She had found me overwhelmed and upset, but she remained calm and present. Today she appeared much closer in age to my number of seven decades. Her silver hair was pulled back smoothly, her face showing the appropriate wrinkles of someone who has been on earth for a long time. She had my own distinctive nose but her lips, unlike mine, were full and took to rouge quite well. She wore no rings this time, her only decorations were the tiny blue veins showing through the parchment skin of her clasped hands. The dress she wore had a narrow standup collar and the soft material was covered with a pattern of spring-like foliage.
I did not wait for her to speak first. I said, “I am very much afraid. Many times I feel much confusion and guilt. Then I am unsure of myself and I have my back up.”
Tears stung behind my eyes. My spine stiffened and I drummed my fingers nervously. “I think of all the nasty things family members have said to me in the heat of misunderstanding, rebellion, blame and ignorance. I can feel it in my veins, the pit of my stomach. I fear I will go to the bathroom on the floor right here. I have a desire to curl up in feelings of worthlessness and as usual, I long to disappear from this earth altogether.
A frown appeared above her nose. I thought she would scold me, tell me to get out of the victim mode and be grateful for what I had. Instead her deep blue eyes pierced mine with great tenderness and she encouraged me to feel deeply into these old wounds. “By being mindful of all of this you will arrive at an entirely new place and you open up new possibilities. Observe your many hurts with curiosity and you will not remain stuck there for long. You include the pain but you know you will transcend it. Your wounds can become the vehicle for liberating yourself and others if you stay present and simply observe what is going on. Do not judge yourself or try to be different than who you are right now. You came by your wounds honestly. As a young woman you were very generous and open-minded and you were often misunderstood and put in your place by those who were threatened by the deep wisdom of your soul. In time you have become somewhat of a battleaxe which was never your intention. You were naturally loving and caring, but you had to learn to stand up for yourself in this life and for that you needed to be aggressive and even bitchy. If you had not learned to stand up for yourself and fight for your right to be here, you would have not flowered into the person who you are now. You might say that you needed to develop your masculine side which was not innate to you. Now, in the second half of your life, you must learn to be less combative and relax more into your natural wisdom and knowledge. There is no need to be so defensive anymore.
The tenderness in her tone washed over me like relaxing shower. Her face had become more luminous as she spoke. I studied the soft green pattern of her dress. Her shoes were more sensible than I felt at the moment.
I can never understand the value of revisiting the past, even though it is what keeps intruding on me.
Old people love to take stock of their past, revisit old memories. But you, you need to avoid traveling the path of rehashing old injuries. Instead bend over the child that has been so ignored, disappointed, made invisible. When you do that, the wounds do not become your story. You do not suppress them, but feel them fully. In due time, you will stop identifying with your wounds and you will begin to remember again the times when the child in you felt celebrated, mirrored, seen, admired, entitled and nurtured either by you or by others. One of the reasons you still tend to be combative is because you do not feel entitled to be happy and enjoy your life. You think you still have to fight for every inch of life that you have. But I tell you, you can bend your sword into plowshares now and relax into simply being who you are. You can observe the interplay in your relationships with others without judgment.
I still feel critical of myself when I cannot be nice and accommodating all the time because I am able to see the big picture and I need to set firm boundaries. I have strong intuitions and pick up vibes easily. I see beyond the surface of people and events, but then I also know how limited is my perspective and how it is still tainted by my own stuff whenever I feel judgmental and emotionally reactive. That is why I need plenty of time alone because I am prone to have a meltdown when I get in difficult situations. I fear that if I don’t protect my boundaries my life will become a train wreck, but if I do speak up I know I open myself up for unfair criticism.
Her eyes did not leave mine and the wisdom that shone from deep within her was balm for my heart. “That is an old fear; a flashback to the time when blending in was a means of survival for you. But you must know that there is a difference between an attitude of loving kindness that can be directed toward anything or anyone, and love which is a verb, an action that calls for different strategies in a variety of situations. You will not know the strategy unless you have the ability to listen to others while at the same time listening to your own body and your own emotions and reactivity. Then you will feel deep down that your strategy is right for you and you will feel strong in whatever move you take next.
I tried to wrap my head around what she just said. Still there was a part of me that would not let go of the fear. “Yes, but do we as elders not have reason to fear. Our values are not those of the young generation. Now I am only a decoration in the family photos.”
A wistful smile appeared around her lips. She glanced sideways as if trying to remember something. I only just noticed how her voice was a bit shaky today. “It is the failing of your culture that it puts more value on exterior things than on interior riches. Still, you must remember that new times call for new gifts. In the first half of life you discover your gifts, in the second part of life you understand that everything is pure grace flowing through you. You are not the owner of the gifts. The ego wants to own, but your True Self is free from ownership. It is the ego that mourns the passing of the time and the losses of beauty, abilities, physical prowess, etc. But you know better and you also know that even interior values can become fodder for the ego. Now it is all about humility and letting go of ego so that you come to see and enjoy your whole life as the flow of pure grace.
Somehow, I still bristled at the thought of being an ego-less old granny who sat smiling in family photos, and easily overlooked. “But do I not need a strong irascible ego in order to negotiate the exterior world? It is not the kind of ego that makes me feel proud of myself. Rather I am constantly annoyed at myself for being slow, for aching all over, for having sustained so much inner damage in the course of a this lifetime. On the one hand I no longer need the securities, the validations, the illusions and prejudices of family and communities. I know I can stand alone. But on the other hand, my body is getting slower and my memory less reliable, so I seek out people who will have my back. I have a love/hate relationship with my family and my church, because I feel trapped in role expectations and there is no room to express my deepest, truer, more authentic Self.”
I looked down mortified as the blue-veined hand reached out and landed on my knee. “Can you see how everything is part of a process of inner transformation? Where once you fought against religious and political and educational structures you can now see that they were and still are containers that can provide structure for an immature young person. Yes, those century old institutions that have long and complicated histories are rife with imperfections and always in need of innovation, but despite their many shortcomings they have provided a container for me, your soul, through many lives. It gave you something to rebel against that is worthy of me. If there are no laws and rules what is it that you will push against that is a worthy opponent? When you kick off against the side of the swimming pool you gain momentum for the next lengthy lap. Likewise, when you kick against the rules you acquire speed and get to the essence of what it is true and good and beautiful. You can include laws and rules but you also will transcend them. Like a chick needs the egg and the butterfly needs the cocoon at first to protect it, later it presses hard against it and breaks it wide open in order to be set free. In the same way those old ways have served the development of your soul.
That’s why so many young people become radicalized today because they have never had a strong foundation to support the development of their ego?
The frown in her forehead deepened. “Yes, you cannot leave home if you never had a home that gave you roots. Young people need to be successful in order to build strong egos and self-confidence. Allow them that. You may find that young people are often arrogant, aggressive and defensive, but do not see those qualities are bad because they are so necessary if they are to assert themselves in the world. You have to build an ego before you can slay your ego.
In my experience, success and failure have both been necessary in my life. I wish I could tell that to the younger generation.
You must remember that as an elder your task is not about moralizing and giving advice. Actually, it never was, but as you get older and you can see the value of falling and getting up, of failing and becoming more humble, of making mistakes and learning from them, you can now observe what goes on in the life of your dear ones with serenity and presence.
I need to accept that much of life is a mystery and that some people get away with immature behavior, or better, that many people prefer to get away with immature behavior. Then some part of me also wants to fall back into immature behavior. It is hard to always be the hero in a situation.
The hand on my knee patted me gently as she spoke again. “Then it is time to love the neglected child within you.”
I was beginning to think more clearly already. “I am torn between knowing that at some level I do not need anything or anyone because I am an immortal spark of the Divine with infinite possibilities, but I am also frail and human and that makes me very fearful in relationship to others.
Your deepest Self, that is I, has emerged from God and will return there. The same Force, the Cosmic Christ that sent you into this world and that you consented to, the same force is also calling you back. That is why you are always homesick for the world from which you came. Meanwhile while you are still in this world, you must love it with passion and joy. It needs you.
At first I could no longer see her hand on my knee. Then the pattern on her dress scrambled before my eyes like a faulty image on the television screen. I had not known she wore perfume until the flowery scent of it in my nostrils was all that remained of her. Was it my imagination, or could I detect a blue light all around the chair where she had sat only a moment ago?
Love this world with passion and joy. Those were her last words to me. I could do that even if my heart was homesick for the world that was her home, the home of my soul.