Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Inner-Dictator

In my last post I wrote a little bit about my relationship with my mother, and this post is going to be a bit of a follow-on from that one.

I'm living with my mother at the moment, and my parents are separating.  My mum is upset about the separation; she's anxious, she's angry - and she's not talking about it. Her behaviour over the past few months has been difficult to deal with, but it's also been really helpful to my meditation practice because I've been able to see that her behaviour is like an exaggerated version of what goes on in my mind. 

My mother has always been a controlling person. My projection of her is that she sees life  in terms of control and power.  She's not a bad person, and she doesn't mean to be like this but...she is.  (Well, to me, anyway!)

I've done a lot of volunteer work with refugees in the past, and am still involved in researching refugee claims.  This kind of work means that I listen to asylum seekers stories about what happened in their home country (usually a country we wouldn't be holidaying in, like Iraq, or the Congo), and then I try to find supporting information to corroborate their claims. 

I end up reading a lot about life under dictatorships.  It struck me this week, while I was meditating, that I've always had a natural affinity and empathy towards the stories of people who've lived under a dictatorship.  I then realised that this affinity resulted from the feelings I felt growing up.

If I had to put this feeling into a few short phrases, it was the feeling that it didn't matter what I felt, it didn't matter what I did - there was some authority figure standing above me that was going to control what happened.  It was the feeling of complete powerlessness, a 'knowing' that there was no use resisting and no use hoping for something different becuase I had no control over what would happen.

Like a row of dominos falling, all the bits started falling into place - I realised I connected with refugees becuase I could empathise with their feelings of powerlessness. In my mind's eye, I saw the figure of my mother towering over me, like some enormous state of Saddam Hussein, or Stalin - looming and ever present. 

I saw that in my family, my mother was like a dictator. But, I also saw that I had internalized this dictator within my own mind and used it to rule my own life. I force and bully and critisize myself constantly. I try to dominate and control my own thoughts and feelings, with the intention of turning myself into a 'well' person. 

I also realised that, of course, my mother does this to herself in her mind.  She bullies herself.  She gives herself no rest and no space to just be an ordinary human being. It gave me some compassion for her when I saw that we can't put something out into the world without that same thing being our inner world as well. I might have to deal with my mother a few hours a day, but she has to deal with her own mind 24 hours a day, and it's my projection that my mother's inner world isn't such a wonderful place to live.

Thinking about this, I just felt so grateful that I'd discovered meditation, have an awesome psychologist, and have access to wonderful teachers like Tara Brach and Cheri Huber. My siblings have talked about trying to get my mother to see a counselor so she can talk through some of her feelings and try to get some support.  I hope she does go to see someone, but I am not so hopeful it will result in much change. 

I hope I'm wrong, but, knowing my mother, and knowing how much rigorous committment goes into making therapy 'work' - I feel doubtful that much will change for her.  Which makes me feel sad.  I was half- asleep the other morning and I was half-dreaming about my mother's funeral.  In the dream I was out the front of the church, and the funeral had just been held.  One of my mother's friends came up to me and asked, 'Are you sad?'.  'Yes,' I said, 'But, actually, not so much becuase she's gone.  I'm sad because I don't think she had even one moment of true peace in her life.'

I feel like my work at the moment (apart from lying in bed with an ice-pack on my head) is to try to break this generational cycle, and learn some self-compassion and self-care.  I can't change my mother's life, and I might not even be able to change the anger I feel towards her, but very slowly, I am changing the way I relate to myself.  And, when it all comes down to it - I think that's probably the only thing I can change. 

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