I have found myself in the awkward position recently of having people ask me for advice. Not little advice, like, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” or, “Do you know of a good place to find organic produce?” Big advice. Questions like: “How can I live with having screwed something up really badly?” Or “Should I leave my job and move to another state, because I may have found a temporary escape from a bad situation I’m in right now?”
Wow. Me? You’re asking me?
One of the friends has asked for advice over email. That’s a little easier for me, because I can read the note, and then sit with it for a day or two, mulling it over. But the second friend asked me today in person, face to face, while she was crying. I found myself sitting there quietly, listening, and listening, and listening. It was so much to process. A third friend, also in the room, jokingly said, “Oh, you’re just sitting there with your Buddha expression.” If only!
It is not because I am feeling tranquil and calm and serene. It is because I am slowly sorting through things, trying to make sense of my feelings. Because what comes up first is: Who the hell am I to be giving advice to anyone? For goodness sake, look at my life! Look at all the wrong turns I have taken. Look at all the pain and suffering, the missed opportunities, the ridiculously convoluted path that I have followed to get me to where I am now. Me, offer a road map to someone else?
But I keep sitting, quietly. And the other voice surfaces. Yes, it says. You have experienced a great deal. But each pain, each loss, broke your heart open a little bit wider, and taught you a little bit more about compassion. Without all those twists and turns, you would not have this poet’s soul. You would not have the desire to reach out to others. You would be closed off and broken, and you are not. You are whole. You survived.
So now I find myself in this place, where people I care about ask me for advice. What shall I say?
In a poem I wrote a couple of years ago, I penned these lines:
The phone rings. A friend struggles with her marriage’s end,
asking for answers. I make my words a mirror
of her own wisdom, know I cannot predict
what will grow in someone else’s garden.
That is what I learned during those long, hard years. No one had answers for me. Only I had the answers. What I needed was friends who would listen to me talk, friends who would compassionately hear me try to figure out exactly what it was I needed to do, searching through my own soul’s truth.
Today I remind myself of that. After some thought, I offered a few tangible suggestions to these friends, strategies for planning. But the most important thing I could do, in the end, was listen, and remind them, in turn, to listen to themselves. The most important answers always lie within.