Coming to a “Spiritual Solutions” workshop at The Chopra Center in Carlsbad, CA with my mother was a choice I made on impulse -more accurately, compulse (is that a word? If not, I’ll make up a new one here, for those quick-trigger decisions made out of compulsion). In this case, it was the compulsion of love. I know my mother craves new sights, sounds and smells, actually needs them for her survival given PTSD from an armed robbery a few years ago. But she rarely expends the effort to fill those cravings on her own. She’s yet too jilted and anxious. So I realized, as I often have the last few years, that I must be the vehicle for much of this vitality-giving experience. And much as that often taxes me and overwhelms me for all the responsibility I take on, I love her too much and feel too strong a sense of duty to do anything but accept the role-reversal. After all, she brought me into this world, caring for my life and getting me to adulthood. If the tables turn, I should care for her life the same way, right?
When I read the Chopra Center e-mail (prophetic that I did on this day, because life’s busy-ness had rendered the last several to a fate of “swipe left”) I immediately told my mom she should go. She replied “I really do want to… but only if you’ll come with me.” An immediate flash of exasperation that once again, she wouldn’t make the journey on her own and relied on me to help her execute. A scary reminder of her fragility as well as of my weighty responsibility to keep fighting for her life until she was ready to stand on her own again. I wish I was yet completely altruistic and selfless, the being that does completely in service of others rather than having to see some personal gain to incentivize her. Alas, I’m still working up to sainthood, so I thought, “setting up all the logistics and travel plans, taking the time off, babysitting my mom, all in exchange for a weekend with Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert. Yeah, I could hang with that-be the dutiful, loving daughter, and get to spend time in the company of two of my favorite icons. I agreed to take care of the plans and got the ball rolling.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy. If I’m not teaching my parents the ropes of technology, I’m making financial decisions directly on their behalf. If I’m not being triangulated in their domestics, I’m working hard to shed all the traits they’ve bequeathed to me that aren’t so savory (my mom’s judgmental Judy nature, her impatience, my dad’s stubborn will and fear-based decision making). Being a Spiritual Goddess is a constant process of rediscovering how much work you still have to do to warrant the title. Part of that means that on these journeys and excursions, I’m in the vortex of a constant cycle of impatience and irritability with my mother, followed by guilt, then remorse, and finally relief when things regain balance and I can feel at peace and authentically kind or compassionate without the up swell of impatience and irritability again.
She’s in constant need. When did I become the parent? I asked myself repeatedly once we embarked on the journey. Getting her checked in to her flight, finding her way to a bathroom, what she should order for dinner, why is her cell phone not working (inevitably, it was), where is the baggage claim (probably in the direction of the “baggage claim” signs). It’s a constant barrage of questions, most not really needing answers; also not quite rhetorical, like “what do you think would happen if I left you to find baggage claim on your own?” Rather like a 2-year-old who’s main existence for a period of time revolves around asking questions. It gets quite draining.
On an evening midway through the workshop, my mother asked me “are you annoyed with me?” Instant heaviness and guilt, my heart afflicted with the tiniest fracture. I apologized, telling her it was mostly hormones- hateful buggers- lowering my social capital to the extent I couldn’t reign in the irritation and let kindness override it as I normally would. I decided to take some space and leave our shared room for a while, my heart so heavy and my body gripped by its monthly chemistry experiment. My mind was turning over the truth that was too hard to express to her: that I was overwhelmed and angry at feeling like the parent all the time. I just wanted to be mothered sometimes too. When I returned a couple of hours later, my mom was reading, just as I had left her, and, reading my mind, said, “I’m sorry. I’ve been acting like a child. And I’m the parent.” She vocalized exactly that which was too harsh for me to utter. And in that moment the relief washed over me, permission to be human gifted through words that were too hard for me to say. I was her mirror, and she was mine, as all super close relationships are when they are evolving to something greater.
The next few days passed much more peacefully; now that I had acknowledgement that yes, it would be hard for a child to play the role of parent, that it would feel heavy and burdensome and harsh, I could release the solitude of keeping it all inside. And it began to dissipate. I saw my mother as in need, not needy, and became her vehicle for fulfillment, as opposed to a necessary element to fill her void. One feels like a service, the other like a burden. And we positive psychology people know that service is one of the most salient routes to human flourishing. A most worthwhile thing to strive for.
Once back home on the East coast, my mother sent me a message. As I read it, my swollen heart contracted and the tears squeezed from my eyes. It read “Dear Bubs, I have been reading the Brian Weiss books [on reincarnation and past lives] and I realize that you must have been a teacher of mine in some birth or other and you are now in this birth to make me realize the really good parts of myself. For that I am grateful. Love you, Ammsi.”
As the tears rolled down my cheeks and I closed my eyes, I said a prayer of gratitude for lessons learned and love given.