Losing my mother, finding my Mother
Some of us are born into exile. In the beginning, life is this fascinating kaleidoscope of colors, sounds and tastes, and at the same time an unbearable and terrifying assault on our senses. We feel too much, think too much, sense too much, perceive too much. As babies we sleep a lot. They say we are good babies, easy babies. We really just need healing time for the growing brain.
We live out a push-pull relationship with life. On one hand: an attraction to love, a deep longing for connection with Life, an innate curiosity to understand its different parts. An intense desire to belong. On the other hand: threatening energies, incessant soul-wounding, inexplicable fear. A progressive loss of innocence with every foray into the outer world. The inner world is a dark tangled forest we run to, equally scary, equally mysterious but subtler, quieter, seemingly safer.
We watch the adults around us with no concept of the past, no way of understanding they are the product of their own lives, Life itself spliced up in moments of trauma, frozen in time forever. As such they seem unpredictable, rigid, slightly insane. Why are they sad or angry when nothing bad is happening? Unknowingly we evoke anger. We quickly learn to stop asking questions. We accept the authority of the ones charged with our protection, accommodating their inner circumstances, adopting an appeasing, conditional identity. We pay attention to, and get better at, reading the room. We adapt, stay out of the way, mostly. We subconsciously learn to express those wishes deemed appropriate and acceptable, and lock our deepest secrets in a box that we bury deep in the woods. After a while we forget the spot, we lose the key. Our own core slowly becomes inaccessible to us.
We are good children, easy children.
In retrospect, the first day of school is the saddest day of our life. A hope-filled idea that never takes flight. It always feels like we are bumping up against someone else's ideas, to whom we have to relent. It's difficult. Our own ideas feel true. Turning within, we find them pulsating with life like a baby bird nestled in our heart. We pick them up with our small hands and offer them to the world. At best they are deemed incomplete- at worst, rejected. We want to be good so we keep quiet, pay attention to what they say is important, help the other kids. We pace our excitement, waiting for others to catch up. We try not to get ahead of ourselves. Inevitably, joy loses its footing as messages of what is desirable become mixed.
We find our dreams are incompatible with society's dreams. Slowly, our true self becomes invisible to our friends, classmates, teachers. We start experiencing ourselves as ghosts in the public sphere.
Our need for connection and clarity turns us toward nature. Mother Nature is never rejecting, always neutral. Exciting with the promise of danger, but operating under predictable laws. It is not always gentle, but mostly fair in the exchange. It is not judgmental, and always inclusive of one's own energy.
Watching ants, chasing insects, digging our hands in the dirt. Following the neighborhood cats. Playing with snails, climbing trees, picking fruit, watching the clouds. Stripping petals off flowers and looking at the different parts underneath. Collecting birds' nests, empty shells, pine cones. Pressing flowers in a book. Picking out stones to crush pine nuts to get to the bounty within. Being at peace. A solace, some breadcrumbs to be discovered many years from now.
Our first animals become our best friends. They are our real-life Disney characters that cheer us on, give us counsel, offer comfort. With their tail-chasing and butt-licking, their rubbing into dirt and barking at passers- by, they encourage and participate in our silliness, while accepting our childish moments of absurdity, mischief, anger and sadness. Our intensity is validated, our sovereignty unquestioned. At night, we hide under the covers and read books. Castles, princesses, knights, mermaids, dragons, witches, fairies, we devour all the mythical landscapes that resonate with our own internal landscapes. We create our own characters and play out their lives through dolls. We express our dreams, fears and anguish: a teddy bear banished from its community for being too outspoken. A war drill for all the toys to escape the house safely. An orphan Barbie, left to fend for herself. A Barbie who ran away from home to be free from rules. Once in a while we drag others into our grandiose fantasies: at seven years old, a plot to escape to Mexico like a band of wild children to save Keiko the orca.
|Illustration by Maurice Sendak from Charlotte and the White Horse (1955)|
As we grow older, our complexity, depth and fluidity are seen as blasphemy, too threatening for the rigid structures of society, too frightening for those who can't place us in a box. We are unfathomable, inexplicable, indefinable. To the eyes of the world we are deviant, defiant, challenging. A quiet problem. Because we are so mature for our age, people assume we can handle the things that are being said or done, that our minds can work around it all. Emotionally we are still children, and because we are docile and sweet, all of people's thoughts, fears and expectations of us are played unconsciously, unquestioningly, well below the surface of anyone's radar, including our own.
If we are born female, the limitations and projections are even worse. Make no mistake, there is no welcome committee at the tail-end of childhood; our mothers are still struggling with their own baggage and obstacles blocking their way. They try to be heroic and supportive, but at the end of the day, gifted women of any age are a tremendous liability.
[A note to female Cypriot readers: Consider the bleeding history of this island you were brought up in, and the cellular memory of your ancestors that you carry within your body. For centuries women carried the tremendous responsibility of raising their families, tending their households, working the fields, assisting others in childbirth, comforting the bereaved and continuing their culture and tradition through art forms like pottery, knitting and weaving. At the same time, they were excluded from the foreground of society, given away from father to husband in arranged marriages, while having to pay dowry for this exchange of master. They were consistently marginalized, oppressed, seen as lesser. Under the Greek Orthodox patriarchy, female divinity was demoted and neutralized, confined to the symbol of Mother of Christ (a remnant of the Goddess nevertheless beloved, potent and persistent in the collective psyche of Cypriots, as evidenced by their reverence and worship for Παναγία*). During recent times of war, women were murdered and raped, and their pain over their dead and missing husbands and sons utilized for political gains. At best, they became teachers and civil servants, offering much to a society that didn't respect them as equals. In all their brilliance, they still had to make a sacrifice or pay a price: depression, psychosis, rejection of the feminine, pain, suffering, loneliness. Where are our scientist grandmothers, musician mothers, executive directors, painters, politicians? Role models for us have lacked in diversity. Do not underestimate the absence of believable possibilities and blue-prints in our lives. It means we could not project ourselves onto the landscape. It means we could not project ourselves into the future. It means the journey to our truth was destined to be full of winding roads, dead-ends, failures and tears.]
Video showcasing a painting by Cypriot artist Adamantios Diamantis called The World of Cyprus (1967-1972)
So at ten or eleven years old we enter uncharted territories, a life unmapped, a path completely new for our generation and place, with fresh dragons and ogres in our way a-plenty.
Our minds and our diaries become battlefields of self-hatred. We pick up our pencil and sketch out a horrible witch. We spend the next few years growing into her.
Adolescence is an ugly place, with a few bursts of fire and light here and there. We are overcome by a changing body, which in absence of celebration and recognition brings new grief. Menstruation is an inconvenience, virginity a burden. Beauty and desirability are things we simultaneously secretly despise and desire, but they are always out of reach. Inevitably, we navigate early womanhood clumsily, angrily even, for the injustice of having to struggle to become something that will be rejected anyway. If we are lucky, we survive. Mostly with battle wounds and deep emotional scars. By the time we are eighteen, we have given in to self-medicating our sorrow and anxiety with alcohol, numbing our intensity with weed. Despite our academic achievements, which are our only hope of self-worth and value, we drift here and there, following the faintest promise of acceptance, love and understanding.
Usually we are drawn into toxic relationships with narcissists, energy vampires, extreme extroverts and fellow depressive and dysfunctional people. We cave in to the slightest sense of being seen.
Despite our parents' best intentions, by now we are lagging behind, becoming disappointments. We do not need to be reminded of that, we hate ourselves more than anyone else could hate us. We drag ourselves through life across a minefield of emotional triggers. We self-sabotage, destabilize, withdraw, lash out. We rage. All quietly, of course, in the privacy of our locked up cells/souls, drowning in silent screams.
|Edvard Munch, The Scream (1893)|
Nobody knows how much we suffer. Nobody takes responsibility for their energy, projections, envy, abuse, sabotage. Because we loathe ourselves, deep down we think we deserve all of it anyway, we are monsters, impostors, freaks, unworthy of friendship and love. After years of wiring our brains a certain way, we forget our own responsibility too. We relinquish our power and believe ourselves to be victims, becoming bitter and resentful.
We spend days in our room swimming in shame. If all this weren't so true it would be superfluous, like a Greek tragedy.
We fear success, we fear happiness. If we accomplish anything we believe it is through sheer luck or some trickery.
"If I become too happy, too angry, too independent or if I shine too bright I might destroy the world".
|Illustration by Satoshi Kitamura from Angry Arthur (1982)|
We reject others scornfully before they get to know us.
The bottom line: if you are a young, introverted, sensitive woman, you might as well go out into the desert - society was not made for people like you.
|Backbeatlili, Medusa (2014)|
And yet...we hold on somehow, sustained by the love of the people who love us.
"Perhaps they will forgive me, one day".
Then something happens. One day we just say ENOUGH with the suffering! Or we come face to face with DEATH, dear Persephone. Or we fall like Alice down the RABBIT HOLE and everything is inside out upside down. Or we are wounded with the arrow of EROS. Or all of the above. Either way one day, the fabric of reality rips at the seams. We take a peek behind the veil at that terrifying chasm: the mystery of (our) being.
It is something that cannot be described.
The question that's been kicking our ass our whole life rears its ugly head with a KO punch:
"WHO THE FUCK AM I??"
|Illustration by cat-o-morphism, Alice in Wonderland: Rabbit Hole (2012-2017)|
We stop. We get off the train. We sink into the Underworld. We sit. We listen. Ugh. A lot of noise, chaos. A lot of conditioned judgement.
Eventually, we relax. We listen better. The waters settle and, as it's been said before, we start seeing the rotting corpses and skeletons beneath the surface.
How do we navigate this shit? With patience and love. At some point our honest intentions are "picked up by the Universe". Teacher(s) come to us with lessons and bits of wisdom. The good ones point to our strength within, to our internal compass, to our ability to love and be loved. They keep pointing, sometimes slapping us upside the head so we focus, sometimes being more subtle until we finally "get it".
Something deep down starts stirring in the silence.
"The world needs me, and I need the world"
"I have a beautiful soul that has trouble containing itself"
"I am a child of the universe, I have a right to live my truth."
We enter the dark woods of our childhood. We take our first steps through the dense weeds and thorny shrubs. It is an arduous process. We lose faith, we stumble, we land on our face, we retry. We still feel lonely and despondent at times, we still cry and still protest that this is not the way we had ever intended to go. We encounter our shadow. We go through the cycle of blaming others, raging, feeling self-pity, painting ourselves small time and time again. We start looking at thoughts suspiciously... "now wait a second here, I know this is not true...". Every time, brick by brick, neuron by neuron, the shift is gradually taking place. Withdrawing increasingly feels more pointless, self-hatred seems futile. Before we know it, our brain is being digested from the inside out like a caterpillar in a cocoon, swimming in a soup of its previous form and the mysterious form to follow.
Alas, we are not those things that happened to us nor what we thought we were, nor all the labels and limitations we picked up along the way.
(From inside the cocoon: WHO AM I, GODDAMN IT?)
|Backbeatlili, staring into the abyss|
We start listening to the subconscious, exploring the unconscious. We write our dreams down. We talk to squirrels, birds and flowers, receiving their messages. We honour our energy receptors and our intuition, embracing those who come with love and offerings, and walking away from those who would burden us with heaviness or steal of our precious reserves. Likewise, we own our energy and our body, and take care to nurture and replenish our whole being. We pay more attention to the symbols and the archetypes everywhere. Forms, colors, shapes, numbers: Everything has meaning! We start seeing HER everywhere: Inanna, Astarte, Isis, Aphrodite, Hera, Artemis, Persephone. Everywhere we turn, there SHE is. She is Goddess, Lover, Virgin, Mother, Creatrix, Destroyer, Crone. She has three heads, she comes in threes. Threes everywhere, the great cosmic AUM. Everything comes alive every minute, bursting forth in surprising clarity: the dog, bodily functions, my pencil, the moon, the moods, the streets, my husband, the whole line of trees in the back yard. Signs of HER everywhere inside and outside. MOTHER.
|Meinrad Craighead, Mother and Daughter (1981)|
We start reconnecting with the Mother that we have longed for our whole lives. We bring to HER the parts of ourselves that were seen as guilty, intense, inexplicable, selfish, crazy, threatening so that She may bury them in Her womb, transfigure them into the seeds of Life, heal them from the misunderstood shunning they received outside of Her context.
We realize eventually the process becomes easier if we just own and question everything, emotions, thoughts, perceptions, the whole damn storyline. We take responsibility for our entire life. We try to remember ourselves many times a day, returning to the Source.We drink of Her cup and become one with Her. Pretty soon it's like riding a wave on our surfboard. Life becomes an exploration, and the ground on which we walk becomes sacred.
As our ancestors once did at Amathus, we enter Her giant dark vase with the knowledge that we, too, have the power of letting go of what is limiting and constricting, of all the identities that we have outgrown, like a snake shedding its old skin. Our bodies literally show us the way by bleeding away the unmanifested potentials, the Universe guides us with every waning moon, every fallen leaf and rotting log, every death and every exhale.
We emerge from the vase reborn, with the knowledge that we too have the power of bringing to life our dreams, our truths, the seeds we picked up from our journey down to the Source. Our bodies literally show us the way by producing new eggs and a safe fertile vessel for them to grow in, by the gateway that is our vagina, by the songs we sing, by the way our bodies produce art and music and move to the rhythm. The Universe guides us with every waxing moon, every new sprout from the earth and fresh shoot from a log, every birth and every inhale.
|Musee du Louvre, Vase from Amathus|
There is still loss, loss, loss of moments, relationships, loved-ones, health, and eventually our own personal life. Now there is also the knowledge that out of each loss always comes new life. There is still the coming to terms with the fact that our life is sustained by somebody else's death, but now there is the knowledge that an affirmation of life requires an affirmation of death. Without Space-Time, temporality, mortality, how would we know what this is like? There would be no sensations, adventures, the song of the Universe. All the pain and suffering is still there, but it is embraced and accepted as a component of being Alive, and if we remember, we use it to fuel our compassion and love instead of our fear.
There is nothing outside of us and nothing that is not sacred. We belong everywhere, and our individual lives, like the Universe, are a beautiful poem, perfect only if read in completion beginning to end, from Birth to Life to Death.
What comes next for us now is unknown, but what we can see is that as long as we keep walking, and as long as we keep owning, a little trail opens up ahead: our own path, a new road, unique and unexpected. Huh, isn't it funny that all along we were paralyzed, terrified of taking the wrong turn and going down the wrong path? That is impossible! The right path is always the one we are walking on. We were supposed to be exactly where we are, being exactly who we are.
With this faith and this trust and endless love, we say YES to Life and its cycles, and we are joyful, peaceful and free. We are Home.
* The Mother of Christ has hundreds of names and adjectives in the Greek Orthodox tradition, some of which were linked to previous goddesses such as Aphrodite.