Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Every day is Strange

Today was a strange day.  Maybe all days are strange?  In the morning I heard that Tricycle magazine will use my mixed media "Forest Buddha" in their summer issue, yay!  In the evening when I talked to my mother on the phone she told me that the doctor had been round to visit her and she has decided to slowly go off the medications she takes, in an effort "to speed up the process" as she puts it.  She is 94 and has multiple health issues and as she sometimes likes to say, she is half dead and the other half refuses to go.  

If you've read this blog before you will know that my relationship with my mother is not an easy one.  I find her prickly and difficult.  So here is the challenge.  Of course I want to be compassionate and helpful to my mother through her process of leaving this world, at least some part of me does.  But to be very truthful a part of me doesn't want to do the work, feel the pain, or just be with her.  In many ways it would be easier to feel angry toward her and push her away, to grumble and blame.  And there in lies my work, to do the best I can, to try to be helpful, yet to acknowledge my own humanness.  So it will be an interesting ride.  Part of me eyes her suspiciously, what will she get up to now?  Part of me feels exhausted before I even start.  Couldn't I buy a ticket to somewhere else? (also today a friend sent me an email that said "Discover the Buddha by Indian Rail")  Doesn't that sound more interesting?  But here I am and I will muddle along this leg of the journey as best I can, sometimes with a flat tire, sometimes on my bike, with the wind in my hair.  

My mother knows how to push my buttons, that's for sure.  I used to think it was intentional but I have come to see recently (as I peel off the layers of projection) that in truth she doesn't know how to be anything but prickly.  She is like a little porcupine trapped inside that shell of quills, firing them off in all directions.  She doesn't even know that she can take this little costume off any time she likes, in fact she believes the zipper is stuck and she can't possibly get out.

I have picked an old book from the shelf this evening, Sogyal Rinpoche's "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying".  It will be good to read this, although at this point I can feel the hard knot of resistance in me, this feeling of my mother making me do this, of wanting something from me.  We have a long history of this.  In the book, Rinpoche says "the dying need our unconditional love, but in some situations this may be far from easy.  We may have a long history of suffering with this person ...."  And then he suggest two ways of working with this "first, look at the dying person in front of you and think of that person as just like you, with the same needs, the same fundamental desire to be happy and avoid suffering, the same loneliness, the same fear of the unknown .... The second way, and I have found this even more powerful, is to put yourself directly and unflinchingly in the dying person's place. ... What would you most need? like?"  Not bad advice for being with the living either, don't you think?  So if my mother is the porcupine, I am the furtive little ground squirrel, peeking my head out of it's hole, hoping not to get my furry little self ripped or torn.  Wish me luck and courage.


  1. My heart goes out to you after reading this blog today. I know, I know, I know... The mother thing. I too am entangled in a dance with my mother that is most unpleasant, and feel all those feelings that you do! I struggle with this issue all the time, especially since any contact with her seems to anger me - all the time. Yes, part of it is this self-centered orientation that you've also talked about. But there seems to be so much more...

    Monday after a phone conversation with her I spent the next 2-3 hours stewing and ranting, feeling particularly paralyzed by the pain that was underneath all the anger, and just wanting to run, to be somewhere else - to move away - not wanting the responsibility of an aging parent who is needing more and more help. It wasn't til hours later that I went to the cushion to just sit with it all.

    And this is the realization that came through. I share it with you in case it may help you as well... Not as a cure all, but it offered me a itsy, bitsy window opening to *see* through the anger and pain.

    I realized that all my "issues" with my mother are just thoughts *about* the issues. They are thoughts that are *believed* to be relevant, to be true - feelings that are *believed* - creating emotion - creating suffering, mentally and emotionally. These believed thoughts create disturbances that hijack my true "Self." (I think Byron Katie speaks of this in her book Loving What Is, and Gangaji in Diamond in Your Pocket speaks of the stories we tell ourselves, etc.)

    The question is - I wrote in my journal - do I *really* want to give up the thoughts *about* my mother and our difficult relationship? Do I really want to let go? I have to look at this. Do I want to give up my personal "suffering" around this issue - my personal victimization? If I actually *see* the issue as it is, mother as she is, *without* the thoughts about it/her I will have to give up my story about it all, give up the wounding, the emotional reactiveness. I will actually have to see *through* it, to see beyond it, past the pain and hurt.

    I also observed that I had become *attached* to this dance that my mother and I do. I am *attached* to the drama of it all, entangled in the web of beliefs *about* my mother and her motives and actions, her lack of nurturing and mothering, and of course to the story of my pain and wounding, etc.

    So that is the awareness that is *gradually* beginning to dawn here. The awareness did not bring instant, immediate relief, but it brought perspective.

    The other thing that I do that helps is when I sit on the cushion and feel that sense of Beingness that we are in the Stillness, I then invite my mother in to that space of Vastness. I sometimes experience her as an "energy", or the bolus of emotions in the body that arise when I think of her - and then just meet that, just touch up against that in the Spaciousness. This approach, from the space of Being, takes the "sting" out of the relationship and allows me to just be with it, to hold the space there and just see what happens - to let it unwind. What often happens is that my feelings around my mother issues *begin* to soften - until I take up the next thought and run with it :)

    I imagine I'll be on the cushion with this for a long, long time... I'm a slow learner :)

    I hope this was helpful. I know this was a long one...

    From my heart to yours - Christine

    PS - A big congratulations on getting your painting into Tricycle!

  2. Thank-you so much for all your helpful and insightful commentary! It is very touching to me that you have shared so much of yourself here too! I am really feeling like we're getting to know each other.

    Yes what you have said is right on the money! And like you it is my work and I expect I will get caught in the little dance some more as I navigate this situation. And it is sobering to honestly look at ourselves sometimes as you point out and see how much we "relish" our little dramas in some strange self righteous way.

    This morning I "asked for help" and what came to me in the shower (cushion and shower are big places of insight!) was that I feel victimized, pushed in an corner where my mother runs the little show . This is where the situation gets difficult for me. But I realized I don't have to do the old dance, even through her death and that the good question to ask myself is how can I be helpful (in a big picture way) which doesn't necessarily mean the running and doing and picking up and cooing that mum thinks she wants. It is about examining each action that I take with her and seeing what's appropriate. Trying to communicate with her on a heart level, that is really what I'd like to be able to offer her. An older woman I know today pointed out how people of her era never really learned to express their emotions.

    And yes it is true we can be released by seeing the story part and the fact that it is just thoughts and that is so helpful in giving perspective to it all. But then I find I also need to make choices about what to do and sometimes I'm not feeling so kind or enlightened!

    I like the idea of bringing her in to the meditation. I will have to give that a try. Again thanks so much for your input. It moves me in that direction of wholesomeness that we are truly interested in. We want to do what is helpful, not what is "nice". As my friend the Buddhist monk points out it is helpful for my mother to approach her "issues" so she doesn't have to do the same thing next time around. And people like our mother's receive the "spill over" benefit of our training which we are so fortunate to be doing.

    with many bows,

  3. congratulations on placing your work with Tricycle, Carole -- a perfect fit!

  4. i've been sitting with three people in the last 2 days, just before and then minutes after their death. see the details of their skin and hair and colour close up, briefly made me feel unburdened and free. Death, in that moment, seemed no more than a word with nothing added: no fear, sadness, or loss. peter

  5. A year ago i would never have believed that all my life long, pent-up feelings about my mother would have left me, but miraculously, they have. It did take a miracle, tho.

  6. We buried my grandfather yesterday. when he passed away we were all relieved that he was relieved. He wanted to go so badly even before he got sick. of course my 'prickly' father and mother -they made the whole thing very much about themselves. Everything they did and saw and felt and thought through this process of my pop dying was always about (in speech body and mind)their own suffering, their own successes, regrets, their own actions their own needs, their own worthiness or lack of. And it dawned on me, that theyre always both trying to prove to the world and themselves that theyre good people. Pop didnt give a rats about any of it. He was so easy going. If anything i think they made his prcess a little more difficult. I figure if im thrown off by this yet again then id be doin the same things and feeling and behaving the same way they are and id have to justify myself against them. But this time i just rejoiced in my grandads freedom. Which was my own freedom. Freedom from reactivity to my parents reactivity.Which made me feel very compassionate toward them. When i looked at Pop in his bed no longer breathing i felt this overwhelming joy, i couldnt help but smile.

  7. As I said in last nights blog, thanks to all. Peter for the amazing work you do with the dying, what a wonderful gift to the world.

    And a special thanks to WHAT! for the great piece of writing, a little short story, really, that really illustrated the living Dharma so well; that seeing the bigger picture and then the letting go, that brings joy.