulders created breaks in the smooth water surface.  Underneath the surface, turbulence and current streams are created by the irregular rocks that comprise the riverbed.  Those irregularities make the places for everything that lives and goes on underneath the surface. It made me appreciate how I should slow down when fishing, and it also brought me to how we see each other as people, even with people to which we are frequently connected.  If we are looking at the surface and the busy interactions around us, we can miss what is below the surface. I thought of what things were below the surface for the people I care about, how things that are unseen often go unsaid. 

Rocks under the surface creating waves

Part of every relationship is the unsaid things. Part of every family is the unsaid things. Those unsaid things are often deep and powerful: 

That hurt me. 

I need support. 

I want you to be proud of me. 

That smile meant a lot. 

I wish I wasn’t around you right now. 

Do you even understand me? 

How can you be so rude? 

Don’t you see what I need? 

How could you miss that?

Those things left unsaid often build up. They create a story (or add to an existing story) in our minds; we build a case around why they are true. But they go unsaid until they escape in futility or anger as demands, attacks, or exasperation. The recipient is bombarded and defensive. It doesn’t go well.

The unsaid is scary to say, and sometimes it is the message of our insecurities; it seems irresponsible to relay them. But sometimes we need to stand in our vulnerability. We need to say the unsaid. If we wait too long, they, our thoughts and feelings can lose connection to the moment. If we let them build, they become bigger than they should be. They’re not always rational; they’re not always even true. They are just unsaid and part of our mental models and stories. They miss perspective of those around us, those who care about us. They define and add to a story we’ve created without any input. That story is likely incomplete even if we’ve concluded it is true.

When things don’t align with our expectations they can go unsaid and add to the story. I’m writing this with many unsaid things in my head and many moments left without my input. I just carry the baggage and the stories of those unsaid things. It creates tension, it pushes people away. It creates misalignment where only conversation and understanding is required in each moment.

What do we need for the unsaid things? 1) a flashlight on ourselves and 2) courage to have a voice. I’m stealing the flashlight reference from Sam Parrotto. She has been a guide, support, and friend in my life for quite some time. The flashlight on ourselves is a concept she introduced me to. Knowing where we are coming from, what preconceived notions we are attached to, helps our unconscious self step up and be observed. We express a lifetime of experiences in each moment and each word.  What aspects of our past help lead us to reaffirm those stories can be recognized and owned so that we can remove our self-imposed limitations to our own story. Knowing where we are coming from helps us own the parts of our story that are based on our past, that we bring to every new relationship and situation.

To share our stories and our unsaid thoughts takes courage to show our vulnerability. Brene Brown has a life-changing TED Talk on vulnerability. She defines courage as telling the story of your life with your whole heart.  To find that courageous voice it takes self-belief, self-appreciation and the ability to recognize that what is vitally important is below the surface.  Courageous people are compassionate, understanding, and have the audacity to do something with no guarantees of the result. They let themselves be seen, without hiding imperfections.  They recognize they are imperfect and hard-wired for struggle, that’s what they signed up for. They know they are enough and all worthy of love. They give everyone a pair of polarized glasses and ask them to look under the surface.  I guess by writing this, I’m hoping you will all look under the surface.

6 Replies to “The View from the Stream Bank”

  1. This is deep and encourages me to reread it several times to catch all the points!
    You used the word “expectations”! I have been thinking of that word frequently lately!
    It has everything to do with our relationships.
    Expectations develop over a lifetime and are influenced by what we experience early on and what we would like to experience. The trouble is we don’t communicate those expectations very well! We expect people and particularly those we love to somehow read our minds! That doesn’t work well or at all!
    Thanks for encouraging us/me to look deeper!

  2. Scott, thank you for connecting me to your work with the fish, and the water, and your life. So true about those unsaids. I find myself still in shock at the level of effort it takes to unearth and speak them. I think too often we hold onto the unsaids thinking it will preserve a relationship when in reality it undoes it. It made my heart hurt to think of all of those moments when there is something a child or a family member needs to say but can’t and what a loss this is for me and for them. I love the way you weave the life of the fish and your connection to them with growth. Your stories are rich and deep.

    1. Sam – Thanks for the thoughtful comment, as usual. It takes a tremendous level of effort, particularly the emotional risk, to speak those things. I don’t have it down at all. I just want to work towards that goal to be more present and connected to the moment.

      1. Thanks Sam! The skunk can definitely take you over. A sense of pressure that builds so much anxiety for me. I liked how Jason, in his blog, talks about how important it is to keep a focus on the long game. That is so important and so hard to do.

  3. This blog post really resonated with me. I know personally that if people really knew what was deep down inside, the experiences I’ve had, and the feelings I’ve known, they would be quite surprised. I try to keep my “surface” calm and collected. As I age, I am learning that I need to also begin to create a peace and stillness below that surface. I need to try to voice those unsaid things. And I agree that we often create a story within us based on those unsaid things that may or may not be accurate. Thank you for giving me something to continue to ponder.

    1. Thanks Carla! I’m glad you liked the post. Sometimes feeling seen or unseen is the difference between connection and isolation. Being seen takes empathy, vulnerability and a responsible voice. Those are hard to compile within ourselves, but that voice is something I definitely strive for! Thanks so much for your comment!

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