The existence of a speck of dust makes everything possible. If dust does not exist, neither does the universe, nor you, nor I. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Upon a trunk is a framed photograph of my mother, a hand painted photograph, of her when she was young. When my eyes linger I’m introduced to unabashed joy. Before it are three small framed images … her first born – my sister D, and her two sons – C and L.
It is an image of my mother I do not hold in memory…invisible like my father’s. It is of a young woman before she was a widow with three children, a twice divorced, and finally a woman married to T, her first love.
She named her sons after their fathers. Her last two born are daughters, M and S. Within M’s name is Faith. Within S’s name, Joy. A mother’s blessing.
Then there is I…her second born who as a teen exhausted her. “Do I have to?” she responded to a police officer’s question, “Is this your child?”
A mother-daughter relationship defined as “complex.”
My secret childhood fantasy was to come home from school — the afternoon sun warming the kitchen…she standing in the kitchen — and I would hear, “Be more gentle when closing the door.”
Not the vibrations of more gentle but the sounds of more gentle. She could hear…she could hear me…my voice. My faith, my faith despite being the size of a mustard seed was felt by God.
She has come to visit many times as I dust these photographs … often remembering the visit after L’s funeral. She shared that the only time in her life she regretted being deaf was after I told her that within the sound of his girlfriend’s voice was D’s.
This I believe open the door to the realization that if my childhood self had succeeded in finding and pulling out the thread of deafness in the tapestry of my mother’s life, she would no longer be. If she no longer was, then the universe of my life would not exist. It was she, her total being that made everything possible.
The true person is Not anyone in particular; But, like the deep blue color Of the limitless sky, It is everyone, everywhere in the world.
Yesterday my mother came to visit…it was a remembered touch that announced her arrival not as the frail woman with a fierce determination time had transformed from the woman who carried with her the stature of Danish Vikings…warriors, explorers, conquerors, survivors. The English genes of a woman whose life was colored by an incessant search for security, an unquestioning moral and social mandate, and an aloneness I did not know.
She visited as my mom and walked alongside me as I gathered the ingredients for homemade soup, she watched me — with discerning eyes — as I made the bed and gathered the laundry, and she sat with me as I flipped through a photo book of fading memories. Memories…the mundane moments swept away into darkness by brooms of discontent, negation, and yes…shame. The shame that arises from a felt sense of a marginalized family’s “being different.”
She woke the memory within the shifting images of a night when I saw her sitting alone within the silence of deafness nested within the silence of night. Before her was a topsy-turvy pile of children’s scuffed and worn shoes. I watched her from the doorway, hiding as I did not want to be sent back to bed, slowly polishing each one and then matching them into pairs, forming a straight row — creating a sense of order. When her eyes acknowledged my presence, she invited me to sit alongside her. Moments passed as I felt her listening presence…a mother and a daughter sitting quietly in a dimly lit room, a protective barrier.
As this remembering faded, I felt a gentle gaze that spoke of a silent loving-kindness. It was as if she came from a place of waiting knowing that the barriers that blocked me from being receptive to the multiple color threads that weaved her life had begun to weaken and fade and — for the first time — I entered, felt, and embraced her aloneness. And she, in return, eased the discontent that ebbs and flows throughout this time of uncertain isolation.
I have often wondered, since her passing, that if we had met – not as mother-daughter but as children in a playground would she have wanted to be my friend?
First published on April 2, 2020 … Stay at Home Order … day 8
In China a person who will not forget the past is described as ‘one who did not drink Old Lady Meng’s soup.’ Borrowed from Buddhist folklore, Old Lady Meng dispenses the Broth of Oblivion to souls leaving the last realm of the underworld on their way to reincarnation. After drinking her soup, the soul is directed to the Bridge of pain that spans a river of crimson water. There, two demons lie in wait: Life-Is-Not-Long and Death-is-Near. They hurl the soul into waters that will lead to new births.
Old Lady Meng is more than a quaint antidote for the Greeks’ Mnemosyne. She embodies a psychological understanding about the forces that promote, indeed demand, forgetting for the sake of ongoing life. It is not enough to note that water is linked with amnesia in Chinese folklore as much the same way that the river Lethe is associated with forgetting in Greek mythology. The challenge here is to make sense of the distinctively Chinese attachment to remembrance in spite of the benefits of Old Lady Meng’s soul.
In Jewish tradition, too, the benefits of amnesia were acknowledged along with the sacred commitment to recollection. There is a midrash, or Torah-based story, that teaches us a lesson similar to that of Lady Meng: ‘God granted Adam and Eve an all-important blessing as they were about to leave the Garden of Eden: I give you, He said, ‘the gift of forgetfulness.” What is so precious about amnesia? Why would God, who demands fidelity to memory, offer the relief from recollection?Perhaps it is because without some ability to forgive and forget we might become bound by grudges and hatred. To remember everything may be immobilizing. To flee from memory, however, leads to an ever more debilitating frenzy.(40-41)**
…the scent of mothballs signals the opening of a small steamboat trunk entrusted with long-forgotten memorabilia. Carefully placed upon a layer of women’s 1930 era clothing are three stacks of yellow ribbon-tied envelopes. Within each are hand-written letters reminiscent of second grade penmanship inquiring, “Dear Mother, how are you? Fine I hope.” On the left side is a stationery box filled with certificates of marriage, birth, baptism, and death intermingled with a child’s brilliantly colored drawings.
Beneath the box is a small silk sachet holding a solitary diamond engagement ring and an ivory locket. At the bottom of the trunk, children’s books and wooden blocks with carved letters surround a miniature wooden rocking chair and a one-button eyed velvety-patched teddy bear. I become distracted from the remaining contents as black and white photograph images softly held within the folds of a woman’s garnet silk dress glide in the air and scatter on the floor.
The photographic images are a visual memoir of a young family where trust once allowed two young sisters to roam free throughout a field of tall, yellowed grass. “How many days,” my questioning mind wonders, “how many days were left before the decline of my father’s health shifted the lights of a colorful present into the gray-shaded time of waiting?” Within this stillness of waiting, memory tells of a young child seeking solace through repetitive rocking behaviors and of a father’s fragile heart enduring a turbulent wait for a donated aorta.
I hear compassion speak to my heart and I begin to feel how my father intuitively knew of my inner turmoil and of the tranquil stillness within rhythmic repetition. His gift of a rocking chair tells me some fifty years after his death of the multiple emotional and physical sufferings within his suffering, the interconnectedness of the suffering within the family, and of his wish to ease our suffering.
As the fabric of the dress glides between my fingertips, the shadow of grief that holds the memories of my son emerges from a compartment hidden within the trunk. An old fear awakens as the image of grief’s blackened shadow looms over me with its death-filled abyss of intermingled condemnation, uncertainty, and emptiness. I feel the void that will consume me if I were to release the eternal care of my son to its embrace. I come to know that I hold no trust that within death is compassionate loving-kindness. Awareness arises to tell me that as I run from grief with the anguish of powerlessness to protect the heart of my soul, like an addict running from her addiction, grief becomes even more insidious. In this undifferentiated chaos of anguish, fear, and mistrust there is hope [larger than a mustard seed] which seeks for the magical garment when donned will transform me into the Great Mother. It is childhood faith that clings to the belief that as God witnesses this transformation, absolution and reconciliation would simultaneously subdue this impenetrable monster and return my son, whole with the spirit of life, to…*
cited: B Koeford, A Mediative Journey with Saldage
Individuals have within themselves vast resources for self understanding and for altering their self concepts, basic attitudes, and self directed behavior; these resources can be tapped if a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided. ~ Carl Rogers
I am acquainted with a mind filled with multiple crosscurrents of unfinished thoughts, stifled emotions, and passing moods. There is also a growing recognition that at times I am overwhelmed by discursive thoughts that are formed by habitual ways of thinking, led by my own various prejudices, impacted by personal preferences or aversions, colored by laziness or selfishness, and intensified by faulty or superficial observations. Sometimes I awaken to myself to find that while engaged in a behavior, my mind has entered a dreamlike state, and therefore events and conversations are vague and fragmentary.Sometimes I acknowledge this process or attribute it to boredom, anxiety, doubt, impatience, exhaustion, misjudgments, and self-salient triggers.
Protecting oneself, one protects others; protecting others, one protects oneself . . . And how does one, in protecting oneself, protect others? By the repeated and frequent practice of meditation.
And how does one, in protecting others, protect oneself? By patience and forbearance, by a non-violent and harmless life, by loving kindness and compassion.” But self-protection is not selfish protection. It is self-control, ethical and spiritual self-development. ~ The Buddha
Every healing intervention is motivated by suffering and hope – be it of the individual, family, friends, or a community agency.The value within suffering is that it contains a message of incongruence that awakens the motivation to heal. William James wrote that life is the manifestation of behaviors that attempt to avoid, overcome, or remove that which is seen to block us from that which we desire.
The personal story is a narrative of our unique sense of identity.We create our identities through the stories we weave onto a tapestry that is formed against the background of our family mythologies. We pull threads from of an assemblage of recalled details from our pasts and weaved them into images that cast us in whatever role corresponds with our current situations, feelings, thoughts, or actions. The colored threads of this tapestry are often re-embroidered to reflect the creative and dynamic process of our perspectives as we shift in, out, and between various roles, feeling states, and cognitions.As we reflect on our self-created images we are in turn affected by them; therefore, there is an unconscious re-weaving of our tapestries.
Our self-stories as well as our family mythologies create and maintain our identities and thus influence how we anticipate experiences, act, and subsequently interpret our situation.Becoming aware of the tapestry and images we are creating frees us to review patterned behaviors, reframe our story through different colored concepts, and to release rigid interpretations.
Within … a supportive and non-judgmental environment, each is invited into a process of bare attention that is non-coercive as they uncover the seeds of their suffering and thus begin to strengthen their recovery with renewed energy.It is after a meeting during the quiet of one’s alone time that each attendee begins a process of dismissing what is personally invalid, questioning harmful behavioral patterns, or replacing painful concepts with constructive meanings.They, through their own individual reflection, take what is helpful for them at the moment and let the rest flow away.
Through this process of externalization, validation, and reformation an individual is being invited to become other to herself as if she were the audience in a movie theatre watching her life story being retold on a screen.Consequently, a new relationship with the self is formed that lessens the suffering that comes out of subjective rigidity, alienation of self as “the only one”, and attachment to shame and guilt.
Excerpts: Koeford, B., A Meditative Journey with Saldage