Archive for April, 2013

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

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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