Separation: On the (Almost) Anniversary of My Mother’s Death

My mother died on September 23, 2011, one day before my birthday, and just a few months shy of her 86th birthday.

I’ve been grieving all year in many ways: imagining I just saw her (wasn’t it yesterday?),  re-reading old letters from her, recalling the sound of her voice, feeling her as me when I raise my arm, or move in a certain way that feels like her. I’ve been nursing old wounds and experiencing some shame and guilt about ways I know I hurt or begrudged her in small and not so small ways. I’ve been especially aware of both her limitations and  her brilliance, her passion and her steadfastness in the face of my resistance. I have been aware of the deep longing to understand and be understood that we shared. I’ve massaged the tender places where her love always managed to penetrate my prickliness.

I’ve been missing my mother, and wondering who in the world I am without her. I’ve seen that I am actually just as attached to my mother as I was when I was a tiny girl.

And I’ve been dreaming for several months that I’m in an intense struggle to separate from this attachment. It’s as if I’ve been trying to loosen the grip on myself as a reflection of  my mother’s image of me. Even though I’ve been certain that this image limits me, I’ve clung to it, because it has felt safer and more familiar than any alternative. I haven’t been sure I could live without this reflection.

A friend recently announced her own discovery that she actually was, in a profound way, no longer her mother’s daughter. I was stunned at this revelation. I had never imagined this possibility for myself; I didn’t even know what it meant, or whether it was something I wanted for myself.

I never thought I’d be able to say goodbye to my mother, or to the house she lived in for almost 50 years. I visited in July with my brothers and sisters, and felt her presence, not only through the many things we divided among ourselves, but underneath the layers of paint and wallpaper we uncovered as we prepared the house for sale. Mom kept surfacing. I shed many tears with my family, and resisted leaving. When I eventually did, I felt certain I would need to return at least once more to say goodbye in the quiet of solitude: just me, my mother and these reflected images, together for one last time.

But something is shifting in the past few days and weeks. I am aware of a dark, spacious emptiness; no longer the aching void of loss, but a deep, black, peaceful spaciousness within. It’s a watery depth, imbued with shimmering light and immense quiet. In my mind’s eye I can see my mother’s image moving soundlessly across this fluid surface, away from me into a watery distance, carried in a tiny boat just large enough for one. She moves calmly, no looking back, with measured strokes. She’s moving on, leaving me alone, but not lonely, feeling whole and complete without her: not deficient, not missing anything, but completely alone. A deep, peaceful clarity has me aware that I need nothing at this moment: not even a mother.

I don’t know if I can (or need to) say that I am no longer my mother’s daughter. She lives with me in my memories and dreams, through all that she helped to nurture and create and all who ever experienced her deep brown eyes.

My mother is gone now, leaving me utterly without a reference point, other than the smooth, glass-like surface of the black water that is even now flowing through me, carrying me on its current, to parts unknown, with no rudder, no paddle, no anchor: no idea of who I am.

Goodby, Mom.  And thank you for helping me to grasp more about the true meaning of separation. I’m ok.

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Take Good Care

I usually end my emails with the closing, “Take good care.” I’ve been doing it for years, probably since I first became aware of how careless I have historically been about my own self care, and how this carelessness has resulted in harm to me, and has also diminished my capacity to be of service to others.

Yesterday I had occasion to revisit my own relationship to care and carelessness: I woke with the awareness that the skin of my left hand was so raw and chapped that it was actually peeling off my palm in tiny threads. I instantly recalled how, the previous day, I had used an abrasive cleanser to clean the chrome on my claw foot tub. I remember my decision to take on this little project, which I’d been putting off, but which I had finally made time for. But I couldn’t find any rubber gloves. I thought for a nano-second about searching, or stopping to run and buy some: I well know how sensitive my skin is to abrasive cleaners, and, how important it is for me to pay attention to what goes onto and into my body.

But I barreled ahead with the project, noting the gathering momentum that had already begun to override my better judgment: it’s a familiar pattern of pushing through to completion once I’ve started something, propelled by the urge to “just do it!” even if I am lacking the proper equipment.

This is such a habit for me: the push to act without being completely intentional about it…  impulsively moving … determined to make something happen, regardless of whether it’s done well or completely or purposefully.

So, I was now, yesterday, paying the price for my carelessness, applying hand lotion to my raw palm almost hourly. Thankfully, my hand will recover quickly… at least on the surface.

My mishap makes me want to take another look at how I care for myself, and what’s really going on when I forsake myself in small ways such as this for the sake of some immediate gratification like a sparkling bathtub.

Over the years I’ve become increasingly aware of what supports me and enables me to function at my best.  And as my self-awareness increases, I am noticing this old impulse to barrel ahead, almost as soon as it begins to take me away from myself.

I had such a moment just before cleaning that tub, when I caught myself wondering if I should stop and look for gloves. It’s actually progress to note this, because it’s indication that there is the beginning of space… to pause and check in and ask myself what it is that I am really meaning to do. It’s not easy to halt the pull of inertia, so this is my practice now: to notice and pause long enough to reflect for a moment. If I’d done that the other day, simply stopped and asked myself what was important in that moment, I know I would have found the time to either locate a pair of gloves or purchase a new pair. I really did have the time available to do the task… it wasn’t necessary to damage my hand.

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Lighten Up!

My son surprised me recently by returning after a conversation we’d had a bit earlier in the day to tell me that he wanted to apologize for his reaction and hasty retreat, but also wanted to give me some feedback. I am learning that I don’t need to brace myself for feedback… that when offered, it is always a gift from someone who cares about me, and that it always includes something about the truth… something I want to listen to and learn from.

So this time, I just relaxed and invited him to tell me what he wanted to say.

“You did that thing that you’ve said other people have mentioned to you. You know, where you are trying to explain something, and it really comes across as arrogant and like you know better than I do and that I should really pay attention even though I am not asking for advice or your opinion. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

Well, as it turns out, I do. And we had a long conversation about my intensity and my passion for sharing things I know and how it seems that especially when his Dad isn’t around to redirect, my son and I can get deeper into a conversation than either of us intends… pretty quickly.
“You need a hobby,” he said to me. “I mean, lighten up. Sometimes it would be nice to just have a conversation about nothing really important. With you,  it’s almost always so serious.”

Seriously. I mean to lighten up. I intend to lighten up. I think I’ll try painting. This writing thing is not going as I’d imagined.  I just bought a new water color pallate yesterday, and I’m sure all my friends want to see my bad art work even more than my bad writing. In the mean time, I’ve been playing with my finger painting application.

Am I humiliating myself if I don’t really care what people think of what I’m doing?

Hee-hee.

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Finding Ground (aka Focus Interruptus)

Today I am trying to stay in my body… to keep my somewhat manic energy… (which for me includes the feeling of being ungrounded, but energized in a way that produces the stimulating feeling of excitement, vitality, limitless possibility) … from taking over. It requires vigilance, and a constant refocusing of my attention to my body… my arms, legs, and breath.

The mania is attractive, even seductive, based as it is in the pleasure principle.  But without  ground, my energy is simply discharged into the atmosphere. It shows up as erratic pursuits at cross-purposes from one another… lots of excitable beginnings and flights in one direction and then another, and a general tendency to be captured by every passing whim. I coached a client once with this same tendency and we named it the Labrador puppy effect: the habit of being highly distracted by every passing shadow and floating bit of flotsam. Well… it applies to me as well at the moment.

I witnessed myself during meditation today dreaming up an entire book outline…. In a few short moments, I had satisfied my desire to actually accomplish the writing of the book: the experience in my mind had me rapt. I kept returning to the endless stream of thoughts about what the book chapters could be titled, and even though I would return my attention to breath and belly throughout, and re-ground myself in the present moment, my habit of mind had me returning to the pleasure of the fantasy.

It was exciting and stimulating… dynamic and unbounded.

Unbounded is generally something I “strive for”: the feeling of being freed from the shackles of what I believe keeps me down. But in this case, with no ground, the mania is a disturbance of the mind… the other side of which, as I know, is depression.  I know from experience that the mania will ultimately become its opposite and leave me depleted and waning, deflated and collapsed. This is a pattern for me, so I was watching it like a hawk today, without really being able to stop it completely. It’s been a practice all day… returning from this scattered place.

My work is to find more ground for what I really am up to with my writing. This involves seeing things realistically, and staying with the writing itself even when it isn’t going anywhere. It involves following a story line, rather than inventing twenty new ones that are also interesting to me. Some synthesis is at the bottom of all of this, if I can stay quiet instead of reacting to every impulsive flight of fantasy, remain patient with myself as the manic energy returns and takes me, for a moment, and a dip into Facebook, or the refrigerator.

There is something to be said for sitting at my desk and writing for the prescribed time, whether anything emerges or not. I’m revisiting a wonderful book called Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, by Winifred Gallagher. In her chapter entitled, “Focus Interruptus” she makes this point:

Compared to a more naturally focused but less motivated person, the individual who really cares for a subject ‘will return to it incessantly from his incessant wanderings, and first and last do more with it, and get more results from it.’

Well, one thing I know for sure is that I care deeply about my topic, my work, my purpose, my offer, my contribution to leadership and to those who dare to be disturbed, those who desperately want to live life in color, and those who seek to bring consciousness to the workplace for the sake of work that works for everyone.

That, for now, is my ground. I think I’ll sit with that.

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I dwell in possibilities

I’ve been writing some drafts of blog posts, but cannot seem to ready another piece at this time. Instead, I’ll share this image as inspiration for the moment. Is this the way it’s going to be? Am I dreaming?

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Original Mind

A friend told me the other day that one of the things she admires about me is that I have an original mind: I put things together in surprising ways that would never occur to her. I was a bit taken aback,  and yes, my little ego wanted to take credit for this, to own this characterization. But is it accurate? I thought about what this might mean: an original mind.

As I inquired more specifically I acknowledged that in a certain way I do have an original mind… just as you do. Each person has a particular way of assimilating, synthesizing, organizing, filtering and sorting moment-to-moment experience.  No two humans have ever done this precisely the same way. And we are always making meaning… or trying to. So each of us has equal access to original mind, which is a birthright of human beings. If you don’t see it that way (and I’m right there with you in not really seeing myself as original, unless it’s when I’m experiencing some kind of distorted grandiosity), then it’s hiding in shadow.

Don’t take my word for it. Does anyone else think the same thoughts you do? Even if you share many “likes” with others, and lots of history, personality traits and aspirations, the special blend of biology, history, psychology, feelings, sensations, etc. produces your unique and idiosyncratic pattern of thinking.; And the thoughts that seem to play endlessly and unconsciously, without your permission? These, too,  come through you in a way that is unique to you. Your expression is as original as your fingerprint.

On the other hand, claiming ownership of your originality is a mistake. Our thoughts aren’t our own: We think they originate within our minds, because we forget, or don’t realize, that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. Taking credit for our originality is analogous to, say, your finger taking credit for the idea to point.

Does this make sense to you? What do you think about the notion that your thoughts, while uniquely expressed through you, do not belong to you? I’d love to know your thoughts on this subject.

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Promises… promises

I promised myself I would post daily for some undetermined time frame. Today, I am posting simply to fulfill the letter,  if not the spirit of the promise. I am seeing quicker than I imagined that I will need to let some of my writing cool off before publishing. What I have been working on today relates to an expression of what I call my offer. This might take several drafts… or might come out as bits and pieces. I do like the idea of writing in little bits: I wonder if bits of writing can ever become “whole cloth,” like a coat.

I see there is no escape from myself: I’m relentless now that I’ve made this commitment. It’s a struggle to practice, and my friend Ann G. reminds me through inquiry, “So, it sounds like you have the idea that life isn’t supposed to include struggle?” Good point, Ann: I know that any kind of growth requires immense struggle and even worse… some kind of giving up of ideas that we are incredibly attached to. That said, the practice itself is killing the delusion of perfection.

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