Friday, March 12, 2010

A visit with the Gobble-uns

You better mind yer parunts,
an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,

An' churish them 'at loves you,
an' dry the orphant's tear,

An' he'p the pore an' needy ones
'at clusters all about,

Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you

Ef you Don't Watch Out!

-- from "Little Orphant Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley

Yesterday a friend who wants to take on a meditation practice wrote to ask about my morning routine. So I gave her the details of my daily ritual: up at 6, feed the animals, reading and coffee, meditation -- the usual drill.

But I suspect there must have been a wee bit of complacency or pride in there somewhere, because this morning that routine went to hell in a handbasket: I overslept, didn't awaken until 7:30, and came down to the kitchen to discover we'd had an ant invasion in the night. Spent the next hour slaughtering the darn things and tracking them to their outside nest, then raining down death and destruction on them and their unhatched young.

By the time I was ready to meditate my husband was up, but my brain was also bouncing around, so instead of being quiet and calm my meditation was disrupted repeatedly -- disgusting images of ant eggs; preparing to do battle if more ants should come; a sort of wry amusement at the contrast between how the morning was supposed to go and how it went (and wondering how I'd write about that); and hearing my husband puttering around.

Somehow, by the time I got to the computer, this old poem -- I don't even remember when I first heard it, but I'm thinking, maybe third grade? -- was playing in my head. And I'm thinking it's there because this morning's departure from routine gave me a chance to visit with the SHOULDS -- those evil demons I've been wrestling with this Lent. Not that the shoulds themselves are goblins -- the shoulds actually have value; they're noble efforts to do the right thing, and in listening to them we can help make the world a better place.

I think the goblins themselves are more about failure: we are our own worst judges, and eat ourselves alive with guilt when we fail to live up to those internal standards. I've been reading Robert Bly's book on the shadow this week, and this morning read his explanation of the power of those goblins:

"We came as infants "trailing clouds of glory," arriving from the farthest reaches of the universe, bringing with us appetites well preserved from our mammal inheritance, spontaneities wonderfully preserved from our 150,000 years of tree life, angers well preserved from our 5,000 years of tribal life -- in short, with our 360-degree radiance -- and we offered this gift to our parents. They didn't want it. They wanted a nice girl or a nice boy... That doesn't mean our parents were wicked; they needed us for something. My mother, as a second generation immigrant, needed my brother and me to help the family look more classy. We do the same thing to our children; it's a part of life on this planet. Our parents rejected who we were before we could talk, so the pain of the rejection is probably stored in some pre-verbal place."

The power of those goblins is precisely that; that they have been planted in some pre-verbal place; very hard to access, and harder still to challenge. If you'll bear with me for a minute, I'm just going to personalize this: The power the goblins continue to hold is somehow connected to my early experiences of my mother's anger. Seeing my now-deceased mother from an adult perspective, I suspect her anger had little to do with me, and more to do with her frustration at being stuck with a colicky little kid when she would have much preferred to be at work designing airplanes. But because I didn't understand WHY she was angry at the time, it felt like anything I might do had the potential to trigger that fury. So the goblins are actually my own creations, put in place to guard and protect me; to keep me from doing anything that Might Make Mama Mad.

So even if my conscious mind gives me permission to delay my meditation period to rain mass destruction on ants, some deeper part of me -- which I created myself to protect me from the terrifying (and, for the pre-verbal child, life-threatening) fury of my mother -- finds fault and questions every decision, looking for a reason to feel guilty; preparing me to look and feel abashed in case my mom should catch me. Some part of me learned early that if I beat her to the punch with an apology, she might be less likely to punish me -- which means, I suspect, that I learned early to apologize just for living.

I think the reason I got an actual glimpse of the goblins today is partly because I'm on the alert (that's my job this Lent) and more because this morning's departure from routine is small, and so these particular goblins are small, and not so scary -- more like gnats to be brushed aside. But given this glimpse I can see that forward progress in any area has always been a bit halting because those pre-verbal demons, who are actually there to protect me from parental disapproval, are always on the lookout for potential failure, checking to be sure I "don't do anything bad." And that anxiety I feel when I make an independent decision without first getting approval from someone -- these guys are the source of that as well.

Whoa. And now some part of me wants to apologize to YOU for dragging out my dirty demons as if they were somehow special and unique to me. But they're not, you know-- we've all got them, it's just that some are bigger and scarier than others. But now that we recognize them -- and comprehend their role, and where they came from, and why -- how do we convince them that their job is done; that they can retire now; that now that we are grown we no longer need their constant messaging?

Something tells me that's the job of a lifetime.


M.L. Gallagher said...

Okay -- so I love this post. Mostly because, my goblins are your goblins and you gave me a 'safe' look at mine so maybe, tomorrow morning when my morning goes to hell in a handbasket -- if it does -- I won't get stuck in shoulds!

And what are friends for but to help friends 'see' what they've been missing?

Thanks Diane -- great insights!


Maureen said...

We all have basements in which our monsters (and goblins and ants) hide but sometimes you just gotta open the door!

I don't mind looking at yours. Some of mine are the same. And as Louise says, What are friends for?


Jayne said...

There is always a part of me (which I have finally learned to not give so much credence to) which worries about disappointing. It is the job of a lifetime, just as you said. But, with practice, we can simply smile and put it back into its place. Thank you for being vulnerable today.

kimprayz said...

Yikes! A plague of ANTS? And DANG how I hate Humility when it comes calling. But I still get to look up to you as an example of meditation practice. And in the long run isn't it a win-win situation?

Win: You get to be reminded to be humble (not that I'm saying that God brought you the plague *G* but doesn't he "use all things for good..."? LOL

Win: You have someone who looks up to you. That's always nice, feels good.

Win: I get to have someone to look up to and act as a mentor and guide in my travels.

Win: I get a reminder that I need to set out my ant traps early, cuz this season of Bugs & Crawlies seems to be starting early!!!