IMG_5437In a recent conversation I learned that a friend of mine feels like he has spent much of his life trying to be like his mother — to copy, live up to, emulate her.  I was taken aback, because it’s clear as day to me that I spent many years of my life trying NOT to be like my mom.

What a rich topic!  It opened many doors for us — of understanding, sharing, learning about ourselves and each other.  The characteristics he associates with his mom are competence, kindness, ease.  He experienced her as comfortable with herself, and consistently choosing to make the best of any situation.

Well, what I experienced from my mom was criticism, of herself and others (most pronouncedly ME), insecurity, anxiety… The criticism went even to the point of viciousness at times.  I felt her love to be conditional, dependent on my being the kind of child she wanted me to be.

On the surface, it makes sense that he wanted to emulate his mother and I to eschew mine (at least to not be like her).  But that’s just the first chapter. The plot thickens!

As we continued to inquire in to our realities, he shared that he was coming to really get it that all our experiences of another person (or of a situation, or the world), are just that:  OUR experiences.  They often bear little or no relationship to the “real” thing — in this case, what his mother was really like, or more accurately, who his mother really was.  He knows full well that his mother occasionally made choices that spoke very clearly of being stressed, and not at ease at all.

There were many more details, but suffice it to say that he also was aware of many actions that flew in the face of his filtered experience of his mother, how his reality was very partial.  And still, it is hard for him to see his mother except through his personal filter.

We often don’t take in the big picture — seeing instead what we want to see, or blocking out what we don’t.  And this often happens unconsciously.  Now wait until you hear about my insights!

As I moseyed along my winding path toward authenticity (hey, I even wrote a book about this!), I remember how proud I felt about having managed to NOT be like my mom.

Then one day I had the idea to make a list of the ways I WAS like her.  This was part of my effort to work with my shadow side and to see and accept all of me.  Well, I wrote and wrote….  The list went on for five pages!!  It included the positive and upbeat things we shared, such as an interest in dance, exercise, cooking, the outdoors.  But I also listed all that I could see of the dark sides we shared: perfectionism, critical and judgemental tendencies, insecurities, and a desperate need for others’ approval…  My amazement grew as the pages accumulated.  Truly a chip of the old lady block!  It was an illuminating and humbling exercise.

Years passed.  I knew that my mom loved her two kids, (I was one!), that she was nurturing, creative, curious, eager to learn…  For years I knew all that intellectually, and had a certain acceptance, but I didn’t really grok it inside.  The stings were still too painful.

UnknownI vividly remember when I finally came to see my dear and complicated mom more completely and could really feel her love for me, her nourishment and caring, her joy in her family.  It was a lovely reconnection, and touched and changed me at a deep level.  Unfortunately this didn’t happen until years after she had died.  Still, it was a deep and wonderful shift, and is with me today.  Maybe she felt it too.

It’s very easy to think we’ve got someone’s number, that we know what they were/are like, by recalling our experience of them.  We easily, and mistakenly, take our experience to be the reality of the person, the situation.  It’s often a giant leap to see the whole picture, to take in more than what’s comfortable and familiar, or what we prefer to see — about ourselves, or another person, a life  situation.  It takes courage, sensitivity, and awareness to let another person be who they fully are, and not let our perceptions create a box to keep them in. Not black and white, but countless shades of gray, and even paradox.

The beauty of it, and topic for another post perhaps, is the magic that when we can accept another person for who they fully are, we are more likely to give that gift to ourselves.  Or is it the other way around?!

There are many more dimensions to this inquiry, but we will let this be the segue to Hallowe’en and our journey toward authenticity  — we can masquerade and parade about in any way we like or are inclined, and know that inside we, and all those other zombies, souls, and spirits, are real live, complicated, paradoxical, magnificent human beings, unique and miraculous each in his/her own way!

And a Mystery to boot!  Not they way we appear on the surface, or what someone takes us to be, but much, much more!images

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Follow me on Twitter, let’s be friends on Facebook :-)

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