Posts Tagged ‘mother’

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

My Mother’s Daughter

May 23, 2009

Every May, I am reminded that I am truly my mother’s daughter. Some dominant gene becomes activated that sends me out to survey my flower beds and think hopeful thoughts about what I might accomplish in them this year. By July, sweet hope has turned to gritty, raw survival, but in May, there is always hope. 

Spring waits for no one. Depending on the fickle Colorado weather, I am sometimes able to get out in the yard in April to cut back the dried and brittle stems of last year’s growth: purple coneflower, hostas, Annabelle hydrangeas, chrystanthemums, daisies, meadow sage, sedum, coreopsis, and all the rest. The roses–David Austins, miniatures, and assorted others–along with the tangle of clematis and honeysuckle, could be cut back earlier, but I never seem to get it done until April.

By May, the grass sprouts where I don’t want it and remains intransigently absent where I do. I know that if I do not pluck it from the flower beds, along with its evil cousin, the weed, the two will have taken over my beds by the next time I turn to look.

On my hands and knees, weeding and pulling grass, I can sometimes leave my body and hover a little above, watching the solid form of the woman so intent on her work. Sometimes she’s a wild woman, the female equivalent of Green Man, with dirt under her fingernails and bits of leaves and twigs in her hair. At other times, she is more fairy-like, an aging pixie talking to her flowers and herbs. Always, she is her mother’s daughter.

My mother grew up on a series of farms in Illinois. Her father was a dirt farmer and he was dirt poor, never owning any of the farms he worked. He was a tenant farmer. My mother worked the fields as a child, weeding in the hot summer sun. By the time she left home, she had no desire to grow vegetables, but had somehow come to love flowers.

The summers of my own childhood were spent reading books, riding my bicycle, and watching my mother work her little patch of earth. With trowel and fork, bare hands and shovel, on hands and knees or bent over at the waist, she produced flowers to rival any botanic garden. She had her favorites. Sweet William was one. And when she was older and her health prevented her from doing the hard garden work she had done as a younger woman, she still put out pots of impatiens and planted a huge, old birdbath with petunias.

As a young woman, I was first interested in houseplants, another of my mother’s loves, and we bonded over them. It took a bit of time for me to come into my own green thumb outdoors, but I am grateful that I came to be the avid tender of flower and herb beds some years before she died.  

Now I am near the age she was at in my favorite photo of the two of us. She’s clutching a cigarette, one she has yet to light, against her chest. The sun hits her short, curly, hair in a way that produces a halo effect. She’s as brown as a sparrow, thanks to the sun, and she is wearing a summer top she probably sewed herself. 

I’m next to her, my pale Irish skin sunburned, my hair pulled back and away from my face, gold hoops dangling from my ears.  She has a wise smile on her face, a smile that says yes to life, even though she’s had more reason to suffer than she ever deserved. At about thirty, I have the big, toothy grin of a woman who has recently escaped from violent circumstances and sees her life spread out before her like fields of lavendar. (Thirty years later, my smile is more like hers. I’ll probably never be as brown and wrinkled as her, thanks to sunscreen, good skin care, and an easier life. But the smile is there.)

My arm is around my mother in that photo and her right shoulder is up against my left. We could be a mother/daughter team, selling tomatoes and peppers at some farmer’s market. But, of course, that wouldn’t be us. We’d be selling flowers.

copyright 2009 by Melanie Mulhall