Towards an Evolving Wholeness, Part 1

February 19, 2014

What do I mean when I use the term “evolving wholeness” and refer (as I did in “Shadowland, Part 2”) to seeking a sense of wholeness? Words are slippery things, and nowhere is that more true than when using them in a psycho-spiritual context. Do I mean “authentic”? Yes, authenticity begins to get at it. But if being authentic is being genuine, true, and a real representation of something/someone, then true to what, a real representation of what? And does being genuine encompass enough? For that matter, does “whole” quite get at it?

I want to be clear about this before delving into the issue of how one accomplishes this sense of wholeness. The kind of authenticity or wholeness I am pointing at (and we can only manage the equivalent of pointing at the moon here) is one that represents the person as both fully human and thoroughly divine. It is the self exposed, without layers of persona, with the shadow revealed, with the dysfunctional parts in the process of being healed. We’re human. There will be some persona. There will be some shadow. There will be some dysfunction. But when we are seeking an evolving wholeness, we are seeking to become as true to pure soul in flesh as possible. And it is evolving because we are not fixed, but evolving.

Another way of saying this is that when we are evolving in wholeness, we emanate (not approximate, not give the appearance of, but emanate) more of what I believe is the prima materia of the universe: love.

In my model of the way things work, there is no one route to wholeness, no single right way to become the highest human version of ourselves. The road back to ourselves is the same road we took when we fled ourselves, and that road is unique for everyone. But there are some time-tested methods that may be helpful to the pilgrim on that road. And this will be the subject matter for the next few posts.

Two very simple things can help anyone on that road. They may not meet the test of sufficiency, but they could easily be considered requisite. They are centering/grounding and clearing. I have discussed both of these in earlier posts (centering and grounding in a January 16, 2009 post and hucha clearing in a January 31, 2010 post), but they warrant a repeat discussion. They are that important.

When asked, many people will say that they know how to center and ground. But I have often had the experience of being met with silence when I ask a person who says they know about centering and grounding for the specifics of how they do that. I’m going to provide a very stripped down, simple version of it here.

Centering and Grounding

• Stand in a relaxed posture, spine straight, knees soft. (Once you have learned how to center and ground in a standing position, you will find that it is easy to also center and ground from a seated position. Just be sure your spine is straight and your feet connect with the floor or earth.) Close your eyes if you wish.
• Notice your breathing. Allow it to become relaxed. Allow your belly to expand on the in-breath and contract on the out-breath, but don’t work at it. Just relax into it.
• Turn your attention to that part of your body that is about two inches below your navel and just in front of your spine. This is your center. Just turning your attention to it will center you.
• Now, maintaining the awareness and stability of being centered, imagine that you are a tree. Image your roots going deep into the earth. Feel the solidity of your tree self, stretching upwards to the sky and sinking deep into the earth. Nothing can uproot you easily. You are well anchored. You are grounded.
• Take a moment to feel the power of being centered and grounded before returning your attention to the larger world around you. Bring that sense of being centered and grounded with you.

There are many ways to clear yourself energetically, mentally, emotionally, and/or physically. Here is one simple way to clear yourself energetically.

Clearing

• Stand or sit in a relaxed posture, with your spine straight and feet flat on the floor or earth. Center and ground.
• Feel or imagine your energy body, the bubble of energy that surrounds and is a part of your physical body. Notice anything that is dark, heavy, cloudy, overly hot or cold, or otherwise less than vibrant and healthy.
• Allow your crown chakra (the energy center at the top of your head) to open. Invite pure, divine energy to permeate your energy body, traveling from your head downward, taking anything that is dark, heavy, cloudy, overly hot or cold, or otherwise less than vibrant and healthy with it.
• Let that pure, divine energy carry the energetic debris all the way down your body and out through your feet, traveling past floors or ground, deep into the earth. Know that Mother Earth will gladly take this energetic debris and transform it into clear, pure, usable energy.
• Allow that clear, pure energy to rise up from Mother Earth and permeate your body.
• Continue this process until you feel clear. Express gratitude to the source of the pure, divine light and to Mother Earth.

These two practices will not, by themselves, take you all the way on the road back to yourself, but they can help you make your way back and help you stay on that path, moving along. They are self-validating. You will be able to experience the positive effects of employing them.

If you are already on the path towards evolving wholeness, perhaps you will recognize me on your way. If you are not yet on the path, step onto it and join us.

Copyright 2014 by Melanie Mulhall

Shadowland, Part 2

January 12, 2014

Catching yourself in the act of thinking or behaving in a way that is based on something you have repressed or denied—shadow—is a beginning. But what do you do next? And is awareness enough? 

The first thing to do when you catch yourself in shadowland is to be kind to yourself. Self-recrimination seldom helps. By that, do I mean that you should never feel guilt or remorse? No, that is not what I am saying. Guilt and remorse can alert you to the fact that some thought or behavior does not square with your internal value system, your sense of appropriateness and integrity. But as mechanisms to alert you, they need to be attended to and then put aside. 

If you use an alarm clock to alert you to the fact that it is time to get up, do you let it continue to beep after you wake up? No. You turn it off. It has done its job. Imagine telling yourself that you need to let the beeping continue, just to make sure you don’t oversleep tomorrow.  Or worse yet, imagine deciding that you need to let it keep beeping just to punish yourself for not getting up without it. To do so would be an act of aggression against yourself. And do you really need to be at war with yourself? 

Use that moment of awareness as an opportunity to be kind to yourself. Also use it as an opportunity to look at the choices you have made and consider whether you might want to make new choices. Those choices might be straightforward and simple or they might complex and challenging; they might be easy or difficult to enact. At the very least, appreciate the fact that you have actually caught yourself in the act of thinking or doing something based on old defense mechanisms. Without having done that, you would not be in a position to make new choices. 

This is no small thing because awareness means vulnerability. To be aware is to open yourself to being touched by both the external world and the internal one. There is a quality of defenselessness to that and, therefore, vulnerability. And once you have had that moment of awareness, there is no going back. You cannot become unaware of whatever it is you have just become aware. You may shut that awareness down and try to retreat to the cocoon, but you cannot eradicate that moment of awareness you have just had. 

Further, awareness has a way of expanding. You don’t simply become aware of your own internal state of affairs and your own behavior, you begin to become more aware of the world around you. And you don’t simply become aware of everything painful and problematic, focusing only on that, nor do you simply become aware of what is uplifting and delightful, focusing only on that. You become aware of everything, and you allow yourself to be touched by everything in that awareness. You will find that you are up to the challenge, that you can actually allow yourself to experience life as it is without dying or becoming overwhelmed and retreating. Abandoning the armor, even just at times, frees up an enormous amount of energy, and having freed up energy feels good. 

It is a beginning. As you become aware and make new choices, you become cognizant that you are interacting within two important relationships: the relationship with yourself and the relationship with the world (or more accurately, the relationship with everything other than yourself). Not only do you become aware of these two relationships, you may even become aware that within each of these relationships, you are interacting with what is visible and physical and with what is invisible and nonphysical (or energetic). 

As your awareness expands, it helps to avoid intellectualizing about it and just enter into a state of curiosity. Each of the relationships you are becoming curious about has dimensionality, a kind of dimensionality that transcends the three dimensions we usually think of. Each has depth and breadth. That is, each can be shallow or deep, broad or narrow. But neither a cube nor a sphere describes them. A spiral, expanding in both directions but otherwise in the form of a double helix, might be a better image, though even that does not quite capture it because any kind of spiral we can image is locked into three dimensions. 

What are you seeking, whether or not you realize it, through these relationships? You are seeking a sense of wholeness. But this is not a fixed wholeness, it is an evolving one. And how do you attain that sense of wholeness? You attain that sense of wholeness by healing yourself and your relationship with everything else. This is an interactive affair. As you heal your relationship with yourself, it impacts your relationship with everything else, and as you heal your relationship with everything else, it impacts your relationship with yourself. 

Awareness begins the process; an evolving wholeness is what you are pulled to.

Copyright 2014 by Melanie Mulhall

Shadowland, Part 1

October 6, 2013

When you begin to catch yourself responding to life (yourself, others, events, the world you touch up against) in predictable, defensive ways and it makes you a little uncomfortable, that discomfort means it’s time to explore what you have been repressing and denying within yourself—your shadow. Can you still flee? Of course. But one of three things will give you the courage to avoid fleeing if you’re ready: the weariness you feel about the life you’ve been living, the pull of Spirit forward, or both.

Why do you need to face what you’ve been repressing and denying? Because it points the way to what needs to cleared, healed, integrated, unearthed, and otherwise dealt with so you can live more through your authentic self. And why go to the trouble to do that? Because anything else consumes a lot of energy. Because nothing else produces quite the same feeling of joy, aliveness, and peace—all rolled up together at the same time. Because you cannot really fulfill your mission in this life without doing so.

There are many ways to invite your shadow to sit down and have a talk with you. One is to play an adult version of hide and seek with yourself. Catch yourself in the act of hiding. What form might that take?

It’s often easier to see this in others than it is to see it in ourselves. At work, you may have seen it in the form of an employee or coworker who denies having made a mistake that has just been discovered, one they definitely have made.

“It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it. Jack had it after me.”

“I checked the calculations. They were correct when I turned them in.”

“The order most have gotten screwed up.”

“I told Mary exactly what to do and how to do it. This isn’t my fault.”

When someone is dancing or outright lying, you may be annoyed with them or embarrassed for them. You may wonder why they just don’t own up to the mistake. This behavior may feel particularly egregious when the CEO does it because s/he is supposed to be a model of good behavior, and the blame is often deflected to everyone below the CEO level or to uncontrollable events.

But what about when you are the one who has made the mistake? And let’s say the mistake is nothing that will bring down a company, the US economy, or your family’s budget. Let’s say, for instance, you were asked to personally contact six clients at work to give them the bad news that their orders are not going to be finished in the time your company had estimated. Delivery will be delayed. You make five of the calls, then are distracted by another problem and forget to make the sixth call. The client later calls your boss and rails at her because the order is late. He swears no one called him. When your boss comes to you and asks you about it, you can either tell her the truth or you can tell her something other than the truth.

Let’s say you tell her something other than the truth and you are immediately uncomfortable with what you have done. You’re not a sociopath, after all. Apart from not wanting to be on the receiving end of her wrath, apart from fearing you might lose your job (even though you’re confident you won’t for this relatively small infraction), what might be going on? Why did you lie?

When I was ten or so, I lied to my mother when she asked me to do something. It was rare for my mother to ask for help. She usually behaved as if no one but her could do anything she needed done correctly, so she did things herself. But she must have dropped her guard just a little one day, no doubt because she had plenty to do for my sisters, who were three and four at the time. She asked me to ride my bike to a neighborhood grocery store and buy some simple item in the particular brand and variety she wanted. She gave me the money for it. I set out on the mission, very aware of how unusual it was for her to give me this kind of responsibility.

But once in the little grocery store (these neighborhood grocery stores were not much bigger than your neighborhood coffee shop is these days), I couldn’t quite remember the details of what she wanted. I went home without buying anything. When she asked why I didn’t have the item, I lied and said they were out of it. The look of frustration and disgust on her face were harder to take than being struck by her would have been.

So why had I lied? I certainly didn’t want to disappoint her and I certainly didn’t want to be chastised for failing my mission. But there was more to it than that. I lied because I didn’t want to prove her right. I didn’t want to be the living example that no one but her could do things correctly. I lied because I didn’t want to be shown to be the dreamy ten-year-old I was (often lost in the meanderings of my mind). I lied because I didn’t want to be proven incompetent. I lied because I didn’t want to be a failure.

Did I understand all of this at the time? Well, I know I was extremely uncomfortable. And because I was a terrible liar, the lie was probably written all over my face. I felt shame. But I doubt I could have given words to my discomfort and shame. It was only later, with maturity and insight, that I began to address the fear that I would be discovered to be what I desperately didn’t want to be: incompetent and a failure.

Lying was definitely too uncomfortable for me to make a habit of it, but I spent a lot of years hiding out. The fear of being seen as incompetent and/or a failure became part of my shadow.

Most of us have a shadow self. Most of us have repressed and denied some things. And those things are often our deepest fears about ourselves. Shadowland has a large population.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

Getting Out of the Cocoon, Part 2

August 25, 2013

What kind of questions do we begin to ask? Many of us—maybe most of us—don’t begin with broad, sweeping questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the nature of reality? These are not the questions that usually first confront us when we finally pause and pay attention. No. The questions we begin to ask ourselves are often much narrower, much closer to our everyday lives: Why did I snap at her when she said that to me? What now (that I’m divorced/have lost my job/have retired)? Why am I sad/angry/empty/unfulfilled/anxious right now (or all the time)? Who am I trying to please by doing this? Where should I look for an answer to this problem? When will I finally find some peace?

These are the kinds of questions that begin to plow up the soil in the field of your life. But whether you just scratch the surface or plow deeply depends, in part, on whether you return to the same defensive strategies you’ve been using as you pursue the answers to your questions.

Why did I snap at her when she said that to me? The answer might be one of the following: Because she’s an idiot. Because this is really none of her business. Because she keeps nagging about that. Because she’s wrong. Because I know more about this than she does. Because she just doesn’t know what I’m up against. Any of those might be perfectly rational answers on any given occasion. Or they might have seemed perfectly rational at one time, but not now.

You may begin catching yourself in the act of responding in all too familiar ways that are predictable and either feel more defensive than rational or don’t feel representative of your best. And when you catch yourself recognizing something old and a little bit putrid in your answers, you can bet that there is at least one dead body in that field you’re beginning to plow—probably more than one. And however many there are, they are all you, versions of yourself it’s time to heal and integrate in the bid for power (in shamanic terms) that is a movement towards wholeness.

There is gold in that field you’re plowing, but it is probably not sitting close to the surface. You may have to plow deep. You may find yourself beginning with a timeworn answer, one you’ve trotted out again and again, probably with different people and in different circumstances. Then you stop. You discern a sense of futility to the answer, or discomfort, or hollowness. You may even have a sense of déjà vu. The answer you begin to give may feel true, in part, but shallow. Something in you is no longer satisfied with the same old answer.

If your skin begins to crawl and you realize you don’t actually have an answer, that very sense of “no answer” may feel like a black hole. And actually, that’s not a bad way to look at it.

At the risk of mixing metaphors with abandon (the field of your life with astronomical black holes), consider the black hole for a moment. I’m no scientist, so this is going to be expressed in the simplest of terms. A black hole is formed when a huge star is “dying.” It collapses and its matter gets squeezed into a small space. It becomes very dense and has immense gravity. It has such gravitational force, in fact, that its escape velocity (the speed needed to break away from that gravitational pull) is faster than the speed of light.

Well, sort of. You see, scientists talk about event horizons with black holes. The outer event horizon is at the edge of a black hole. If you were there, you could escape the gravitational pull. But the inner event horizon, which is in the middle layer of the black hole, has a gravitational pull too strong to escape. So we have the outer layer and the middle layer. “What’s in the center?” you ask. Thanks for asking. The center of a black hole is called the singularity. It is that very dense collapsed star. There’s no escaping that.

What does this have to do with the field of your life you’re beginning to plow with those questions? Everything, actually. Think of the center of the black hole, the singularity (a beautiful term when used as I’m about to), as your authentic self, the core of your being, your essential self without all the pain and unhealed issues. In short, you minus the baggage. That core has a gravitational pull that, once you have stepped beyond the outer event horizon, is inescapable.

When you begin to ask questions, you have arrived at the outer event horizon of your personal black hole. You can still escape the gravitational pull, but to do so, you will have to return to the same defense strategies that ultimately gave rise to the questions. If you begin to challenge your usual answers to those questions, you are mighty close to stepping beyond the outer event horizon. And when you do that, everything begins to change. You’re pulled right into that black hole. It’s scary, but you’re heading towards . . . the singularity.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

Getting Out of the Cocoon, Part 1

July 24, 2013

How do we get out of the cocoon that is suffocating us? How do we get some fresh air? Can we just keep the cocoon and pump some fresh air into it? 

The beginnings of an answer can actually be found in a question: How do you even know that you are in the cocoon and are suffocating? The answer: You have paused and you have paid attention. And that is where it begins. 

Moving at twice the speed of life and trying to accomplish everything at once while looking brilliant doing so is a part of what gets most of us into that cocoon in the first place. If what you have been doing has served as a kind of poison, then in this case, its functional opposite is the antidote. Of course, one of the surprising elements of this is that we often convince ourselves we have been paying attention. Isn’t that why we have all of the communication devices that are a part of our lives, like smartphones and tablet computers? Isn’t that why we post on Facebook, why we tweet, get LinkedIn, and otherwise participate in social media? 

Well, yes and no. We probably begin with the best of intentions. We want to know what is going on. We want to be engaged. One problem, though, is that we often reach out to engage with others before or instead of becoming fully engaged with ourselves. A second problem is that the possibilities for interacting through the myriad forms of devices and programs are so great, that if we lined them up, we could probably have a very nice highway to Pluto. Okay, that might be hyperbole. A nice highway to the moon, then. 

Not only do all of those possibilities eat away at our time and attention, they may very well change the way our brains function. Research seems to suggest that developing brains (those of children and adolescents) may become rewired by all that technology so that they become habituated to jumping from one thing to another instead of staying on task. And considering the plasticity of the brain, do we really think only children and adolescents may be affected? Regardless, there is a lot of evidence that multitasking fatigues the brain and performance suffers as a result. And too little downtime does not allow the brain to synthesize what we have been taking in. 

All of this impacts our ability to pause and pay attention. But beyond that, many of us escape through our devices. They become just one more way to flee. After all, if you have all of your digital devices with you, you may never need to leave the cocoon. 

But if you have paused and paid attention enough to notice how suffocating the cocoon is, enough to pick up the scent of decay in there, then you have the beginnings of an exit strategy. 

What makes us pause and notice that the cocoon isn’t quite the perfect habitat after all? For many of us, it takes discomfort. The cocoon isn’t working for us so well anymore. Sometimes big life challenges or changes are involved: death, divorce, addiction or other serious illness, relationship schisms, job loss, emotional turmoil. Sometimes it is more subtle. The cumulative layers of persona become so heavy and limiting over time that we feel we’ve not only been wearing chain mail armor, we realize we’ve got plate armor over the chain mail. It’s hard to move with that kind of weight. 

Sometimes, though, the universe intervenes in a gentle way. Something so beautiful catches our attention that we pause long enough to feel how good that beauty makes us feel and look around as if we’re seeing the world in a fresh way. That something beautiful might be any one of countless things: a sunset, the birth of a child, a piece of music that holds us in rapture, a profound statement made by someone—or any experience that touches our senses or internal state in a way that wakes us up, if only for a moment. 

Then we begin to ask some questions. 

To be continued.

 

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

 

Staying on the Old Road, Part 2

June 23, 2013

What if you could return to your mother’s womb, where it is warm and safe? You rock gently in your pool of amniotic fluid, and that fluid is contained within the amniotic sac, providing a warm, protective environment. Your needs are met and nothing is required of you.

Actually, most of us do return to our mother’s womb. We create a cocoon for ourselves in order to make the world safer, easier, more comfortable. It could be said that this cocoon is built upon the foundation of our fears because it is constructed as a response to everything we view as threatening or uncomfortable in the world. We want a place to go to, to reside in, that feels like home.

There’s something to be said for that . . . except that what feels like home by the time we’re adults is not our authentic selves, it’s the persona we have created. So we build a palace for our persona. The caterpillar forms its cocoon using the silk it emits from glands. That silk is gluey and when it dries, it becomes hard. We humans create our cocoons from the stuff of our lives. The cocoon is created by the dysfunctional strategies we have developed to make ourselves feel safe and comfortable. It, too, is gluey. It, too, becomes hard when dry.

And we do become dry. We suck the very life right out of ourselves as we construct the cocoon. We eliminate any beliefs that may be threatening to the persona. We spend our time doing things that support the persona. We invite people into our lives who do not challenge our persona or the cocoon we’ve constructed from it. Anyone else is “them.”

Pema Chödrön has described the cocoon in a way that first lulls the listener into thinking that this would be a nice thing. She builds her description layer on layer until the listener begins to be just a little uncomfortable, just a little antsy. By the time she’s done, you’re horrified. She does all of this within the space of a few minutes.

Pema likens the cocoon to a room that is just right for you. It’s your room and everything in it is perfect—for you. Everything in it pleases you, from the smells to the music to the room temperature to the furnishings. In fact, it so pleases you that you stay in there as much as you can. When you must go out, you are reminded of just how unsafe and annoying the world is. You retreat back into your room as soon as possible. You leave it less often. You try to never leave it. Even then, some of the world filters in and you find yourself pulling the shades and stuffing towels under the door to keep as much of the world out as possible.

You decide that it is pretty nice in there. Just perfect, in fact. But it’s so closed up, no fresh air can get in. It’s suffocating.

This is a precise description of what we do to ourselves. And some of us take it even further. After being in that perfect room for a time, we decide it’s not quite perfect enough. There are some things in there that don’t fit as well as we thought. So we open the door just enough to toss them out. Strangely, the room gets smaller when we do that, not more spacious because there’s less in it. No. It closes in on us even more because we have put even more limits on what is safe and comfortable.

For such a confined space to actually be safe and comfortable, though, you have to restrict what it means to be “me” and what it means to be “human.” The smaller that room becomes, the more restrictive those definitions are. And the less you can breathe. In fact, what you are breathing is nothing more than your own recycled breath, and sooner or later, all the oxygen will be gone from that room.

What’s to be done?

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

Staying on the Old Road, Part 1

April 28, 2013

If you should not leave the old road for a new one, does that mean you need to spend years in therapy rehashing your past? And do we really spend the first half of our lives becoming dysfunctional? What do I mean when I use the word “dysfunctional” anyway?

The three blog posts on not leaving the old road for a new one elicited comments and questions, some on the blog, others on my Facebook page (to which I copy my blogs), and still others in e-mails and conversations. One reader asked if “dysfunctional” was the correct word to use. She suggested that you live your life and realize at some point that it isn’t working quite the way you planned. You may even feel as if your life is falling apart. You build a road with the wrong materials, keep adding to it with the wrong materials, and even go back and repair potholes with the wrong materials.

Are “the wrong materials” the equivalent of “dysfunctional”? Well, I believe we build the road with the materials we have on hand. And those materials on hand include everything that has gone into making us who we are. We develop strategies to help us navigate our way through life. And some of those strategies become barriers between the persona we create for ourselves and our authentic selves. And that, in my vernacular, is dysfunctional.

If our future becomes our past unless we do something other than keep repeating it, why aren’t a few years in therapy a good idea? They may be for you. My attitude is this: whatever works. But my preferences are clear, based on how I’ve lived my own life. I’m educated in the field of psychology. I have respect for it. I even worked as a therapist for a while during and after graduate school. But I found my way to shamanism and stayed there because I found it a more useful approach . . . for me.

The work of becoming a shaman is very much about working your way back to your authentic self by staying on the road you arrived at to “here” rather than simply leaving the old road for a new one. It is the work of courageously facing yourself as you are, accepting it, healing whatever needs to be healed within you, and making a choice to live a life of integrity—and by “integrity” I mean the kind of completeness you achieve with harmony of mind, body, spirit, and emotions. As it happens, that kind of harmony seems to support “integrity” as most people think of it—a fundamental incorruptibleness.

We so effectively keep ourselves wrapped in the comfortable cloak of our persona that it takes serious excavation to face ourselves as we are. And if you go looking for something buried somewhere other than where you buried it, what do you suppose your chances of finding it are? Exactly. So you stay on the old road.

I’m not going to delve into shamanic practices like recapitulation here. At least, not yet. It’s helpful, I think, to take a look at how we construct a road that takes us away from our authentic selves in the first place. And to do that, I’m going to borrow a concept from Buddhism as I, a non-Buddhist, have come to understand it: the cocoon.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

Don’t Leave the Old Road for a New One, Part 3

April 8, 2013

By the time we’re in midlife, if we’re lucky, we’re so exhausted with maintaining the persona that we want to find our way back home. And back home is to that body we thought was dead, but isn’t.

I’m not simply speaking about all of this from the standpoint of observer. This is not just intellectualization. I have experience with it from the inside out. I had my own version of a dysfunctional childhood. I was a good student because, at least in part, “being smart” was a very helpful persona component. I created such a good persona that my own family didn’t know just how bad my first marriage was until I left it—ten and a half years into it. My persona attracted friends and male companions. My personal defenses against abuse, abandonment, poverty, fear of incompetence, and the suspicion that I would be found seriously lacking if I wasn’t perfect contributed to my achieving some useful things, like a couple of swell degrees and some business success. But they also made me a little brittle and a little less than consistently fun to be with for friends, lovers, and those supervised by me. Among other things, I could be moody, insecure, and a demanding boss.

I began my journey home—my journey back to myself—at an age when some people are still running down the road away from the dead body. Still, it took years to get as far away from myself as I was, and it has taken years to make my way back to myself. I’ve often speculated that we spend the first half of our lives becoming dysfunctional and, if we’re paying attention, we spend the second half of our lives undoing that dysfunction.

The admonition to not leave the old road for a new one is, as I have come to understand it, a wise bit of guidance to find your way back to yourself by facing, clearing, and healing everything within that is dysfunctional and inauthentic. That means stripping the persona down, dismantling the inappropriate boundaries, and rediscovering who you are at your core.

But what would leaving the old road for a new one be like? It would be an attempt to recreate yourself (often at midlife) by dismissing the ways in which you have made yourself up to this point—more or less trying to sail right over them—and simply trying to walk a more functional path without a backward glance at the path you spent all those years traveling down.

It’s temping, to be sure, and it’s what we think about when we speak of “starting fresh” or “starting over.” But according to my friend Jorge Luis Delgado, Peruvian chacaruna (“bridge person”—essentially, shaman), the Inca view the future as behind them, not in front of them. Why? For at least a couple of reasons, actually. First, we humans have eyes that face forward. We can see what is in front of us, but not what is behind us. And since we cannot see the future, it can be considered behind us. But perhaps more important, the future will be our past if we become enmeshed in our past, disdain our past, or otherwise refuse to accept and deal with it. And that is why we should not leave the old road for a new one.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

Don’t Leave the Old Road for a New One, Part 2

March 20, 2013

Life gives us plenty of reasons to flee. Mostly, we flee from ourselves. Almost everyone has one version or another of a dysfunctional childhood. If they don’t, they make up for lost time as young adults. It isn’t just that we flee an understanding of our own capacity for evil, or small-mindedness, or our baser instincts. Our lives chip away at us and by the time we’re adults, most of us have devised some pretty effective strategies for protecting ourselves and managing our way through life. We put boundaries in place—a functional and necessary thing, but some of the boundaries are not simply between “I and thou,” they are between “me and me.” That is, we work hard to create a persona and we often forget that the persona is not the real thing. It is not us.

We don’t just work hard at creating the persona, we work hard at maintaining it. There is a certain amount of presenting ourselves in the best possible way that comes with that, a certain amount of being just a bit less than honest with others—and with ourselves. We build lifestyles to support our personas. We build defenses—against being abused again, against being abandoned again, against being taken for granted again, and most important, against being “found out.” If we’re not careful, we don’t just defend against perceived threat, we become all too ready to attack, often in subtle ways we don’t even recognize.

But one of the most sacred—not to mention useful—things about being human is that who we really are is always still in there. As Buckaroo Banzai and many others have said, no matter where you go, there you are. The “you” in “there you are” isn’t just the persona. Who you are may be buried beneath the persona, but it’s there. You carry it with you on the journey.

In many ways, we are all like that shopkeeper. We all flee the dead body on the threshold. That dead body is, after all, us. Except that it is not really dead. God knows, it may feel like who we started out as when we slid down the chute into this life is long gone by the time we’re twenty or thirty, but it’s still alive and well within. It may feel dead and we may even wish it were dead because owning up to the human part of being a human being is not something most of us are thrilled to do. We’re afraid the body will be found. That is, we’re afraid we’ll be discovered for being exactly who we are. So we flee.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

Don’t Leave the Old Road for a New One, Part 1

March 12, 2013

Some stories stay with you for a long time, having their way with you, becoming integrated within you as you become more integrated within yourself. “Solomon’s Advice” has been one such story for me.

I first read this story in David Whyte’s wonderful book The Heart Aroused. He’d heard it from Angeles Arien, who got it from Allan B. Chinen’s book, Once Upon a Midlife, who may have gotten it from Italo Calvino. The story can, in fact, be found in Calvino’s book Italian Folktales. Clearly, this story has made the rounds.

I’ll let you track down the full story for yourself and give you a very abbreviated version because it is one part of the story that has been opening within me for a time. As the story goes, there is a shopkeeper with a wife and sons. One morning he finds a dead body lying across the threshold of his shop. Afraid he will be accused of the murder, he flees.

Yes. He abandons his family and flees.

Miles from home, he takes work as servant to a wise man by the name of Solomon and works for this man for many years. Ultimately, he decides to return home. Solomon gives him three pieces of advice before he leaves. He charges his faithful servant handily for the advice, too. The first piece of advice is this: Don’t leave the old road for a new one. As annoyed as the servant is about paying for such a simpleminded piece of advice, he does use it. And he saves his own life in the process.

Chinen has an opinion about what this bit of advice means within the context of midlife. So does Whyte. I wasn’t quite satisfied with either—though that might simply be my lack of scholarly attendance to what they had to say. But the notion stayed with me for many years. What did it really mean to not leave the old road for a new one?

Yes, yes. Plenty of people have midlife crises and go off in new directions to their detriment. I didn’t think that part of the story was a symbolic admonition to stick with tradition, or the known, or what society thinks we should do. And anyway, many other people in midlife leave the old road and blaze new trails to their betterment. There was something more there.

Then, in that early morning state of intuitive understanding we all sometimes have before we’re fully awake, a sense of its relevancy to me dropped right into my consciousness, more or less fully formed. It was simple. It fit so completely with the work I do as a shaman. It made sense within the context of my own life. And this is how I came to understand it.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall


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