It happened again this morning. I picked up my earbuds to go walking and saw that the spaghetti-like cords were tangled. How did that happen? When I disconnected them from my iPhone after walking yesterday, I very carefully arranged them on the counter top in a way that surely would prevent the twisting and tangling. But something happened overnight, and by some mysterious process, the strings became knotted.
The snarled strings brought to mind sections of the book Seven Thousand Ways of Listening by Mark Nepo. When writing about conflict, Nepo tells about garden hoses that get seriously tangled while resting in the garage. He patiently tries to untangle the gnarled mess and gets so frustrated that he feels like banging it on the floor. I’ve been there, done that and have learned that giving way to anger and frustration only makes matters worse.
Isn’t the same thing true with our conflicts with other people? Sometimes they just happen, and we don’t always know how and why the problem started. Was it something you said? Or maybe it was something you shouldn’t have said. Let’s make this even more complicated. After all, human relationships can be that way. Maybe the snarled knot got worse because of something you or the other party SHOULD HAVE SAID but didn’t.
What I especially like about Nepo’s passage on conflict is a story about fishermen untangling their nets. Nets left in the sea long enough will tangle. It’s part of what nets do (earbud strings too!). At day’s end, the fishermen stretch out the net between them and examine it for knots. With the open net between them, the fishermen loosen all of the knots that they can and cut those that are impossibly snarled.
The fishermen put a little distance between them. Like people in conflict, the net of relationships and experiences is between them, and yet sometimes people need to separate a little more. Those in conflict often need the perspective that distance can provide so that they can see all of the knots and tangles. The distance can be physical, psychological, or in terms of time.
I’ve heard and used the term “detach in love.” That often gives the parties involved a chance to think and remember and receive insight. Although the term is an often-used one, I originally heard of it in Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go, a guidebook that taught me to say yes.
When looking at the outstretched net, the fishermen, like us, can see exactly where the problem area is. Sometimes we’re so emotionally tied in to something that we can’t see things clearly. We can feel our pain, anger, or frustration, but we can’t necessarily see the cause of our angst. Distance can better help us answer the questions, “Can the tangle be unraveled? Can the web be made whole again?”
I’ll take up this theme again tomorrow. For now, I need to ponder my net/web of relationships and check it for knots. What about you? Would detaching in love to study the net help you with some of your conflicts? Can the net be made whole again?