Years ago I understood with luminous clarity that at the center of my clinging to self hate and self destructiveness was a burning passion to hold the train for my mother. I saw myself ~ my right hand holding to the barely restrained locomotive, right foot on the stairs, left planted on the platform, hand outstretched to my mother in a gesture of entreaty ~ please live. We can both live together, just grab a hold.
Years later, at the end of the movie Thelma and Louise, when the two women grasp hands to sail into the mythic abyss, I would have a heart wrenching spasm of recognition at this gesture of hope and solidarity.
I wanted to live, I wanted my mother to join me. She could not. So I made an unholy alliance with all that would hold me back; with all the fear, hatred and piousness that served to suspend me there, on the platform using every bit of strength I had not to move, exhausted and waiting, eventually too ill to hold that train any longer and too ill to board myself. I could not save my mother and did not know how to save myself without
feeling that I was leaving her to die with her loneliness and devastation. But I couldn’t die ~ the light through the leaves was too beautiful, the dusk too full of possibility to leave just yet. There were those who loved me and work I knew I had to do. I could no longer expend the energy required to keep the brakes on my life and I couldn’t surrender to it. Exhausted, I gave up and fell into an abyss of grief.
I learned that if I could grieve, I could live. I lamented her life and mine ~ and thus the unlived lives of so many women of my lineage. The Mothers. I had a deep love for my mother and still do these ten years after her death. Several years ago, this devotion made my first therapist very suspicious as Western psychological theory dictates that she not believe me when I told her that I love my mother deeply. In fact, therapy almost
destroyed that love. I learned that I was angry with her and to take the side of the child who lived inside me who was wounded and betrayed by her inability to be the kind of mother psychological theory dictates that I needed her to be. I learned that I felt too much sympathy for her, was too fused with her to get aboard my own life. I learned to frame my experience in this way and, because I believed it, it helped some.
But in trying to save one tree, my therapy nearly burned down the forest, a fire fueled by misguided blame and insight. Not that this is always true. Sometimes mothers are so damaged, so ill that they are malevolent towards their children. And it certainly wasn’t that my mother was perfect. But so much of what I struggled and suffered with was due to circumstances beyond either of our control, not to her inadequacy or malevolence
as a parent.
It wasn’t until my mother died and I became ill that I entered the actual grieving process that would lead to true healing between us. A work that would help to make clear how rooted I am in my mother’s body, my mother’s teachings and her joys and sorrows and how I can take all that with me in sustaining and singing my own song. I learned that she
couldn’t possibly be adequate to meet the burdens placed on her, nor could she ever measure up to the impossible standards that Western psychology prescribes as good enough mothering. In Buddhist practices of compassion, the way to meet all with a warm and open heart is to see everyone as your mother or as having been your mother in a past life. Westerners are aghast at this thought ~ love everyone as your mother? “But I hate my mother. She is demanding, cold, smothering, needy, too independent, judgmental, passive, clingy, too wild, too tame…too much, not enough, never right.” In the west, we just can’t imagine mother love as a guideline for an in depth spiritual practice of compassion, for she is the cause of all our ills and it is our separation from
her that is supposed to be the hallmark of healthy development.
Perhaps the Buddhists understand something that we don’t. What if we came back to mother love as a ground of being? What if we came back to the Mother Root, the Mother God? We had Her once, and She was systematically destroyed to make room for God the Father. Are we, with our theories that both trivialize and blame human mothers, doing the psychological equivalent of the church fathers who demonized the Goddess? Perhaps our frustrated inchoate longings for the Great Mother we once knew are so deep and grievous that we turn in rage against our human mothers’ inability to be the deity we remember. We love her, we hate her, we sentimentalize her, we demonize
her. Is what we have called psychological ambivalence really a spiritual confusion?
The lotus blossom floats on the surface of the water, the umbilicus root hidden, snaking down into the watery depths, anchoring each flower. Yet many modern women, we psychologized women, flail on the water’s surface unaware of the depth of connection to the Mother Root. Or if we are aware, we feel it is trying to drown rather than anchor and nourish us. My passionate love for my mother, my refusal to leave her behind, bore
within it the indestructible nucleus of devotion to the Mother Goddess. It was my memory of the Mama Root of all time. Women cannot get on the train of our life without this vital root connection. I couldn’t, my mother couldn’t. I had to find my way back to my mother and to The Mother through the maze of alienating psychological theories and Christian teachings. I had to reconstruct the broken pieces and deeply grieve what had been taken from me and from my lineage of mothers. This means that I had to face the truth of our devastation and the on-going brutal severing of that umbilicus that binds us to The Mother. This umbilicus is like the phantom limb, indestructible in spirit, an energetic
template always present, if not fully vital. The life of the mother can be healed in the daughter. My mother once wrote to me, “You know I stayed and tried my best even though the Moon was where I wanted to be.” Now, I go to the Moon for my mother. Every healing act, every move toward freedom, I do for my mother.
Her sacrifice was not in vain. I once diagnosed this as an issue, and struggled to be free of it. Now I claim it as a sacred vocation. One of healing my mother’s life within the vessel of my life. One of honoring the ancestral mothers in ritual. One of resacralizing and reclaiming The Mother Root. Boarding the train of life is my practice, over and
over again I remember that I can live and that in the living I am arm in arm with Her. And in this practice, I breathe life into that umbilicus. I had a dream. I am walking up the street where I lived as a child. I am coming up over a small rise in the road, and see
that a huge black cast- iron archway stands in front of and frames my house. Standing within the archway are two large women’s symbols, of equal size, linked side by side. The archway suggests a shrine or portal. The words come as from an oracle “The trouble is in the launching.” At first I interpreted this to mean that psychological separation is a dangerous time. But the dream continued to haunt me, a sign that I hadn’t yet understood its message.
The Shrine and Portal aspects encouraged me to receive this dream as a message from spirit. The oracle says that trouble brews when we are cut off from The Mother Root, our portal into and out of this world. This unnatural severing from Her has devastated the
bonds between all women. These two women’s symbols stand strong and equal together, enshrined, watching over this house. All the grief, raging, love and, finally understanding, has begun the work of reconstructing that shrine to it’s rightful, undistorted place in the house of my psyche. I have had many dreams since then, where my mother returns to my side, joining me in healing and discovery, joyful and equal.
Copyright © 2003 by Nora L. Jamieson