If you consistently read our blogs you know that, recently, my mother passed away. The way I have processed her death has been very—I’m searching for the right word—nourishing, affirming, enlightening. These seem like strange words to use when talking about losing someone I dearly love.
Yet, I feel good about the way I spontaneously responded to my mother’s death. And I’ll share that experience with you before I tell you the worst thing I almost ever did to myself.
I grieved—crying uncontrollably—shortly after learning my mom had died. Then, within a couple of hours, I experienced myself at a fork in the road of my consciousness. If I went in one direction, telling myself or other people stories about my mother—which is what people were encouraging me to do—I felt unsettled. I unsettled myself.
The stories would have sounded like this:
“She lived a good life . . .” “She was getting to a point when life was becoming less enjoyable . . . ” “She did almost everything she ever wanted to do . . . ” But even when the stories were positive, I still disoriented myself. The stories were true, but they were not happening in the present moment. They were part of the past, and I think that by trying to hold onto the past I was preventing myself from being present.
When I went in the other direction, which involved no stories at all, but being present with my awareness of her and the fact that she was gone—I felt love. Nothing else, I just felt love.
And this experience of staying present is how I nourished myself. I think this was possible for a few reasons. One reason is that I had individuated from my mother. I started my process when I was very young, only sixteen, and continued for another two or three decades. But eventually, I felt complete in my process of individuating. We had established what I refer to as an adult/adult relationship. Another reason I felt able to stay present was that I had no unfinished business with my mother. There was nothing I wanted to say that I hadn’t said. And I believe this was true for her as well.
Or, so I thought.
A few days ago I learned that my mother made some last-minute changes to her will. This came as a complete surprise to me because I was the person who managed her financial affairs. Also, I had specifically said to my mother more than once, “Please don’t surprise me. If you ever decide to make changes to your will, which is up to you because it’s your money, will you let me know? That way I can voice my opinion, and then you do what you want to do. That’s all I ask.”
My mother agreed to honor my request, promising if she ever wanted to make changes she would discuss them with me first. Well, my mother broke her promise. She made changes—to my disadvantage—and never told me.
Why? Why not honor such a simple request?
I think in my mother’s case it’s because she wanted to avoid conflict, especially with her children. And I think this is true for many people, they want to avoid conflict or being wrong or being judged.
Within the Live Conscious orientation, there is no right or wrong in interpersonal dynamics. There is just being human. People are where they are, with their fears and concerns and dreams and hopes. Living in this orientation allows me to express myself without fear of being judged so that I can move more gracefully into and through life’s challenges. Living in this orientation erases my old ideas about conflict: winning and losing.
When I live in the Live Conscious orientation—fully—I recognize that other people’s behaviors and actions are statements about them, not me.
The issue—outside of Live Conscious—is that I imagine another person’s actions (my mothers) are a statement about me.
And, even though I practice the Live Conscious orientation—and I know better—I took my mother’s action personally. This is rare for me at this point in my life, but I felt betrayed by one of the people I loved and trusted the most.
“How could she do this to me?”
As soon as I went into this space I was victimizing myself. I saw her as the perpetrator and me as the victim. And very quickly, because I felt wronged, I started making her wrong. I didn’t even want to look at the picture I have of her in my bedroom. And the picture I have of her in my head was changing, becoming tainted.
I was on the verge of making one of the worst mistakes of my life. I was polluting my picture of my mother—a woman who loved me well and who had been a constructive role model throughout my entire life. If I had continued in this direction I would have lost something precious, embittered myself and victimized myself. And, for me, because of my commitment to the Live Conscious orientation, I would have truly undermined myself if I had continued to victimize myself.
Fortunately, I have some great friends who remind me of how I want to live my life. My dear friend, Rick, said, “This is who your mother was. She was conflict-averse.” He said it in a loving way, not a judgmental way. He reminded me of other things she did in recent years as a way to avoid conflict in my family of origin.
He also pointed out that she and I had different priorities in life—different values. Her priority was creating temporary tranquility, especially in our family. And she was good at it. My priority was and continues to be, honesty and candor. I’m willing to go through some turbulence in the short term to create stability in the long term.
I reoriented myself
Being an experienced Live Conscious practitioner, it only took me a couple of days to reorient myself and recognize that her behavior was a statement about her, not me.
When I recognize her actions as a statement about her, I feel compassion, realizing she must have anguished herself over breaking an agreement with me. I also looked at my part in this, realizing that I can be rather intense at times, and that probably contributed to why she didn’t tell me about the changes she was going to make in her will.
As I see another dimension of my mother, I realize that even though I kind of thought she was flawless—she wasn’t—she was human like the rest of us. And loving her while acknowledging this feels like a deeper level of love. So, I think I’m continuing to do “good stuff” with her passing.
I chose to share this personal story with all of you because it serves as an example of how even in what feels like pretty extreme circumstances—someone betraying my trust—I have a choice. I can make meaning of their actions by using the perpetrator/victim model—which is an example of living in “safety consciousness”—in which case I victimize myself. Or, I can do something we call “leveling up,” taking myself to a higher level of consciousness—heart consciousness, which allows me to change the meaning of the other person’s actions. When I do this I realize that their actions are a statement about them, not me. They are not doing anything to me. They are who they are. And I can choose to keep my heart open and include them in my life to whatever degree I want.
After writing this article I went for a sunset walk on a nearby mesa. The air was chilly, the sun still warm. I took myself through the Live Conscious four-minute meditation. In this meditation when I face the west, the direction of the setting sun, I remember those people who have gone before me. I thought about my mother. I spoke to her. I lovingly told her how I disappointed myself with her decision. And as I expressed myself, the image I hold of her changed—it became softer, or if I were to say that in Perception Language I would say, “I softened myself.”
If my mother were alive I would share this article with her—demonstrating how I continue to grow myself in relationship to her—and I believe she would respond with one simple word, “touché.”
Thank you for sharing your story Jake.. very helpful to myself and others how you were able to come to an inner understanding of yourself and relationship to your mom.
I am sorry for your loss but I see the blessing in your growth.
Be well, Susan