Bill Plotkin quote

Beautiful Grebes, and the joy and pain of not being needed

One of my secret pleasures is to sit in a café close to the start of the day and to watch and feel life slowly arrive; the friends who come together regularly for breakfast, the locals who reward themselves after their weekly shop, the visitors looking with intent at the menus to see if what they need to bring them fully into their day is available. I love to people watch, to observe the quality of listening that does or doesn’t happen across the tables, to notice the nuances in interactions and to see if I can dissolve through the boundary between me and others, to experiment with the possibility of sitting in a café with strangers as part of the whole and to firmly refuse the illusion of separateness. 

And so it is with me today, I am sitting in a café on the German Swiss border enjoying a vegan breakfast bowl and a good coffee, gently watching life appear. I am alone, not lonely, although I can at times feel its haunting whisper in my body. I have made a life changing decision and there is alone-ness and maybe loneliness in this. I wonder if anyone can truly sit with me in my decision. I feel it was mine to make, although some people may challenge this, and I even wonder if free will exists in the way I imagine and if it does, how and when does it turn up. As I drink my second coffee my mind inevitably begins to turn it’s commonly occurring philosophical somersaults. 

I’m not sure it is important for you the reader to know what the decision is that I have made, what is more interesting to know is that I feel like the veil that hangs in front of my life, the veil that shields me from being fully seen by others has been removed and I am laid bare. My values and my intentions, my promises and my beliefs, my expectations and my presumptions have all been hung out to be viewed and sometimes scrutinised by those I hold most dearly.

It is a beautiful and at times scary process and it is exhausting learning to stay with what I feel  – I wonder what life will emerge from this?

Into this space had come an invitation from my son to visit him in Konstanz where he is currently studying. He would like to talk through my decision. So that is why I am here in a café having breakfast while my son gently sleeps back at his accommodation (early mornings still seem to elude him…) It transpires that this is the weekend that most of his friends are leaving to go back home after a year abroad; Greece, the USA, Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, France, India. He knows he may never see some of them again and others he senses will be fellow travelers for life. It seems that it is a time of endings and transition for both of us.

I am not sure what it is that he wants or needs from me at this time? He once told me that he was glad that I was alive in the world and that was enough – oh, the joy of knowing that I don’t need to do anything, just be. Yet I am caught in between a sense of not needing to be needed and an uncertainty of what my role is and some curiosity about what I might need from him, and is it ok to ask for something from him as he is in his own deep transition? 

I sometimes wish I would find greater clarity of who and how to be and when to be it…

I have moved from the café and gone for a swim in the lake, cold water always seems to clear my mind, emotions and body. I am constantly amazed at how different everything looks from the water, it’s as if a universe that was hidden suddenly appears because a different line of sight opens an unexpected doorway. The beautiful looking Grebes come real close and then dive from sight only to pop up again on the other side of me. They are playing, showing me what it is really like to live in their world. Their ease of motion, their effortless dives and their lightness create a desire for me to live in my world as they do in theirs. 

Maybe that’s it…maybe I can let go of what I imagine others need from me, and to imagine what it might be for them not to need me and not to create  a victim narrative of ‘poor me I am not needed’, but with a narrative of how can I fully respect their autonomy to be them and all that means and I only step into their space as an act of healthy compassion with an invite for growth and as a fellow companion. So no hero rescuer, no persecutor and no victim, just a fellow human sharing a human experience. 

I sense there is such joy in that. To remove my expectations of others and myself to play as the Grebes do and yet….yet  as I write those words I feel the murmurings of a sense of self that is always looking for some validation of my value to others. That is maybe where the pain resides, in the letting go of the desire of significance to others, but what can replace this desire? I will finish with what I wonder might be part of an answer, it is an excerpt from an essay called Care of the Soul of the World by Bill Plotkin. ‘Your soul is your true home. In the moment you finally arrive in and occupy this psycho-ecological niche, you feel fully available and present to the world, unlost. This is the identity that no one can take from you’.


Maybe the more I know the home of my soul then the need to be needed begins to fade…


If you’d like to know more about the work we do with organisations, communities and businesses, find us to chat over on this link.