Push/Kristina D.C. Hoeppner
We all have buttons. Mine is red primarily because the pain is intense. It is the color of danger and detonates (from Latin detonare, to expend thunder) when pushed. This button is hooked up to shame. I can’t think of anything good to say about this button except that it is mine as a gift of my upbringing. For me, shame is a hundred times worse than having the rug pulled out from under me. It is me as a child, reaching out for love and seeing my mother’s frowning face and instead of being held, I am told I smell bad. Feeling shamed undoes trust.
My shame button packs a wallop bigger than any event in the present might warrant. And the resulting blast can blow back the deliberate or inadvertent button-pusher at the same time as I am reeling. Eventually I recover and the pain abates, but the button-pusher may take longer to recover, maybe never. When “never,” a friend is lost.
I had occasion to share an impromptu drawing of this big red button with Corky a day or two after we got back from our Wednesday through Monday trip to Ashland. I wanted her to visualize what got triggered when she responded to my joke about my parking by reacting angrily, bringing up similar moments from our trip. I felt blindsided. I had been imagining we were getting along well.
Blast! Off went my button. I am sure Corky had plenty of reasons to find me annoying and to get her own buttons pushed during our seven hour ride to Ashland, the six days we were together seeing theater and the long ride back.
But the time she chose to air resentment was days after the offending behavior. We were on our way to a movie in the city when I remarked on her choice of a parking place. True, it wasn’t smart and she does drive her own little Mini quite well, but rather than limit her objection to my present remark, she hooked her rancor to all the days we were in Ashland behind the wheel of her son’s car. Oops, the rug was being pulled out from under me. I felt shame that I hadn’t been aware of how she was really feeling.
Larry’s car, the one we drove to Ashland, is a manual shift car. It is fairly new and in pristine condition. Thus both Corky and I were hyperaware of driving carefully, and we were both inclined to be always behind the wheel regardless of who was driving. Needless to say, many suggestions were made, some in voices of alarm. Under the circumstances, I welcomed her help because I don’t usually drive a manual car.
Two years ago I fled the scene of a red-button pressing. This time, I stood on the street and breathed mindfully, hanging out in my prefrontal cortex and not running, although I could hear my reptile brain calculating the distance to the nearest bus line. Meditation practice has made it possible for me to pause and feel miserable for shorter periods of time without trying to flee from the pain.
Don’t get me wrong. Corky’s complaint was legitimate. If she has trouble with comments on her driving, as many people have when their loved ones backseat drive from the passenger’s side, I get it. It’s the older complaints that push my button. I know I can be annoying. And I don’t mind being told in a timely way so I can apologize and make amends. I even thanked Corky once when she told me I was annoying, minutes after she was annoyed. I like knowing where I stand and hate thinking I’m on solid ground when that isn’t the fact.
As Buddhism teaches, holding on to certainty is going against the truth of life as it is. So I am wondering if a time will come when with continued practice, this big red button will shrink or fade even further. No one will need to be different and I will not seek solid ground. Losing my footing will not trigger shame.
Gold Buddha /VasenkaPhotography
Awards for the “Best” of anything are not pro forma at the Zen Beginner’s Mind Temple (Hosshin-ji), also known as City Center. Had there been an award for Beginningest Mind given the Saturday that was my first all-day sit, it would have been mine.
Actually, the award was mine even before I left the house—from the moment I reached into my closet and grabbed a white, hooded windbreaker. Had I thought before I grabbed white, I would have remembered never having seen colors other than black, brown, navy blue or forest green – always some variation of a somber hue. In past visits to the Zen Center, I, too, kept a low color profile.
Outside my building at 5:10 a.m., I met my Zen practice teacher, Rev. Keiryu Liên Shutt, to walk to the Zen Center together, and she didn’t take notice. She could have been thinking: This may be Alison’s first “one-day sit” but it is not her first time meditating at Beginner’s Mind Temple. Surely she won’t wear white inside. More likely, Liên was eager to be on time to change into her own black robes.
By skipping the preceding night’s introduction to a one-day meditation session for beginners at City Center, I wasn’t informed about clothing, routines or even how to read the day’s schedule. While the references to time wouldn’t require clarification, those Sanskrit or Pali words that explain what to do and where to go would just be Sanskrit or Pali to me.
Knowing what to do when might have kept me from trailing after the kitchen staff heading upstairs from the hall outside the zendo where I sat. Late registrants sit in this entry hall. Meditating with my eyes open for the first time, I saw them leave. Not knowing who they were, what they knew that I didn’t, why they got up or where they were going, I followed. In the kitchen I stood barefooted in my white windbreaker. Eventually, one smiling staffer asked me what I was doing in the kitchen. At that moment I uttered what probably clinched the Beginningest Mind award for me. “I don’t know,” I said, sounding neither wistful nor shameful, but simply truthful. They asked me where I was supposed to be. Again, “I don’t know.”
Not knowing on this day of silence became an adventure in living with beginner’s mind, a low-level pervasive uncertainty. Many times before the day was over, I would rue my decision to skip the beginner’s orientation. Finally, to avoid uncertainty escalating into distress I importuned the man in the bookstore. Surely, he was not observing silence, and he might be willing to translate the day’s schedule for me. This he did, but not before reminding me that talking was not permitted and though he was talking, I must not. Thus when we came to the posted schedule, I pointed and he whispered.
Later in the afternoon, I was helpless to silence my bubbling laughter while scrubbing mirrors, sinks, and tubs in the second-floor women’s restroom—the work detail to which I was assigned. I delighted in the irony of it as I mopped the floor and pulled matted hair from the sponge mop. The young resident in charge was willing to hear the why of my laughing. Yesterday, two women cleaned my own small condo because I don’t like housework. Of course they were paid. And wasn’t it funny in a wonderful way that here I was the next day cleaning up after others as part of a day of meditation for which I had paid. “Every activity is part of the practice,” she whispered in response.
And only once during the day did my Zen practice teacher, Liên, feel compelled to whisper instructions to be sure I didn’t muck up an activity of great formality on my way to winning the Beginningest Mind award. She told me to stay behind one of her experienced friends and do whatever she did.
Unfortunately, before going upstairs to procession into the Buddha Hall behind my guide among all the black robed sitters, I grabbed my white windbreaker, rolled it as small as I could and stuffed it under my left arm. There it stayed through the ceremony presided over by Central Abbot Myogen Steve Stücky. Each time I prostrated myself among the others, I flopped sideways, gripping its whiteness to my side. Twice I felt my feet touch the head of the woman behind me as I wriggled awkwardly to standing, the jacket clutched beneath my arm. Even when it was my turn to ask the Central Abbot a heartfelt question about my meditation practice, I stood before him with the crumpled white windbreaker under my arm to ask him, “Where is wrong?”
Every misstep, timing error, or misunderstanding has not been recounted here. And in spite of these and other miscalculations, I felt great gladness. I had maintained my equanimity, sat still on my chair facing the white wall each meditation period and understood most of an esoteric dharma talk. Moreover, I felt genuine kindness toward my blundering. All in all, it was a very good day; not only was I a frontrunner for the Beginningest Mind trophy, but also a contender for the “Mighty Kindness to the Self” award.
Donkey/M Francis McCarthy
I value interpreting dreams. I prefer the soaring above rooftops dreams over the ones with me running a few steps ahead of screaming adolescents brandishing switchblades. I have sweated and twitched through such terrifying dreams as well as awakened refreshed by reassurances of my essential worth. A few dreams stand out as having given me insight and direction.
These significant dreams stayed with me, at first urgent to be understood. Arising from the unconscious, they presented themselves visually as clear and present as a painting.
Such a recent dream was on my mind as Corky and I took advantage of the free days at MOMA, and headed for the modern painters. I wanted to look at Surrealist paintings and their dreamlike quality and so lingered in front of Magritte’s “Personal Values.” The artist has altered the scale and size of ordinary objects while the blue sky and puffy white clouds look inside the room as well as outside. Meanwhile, Corky contemplated Diego Rivera’s charming picture of a peasant child. Eventually, we viewed most of the art on the second floor, and all the art suggested the potency of dreamlike distortion.
Back from the museum, I called my sister who has worked with dreams and asked her to listen to my dream and help me “get it” as I sensed it held special wisdom for me. She reminded me that it’s helpful to consider every person, animal or object as an aspect of my own energy or myself. After telling her the dream, she asked me to repeat it using personal pronouns for the people or animals in the dream.
Here’s the dream as it relates to my own energy: I have an aspect of myself that wants to create and the dream says I will not be able to use my youthful creative energy, represented by a group of unruly young people, unless I ride a small grey donkey. Only one donkey stands in a corral. I refuse to ride it, convinced I would look a fool. But a higher authority insists I ride it. The grey-brown donkey appears compliant. It’s not a powerful, flashy snorting steed, but a drab, humble creature whose work is to carry me. Reluctantly, I get on and wrap my arms around the donkey’s neck. No saddle, no reins. Immediately, we are running fast and going downhill as if on Fillmore heading toward the Marina but with no cars, bus lines or buildings, just clear sky. I hold tight.
I can do nothing but trust the donkey as it races downhill at breakneck speed. Then as suddenly as it has been going fast, it stops at a red traffic signal. At that dream moment I can’t believe the donkey is this clever. Cheering onlookers appear from side streets and my students gather around me, full of respect. They implore me to teach them. I tell them their work is to write and they go back to school, willing to follow directions.
My dream donkey being the central image in the dream, I began with appreciating its (my) willing and compliant nature—obedient, ordinary, and patient. I thought of this line in Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese:” “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” I experienced in my body that loving softness which was like the feeling I had when I was being Grandma Alzie to Baby Theo, holding and rocking him as he slept in my arms.
One donkey left in the corral represents reluctance and resistance; it is the part of me that doesn’t like to be told what to do. I surmised that the other teachers had already done what they were told. The dream tells me that I, too, having done what I was told now know the steady energy I need to do creative work. Apprehensively, I accept the meaning of the dream. Acknowledging capability scares me more than giving up on myself. Making excuses has been much easier than making art.
With my sister helping me work with my dreams, the Surrealist Magritte inspiring me to blending the inner and outer worlds and Corky insisting that the unlived life is not worth examining, I think I might, as artists do, risk becoming disciplined and steadily create. Who knows what might come of it? Meanwhile, time passes.
My mother's resting place / Alison R.
Were she still alive, my mother would have had a birthday May 24. When she died several years ago at the age of 96, I took her ashes and mixed them in the soil of her favorite potted plant, an amaryllis she kept on the patio near the window of her family room in Southern California. I carted that plant to my place in San Francisco, and it blooms each year on the patio where I can see it.
I tend that plant with splendid red flowers and only by being a narcissus rather than an amaryllis could it be a more apt metaphor for my work as my mother’s daughter. It has taken most of my lifetime to separate from my mother, whom I resemble, and to accept my mother’s limitations—her inability to love me. I can finally appreciate that she was a colorblind mom, and I was a rainbow she couldn’t see.
Even after I “grew up,” the filters through which I viewed life, the strategies I employed to cope influenced how I related to other people. I was that unloved and thus unlovable child of a narcissist. I experienced others as incapable of loving me, someone like my mother, to be placated and resisted. Others were probably not even aware of the role in which I had cast them.
I still can experience twinges that come from being my mother’s daughter. Sometimes while talking with people who matter to me, I feel a familiar pain. It happens if others don’t ask me more about what I am saying, but instead switch to talking about themselves. It’s as if the conversation is a competition I will lose.
It’s easy to slip back into being the daughter of a narcissistic mother. She always wanted to talk about herself rather than listen. She was proud of me only if what I did or said reflected on her as a “good mother.” She cared about my appearance and spent money to make her little girl look just right. My mother insisted that her outlook and emotions mattered more than mine and if I had a different viewpoint or feeling, she would make sure I knew that by opposing her I was causing her physical pain and suffering.
Mothers like mine, who can’t see beyond their own needs, bind their daughters to them by withholding love and insisting on unquestioning attention and love. So yes, it has been difficult to separate from my mother. Even after her death. Difficult, but not impossible.
After more than 50 years of effort, I am now peaceful with what was. I accept my narcissistic mother and being her daughter. I have compassion for us both. I can grieve for my childhood, for not being loved unconditionally by my mother or father. (Husbands to narcissistic women love them most of all and don’t cross them, so children have no protectors.)
I doubt without therapist Jennifer or meditation or Kate’s friendship in Buddhism, I would have grappled with the past, done the necessary grieving, or seen clearly the emotional patterns that developed in me because I was daughter to a narcissistic mother. I joyously acknowledge becoming a warrior with the courage to heal. And I know the answers to lifelong questions: Why do I feel unlovable? Why do I never feel good enough? Why do I have so little trust in myself?
Not only do I experience and express unconditional love for my sons, but for other significant people in my life as well, my sister, my girlfriend Corky. I can feel unconditional friendliness even for people I don’t particularly like or know. So clearly, this healing has not been just about me.
My self-acceptance can’t help but become acceptance for others. The same way I end my meditation sittings, by dedicating the merits of my practice to the peace, safety and happiness of all beings, I dedicate my healing from daughter of narcissistic mother to the peace, safety and happiness of all beings. May I strive always to cause no harm and to be wholehearted!!
Giftbox / sparkleblues
“’Tis a gift to be loved and that love to return.” Shaker song.
If in this renewed relationship Corky and I go beyond blame and hurt, we will have to do what we didn’t do the first time we were together—look with curiosity and kindness at ways we misinterpret each other.
I’ve learned the simple gift of open-eyed and openhearted attention can increase chances for “I” to fold into “we.” And it’s actually a good thing that disagreements and misunderstanding help strengthen the “we” because we will surely have both. This time we plan to tell each other when and how feelings are hurt, if not immediately, within a few days.
On Mother’s Day both of us had hurt feelings. In the afternoon, Cindy, my former daughter-in-law, (whom Corky thoughtfully introduced as my daughter) and I went to see Corky read in a Mothertongue performance. Corky was one of the original members of this feminist collective founded in 1976 by students at San Francisco State. These women write and perform scripts that dramatize their experiences. This time the script was “Mothers and Daughters.”
Although the performance was a big part of Mother’s Day for Cindy and me, when I wrote about the day in last Monday’s spiritflowsthru, I excluded Corky and Mothertongue altogether even though I knew her ties to Mothertongue were long and strong.
I went to the performance feeling generous and open toward Corky, pleased that I could bring Cindy to see her perform. Bringing her was my gift. I knew Corky would be pleased to have Cindy there. But all did not go smoothly because a reactive part of me got triggered. Pema Chodron calls it shenpa; it’s the tightening up inside that can spiral into low self-esteem or more often into blaming or getting angry with someone else.
Shenpa struck while Cindy was telling Corky and me about her upcoming trip to Turkey and Greece with her mother and twin sister. Shenpa was triggered when Corky told Cindy she had gone to Greece and talked about her experience of many years ago; I felt annoyed with Corky. I was thinking: “This is not about you. Let Cindy talk. It is her trip at the end of the month.” I heard Corky’s words not as sharing but as an interruption. Then I acted on the feeling by telling Corky to let Cindy talk.
On Tuesday, when I again saw Corky, the distance between us was palpable. Doing exactly the right thing to close that distance, we talked about our feelings. Corky said she was disappointed that I had not mentioned Mothertongue or her in my Mother’s Day blog. We had both been “hooked” by the ego’s feeling slighted.
And of course, Corky hadn’t liked being shut up. Her talking about her trip rather than Cindy telling about hers had triggered anger in me that Corky’s “I, me and my” was more important than Cindy’s experience. In the process of explaining this reaction, I said “highjack the conversation” to describe my reaction. Corky said her intention had been to connect with my daughter, to add to Cindy’s anticipation of the upcoming trip by mentioning places she had seen and suggesting sights to look for.
Looking at why I omitted the Mothertongue event and Corky from the blog, I had to acknowledge “payback” for being angry and feeling upstaged, on behalf of Cindy. Truth be told, I must have been so ego invested in Cindy that it became very much about “I, me and my.”
I reminded Corky that after the performers took their final bow, she right away went to talk to other people. And though I knew logically this was her turn to star, I would have liked her to acknowledge my specialness and invite Cindy and me to join her for dinner. Clearly, feeling overlooked or ignored is a big cause of my shenpa, a “hook” as Pema calls those reactive places.
To help this renewed relationship flourish, I need to look at my responses and behavior with caring curiosity and to direct that same caring curiosity toward Corky’s way of being in the world. I am eager to learn what hooks me emotionally and causes me to react. (What Pema calls shenpa.)
Corky and my relationship may not be a simple gift, but careful unwrapping may make it a gift of being loved and loving in return.
Happy Mother's Day / aussiegall
Mother’s Day. Forget Hallmark sentiments! The nitty gritty of Mother’s Day is far more poignant, replete as it is with loss and weariness as much as it is with gratitude. Sunday, 6 a.m.
Personally, I am grateful that each of my three sons would Friend me on Facebook if that mattered to them and let me look in on their lives. By the end of the day, all three will have checked in with news and the always welcomed and reassuring, “I Love you, Mom.”
As for what will be in the hearts of others on this day of compulsory love, my guess is it’s mixed.
I know that one son and granddaughter have had a week of missing mom. My little one will have shed tears and had tantrums of wanting mother who, having died a year ago, won’t be there to ooh and aah over a crayoned card with lace made in the classroom just for her. This child will carry the loss of her mother throughout her life. And each Mother’s Day will be more and less than a card could convey. I hope she will love herself.
The wife of another son will probably receive cards from her preteen daughters. Her love for these girls can’t be questioned, yet it is work to be their mother as each girl struggles to take her place in the complicated family that the mother’s divorce and remarriage have created for them. Mother will be tired. On this day, I hope she can rest and feel gratitude. I hope she will love herself. Sunday, 10:00 a.m.
My son in the Philippines says my grandson who lives in the East Bay has called him to say he is pleased with his life. Sometime during the day, this grandson may call me, as well. If he doesn’t, that is all right too. My son tells me my granddaughter who lives in the Philippines now has a pit bull she calls Kaito. This strikes me as good news. Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
My former daughter-in-law took me to lunch today. Although she and her mother have a warm relationship and see each other often, today it is my turn. Two years ago when she was no longer married to my son, I promoted her to daughter and love her as my own. I hope that she can befriend her loneliness.
On this Mother’s Day I imagined myself again in a family’s sunny front room, sitting in the glider by the window, rocking their two month old, as if he were my own. I held him Saturday and will hold him again Monday. The soft sprawl of the baby boy’s body in my arms, the dream breath that catches in his throat and comes out in tiny sounds and the dampness of our touching cheeks is a gift I have been given that makes every day I hold him another Mother’s Day. He lives in my heart as do his mother and father, as if I am mother to them all. Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
It was Mother’s Day. And while I said to forget Hallmark sentiments, I did welcome the love expressed to me. I welcomed every moment when I, too, could express my love. Mother’s Day has been one more day to encourage those I love and who love me “…to touch the place of oneness within our common heart.”*
*Writer, peace activist, Danaan Parry
Fallen / unpolarized
I have a history of depression. Yet seeing Brian Copeland’s one-man show, The Waiting Period, about how Copeland dealt with his depression-induced desire to die, did not depress me. Though the show is sad, it is also funny and kind. He tells us that his real agenda has been to reach out and say to anyone who is depressed or knows depressed people that depression is an illness. With help, he understood that it was not his fault his life had suffering in it. We applauded, grateful he was willing to tell his story.
From the front row in the darkened theater, I reflected on my own relationship with this illness and on my own story. Doubtless, I had always been depressed, as a little girl, adolescent and young woman. Yet I first felt the full force when I married and had two sons within 19 months of each other before I was 24 years old while trying to graduate from college. Grief and disappointment – self-hate – exhausted me. I had so wanted to be special, someone the high achievers in the family could admire. This no longer seemed possible, at least not in a good way.
When finally, many years later my psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants, I felt life out from under depression. Ah Prozac! For the first time I could draw two complete deep breaths; tension let go of me. But about five years into Prozac, depression returned bringing with it suicidal thoughts. We switched me from Prozac to Paxil.
The nadir came in 1995 when depression really flattened me. After years and years of excelling as a high school journalism teacher and sort of feeling special, I took an illness leave. A student’s accidental death at the hands of another student and the administration’s inept handling of the event had made me too angry to be in the school. I left Southern California to live with my sister and her 16-year-old daughter in Willits, a tiny town two-and-a-half hours by car north of San Francisco. Thinking incorrectly that my sister’s life had something to teach me, I went off my medication. Attempting to fit into the life that worked for my sister, I tried to think and act in ways that didn’t suit me. Nothing I turned my hands to worked for me. I could not get hired by the Willits community newspaper. I did not get cast in a play, a role I believed I could do well. In short, I was at loose ends, lost and purposeless. Depression rose up strong with this feeling of being nothing special. I compared myself with my sister and felt myself even more wanting. I couldn’t breathe.
I could do nothing but trudge through this rural community memorizing Rumi’s poem, “Zero Circle.” Eventually, I got in bed and couldn’t get up. My sister sat a suicide watch with me and helped me to make it back to my psychiatrist in Southern California.
Once again, he put me on an antidepressant, which happened to be Zoloft because that was the sample the salesman had left him. He told me to go back to teaching as soon as possible. So I joined a staff at a year-round inner city high school in Southern California, advising the practically nonexistent newspaper and the yearbook that used three staffs, one for each of the three tracks of students that make up a year-round high school. The job was depressing, but I was not as depressed as I had been with nothing to do. Doing was what I did best to hold off depression, doing and medicating. And actually producing a yearbook was a feat of specialness, especially coupled with preventing the theft of all the cameras and computers.
In 1999 I retired to San Francisco to live upstairs above my son and then daughter-in-law. For a while, a low dose of Sertraline, a Zoloft generic, kept the illness manageable until two years ago, when again depression threatened to pull me under. But rather than increase medication, I turned to meditation and a new therapist. The work has been to befriend this part of myself, a part I have spent a lifetime pushing away. Befriending depression is not easy, and I limit its visits whenever it threatens to overstay its welcome. I have also lightened up considerably on the need to be any more special than anyone else.
So after seeing The Waiting Period and curious about my own current relationship with depression, I took diagnostic tests for the illness featured on various websites. I achieved low marks. Low marks on these tests are very good indeed! Kudos to the two of us.
The Human Condition-Homage to Rene Magritte / [piXo]
Not a week goes by that I don’t wonder if this will be the week I have nothing to write. Sometimes there’s not much to talk about and sometimes a lot happens. My original reason for writing was to encourage myself to search for the holy in the daily. But it wasn’t long before I focused on my own transformative moments. I sense there is risk in all the introspection; not risk like running naked through a flower-show but more of a “ho-hum” risk. What could be worth reading about this ordinary life?
Luckily, I often find someone else’s insights to justify doing a weekly self-disclosure. In his forward to David Shield’s Enough About YOU, Notes Toward the New Autobiography, documentary filmmaker, Ross McElwee writes “ …each of us plumbed deeply enough and from enough angles contains the entire human condition.” I like that justification for these weekly explorations – “the entire human condition.”
This week was filled with exciting options that included a day at the Zen Center learning about satipatthana, the framework for establishing mindfulness, with Gil Fronsdal; attending Acid Test, a play about Ram Dass, followed by dinner with Corky; a meeting with my meditation practice teacher who told me “no” and I didn’t cry; and being with my darling therapist, practicing asking for an apology. But I choose to spend the remaining paragraphs playing with a moment of truth from early in the week when Corky said something to me that hit home. I trust that this will speak to the entire human condition.
Corky and I needed to talk about what had happened a few nights earlier when we went to hear author Mary Roach at the Jewish Community Center. Before the lights went down my feelings were hurt, and rather than express anger at Corky, I chose to weep silently in the dimness of Kanbar Hall as Ms. Roach burbled on about flatulence and gastrointestinal juices. When Corky asked me on the ride home if something was wrong, I acknowledged feeling disrespected by what felt like her disinterest in what I was saying about myself. We set a time to talk it over. Good idea. Resentment rarely serves relationship.
A few days later we met in the patio of ‘Arlequin, sat in the sun and looked back at the incident at the JCC. In cases of hurt feelings I like to say to myself: “Hurt people hurt people.” So what had hurt Corky?
I will say here only what I understood from what she said. Her complaint was that I seem so self-absorbed that she wonders if there is any room in me for anyone else. She made a valid point. Hers is the same plaint one might make of a fishing enthusiast who chooses to spend most of his waking hours on the water. Such preoccupation tends to leave little room for anyone but a fellow enthusiast. And it is clearly irrational to expect anyone else to be as caught up in my insights and exhalations as I am. Or as I hope, on occasion, you are, keeping in mind “The Entire Human Condition.”
Anyway, I took to heart her lament. It is true. I do love to examine being me. And yet, I remember reading Pema Chodron about “self-cherishing” which is not so much about loving the self as it is about preoccupation with self, with fixing. I am grateful to Corky for saying my self-absorption made her feel left her out, much as I had, in the past, found her affection for old movies and audiobooks sometimes tiresome and excluding.
And yet what seemed called for on this occasion was less looking back and more thinking forward as to how to create a “we” space and time to be about and for each other. So I proposed a plan whereby no day goes by without kind words for the other, and emails don’t count. Kind words and time together is key, time during which we pay attention to each other. Of course, I have no control over how much attention I get. But that is not a problem. I am notoriously good at being attentive to myself.
Thus with the help of everyone who wants to be in relationship with me, especially Corky, it will be my practice to be at home in self-awareness while holding the door open to others. Welcome to my human condition.
Shadows / dvs
At the start of the week as the sun rose, I joined a mother and her two small children dancing with their shadows in the Safeway parking lot near Fillmore Center. We swayed and gestured at our dark doubles. In my jacket with wide sleeves, arms outstretched, my shadow looked like a bat. The dancing daughter said she was a fruit bat, the son, a blue water bat and the mom said she was an elephant bat. When we ended our dance, we bowed to our shadows and to each other. Then I drove home, imagining them dancing across the plaza and up Fillmore Street.
As dance partners, shadows can be great fun. Yet my relationship with my shadow has often been dark. May I remember this recent brief and lovely relationship with my shadow as I continue to face C.G. Jung’s archetypal “Shadow,” the part of me that represents all my disowned, despised, and repressed traits. Buried in the subconscious mind safe from judgments, my shadow is grounded in fear and plays out in drama and competitiveness. Sometimes it casts its darkness over other people, projecting traits that are more about me than about them. Each time I approach my shadow with curiosity and acceptance, my reactions soften, allowing me to be less heavy handed.
And now that Corky and I are again in relationship, protecting us is high on my list of priorities. And I agree with her that it is in our best interests for me not to get so angry when my feelings get hurt that I lob an empty plastic water bottle at her the way I did in the parking lot when we went to Ashland several years ago. We’re going there in June, so it makes sense that she would remind me of that episode. Part of protecting us will be recognizing when I am dealing with my shadow projection rather than with the real Corky, who, like me, just wants to be happy.
This time in our relationship I want to see and appreciate her without reading in or acting out when I am scared or intensely emotional or getting my competitive feelings stirred up. I’m guessing my shadow is in play, and this is where I can look for clues into that unskillful behavior.
Jung says the higher purpose of the shadow is to help us transform into our fullest being. He calls it “our sparring partner,” the opponent who exposes our flaws and sharpens our skills.
I know it takes a lot of honesty to face traits in myself I hate and can’t help but notice in others. I have to acknowledge they exist in me. Actually, over the two years that Corky and I were apart, Buddhism, meditation and therapy have made me more familiar with parts of my psyche that were damaged or hadn’t matured. I have learned that shame shows me where to look. I am more familiar with the strategies that keep me from feeling pain from my disowned parts. I want to continue to accept my shadow and the fear and rejection it holds, so they won’t need to be acted out so dramatically.
Like with the shadow in the parking lot, light shining on one side reveals the dark side, allowing for the dance. As for Corky and me, I hope we both learn to express our true feelings, and we make it safe to see our shadows, to forgive ourselves and each other, and to learn to accept, again and again and again.
Baby Buddha Statue / AlisonR.
I went to the home of strangers to rock a five-week old very big baby boy. I signed on to a list of baby soothers, friends and church members who could assist with the family’s newborn son a few hours each day. Because of a broken arm, the baby’s mother can’t hold him; the baby is bigger than a one-armed mother can manage. Although daddy is on paternity leave and helps, he can’t hold the baby continuously. I don’t know why I volunteered.
I hadn’t seen myself as a baby holder, yet here I was. Sometimes experiences just come along at the right time. I had heard from my meditation teacher and others that I should hold my own experiences with gentleness. Yet somehow, this had remained a concept rather than a physical reality. This week something settled in me as I gathered up the sobbing baby.
Perhaps it was into the second day of rocking the sleeping baby in the glider that I ran out of nursery rhymes. Undaunted, I sang an aria from Tale of the Missing Sock, an original opera for soprano voice inspired by one bare foot. When the baby’s mother tiptoed into the room with a glass of water, she caught the closing notes of my lament for the missing sock, a tune crooned in the soprano voice I crafted while living in Japan, where a high voice connoted a sweet and gentle woman.
Apparently, during the quiet time my gentle rocking provided, mom had been catching up on her work. For the time I was able to give her, she was exceptionally grateful. And I was grateful too. Who would have guessed how much bliss I would find cradling, rocking, singing and holding stillness for this large, sleeping baby boy.
Sunday afternoon was my third go at holding the baby, so daddy could drive the real grandmother to a friend’s house across the city and mom could sleep an hour.
Hard to believe that only three days before, I beheld a sobbing, seemingly inconsolable baby I had never seen. Nobody told me that holding this baby, his face on my shoulder, his breath sweet, his dreams sounding from his throat against my cheek could sink so deeply into my being. Yet this was what happened. Hours passed as I sang, rocked, patted and ran my hand up and down his back, occasionally adjusting his head when it lolled too far on my shoulder.
Sadness came. I had given birth to three of my own screaming, hungry sons, none of whom I could recall having held with this much patience and gentleness. My babies had not had a mother able or with time to be gentle, to give herself totally to holding, soothing and singing arias about missing socks.
Yet being with this baby is more about gladness and gratitude than about sadness and regret. My sons grew up to nurture children or pets of their own. And here I am unexpectedly with a chance to nurture myself, to experience the gentleness called up in my heart by a child of strangers. I see how I can cuddle and rock my own inner life with the same care as I cradle this baby boy.