Tag Archives: stress

Burying the Too-Good Mother

Standard

June whisking up some self-loathing for the rest of us.

I was raised in the South.  My mother was completely in love with American Camelot, so my brother and I were named after Jackie O and JFK.  The programming to be the perfect, June Cleaver, mom was baked in with a fried onion crust in lovely Cornel servingware. My mom so wanted to be June– but found the weight of being a single mom in the 70s to heavy for June’s apron strings and high-heeled vacuuming.  I’m becoming increasingly convinced that her inability to let June go fueled her alcoholism and many other (self)sabotaging behaviors.

In preparing for the upcoming e-course on using archetypes for emotional alchemy,Getting to Know YOU, I’ve been doing some work around the Too-Good mother that dies at the beginning of Vasilissa.  Many feminists have bemoaned how the mother is always dead before the curtain goes up in so many folk tales, and it can look pretty misogynistic if you don’t understand the deeper meaning…  Read more

Advertisements

Abrahamic Space

Standard

I love the Islamic depiction of Abraham. Though the Christian tradition portrayed him as so sure and certain, I had come to know Abraham through my prayer and meditation as a figure that struggled perpetually to find the Truth. One who wrestled and agonized, who God continued to challenge throughout his life.

“Get out of your country, from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” is the beginning of God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12. This pushes him to continue to spend his life in that space in between… finding solace in neither This- not yet knowing where That is, he must negotiate a space somewhere in the middle. Though he loved his father dearly, he could not abide with the idolatry that was not only a part of his society, but had put food in his belly and a roof over his head all of his life. He literally becomes a voice in the wilderness- leaving his family and society behind to go find God.

The rest of the promise in Genesis 12 is that of making him a great nation. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, beginning the story of Abraham with this great promise lays a foundation of certainty. Yet though the promise gave him the strength and courage to leave behind his home and family, surely he wrestled with it. The idea of him puffing his chest out with pride and arrogant assurance, pushing the villagers aside as he set off to establish a nation is absurd.

He left with a heavy heart. The Qur’an tells us in many places of how he continued to pray for his father over the years.

The Qur’anic depiction in Al-An’am beginning at 6:74 of Abraham’s leaving home and beginning his search in the desert is so poignant, so tender and human. There were likely many who did not believe in the idols, who saw the vanity of the practice, but did not act upon it. In acting in line with his convictions–despite the social consequences–Abraham is shown the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth. The veils are dropped from his eyes so that his heart would be strengthened.

There is the certainty of knowing that the idols are false, but when darkness falls, he searches for light- only to be disappointed when faced with the temporal nature of the stars. His repulsion for that which sets sends him to expand his search- to look beyond, to look under, to find that which is bigger. He turns to the moon, only to realize that he’s made the same mistake. “Surely if You do not guide me I will be of those who go astray” he calls to God. The search and the struggle of the search help him build his relationship with God. Each verse indicates hours and days watching, questioning, nights awake searching the heavens. Questions, answers, questioning the answers…

Though frightened and unsure, Abraham pressed on. He left all he’d ever known–the physical “certainties”–to search for something that existed only in his heart. He was scared, but still he went. This is what makes Abraham so inspiring as a religious character, and so prescient as a role model. This is where his faith and bravery lies: though he was scared, still he followed. Though he had no physical proof, still he had faith in that to which his heart alone attested. Though his mind fluttered and whirred, still he did not leave the tree that had sprouted from the convictions of his heart. Each time his mind returned to the branch, the tree strengthened, the roots deepened, and he was brought closer to God.

Abraham’s relationship to God is marked by great sacrifices: to ask a tribal desert-dweller to leave their family and society is worse than death. Indeed, what makes Abraham’s story so relevant to our lives today is that even now we still find this to be a terribly frightening prospect. We define ourselves by our families, our culture, our geography, our language, our food, the religious practice we were raised with… Abraham left all of these things and embarked on a unique path. He would not lose that rugged individualism and continued to live and act in ways that were far from the societal norms, but were in alignment with the convictions of his heart, and his relationship with his Creator. Abraham shows us that questioning does not necessarily mean the dissection and death of faith, but is rather the basis and edification of True faith.

In working with Muslim immigrant families while living in The Netherlands, I saw these children and youth- who others saw as caught between two worlds- as living in Abrahamic Space. Little did I know at the time that 5 times a day they asked God to help them follow the Path of Abraham as part of their daily prayers. I often wonder if Muslims ever think about what that really means… to leave not only your country, but your father’s house… to wander in the desert-exposed to every danger imaginable- in order to find God.

I wonder how many believers of any faith think about the amount of questioning Abraham engaged in to become so close to God… If we really consider the magnitude of the actions that he took as a result of the answers he received… If we ever wonder how religions founded by someone so unique, intellectually curious, and individualistic could become so rigidly conformist and anti-intellectual… how we could ever come to fear that space in between- that Abrahamic Space of the Middle Way.

Dark places and hard times

Standard

Was listening to a webinar yesterday led by Fabienne Frederickson on the breakthrough mindset of successful people, and she said something about “those times we’d rather not re-live.”  I was struck by her very careful word choice…  We all know the times she’s talking about: those times that squeeze and even pinch us.  The ones where we’re struggling to get a breath.  Where our sources of comfort turn brittle.

The places that show us that we’re still not over those abandonment issues. Where the sense of betrayal is so intense it becomes physically palpable.  I remember one such time, I literally heard my heart breaking.  It made a sound- like cloth being ripped down the middle.

I noticed that she didn’t say “those times we all wished had never happened” or “those times we’d rather forget”.  She said “those times we’d rather not re-live.”

There is an acknowledgment here.  A nodding to the difficulty, of course, but an awareness of the role that difficulty played in making us who we are today.  Like bones that need the muscles to pull on them and create resistance to keep them strong, so too do we need those difficult times to lengthen our souls so we can reach to the sky.

Remaining in that awareness keeps our heart and mind open so that we can effectively navigate the rocks and choppy waters when we’re in them.  In the tale of Vasilissa, the little doll in her pocket often replies “Say your prayers. Get your rest.  The morning is wiser than the evening.”

When we find ourselves in the middle of a crisis, stepping back to surrender to the moment brings us peace.  That peace enables us to see solutions we would be blind to if we let anxiety and fear take over.  When anxiety reaches a certain level, it literally severs dendrite connections in the brain. When the anxiety levels reduce, the dendrites will reconnect- like a game of Red Rover.  Its easy to understand how rising fear and anxiety levels diminishes our ability to find the solutions right in front of us.  We need to find our rest.

Once rested, it all seems to fall in to place.  Things don’t seem as terrible as we’d thought. We’re on the other side; we got past the trolls under the bridge. We’ve made it through the night and find ourselves in the light of morning.

So was all that really necessary?  Did we have to go through all that to get here?  As Joseph Campbell would ask, what is the gift in that dark place?  (I love how this post handles that question!  I mean, what do you do when your hood pops up and smashes your windshield while driving down the road??  I got all kinds of messages from my closet collapsing, I can only imagine how much she was able to mine from that experience).Baba Yaga crashing through the forest

Returning to the story of Vasilissa, at first glance, it’d be easy to say that the work she’s forced to do for her step mother and step sisters and the work she does for Baba Yaga are equally soul-crushing, yet both are freeing her in different ways.  Both are teaching her vital lessons about who she is, who others are, and how the world works.  Both are teaching her about power- though in different ways.

It is because of this work, because of this hardship–not in spite of it– that Vasilissa is able to return home with the light of Wisdom gone before.  Because of having worked through the difficulties that this light- scary though it is- is her helpmate rather than an adversary.

For Christians, today is a yearly reminder of the power of those hard places and dark times.  Easter morning is a celebration of the triumph of the light, the return of spring after a hard and long winter–a theme in religions and cultures round the world and throughout recorded time… yet there would be no celebration had there not been the cave.  No heart-expanding world-shifting forgiveness had there not been such deep betrayal.  This is where the Christ figure paves the way and shows the example– release of bitterness when faced with persecution from those he’d helped.  Forgiveness at the hands of betrayal.  Reaching for connection in times of abandonment.

The tendency to close down and harden in such times is fierce.  To choose instead to open up and soften –after a period of solitude– unlocks a deeply transformative power into our lives and in those around us.

How do we do that?  Release our grip on resentment and bitterness.  See how we contributed to our relationship with the metaphorical step-families in our lives.   Look past our fear of the Baba Yagas to see what they gave us.  Choose openness and dialogue instead of walls and defenses.  Practice looking past what makes us afraid to the Love it has to offer.

The stories we tell ourselves

Standard

The stories we tell ourselves have a phenomenal power over our lives.  They shape how we interpret events, how we experience our relationships, even what we pay attention to.

There is an reflective writing exercise that I do with my clients to close out my Success Skills Set session.  ”The problem with the mind is that it believes what it thinks” is the Byron Katie quote that lays at the top of the page.  How seldom do we challenge our thoughts? Our perceptions? Our beliefs?  Yet how we think about the world around and inside us dictates how we feel about it.  How we feel about the world inside and around us determines how we behave, and how we behave determines our future, our character, our integrity.

Examining our assumptions about ourselves and the world around us is worth some consideration.

Shortly after bringing home my new kitties, my son and I were watching them stalk, pounce upon, and wrestle with one another.  Sometimes its hard to imagine that they weren’t going to hurt one another- or that they despised each other- yet they’d be curled around one another in the blanket basket an hour later grooming one another and settling in for a nap between each others’ paws.  ”Well, that’s how you learn about the world, right? From fighting with your brothers and sisters” my only child remarked.  It struck me speechless at the time.

739842_4268643518855_1105201548_o

When they’re not shredding each other, they’re quite affectionate.

Later, I was watching the kitties going after each other again- much stronger now, their tactics much more refined.  It was clear to me that as scrabbling siblings, they would be much more able to find their way in the wilder world than if they didn’t fight as often and as fiercely as they did.  They were more nimble, more cunning, more strategic because they were being perpetually challenged in a way that a human caretaker wouldn’t be able to imitate.

Indeed, it seemed that the natural world testified that fighting with our siblings is one of the many ways the young are prepared for the world they’ll have to navigate as adults.  So where did we get the idea that there was something wrong with our families if we fought with our siblings? How did this idea that there was something wrong with us, with them, with our families because we fought–ironically enough–intensify the fighting?  Take it from the realm of playful but informative parries & thrusts to soul-wounding experiences that damaged our sense of security and self-esteem?

Mind you, I’m not advocating parents leaving children to rip each other to shreds– managing conflict and dispute and moving to forgiveness is part of the skill-set we need to be effective and productive adults.  What I am saying is that shifting our perception of the role of fighting would enable us to manage that conflict better.  Forgiveness would be almost unnecessary–do you need to forgive the people that you see as being integral to helping you develop the survival skills that have brought you this far?

How different would our lives be if we expected this to be a part of childhood? Saw it as perfectly normal and natural, and even a part of our education and preparation for adulthood?

Shifts things a bit, doesn’t it?

The stories we tell ourselves deeply effect our lives; our motivation, our sense of esteem, our confidence, our optimism.  Motivation, confidence, and optimism deeply impact our performance and outcomes.  Oftentimes, the answer to our performance issues doesn’t lie in getting more hours of contact with the information, or more organized with our schedules, but in addressing the stories we’re telling ourselves about our capacity and capabilities.  About what success means.  About what failure means.  How many “this always happens to me”s are you carrying around? Sure, getting enough contact with the information in a way that works for us is crucial, as is developing an organizational system we’ll actually use.  But if we have these things and we can’t manage to stay on track, its time to look deeper.

Do we think success will call us to leave something we cherish behind? Are we using failure to protect our self-esteem?

What stories are you living by? Are they serving you?  To find out, just start paying attention to the stories that run across your mind.  How does your body feel when you’re in these narratives? How do they impact how you see yourself? How do they impact your relationships with others?  Just watch and see what happens.

Are there other options? Is  the story you’ve been telling yourself the only interpretation of what’s going on? What could be some other interpretations?

Paying attention to what we tell ourselves is a very powerful way to put ourselves into the driver’s seat of our own lives.  Mind you, I’m talking about paying non-judgmental attention here: to judge, we’re likely telling ourselves another story. Try non-judgmental observation of your stories for a week.  What do you notice?