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Stop hugging the cactus


A friend of mine just completed a cross country move that she had been dreading for years. Logically, the move made sense for her marriage and her family, but I watched her go through significant inner turmoil as she processed leaving her friends and the life she’d made for herself in the city she was leaving.


Weeks before her move, she called to tell me of her new approach to the situation: she’d decided to let go. Instead of focusing on the fears and anxieties around losing the life she had, she was going to embrace the potential for the good that could come from life in her new city. Even over the phone, her demeanor had changed. She had a new lightness to her.

The concept of “hugging the cactus” was introduced to me by a lecture I recently listened to called Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart with Cynthia Bourgeault and Adyashanti. The idea is that a large amount of the suffering we experience is due to our own inability to let go of our expectations/fears/anxieties – our inability to stop hugging the cactus. Certainly, there is real suffering in the world, due to death, poverty, hunger, disease, etc. But how much of what we perceive as suffering is just our own neuroses and our inability to stop clasping our fingers around the prickly cactus spines in an effort to control the uncontrollable?

I see it over and over again in myself. For example, I can make a road trip with my family into absolute torture if I continue to hold on to the expectation of a peaceful car ride filled with good conversation, when in actuality the baby in the back is fussing. But also, if I’m too hot, too hungry, my husband isn’t in the mood I want him to be in, the weather isn’t how I had envisioned for my weekend plans… you name it.


It brings me to Mary’s famous “I am the Lord’s servant, let it be done me as you have said” line in Luke 1:38 when the angel appears out of nowhere and tells her that she will give birth to the son of God. I think of how Mary could have chosen to wallow in a puddle of misery that kept growing as she catastrophized everything that had been thrust upon her. How her brain could have continued to spin and hold on to her original visions of place in society, her body, her future marriage.


But Mary is no cactus-hugger. Instead, Mary is a picture of openness as she enters into a difficult and unexpected fate. My prayer is to be able to live a life with hands open to the ways God is moving, even in the face of uncertainty when my expectations aren’t met.


- Melanie

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