The drawers in my mother’s kitchen held many utensils, one of which was a large metal mallet with a squared end. Spiky and sharp on one end, blunt spikes on the other, this was my mother’s meat tenderiser. Tough, sinewy meat becomes tender under the hand of the chef who wields this tool. An undesirable, even inedible, cut is gradually transformed into a delicious morsel of tender food.
In my own life I see a pattern of resistance and acceptance that I now call “tenderising.” For example, I resisted my baby’s need to wake frequently in the night. My irritation became an issue, like a millstone around my neck. I thought about it constantly, saw it as a problem I needed to solve. I was constantly strategising. I was unhappy. I yearned to find the secret to getting my baby to sleep the way my friends’ babies slept.
I didn’t see it at the time, but the mallet was working its magic on me. It seems a harsh way to do it, but I can be tough and sinewy. Sometimes the mallet is like a gentle massage, but other times it has to be tough and I learn lessons the hard way!
Over time I came to recognise my child’s real need for food and company in the night. Resistance turned to acceptance. I realised that it wasn’t the night waking that was making me unhappy, only tired. Rather, I was being dragged down by my own resistance, my firm grasp on something that wasn’t possible or realistic.
Acceptance is gradual: in many areas of my life I am still being tenderised. With each blow of the mallet, I become softer, more flexible. Initially I resist. I puff myself up and stand my ground. But I can’t keep it up. In time I exhale and relax. Once clenched, angry and self-righteous, I become calm, happy and yielding. It’s not resignation, it’s letting go. Resignation means still hanging on to what you want but giving up. This lays the foundation for resentment, regret and guilt. Letting go means understanding that you never needed that thing you wanted in the first place. It means accepting that there can more than one ‘right’ way and that my idea of what is right could be wrong.
With clenched hands we hold on to what is ‘correct’ or ideas of what parents or children ‘should’ do. It is so tempting as a new parent to buy into what society says is ‘right.’ In my case, I didn’t know any better, and of course I wanted to get more sleep! Once I read more about human biological norms rather than societal norms (frequent night waking vs sleeping through the night) I began to open my mind to other ideas. Down comes the mallet and I become more compassionate toward my baby’s needs. Down comes the mallet and I become more relaxed about parenting, both during the day and the night. Down comes the mallet and I release the millstone of worry and strategising that hung around my neck. Down comes the mallet and suddenly I am free.
The beauty of the tenderising process is that it forces us to relax our hands and release that thing we’d been holding onto so tightly. The surprise comes when into those now-empty hands we receive something that we hadn’t expected. We can only receive something new and beautiful when we are open to it. Having let go of those strongly-held fixations, we are now empty vessels ready to be filled with the precious jewels that will inevitably come.
Photo credit: Kudaker 2007, via Flickr.