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Kingston, NY, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009

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‘Om’ For The Holidays
By Scott Kalechstein

I had written so much about inner peace, balance, and harmony in cosmic terms, when all it really came down to was fallout from Mom and Dad on this earth. What a joke. You think you have a handle on God, the Universe, and the Great White Light, until you go home for Thanksgiving. In an hour, you realize how far you've got to go and who is the real turkey! -- Shirley MacLaine, Dance While You Can
Are you going home for the holidays? To those people who love you, but who seldom express it in the way you would want? To those people who sometimes (or often!) have no clue how to honor your boundaries, or validate your feelings? To those people who can push your buttons before you even push the doorbell?

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Venus, Aysia & Scott.
Coming to a place of real peace in our hearts with Mom and Dad, whether they are still alive in the flesh or just in our psyches and memories, is often both the most difficult and the most important soul work one can do in a lifetime. We can meditate all we want, feng shui our home and work environments, visualize our goals, get healers to clear our chakras, and eat organic, live foods, chewing slowly forty times each bite.

Yet if we have unprocessed indigestion from the hurt, anger and shame we felt when we were chewed out by our parents, it's going to get in the way of enjoying lasting love and happiness in our relationships as adults. Engaging in spiritual pursuits without psychological and emotional healing work is like placing icing on a cake of mud. No matter how delicious the icing, the cake won't taste good.

Sometime in my late twenties, a suspicion began sneaking up on me that the difficulties recurring in my relationships with women might have something to do with my connection to the woman I've always had the most difficulty with. (Take a guess!) My mother is one of the most passionately headstrong and expressive women I have ever met. She really voices her opinions and lets her feelings fly. Throughout childhood and on into young adulthood, I often felt swallowed up and overpowered by her emotional energy. It felt to me as if there was no room in our relationship for my own feelings, and even for my emerging (or submerging!) identity. My coping mechanism was to play the game of see-saw. When she raised her voice, I lowered mine. When she emoted, I suppressed. When she expressed caring, I danced at a distance.

It was a painful dance. My mother felt hurt, and she let me know it. I felt both guilty and resentful, and let nobody know it. I became an expert in emotional camouflage.

I started therapy to address intimacy issues that were showing up in my life with women. All roads led to my mother, and I decided to ask her to join me for a five-day retreat that focused on healing between parents and their children. She shocked me by saying yes. We found ourselves, along with sixteen other fathers, daughters, mothers, and sons, diving deep into the unfinished business that held us back from loving and understanding each other in the present. Both my mother and I had hopes that the retreat would help us get closer. Much to our surprise and discomfort, what we found out was that we needed to psychically and emotionally separate from each other before we could explore creating a healthy bond.

Planet Waves
Scott Kalechstein.
The facilitators recognized a lack of boundaries between us. They helped me see that I had cords going out to my mother, not umbilical, but just as binding, that needed to be cut before I could truly feel and explore my sense of an adult self in the world, as well as have a fulfilling relationship with a woman.

As a child, I had gotten myself enmeshed in my mother's feelings. On an emotional level, I was assuming responsibility for her pain and joy, and she was doing the same for me. One of Barry Manilow's songs described our bond: "I feel sad when you're sad; I feel glad when you're glad." It was no wonder I suffered a bit from codependency in my love relationships with women. The retreat gave us both a jolt, shocking us into new territory. We began to practice letting go of trying to change and control the other person, and started seeing each other as unique individuals, two adults instead of simply mother and son.

A few weeks after that experience, I wrote the following song, both to share my feelings with my mother and also to express empathy for what she was feeling in her letting go process.
(son) Oh, take delight in my awkward flight
Don't ponder the how or the why
I'm leaving the nest to discover my best
Don't squeeze on my hand as I fly
Let go and wave child good-bye
Oh, take delight in my awkward flight
Your love and your fears weigh a ton
The distance I choose is no verdict on you
Don't battle what needs to be done
A man needs to grow from a son

(mother) Son, I nursed you and rocked you and answered your cries
I looked out at life through your innocent eyes
Now you're turning away and it's so hard to bear
I gave you my all, there's a piece of me in there

(son) Oh, take delight in my awkward flight
Let's cut away old worn out strings
I came through your home to discover my own
Please don't let my spaciousness sting
Take joy that I'm finding my wings
Oh, take delight in my awkward flight
Don't pull on the reigns tightly so
I'd much rather soar from your heart's open door
Oh, mother it's time to let go
Oh, mother it's time to let go

(mother) Oh, I never knew this would be part of the plan
A part of me wanted to always hold your hand
It's sad, but it's good and my heart understands
Good-bye to a son is hello to a man

(together) Perhaps we'll be buddies, perhaps we'll be friends
Who knows where we'll land when we touch down again
But for now we must fly in our own separate skies
Trusting our love as we say our good-byes
Trusting our love as we say our good-byes
Trusting in love as we say good-bye

I would love to report that one retreat and one song was all it took for everything between me and my mom to be hunky-dory. Some weekend seminars give the illusion of a quick fix: all we have to do is write one heartfelt letter or make one life-changing phone call in which everything unexpressed is put on the table and the conversation concludes with both parent and child saying their "I love you's" through a shower of grateful tears. Maybe it's that way for some people, but for me the healing has been and continues to be a gradual, and often messy process -- one stumbling step at a time.

For instance, one weekend about seven years ago I took a clumsy, but giant, step forward. I was visiting my mother in Brooklyn, and became aware that I was walking on eggshells. I was still intimidated, not expressing myself fully in her presence. She was saying shaming, critical things that were pushing my buttons and I was pretending I didn't feel hurt. Finally I couldn't pretend anymore. My passivity was costing me too much. I recognized that I had been taking care of her feelings again at the expense of my own. I was exasperated, and felt desperate to break through to a new place with her. It was time for ‘pattern interruptus' a phrase I coined for when something completely outrageous needs to happen to break out of an entrenched pattern.

What I did, in layman's terms, was throw a temper tantrum. I let her know how hurt and angry I felt about the ways she violated my boundaries over and over again. I threw out the window everything I've learned about non-violent communication, conflict resolution and taking responsibility for my feelings, and gave her a blast of good old-fashioned, unenlightened, shouting, i.e. "You are the most abrasive person I know! I am sick and tired of you trying to control me and put me down!! I demand to be respected and treated with decency, as an equal!!!" Etc. Etc. (I confess that I am only letting you in on the nicer things I said. For a complete unabridged version, just consult your own shadow fantasies!) Something inside me had snapped, and I was letting her have it with all the gusto that I had been tempering for years.

For ten minutes the storm raged. My mother had shielded herself by pretending to read the newspaper. She probably was somewhat in shock. Actually, I was too. But somehow I knew it was a positive eruption that would lead to healing, the way a thunderstorm leads to cleaner, clearer air and a refreshing break from stagnant humidity.

I went away for two days. When I came back, I was eventually treated to the following miracle: "Scott, let's sit down. You talk, I'll listen." My mother, having been shaken up by a son she had never seen before, had new ears on. I told her (in a gentler way) what was hurting me. I had never felt so listened to and honored by her. She had been jolted awake by my anger and was now receptive to hearing my pain. Our relationship had again turned a corner.

Some people's parents are no longer on the planet. Others are completely unavailable for emotional dialogue. This may seem like a drawback to healing, but it doesn't have to be. The universe is gracious enough to help stage re-enactments of our childhood scenarios over and over again until the healing process is complete -- through lovers, jobs, bosses, the IRS -- whomever and whatever it takes to bring us in touch with suppressed emotions from our history so we can feel them all the way through to resolution, change our belief systems, and start creating the future without the past as a reference point.

Mom and Dad, thank God, will show up everywhere, until we have learned the lessons they have come to teach. In my case they are still alive and I can relate directly, in the flesh. For many others they are alive metaphorically, in the mates and bosses and authority figures who resemble them. In either case, the gurus are there, not perched up high in the Himalayas, but woven into the fabric of our everyday lives, poking and prodding us in little and big ways, calling us to feel, to heal, to set boundaries, to stand up for ourselves, to release victim ways of being and come into our own power and authority.

How do you know you have completed the lessons your parents have come to offer? When you can admit that the childhood you had was exactly what your soul conspired to create for your highest good, that you were not the victim, and they were not the villains. When what you feel in your heart towards them most of the time is peace and gratitude. When you see them not in black and white, but as both imperfect and lovable people with strengths and flaws, people who did the best they could with what was given to them. When you can extend to your parents freely the kind of love, gentleness, attention and respect that you may not have gotten from them in childhood.

That's when your life is no longer about conformity or rebellion. At that point your mate ceases to act out your past (or you get a new mate!), your boss gets nicer (or you go into business for yourself!), and the IRS is conspicuous only in its absence. Freed from the unfinished business with an earthly mother and father, you can then be about your life purpose with full joy and confidence.

After fifteen years of daily meditation, as well as trying all the shortcuts and workshops out there from LSD to NLP, I finally was humbled enough by life to get honest with myself about who my gurus were and where my real healing work needed to happen. A pilgrimage to Brooklyn may not seem as spiritually significant as going to India, and screaming in anger may not seem as peace promoting as chanting in Sanskrit, but whoever said a soulful and authentic life was going to fit our pictures and meet our expectations?

As Marianne Williamson is fond of saying, real growth is messy. Blessings on your healing journey, wherever it may lead you.

As long as there is room in your heart for one enemy, your heart is not a safe place for a friend.
-- Sufi saying

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