A Safe and Fertile Space: The Howling Orphans and Fledgling Visionaries in Our Fertile Hearts.

By on April 4, 2012

This happened long ago and far away. Or maybe just yesterday. It’s a story worth telling.

We’ll call her Laila.

It was circle time. The irony of something Laila said, struck me and I responded with what I thought was a lighthearted comment.  I anticipated laughter in response. Instead, my words hit a nerve. Laila wrote a note after the call and told me so. I was genuinely glad she did. And I instantly understood why I might’ve hurt her.

I said, I apologize for hurting you. I also invited Laila to explore during the upcoming circle why my remark caused so much pain. In the Fertile Heart world, pain is a clue that something in us is calling to push through the birth canal. People who hurt us are often the “angelic midwives” assisting at the birth of the next not-yet-born aspect of our nature.

So after apologizing, I asked, “Would you like to work on it?” Meaning: Let’s go to the Orphan playground and hear what the howling in our hearts is about.

“No,” she said.

Instead she walked away. Our relationship wasn’t strong enough to weather the assault of that remark. Those few words, undoubtedly colored by an ever present abandoned little kid in my own heart, erased months of a caring connection between us.

Yep, the little kid in me and also the adult who genuinely liked and cared about Laila, was hurt. But I also knew that walking away is what Laila needed to do. Walking away is often a wonderful test that helps us discover what the relationship is made off.

My job was to step across the threshold of my inner orphanage to better understand my own response and behavior. I soon realized that, of course, Laila was helping me take another small step in my own birthing journey. The journey in which I get to meet the Julia who can claim not only the value of her work but her value as a human being. A journey in which I get to claim the value of being a human teacher with a risky task of keeping her heart open to thousands of strangers. My job was to forgive myself for being no more and no less than an all too human teacher, fallible but honest and brave enough to engage with her own Orphans first. Then do what it takes to create a safe space for whatever Orphans show up on our various Fertile Heart playgrounds.

Walking away might sometimes be the most sensible action. It’s how we leave and to what extent we understand why we leave or stay, that makes all the difference in how our departure affects the other person, and all our future relationships.

A safe space is not a space in which we don’t get hurt. The human game is a contact sport and if we want to play it for all it’s worth, injury is pretty much inevitable. A safe space is one in which we can hurt each other and then make room for the Orphans to speak their peace and the Ultimate Mom to arrive on the scene in full splendor.

That, to me, is the only way to create a truly safe and fertile space. And parenting is all about providing such a space for the tender vulnerable creatures that beam down to be our next, most venerable teachers. We will hurt them no matter how hard we try not to. They will do whatever it takes to attempt to hurt us back. But walking away is not going to be a viable option for either of us.

How do you respond when someone hurts you? Who shows up first? The O, the V, or the UM? And who has the final say?


10 Responses to “A Safe and Fertile Space: The Howling Orphans and Fledgling Visionaries in Our Fertile Hearts.”

  1. Anna says:

    Hi Julia
    Thanks for this tender and full-hearted post. Its wonderful that you talk about your own orphans, about the opportunities this experience has brought to you. Too often the folk who put themselves forward to ‘help’, present themselves as omnipotent and flawless. I feel that I have been taught to present the same kind of facade and at times, for a long time, I have actually believed it. The facade is dropping, I am/have been rediscovering my vulnerability the last months and discovering some new humility… Recently I did a course in which I did an exercise of walking in the shoes of someone i had hurt. A massive eye opener.

  2. tracy says:

    Thank you, Julia for this great post I too have unintentionaly hurt people with what I thought were lighthearted comments. I felt terrible, but in the end, it was a great opportunity for growth for me.

    When someone hurts me, my orphan always shows up first. I also tend to get very defensive and want to hurt back before they can hurt me again. It wasn’t untill I discovered these tools did I realize I was afraid of loosing control. I am so grateful to have tools to venture into the orphan playground. Thank you!

  3. paola says:


    Thank you for bringing up this topic. I have experienced something similar many times in the last few months, when a series of very angry orphans forced me to recognize the pain of having to say “I am sorry” when I wanted to fly away, the pain of staying when I’d rather disappear, and to quickly move on to continue doing something good when all the inner voices would like to stop the clock and think and rethink about my behavior. Recognizing that I am human and fallible does not mean I need to hate myself or feel ashamed all the times. I really liked what you said about claiming our value as human beings. I think it is a lesson in humility. Sometimes when I feel so ashamed I have the impression there is a lot of arrogance behind, believing that I should act perfectly and according to certain high parameters all the time.


  4. Sharm says:

    Thank you for the thought provoking post Julia. There is so much value and depth in what you share and teach. Thank you for opening your heart to us and showing us how to do the same.
    It is inevitable that we get hurt when we connect with our hearts and our orphans are at play. The interesting question you raise here is how we deal with it when we get hurt or hurt someone. People sometimes withdraw and feel that no one should hurt them, they withdraw to be protected. I have certainly been there. But to fully engage and to be fully human we are going to get hurt and sometimes inadvertently hurt others. How we deal with that is where there is room for growth, especially personally for me. Thank you for bringing it to the forefront so that the next time the situation arises we can see the orphans clearly and call to the visionary to apologize or accept an apology and move forward… What a tremendous lesson in parenting..

  5. swati says:


    Thank you for sharing this post with us. It takes so much to put yourself out there and keep putting yourself out there, knowing there is a possibility of getting hurt – I have experienced this many times on this journey. When someone hurts me, it’s definitely my orphans that show up right away full force. My orphans of fear, anger and regret. I have been dealing with those lately, but then after the initial storm, there is always a break in the clouds that follows and the visionary does eventually make her way out ever so softly. As Caroline said I think it’s okay for the orphans to hang around for a bit until the visionary is ready to come out.

  6. paige says:

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful story Julia. The line that really resonates with me is ” A safe space is not a space in which we don’t get hurt.” I have been working a lot with my orphans who don’t feel safe in this world and they are helping me birth the woman who can live with a big open heart and risk being hurt in relationships. This work has been so transformative in helping me take care of the orphans so the visionary mama can be strong in conflict and deeply connected in her relationships.

  7. KLou says:

    Julia — such an honest post. It makes me think of the control orphan we’ve been discussing in the circle… the one who needs to control others. It is frustrating when people just walk away and it can be so very painful to be hurt by someone. We can only control our own actions, look inward, and try to relate and respond to those who hurt us with compassion, love, and understanding. That can be very hard to do. But we shouldn’t shut ourselves off or withdraw from the world. I agree that if we are going to really LIVE LIFE, we must open ourselves to others even if it means we will get hurt from time to time.

  8. Robin says:

    Dear Julia,

    I appreciate so much that you are brave enough to put yourself out there, sharing your own orphans to put all of us more at ease that yes, we have them. Orphans abound for me – I can tell when they are in charge when it is hard for me to focus on the task at hand. The louder the voice of the orphan, the harder it is to focus (that is my experience). I had an abandonment orphan show up last night before I read your blog. I did a Field of Creation Fertile Heart visualization right away and very soon this orphan was comforted and I was able to focus really well the rest of the evening. Thank you so much for these tools!

  9. Caroline says:

    Thank you for another insightful post Julia. It arrives with remarkable synchronicity, as I have been reflecting on exactly this today – the vulnerability of children and parents in their relationship, how to honour it, and how able I would be as a parent to deal with those hurtful responses when they inevitably came.
    At the moment my orphans are feeling quite vociferous, and are without a doubt the first to respond, but I’m fairly well aware that it’s them, and I’m ok with that, and trying to offer them the compassionate, balanced response of the ultimate mom. We’ve kind of been looking out for the visionary lately, she seems to have been on a short break, but she’s slowly coming back now.

    • Thank you, Caroline, I can totally relate! Visionaries do need a break from time to time, but it’s good to know that sooner or later they’re bound to return, if we just hang in there, give the O’s some almond milk and quinoa cookies and keep breathing.

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