Remain contained, centered around what truly matters, for the times call for concern and awareness, yet don’t forget to live, to play, to have fun, for there are times to be serious and times to be joyous, even in the worst of times. Live life to the fullest, always.
I have been writing stories about the imp inside me, the fun loving, bright being who never seemed afraid, who was impetuous and daring, who seemed to easily handle life and its iniquities. She was the light side of my normally quiet and withdrawn child self. Today I leave her for a more serious subject: Mother.
In his blog earlier this week Chuck wrote of a man’s relationship to mother and how crucial it is that he separate from her and go on into life fully available to have a true relationship with another person freed of his infantile attachments to mother. In the end he must return to mother and love her from his separateness in order to achieve full masculinity. Whether his mother was a good mother or a bad mother is not important; a man still needs to rid himself of his attachments to her if he is to truly individuate and wholly become who he is. For women it’s a different scenario.
Women have an initiation ceremony built into their DNA. Somewhere between the ages of 10 and 16 a female begins to menstruate. This is the initiation into womanhood. Like all women before them, every young girl has to accept and deal with monthly bleeding for a good deal of her adult life. Some initiation! It lasts a very long time! I remember reading a little booklet my mother gave me when I was about 11. The phrase “you’re a woman now” still sticks in my head. Just like that, I was a woman! Just like that I was like my mother. But I did not want to be like my mother!
I did not have a good witch for a mother. I got a bad witch for a mother. If you have read my books, and especially Place of No Pity, Volume 4 of The Recapitulation Diaries, you know what I’m talking about. She was harsh and neglectful, not the kind of mother I wanted, not the kind of woman I wanted to grow up to be. Nonetheless, she was the mother I got and the mother I had as a role model. I was however always at heart a kind and gentle soul, even when I was being an imp.
The shamans would call the type of mother I got a petty tyrant. A petty tyrant is someone whom you probably hate for what they do to you, for the way they torment and belittle you, but may later realize that they taught you a great deal about how the world works and, most importantly, about how you yourself work, as they relentlessly and cruelly force you to face what you are most afraid of, most angry about, most resentful about, etc. When you cease to blame them for all your problems you may begin to see just how good they are at making you confront every uncomfortable and disagreeable thing about yourself. The petty tyrants of the world are the projections of all that we must sift through if we are to achieve our wholeness. For a woman, the kind of mother I got presented quite a challenge.
During my childhood I dreamed about other mothers, wove fantasies about the perfect, loving mother, the caring being I longed to have in my life. These fantasies got me through a lot of terrible times, as I could always envision a good and comforting mother in times of need. These loving mothers, fantasized though they were, became good role models, based on my own feelings and perceptions of what a good mother would be like. So even though I got a bad witch for a mother I was able to construct images of good witches who came to my rescue when needed.
As I grew into adulthood I had to figure out how I was different from the mother I got, just as I had to figure out how I was like her. For I am, in many ways, just like my mother. It has taken me a long time and a lot of work to accept this fact, that I too have the bad witch inside me. Though I have tended toward the good witch side, the bad witch has popped out often enough. I can truly identify with my own mother. At the same time, I had to extricate from deep within myself who I truly was, separate from her. For I am truly not my mother, I am me! And that’s where individuation takes place for the woman, in both accepting that she is like her mother but that she is equally her own being with her own emotions, feelings, and beliefs based on her own experiences in life, totally separate from mother.
My mother is still alive. Nearing 94 she now lives in a nursing home. Since my father’s death 12 years ago she came back into my life in ways I never imagined. Never a good driver and having not driven in 15 years or so at the time of my father’s death, she needed someone to take her everywhere. After a few years of accommodating her from afar, it became clear that she needed to be closer to me. Although I have many siblings I am the eldest daughter in the family and the one she calls upon most often. We moved her out of the family home and into a small apartment nearby. For several years she lived there in the company of her cat and some very nice neighbors, one or two of whom she grew fond of, until it became clear that she could no longer care for herself. Too many accidents and near fires paved the way for the next stage.
It soon became clear to me, as my mother’s demands and needs encroached on my own life, that I was not yet done with my mother. I was not going to be able to just walk away from the bad witch. We still had things to live out together. What they are continue to unfold to this day.
Demanding and petulant, like a spoiled child, she has relied greatly upon the kindness of my heart. I have met in her every permutation of the bad witch. Very rarely, she has thanked me or told other people how much I have done for her. It’s a rarity, but it does occasionally happen. However, most of the time I am the target for all of her own unresolved inner disturbances, resentments, and regrets. It can be pretty hard to be in a small room with a woman who did horrible things to you and still love her, have compassion for her, and be kind to her while she’s belittling you, laughing at your clothing, commenting on your hair, or angry because you didn’t invite her to Thanksgiving. And yet I accept all of this from her, for in her own way she has been my greatest teacher in what it means to be a woman, a mother, a lover, a kind and compassionate being.
To this day, though I sometimes quake in my boots at the sight of her angry demeanor and the mood she’s in when I visit, I am grateful for all she still teaches me. Indeed, I truly am a full-fledged woman because of all that I have learned from her about being a woman. She has often been an excellent example of how not to live, but also how to stoically face what must be faced. Every time I see her I must face myself at her age, in her physical condition, and wonder, “how will I face what she faces every day? How will I choose to face my death? How will I live out the last days of my life?” She is my greatest advisor. She has given me a lot to mull over, and I still learn things about myself and about being a woman from her.
So, to get back to the point of this blog: women, though we are naturally initiated into womanhood, still have to learn to be the woman that we truly are, biologically alike and yet totally separate beings from our own mothers.
I had to find a way to fully embrace and live life as my kind and loving self, the gentle soul I really am, so different from the mother I got. I had to learn to be this kind and loving being toward her too, even after discovering and understanding the truth about her.
But even as a child and living in my mother’s house I was always kind to her, from the time I was very young, complimenting her on her clothing or hair, and every evening at the dinner table I always told her how delicious the food was, without fail. It was almost expected. The meal could not be eaten until I had delivered my opinion, always positive, and she said, “Thank you, Jan.” Only then was the meal consumed in earnest. In a sense, perhaps a part of me was trying to placate the bad witch, being nice so she might be nice in return, but the truth is, I always meant what I said. I really am a kind person and always was, that too is in my DNA.
I am a kind and gentle soul partly because I have had the greatest petty tyrant of a mother to teach me how to be that way. She pushed me, through her neglect and cruelty, to find and embrace my true self, the kind and loving being I am, the part of herself that she always seemed to reject. For some reason that she has not ever revealed she has hated herself and been exceedingly hard on herself. But she was not going to let me be like her. In her own strange, unintentional way she made sure of that.
I often wonder how evolved a being my mother might actually be. The possibility exists that she planned and accepted the role as one of my petty tyrants in this life, and the truth is, it benefitted me! I thank her for that. And yes, I do love her.
A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries
Dream a new dream. Manifest a new vision of life for yourself. Draw upon the creative resources within yourself and construct the life you want. Get in synch with your true self and let it guide you through your heart’s knowing of what is truly right for you, to what it is truly time for and how to get there. Isn’t it time for a new dream? You can dream it because, after all, isn’t life just one big dream after another? Knowing all that, dream on with clear and conscious intent this time. It’s in your power to change your life and that’s pretty darned powerful! And remember: the whole universe supports you in your intent. That’s pretty darned powerful too!
“Is this the road to masculinity?” asked the traveler of the stranger.
“Yes, if you turn around,” replied the knowing stranger. “All roads begin with Mother!”
Sorry Neo, it’s Mother who is really “The One.” In the beginning there was only oneness of being, life merged inside of mother. Though oneness became twoness at birth, the process of emotional separation and individuation from her power and resource can occupy a lifetime. Many remain attached to mother in her powerful archetypal mystique as benevolent goddess or dangerous witch, casting a shadow over the realization of their own innate power, magic, and majesty.
Such a goddess status is hardly appropriate for the fallible mortal woman charged with raising a child. In fact, the famous child psychiatrist, Winnicott, desperately attempted to assure mothers that they only needed to be “good enough” for their children to be fine.
What he was referring to was the necessity for mother to only meet minimum requirements of loving presence to enable her child to come online to the vital energy of their own inner circuitry and to become a viable separate magical living being.
This is not to downplay the primal significance of an early connection with mother. If basic minimums are not met a child may perish via a failure to thrive. Beyond that a child may harbor a powerful dependency upon mother for years while the circuits for greater autonomy await her switching them on, in vain.
There is a only a narrow critical period in youth where mother’s attention can activate those switches. Beyond childhood it is the adult ego that takes charge of the circuitboard of the self. In plain English, the adult must take the journey to discover their own riches.
The circuits I am referring to are somewhat identifiable in the neural pathways of the brain and body, the earthly hardware of the soul. However, the mind, the outer wrapping of the soul, is a bit more ephemeral and includes both the ego, the conscious sense of self, and the unconscious, which at its deepest levels, the collective unconscious, contains the basic instinctual knowledge of our species, as well as its spiritual majesty.
In effect, the unconscious has all the knowhow we need to become a person and meet the challenges of life, but access to this inner font of wisdom is first projected upon the agent of mother, who through early attachment serves as conduit to these inner riches. Hence, the immortal goddess status is freely projected upon mother, vestiges of which can last a lifetime. Does mother ever become just the normal human animal we all are?
Given the power of the inner archetypal drama unfolding behind normal growth and development, in addition to the nuances of one’s personal relationship with their actual mother, a lot can go wrong on the path to adulthood! That’s where adult psychotherapy comes in, helping an individual to individuate through developing a direct relationship between the adult ego self and the golden riches of the deeper self, turning on the circuits of wholeness within the self.
The major challenge on the original road to masculinity is to withdraw one’s all-powerful projection onto mother as “The One.” Fourth grade boys often trade “your mother” jokes to prove their personal power over this primal relationship. One must never show hurt feelings or rage at these jokes and risk suffering the label “mama’s boy.”
The technology of masculinity at this young stage is the ability to fragment and compartmentalize. If one has needy, dependent, soft feelings for mother they must be denied and hidden. To be masculine one must have power over feelings and needs. Instead the focus shifts to competition and the ability to conquer and control. Archetypally the dramas become identification with superheroes or sport’s heroes.
The thrust of adolescence is toward greater autonomy with needs shifting toward social groups and explorations of dating. Young adulthood focuses on deeper autonomy, planting oneself in career directions and the world of work. Intimate relations may move deeper into commitment but frequently dissolve beyond the romantic idealization stage where love flows freely without obligation. Intimacy is a pathway to the magic, but only with maturity.
With commitment comes a deepening of intimacy and this is where the trouble begins. Masculinity gained through the tools of fragmentation, compartmentalization, competition, power and control are no match for the demands of intimacy, which brings one back to feelings, needs, and the omniscient power of mother that is resurrected in the person of one’s intimate partner.
Mother is the primal first love object who in one form or another is the prototype coloring all future intimacies. For men to truly secure their masculinity they must conquer this powerful female prototype of their infantile dependency needs, frequently represented in archetypal myths as battles with the dragon.
However, conquest of both need for mother and fear of her do not solve the final challenge of masculinity. The final challenge is to be open to deeply loving connection with an intimate partner. To achieve this there is no other road but the return to mother as she appears in the shadow of everyday life encounters, for it is there that we will encounter the ghosts of the nursery.
The ability to tolerate the power of these ghosts that can trigger us into rages and withdrawal is fundamental. The ability to stay present to regulate the archaic emotions that shoot forth from the depths and resolve their associated complexes are the deeper challenges of masculinity.
To be able to make contact, to experience union without the need to dissociate, to hold onto self and fully receive an intimate other are all signs that the power of mother has been successfully transformed; the magic has been discovered within.
Mother can be loved for her humanness, but in adulthood she no longer holds the power of archetypal projection. Full masculinity has been reached and one is truly ready for deeper intimacy. Owning this full masculinity transcends the pseudo-masculinity of power grabs, or the relatedness of childish neediness. This is masculinity that embodies its own magic. Thank you, mother!
Get grounded and stay grounded no matter how bad the world gets, no matter how sad the world gets, no matter how absurd the world gets. Bring spirit fully into body and live grounded in knowing the self as fully spirit-in-body, as fully whole and alive, as fully sane and capable of right decision making and right action, for the world needs grounded people now to keep an even keel, to clear away the fog of illusion, to steady the course and sail in a new direction with goodness of heart, kindness of hand, and compassion of word and deed. Even if you only do this in your own little world you are doing what is needed, and that is good. Take care of yourself. Stay grounded in yourself and keep your spirit alive. Know who you are and why you are there: to accomplish even the smallest of good. That is a fine life indeed!