Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014.12.27 — On Death, Gods, Monsters, Mothers and Alice Miller's Parental Fushigis*

The other night I chatted on-line with a friend I used to chat with all the time, but haven’t been lately for various reasons. It was nice. No! It was better than nice. We have always felt quite free to talk about anything and everything, although God and The Bible can be contentious. Sometimes, like last night, I like to tease her gently about God’s gender, for which I was once again told to ‘stop being stupid.’

Note that I had a cold — my first in about four years — but my friend didn’t know that at the time. Anyway, here is a synopsis of the conversation:

I commented that with her help I had come to feel joy in life for the first time, and that if I were to die tonight that would be okay because of what her friendship has brought me. She demanded that I tell her if I die. And that made me realize that because our friendship is on-line, if I were to die no one in my off-line life would know to tell her that. What a strange thought! So I joked about my not being able to tell her of my death because she doesn’t believe in ghosts. (And I added that I will arrange for friends to let her know of my death.)

As we chatted, she commented on how her stubbornness is hindering her efforts at ‘working on herself.’ I once again brought up Alice Miller’s book, The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting. (I think it would help her. Anyway…)

A short time later, she asked me to not die tonight. I assured her that I had no plans to, but that that was in God’s hands and that She is an extreme practical joker. We both smiled with the familiarity of re-experiencing that old banter as she chastised me for my failure to respect properly God’s gender. I argued that God has been female or neutral in bibles older than the Christian testaments.

Just before it was time to stop chatting I commented about death being a part of life, and not being something to fear. She said that she isn’t afraid of death, that it is like falling asleep. ‘Not if you get hit by I bus, or fall from a high-rise,’ I countered. To which she riposted ‘Have you ever fallen asleep with a migraine?’ And with a smile, we signed off for the night.

Then I went off to do minor household chores before going to bed for a short sleep. With the cold, which was a bad one, my body ached, my skin was hypersensitive and chest felt tight. When I woke around midnight the cold was still heavy in me, but I needed a break from bed and so came up to my library to listen to music and read e.mails. My copy of The Upanishads, which is sitting on the desk beside me, began calling me to open it. And so I did, and my randomly opened page brought a smile to my face, because this is what I read:
1. Then Sukesan Bharadvaja asked him, 'Blessed one, Hiranyanabha, a king's son of Kosala, came to me and asked this question: "Bharadvaja, do you know the person with sixteen parts?"

'I told the prince, "I do not know him. If I had known him, how could I not have told you? The one who speaks falsehood withers up, root and all, so I may not speak falsehood." He fell silent, mounted his chariot and went away. So I ask you the same: where is this person?'

2. He told him, 'Good man, the person in whom the sixteen parts arise is here, inside this body.

3. 'He thought, "What needs to have departed for me to have departed? What needs to have stayed for me to stay?"

4. 'He created breath: from breath, faith, space, air, light, water, earth and the senses, mind, and food: from food came strength, heat (tapas), the mantras, work, the worlds, and in the worlds, name.
5. 'Just as the flowing rivers, heading towards the ocean, once they have reached the ocean disappear— their name and form are broken up, and it is just called "ocean"—the sixteen parts of the seer, heading towards the person, disappear—their name and form are broken up, and it is just called "person". This is without parts, immortal. There is a verse about it:

6.     'Know the person who is to be known —
          In whom the parts are fixed
     Like spokes in a chariot's wheel-hub —
          That death may not trouble you.'

7. Pippalada said to them, 'This is as much as I know of the supreme brahman. There is nothing higher than this.'

8. Praising him, they said: 'You are our father, who bring us across to the far side of ignorance.' Praise to the supreme Rsis! Praise to the supreme Rsis!

Note: ‘… the sixteen parts are said to comprise the subtle body, or linga sarira, with some modifications. From Indian Philosophy: An Introduction by M. Ram Murty.
See Wiki Subtle Body.

The Upanishads. Toronto: Penguin Books, 2003. Translated by Valerie J. Roebuck. Ch. ‘Question 6’, p343. [Text can be found on line here.]
And, even more amusing, was that as I was writing that the song Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men came into my ears on random Youtube. Interesting — no amazing — lyrics, about burying truth. What first caught my ear, because of my conversation, was the lyric ‘all that’s left is the ghost of you’ which tied what I said to The Upanishad’s reference to the subtle body and how the gender of god is male and without gender.

But when I really listened to the lyric, which I did repeatedly after the first listen, I was stunned to see it describe with perfect metaphor Alice Miller’s arguments about surviving childhood brutality in The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting! And, of course, what extends the fushigi is that before coming upstairs to write this I was reading chapter 9’ The Carousel of Feeling’ from that book. I have plastered it with sticky notes, including another fushigi, because Miller is describing my life. Specifically last night I was reading her description of how hard telling the truth about our feelings for our parents to our parents is, and how we bury that truth at the expense of our body’s health and emotional and psychological ability to be authentic.

And, even more amazing is that the lyrics ‘all that’s left is the ghost of you’ from ‘Little Talks’ ties my conversation to Alice Miller’s book and the subtle body of Indian philosophy and my comment about the gender of God. Too amazing.

Here are the lyrics to ‘Little Talks’:

Hey! Hey! Hey!

I don't like walking around this old and empty house.
So hold my hand, I'll walk with you my dear

The stairs creak as I sleep,
it's keeping me awake
It's the house telling you to close your eyes

Some days I can't even dress myself.
It's killing me to see you this way.

'Cause though the truth may vary
this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore.

Hey! Hey! Hey!

There's an old voice in my head
that's holding me back
Well tell her that I miss our little talks.

Soon it will all be over, buried with our past
We used to play outside when we were young
and full of life and full of love.

Some days I don't know if I am wrong or right
Your mind is playing tricks on you my dear.

'Cause though the truth may vary
This ship will carry our bodies safe to shore

Don't listen to a word I say
The screams all sound the same.

Though the truth may vary
this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore

You're gone, gone, gone away,
I watched you disappear.
All that's left is a ghost of you.
Now we're torn, torn, torn apart,
there's nothing we can do,
Just let me go, we'll meet again soon.

Now wait, wait, wait for me, please hang around
I'll see you when I fall asleep.
Don't listen to a word I say
The screams all sound the same.

Though the truth may vary
this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore

Don't listen to a word I say
The screams all sound the same.

Though the truth may vary
this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore
Though the truth may vary
this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore
Though the truth may vary
this ship will carry our bodies safe to shore

Penultimately, I want to include a quotation or two from Alice Miller. But to make the depth of the fushigis visible would require me to cite pretty much the whole chapter, if not the entire book. So… A quick summary and then a couple of short(ish) quotations. Miller’s argument is that children of parents who hurt them very badly because of a lack of genuine love for their children, whether with physical brutality sexual or otherwise, or emotional battery whether from hysteria or coldness, will almost always become physically ill as adults and die prematurely if they do not stop unconsciously seeking from their parents the genuine love and acceptance and honour their true inner child still craves. If, in other words, they do not accept fully without any self delusion or denial the truth of their parents as having been hurtful people, their bodies will tell them they are not seeing the truth by becoming physically sick. Her argument resonates with the truth because of my own life story, which I won’t elaborate here.

I had originally restrained myself to just the one quotation, but as I was writing this two more needed to be included because of the quality of the fushigis associated with them.

From Chapter 9 ‘The Carousel of Feelings':
I once initiated a discussion on the Fourth Commandment by asking what the love of ones parents consisted of exactly, even if they were cruel to us in our childhood. The answers came quickly, with little time for reflection. Various feelings were named: compassion for the old people, who were frequently also ill or frail; gratitude for the gift of life and the good days when one was not beaten; fear of being an evil person; the conviction that we must forgive our parents' deeds because otherwise we will never be truly adult. This triggered a heated discussion, in which these views were challenged. One participant, Ruth, said with unexpected vehemence:

My life is proof positive that the Fourth Commandment is wrong. Once I freed myself from the claims made on me by my parents and stopped living up to their expectations, overt or covert, I started feeling healthier than I had ever felt before. I lost all my symptoms, I stopped being irritable with my children, and I now believe that all those things had happened because I was trying to comply with a commandment that did not do my body any good.

Ruth thought this commandment had such power over us because it supports the anxiety and the feelings of guilt our parents have inculcated into us at a very early age. She herself had been a prey to enormous anxiety shortly before she realized that she did not love her parents. She had only wanted to love them and accordingly pretended both to herself and them that she actually did. Once she became aware of this, the anxiety disappeared.

I think many people might feel the same way if they had someone say to them, "You don't need to love and honor your parents. They did you harm. You don't need to force yourself to feel things you don't really feel. Constraint and enforcement have never produced anything good. In your case they can be destructive; your body will pay the price."

This discussion confirmed my impression that we sometimes spend all our lives obeying a phantom that goes by the name of upbringing, morality, or religion. It forces us to ignore, repress, or fight against our natural, biological needs, and finally we pay for this with illnesses that we neither understand nor want to understand and that we try to overcome with medication. When patients undergoing therapy actually manage to achieve access to their true selves through the awakening of their repressed emotions, some therapists, inspired no doubt by Alcoholics Anonymous, attribute this to the agency of a "higher power." By doing so, they undermine the trust we all have in ourselves from the outset: the trust in our ability to sense what will do us good and what will not.

In my case, my father and mother systematically drove this trust out of me from birth. I had to learn to see and judge everything I felt through my mothers eyes and to systematically kill off my real feelings and needs. Accordingly, in the course of time I was seriously handicapped in my ability to feel my own needs and to go in search of their gratification. For example, it took me forty-eight years to discover the need to paint and to allow myself to gratify that need. Finally, that need asserted itself. It took me even longer to concede myself the right not to love my parents (p111-2).
Finally, two fushigis from Miller.

#1: 2014.12.03: “The ability of the body [to heal] is a never ending source of wonder to me” (p117). I read that two days after visiting my new dentist on the 2014.12.01. She and I both agreed that my distressed molar needed to go and so she pulled it. She had a student with her and so was articulating with near awe and total respect how my body had responded to the long term infection that had been extant in the roots of that tooth. “The body is very smart. It knows what it is doing. Amazing.”

And now here is the fushigi quotation from Miller:
A person once said, “It’s true. Why do I think it would kill my parents if I told them what I really felt for them? I have the right to feel what I feel. It’s not a question of retaliation, but of honesty. Why is honesty upheld as an abstract concept in religious instruction at school but prohibited in the relationship with our parents?”

Indeed, how wonderful it would be if we could talk honestly to our parents. What they ultimately make of the things we say to them is something we have no influence on. But it would be an opportunity for us, for our children, and not least for our body, which has after all shown us the way to the truth.

This ability of the body is a source of never-ending wonder to me. It fights against lies with a tenacity and a shrewdness that are properly astounding. Moral and religious claims cannot deceive or confuse it. A little child is force-fed morality. He accepts this nourishment willingly because he loves his parents, and suffers countless illnesses in his school years. As an adult he makes use of his superb intellect to fight against conventional morality, possibly becoming a philosopher or a writer in the process. But his true feelings about his family, which were masked by illness during his school days, have a stunting effect on him, as was the case with Nietzsche and Schiller. Finally, he becomes a victim of his parents, sacrificing himself to their ideas of morality and religion, even though as an adult he saw so clearly through the lies of “society.” Seeing through his own self-deception, realizing that he had let himself be made the sacrifice of morality, was more difficult for him than penning philosophical tracts or writing courageous dramas. But it is only the internal processes taking place in the individual, not the thoughts divorced from our bodies, that can bring about a productive change in our mentality (p116-7 my emphasis).

#2: A letter from someone taking the risk of becoming alive.
I read this the day after learning that my mother was nearing death. I haven’t spoken to her since 1979, and I will not go to either her death bed or her funeral. My sister replied to my having declined the opportunity to see her one last time before her death, ‘Yes. No boo-hoo from me too.’ She then related to me that she had been under strict orders from our mother and younger sister to not to tell me or our oldest sister that mother was near death because mother ‘would not stand for the hypocrisy of you and [my other sister] racing to her bedside with your belated concern and grief for her passing.’ Yes, that sister has been estranged from ‘mother’ for almost thirty years.

As I was preparing this, Neil Diamond’s song ‘I’ve Been this Way Before’ came into my ears from my iTunes playlist. Odd, in the light of what is happening now in my life, how this was an absolute childhood favourite song.
I've seen the light
And I've seen the flame

And I've been this way before
And I'm sure to be this way again;

For I've been refused
And I've been regained
And I’ve seen your eyes before
And I’m sure to see your eyes again
Once again.

For I've been released
And I've been regained
And I've sung my song before
And I'm sure to sing my song again
Once again.

Some people got to laugh
Some people got to cry
Some people got to make it through
By never won'dring why.
Some people got to sing
Some people got to sigh
Some people never see the light
Until the day they die;
But I've been released
And I've been regained
And I've been this way before
And I'm sure to be this way again

Once again.
One more time again
Just one more time.
What made this song a part of the fushigis is that part of the discussion with my sister has been about how my mother refuses to see the light of her actions. And that is in accord with Miller who writes that, in her experience, it is very rare for parents who were abusive to their children to see the light of their behaviour and choose to heal it. Instead, if the child begins to take control of their own life and stop hoping for a love that will never come, the overwhelming behaviour from the parents is resentment and the perception that the honesty is simply their children being ungrateful malcontents.

Anyway, now for the final Miller fushigi quotation. As I was learning about my mother’s immanent death, about which I felt, and continue to feel, complete indifference and no desire to attempt any final deathbed reconciliation, I read the following letter that Miller cited:
The whole process [of standing up to my parents with full honesty], however, was anything but painless. I had to look the truth in the eye/and the truth hurt. I felt the suffering of the little child I once was, a child who was never loved, never listened to, never taken any notice of, a child who let himself be exploited, hoping that someday things might be different. The miracle was that the more I felt, the more weight I lost*. I didn't need strong drink to numb my feelings, I started seeing things straight again, and if I had an occasional fit of rage I knew who the real targets were: not my children, not my wife, but my mother and father, from whom I could now withdraw my love. I realized that this love was only the desire to be loved, a desire that was never fulfilled. I had to get rid of that desire. Suddenly I didn't need to eat as much as I used to, I was less tired, 1 had all my energy at my command, which had a bearing on my work as well.

In time, my anger at my parents also cooled off, because now if I need something I do it myself, instead of waiting for them to do it. I no longer force myself to love them (why should I?), and I no longer fear that I will feel guilty when they are dead, as my sister has prophesied. I think that their death will be a relief, because then the constraint to be insincere and hypocritical will disappear. But I am already trying to free myself of that constraint. My parents asked my sister to tell me that my letters had become very down-to-earth and factual. They found this hurtful because they felt I was not so affection as I used to be. They wanted me back the way I was. I can’t do it, and I don't want to do it either. I no longer intend to play the role they have allotted to me In their little drama. After a long search, I found a therapist who made a good impression on me, someone I can talk to the way I used to talk to you, frankly, without sparing my parents, without covering up the truth, my own truth. And above, all, I'm glad I was able to make the decision to leave the house that bound me for so long to hopes that could never be fulfilled (p109-111 my emphasis).

*I have, likewise lost weight since seeing this truth. About eighty pounds, I estimate, since 2012.
Wow. That was a lot of words and took a long time to get posted. If you have read to here, thank you.

2015.01.13 Fushigi addendum: I got an e.mail from my sister today saying that she read my blog. That was nice of her, thank you! But what is a remarkable fushigi is that she told me that shortly before leaving to attend our mother’s last days, in December, that she also purchased a copy of The Body Never Lies from her used bookstore! What she doesn’t know is that I found my copy in my local used bookstore. And that, a few months later, when I wanted to send a copy of it to my friend, I found another copy of it in my local used bookstore. Too, too funny!