Archive for March, 2008

In my quest to live into the art of being a person I’ve been curious about parenting – mothering especially. I’ve been asking myself what can I learn about the thread that connects my mother to my soul, her mothering to my mothering?

It goes without saying that her mothering influences my own mothering. That’s the easy part. Most of us who are conscientious parents can figure out how to do it better than it was done to us. It’s only in the knee-jerk reactions that we revert back to the other stuff.

But since most of my mothering mistakes are irretrievable and now up to my kids to walk out, I turn my attention to the question:

How do I unconsciously mother myself – in the same unfortunate ways that I was mothered? And why? Furthermore, a) Can that really be changed? and b) How can I change it in a way that doesn’t reduce me to a caricature who deserves a corrective ass-kicking from those around me?

Dmitri Bilgere tells the story of the Pickle family. He calls them the pickle family because, like me, Dmitri can’t draw to save his soul, so he represents mother, father, and child as pickle-shaped people with eyes and mouths. So, go to the white board of your mind and imagine if you can…

…that mother or father pickle consistently mistreats, neglects, or disparages baby pickle in some way. Baby pickle is faced with a foundational double-bind, one her mind does not understand, but her soul immediately grasps. She must choose, immediately, between the lesser of two evils: “do I reject the opinion of my parent and risk separation from him/her? or do I agree with my parent and betray the goodness of my own soul?” Easy choice. A child instinctively knows that in order to avoid the certain death of separation, she must readily sacrifice whatever goodness there may be in her own soul. It’s like being mugged on the street – your wallet or your life? The wallet is easy.

In the same way, a painful connection between child and parent is better than no connection at all. Baby pickle, in an effort to maintain a connection, essentially splits herself in two. Half of her continues to belong to herself, the other half aligns with mom (or dad), and joins in on the attack (or the neglect). Unless she finds a way to heal this split and discover a better way to stay connected to mom (or dad, or both), poor little pickle will suffer immensely, despite her best efforts to “get over it.”

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Shortly after his 13th birthday, our son took on his father. The preteen years had been rough for him, and the relationship between these two was often a bit percussive. One day, after the hundredth in a series of power clashes with his father, our son came into the study where I was working and began to complain. I gave him my usual speech, saying, “If you have a problem with your father you need to go talk to your father. I’d be glad to go with you if you want, but your problem is with him so you need to talk to him.” I spoke this pre-recorded message with all the enthusiasm of a bored government worker in a mindless job, fully expecting my advice would go unheeded, as usual.

This time, however, instead of skulking away to pout and mutter, he walked into the living room and declared, “Dad, you and I need to talk. I need you to respect me more.” That sentence began a 2 hour conversation in which they hammered out a new way to do their relationship.

Later my husband described what it was like for him to have had this conversation.

“It was the weirdest thing. I felt like I was split in pieces. Part of me thought, ‘How dare you confront me like this! If I had even thought about saying such things to my father, he’d have beaten me into a bloody pulp.’ But then another part of me thought, ‘I’m so proud of you for having the guts to sit down and talk like this.’ But most of me felt at a complete loss. I knew it was an important moment, and I needed to not blow it. But when I reached for some wisdom, scrambled for some idea of the right thing to do in this pivotal situation, I realized I had nothing to draw from – nothing. My fathering well was empty. I figured the best I could do was just listen and kept my mouth shut, and maybe it would turn out all right.”

And it did. It turned out all right.

But I’ll never forget the way my husband felt, torn between his father, his son, and his own soul.

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And I don’t mean yes you may spoil your inner child. As in, go ahead, spoil her.

That big pot of motherless stew is still simmering on the back burner. Today I’m back to wondering what’s a motherless child to do? And just how, exactly, does knowing I carry a prophetic longing for the whole of western civilization actually help me function in my own little life? Huh?

This morning the lyrics from the Eagles comeback hit, “Get Over It” are ringing in my ears. I’m so sad the You Tube link to embed it has been disabled, but you can see them perform their corrective dose of reality therapy here. And just in case you need it spelled out…

Get Over It
I turn on the tube and what do I see
A whole lotta people cryin’ ’don’t blame me’
They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else
Spend all their time feelin’ sorry for themselves
Victim of this, victim of that
Your momma’s too thin; your daddy’s too fat

Get over it
Get over it
All this whinin’ and cryin’ and pitchin’ a fit
Get over it, get over it

You say you haven’t been the same since you had your little crash
But you might feel better if I gave you some cash
The more I think about it, old billy was right
Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ’em tonight
You don’t want to work, you want to live like a king
But the big, bad world doesn’t owe you a thing

Get over it
Get over it
If you don’t want to play, then you might as well split
Get over it, get over it

It’s like going to confession every time I hear you speak
You’re makin’ the most of your losin’ streak
Some call it sick, but I call it weak

You drag it around like a ball and chain
You wallow in the guilt; you wallow in the pain
You wave it like a flag, you wear it like a crown
Got your mind in the gutter, bringin’ everybody down
Complain about the present and blame it on the past
I’d like to find your inner child and kick it’s little ass

Get over it
Get over it
All this bitchin’ and moanin’ and pitchin’ a fit
Get over it, get over it

Get over it
Get over it
It’s gotta stop sometime, so why don’t you quit
Get over it, get over it

Ouch. These boys need a mommie, very, very badly.

Sometimes you have to let the pendulum swing all the way in both directions before you get a feel for the truth of things. This harsh slap upside the head resonates with me in many ways. I’ve seen enough victim queens to tempt me to swing that way. But it’s still missing the point.

Stay tuned.

p.s. while you’re at You Tube, spend a few minutes at Hotel California. Call me a Baby Boomer, but damn, that’s good music.

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In archetypal lore there is the idea that if one prepares a special psychic place, then the being, the creative force, the soul source, will hear of it, sense its way to it, and inhabit that place. Whether this force is summoned by the biblical “go forward and prepare a place for the soul” or, as in the film Field of Dreams, in which a farmer hears a voice urging him to build a baseball diamond for the spirits of players past, “If you build it, they will come,” preparing a fitting place induces the great creative force to advance.

On Saturday I picked up my copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves and read this paragraph. It was the first spot my eyes landed on. I’ve been trying to make my way through this book for months, years even. It had been so long since I’d picked it up, I had totally lost touch with the narrative. The pages smelled musty from neglect.

The weird thing, the amazing synchronicity of it, was the fact that I picked up the book just moments after I had spent the morning spiffing up my little study. I’d been out shopping, buying some colored pencils, a sketch journal and some special crayons. I found a comfy desk chair to replace the one that hurt my legs and my backside – on sale – and I had laminated several of Jen Lemen‘s sayings for artists (a secret project she let me peek at), and pasted them to my wall for inspiration. Then I cleared off some clutter, arranged my collage and my candles just so, and had just sighed a contented sigh. The very next action was to pick up the book and read the passage.

Let’s see. Do you think there’s a message there somewhere?

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Hi, it’s me, reporting to you live from my self-imposed religious exile, on Easter Sunday morning, 2008. The mood here is a bit melancholy, I’m afraid. Feeling adrift and homeless casts a sad shadow on the hope and celebration of Easter, I admit. On the other hand I have to say I truly wouldn’t have it any other way today. Maybe next year I’ll be settled enough to celebrate, but this year, again, I must abstain from the festivities.

I considered, briefly, the possibility of attending an Episcopal or Anglican service today, knowing I would thoroughly enjoy the ritual, the pomp, and the beauty of the experience, but no.

A few years ago our family attended a service at Lookout Mountain Community Church on Christmas Eve. Peter Hiett was speaking as “Larry the Sheep Guy.” Larry explained that our idea of proper religion, with our seriousness, our ritual, our stained glass, and our holy observances was just an elaborate game of “hide the stink” – flawed humanity desperately trying to cover the human condition in a show of manufactured holiness. Meanwhile, the true message of Christmas was one of the divine being born in the midst of smelly, messy humanity. A religious switcheroo, an ironic game of hide and seek, God hiding holiness in a pile of stink.


Yup, I got it. Got it so much I was ruined. Considering the history of the Christian religion, I came to the conclusion we missed the point entirely, beginning with the Catholic church and it’s idea of holiness, hierarchy, exclusiveness, ritual, mystery, and fear. The Episcopal church is just a difference in etiology, I’m afraid, plus the doctrinal influence of the Reformation. I love it, but aren’t we still missing the point?

There’s always Protestantism, Evangelicalism, and the Charismatic, of course. Been there, done that. Can’t do it any more. So here I am, feeling just a little sorry for myself, in the deconstructed rubble of my own religious landscape.

Doubly ironic is the sense I have of being asked, by what I can only describe as God, to exercise, well, faith. A hopeful assurance that I am held by divine love, that I am on a journey not alone, that I am invited to participate in a joyful stream of spiritual life and goodness, if I could just stick my neck out a little and believe. Take a risk or two.

Imagine my chagrin when I realized that what I had considered faith wasn’t really faith at all, but the security that came from assenting to a coherent theology. Who knew I could feel the tug of the divine outside the confines of ideology, in the midst of my messy deconstruction. How divinely ironic – or heretical – depending on your perspective.

That’s how the Easter egg rolls this year.

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I’m pretty done with the whole healing gig. Don’t get me wrong – I believe in the value of it, and when I was in need of healing I was all about it. Therapy, recovery groups, self-help books, retreats, journaling, healing prayer – you name it I’ve been into it. But I’m worn out with the likelihood that I have an endless list of wounds and issues from which I could be healed. When does one ever get well?

In many ways motherlessness is just another wound on a list of ailments that only gets longer the longer I work at it. What’s a motherless child to do?

However, I think this one could be somehow different. It feels like more than an individual woman’s heartbreak.

So much could be said about self-parenting, recovering the art of nurturing the soul, etc., but today I’m thinking even bigger. More universal. What if this aching motherlessness is a symptom of our civilization in a modernistic world? What if something about the way our modern minds have viewed the world has left us with this ache for mothering in our souls? What if we motherless children carry a prophetic ache for a kind of motherlessness in our civilization?

You’ve heard of post-modernism, right? The end of modernity? The waiting for a new shift in consciousness? Well some people are seeing it happen. One of them is Richard Tarnas. Here are some greatly abbreviated (believe it or not) thoughts from the epilogue to his book, The Passion of the Western Mind.

Many generalizations could be made about the history of the Western mind, but today perhaps the most immediately obvious is that it has been from start to finish an overwhelmingly masculine phenomenon…The Western intellectual tradition has been produced and canonized almost entirely by men, and informed mainly by male perspectives. This masculine dominance in Western intellectual history has certainly not occurred because women are any less intelligent than men. But can it be attributed solely to social restriction? I think not. I believe something more profound is going on here: something archetypal…

…the evolution of the Western mind has been founded on the repression of the feminine– on the repression of undifferentiated unitary consciousness, of the participation mystique with nature: a progressive denial of the anima mundi, of the soul of the world, of the community of being, of the all-pervading, of mystery and ambiguity, of imagination, emotion, instinct, body, nature, woman–of all that which the masculine has projectively identified as “other.”

(In other words – MOTHER)

But this separation necessarily calls forth a longing for a reunion with that which has been lost…

(the phenomenon of motherlessness)

The crisis of modern man is an essentially masculine crisis, and I believe that its resolution is already now occurring in the tremendous emergence of the feminine in our culture…

For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being.

(MOTHER again)

The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life: to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul.

Today we are experiencing something that looks very much like the death of modern man, indeed that looks very much like the death of Western man. Perhaps the end of “man” himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome–and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine.

I’d rather carry around a prophetic desire for the future of humanity than just another wound in my individual soul, wouldn’t you?

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I am well past the stage of mothering small children. However, I have the privilege of being witness to the mothering talents of my two dear friends, DeeAnn and Jen. I’ve often wondered how I managed to become heart friends with these two women who were raised in the generation behind my own, but speculation about this phenomenon is beside the point. Among the treasures of their friendships with me has been the front row seat I occupy in observance of their exquisite mothering. They are exquisite mothers, both of them.

From my front row seat at these mothering performances, the first thing I notice is that the stage is quite small. The essence of the story happens in, what? a maximum of 27 cubic feet of space, I’d say. An invisible chamber of creative power.

Because mothering is all about the lap. A mother’s lap is the source of all goodness in the universe, don’t you think? If you could tap into your deepest need, isn’t it a lap you long for most? I mean, if you weren’t embarrassed to admit it, don’t you sometimes crave a warm soft place to just plop down and lean?

Their laps are magical, as I am awed to observe. The emotional sustenance that emanates from this place is palpable, substantive. The simple act of holding a child, meeting him or her with a full mother’s presence, creates an invisible bubble of the best stuff in the universe – an ambiance of safety, nurture, warmth, connection, and peaceful being. I’ve watched all five of these little children – Grace, Abby, Liam, Amelia and Lucy – consume that stuff like a 757 consumes jet fuel. They’re gluttons for it. It runs the universe, this stuff.

Watching them makes me wistful, taps into my longing. From my front row seat I often wonder, who would I be if I had been loved that well?

But that is my empty, as Karen wisely wrote. That is my empty. That is my full.

Yours too, no doubt.

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My mother was born in 1923 in a sod house on Nebraska’s prairie. She was a second child, the first daughter of a group that would eventually number six – two boys, four girls. I never met my grandfather. He died before I was born, and I have no idea what took him. My mother never spoke of her father in my hearing, except once to say, “he was a wicked man.” One can only imagine what she meant by wicked. Now that I think of it, I realize one could have always asked what she meant. If one were inclined to ask, which this one, and indeed all of us, were not. “Don’t ask” is a family’s most powerful unspoken rule.

I have no stories from her childhood, not one. Only now do I realize how strange that is.

At fifteen my mother dropped out of high school to care for her own mother who was suffering a bout of post-partem depression after the birth of the sixth Taggart child. Mom never earned her diploma.

Soon my mother was herself a mother, giving birth to two boys out of wedlock. Different fathers, they think. I don’t know these stories either.

Three or so years later she was pregnant by my father. They married and moved to the city, such as it was, and began to live a respectable life, as long as no one knew, and no one counted the months between their wedding and the birth of their first child. Until the 1990’s they held that they were married on September 12, 1949. It was actually 1950, two and a half months before my brother was born. Another story she didn’t tell us.

A respectable life, her chance to make it right, was in front of her, with one condition, evidently. No bastard children. These she left behind with our grandmother.

Two motherless sons, ophaned on behalf of a family yet to come. The older of these sons remembers the day she left, watching his impending abandonment from beneath the kitchen table.

Can you feel this chasm, splitting hearts in two?

Couldn’t you just lie down and weep?

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I’ve had an explosion since yesterday, in my mind. A vein of gold. I hardly know what to say now, I’m so full of ideas.

Motherlessness, let’s see…I had a mother of course, as we all did. Mine was fine. Good enough, as they used to say in certain psychological circles. According to object relations theory, “good enough mothering” insures that whatever wound we carry in our soul doesn’t fracture our mind. Inadequate mothering, however, and we could end up as a dreaded Borderline Personality Disorder. Of course no one knows just how good good enough will be until we either do or don’t end up on Axis II.

But I digress…(Honestly, what did we do before Wikipedia?)

Still, motherlessness is a wound to the soul. But what is it, for those of us who actually have (or had) a mother?

I leave you with the words of Karen Miller, from yesterday’s comments section:

(but only because I have to go to work)

“There it is. There is your empty. There is your full. It is your motherless child and your childless mother. It is not the end, as you know. We weep.”

…more on this, I promise.

Meanwhile, talk to me. What are your stories of motherlessness? Can you relate?

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On Friday, at Europa Cafe with the Jens, we shared the stories of our hearts with candor, vulnerability and love. The piece I shared was about the soul crisis I’ve been having around my work as a psychotherapist. I hoped that if I could lay it gently onto the table among us, submit my heart to the care of these special sisters, some gift, insight, or lifting of a burden might occur. I started stringing the beads of certain thematic experiences I’ve had concerning my own compassion, confusion, and the double-bind of powerlessness.

I became distracted by an almost irresistible desire to lie down and weep. The tears wouldn’t stop, so I interrupted my own story, wondering why I felt compelled to be my most vulnerable in public – the middle of Manhattan, no less.

Jen said,”You’re a motherless child.”

While I didn’t disagree, I was too determined to end my humiliating personal exposure to get a full explanation of how this concept applies, exactly, to my dilemma. She declared it with the grounded knowing of a physician making diagnosis. Or the Oracle, to Neo, when she said, “sorry kid, you’ve got a good soul, but you look like you’re waiting for something.”

Certain declarations from certain people you should take straight to the bank.

This one I carried in my pocket until this morning. The in-flight movie was August Rush. Embedded in this sentimental fairy tale are some great musical moments, including and especially, Raise it Up.

feelin like a motherless child hankered into my soul, it’s bringing me down, cant find my smile on a face of a
motherless child
I’m gonna break down these walls gonna give it my all ya know…
sometimes it takes a different kind of love to raise a child
so don’t give up
sometimes it takes a different kind of dream to make a smile

so raise it up
raise it up
sometimes it takes another helping hand to show you the way
(so don’t give up, when presures come down)
sometimes it seems impossible thats why we pray

I cried again, damn it.

I’m a motherless child. From a certain perspective this is literally true. On June 24th it will have been 16 years since my mother died. I’m certainly motherless, if not a child anymore.

And seriously, is anyone, no matter how old, not a child down deep inside?

But I’ve gone on too long. More on this tomorrow. There’s so much more to say.

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