Tag Archives change

Lessons from my mother – part two: People don’t stay the same

By Posted on Location: 7min read
We spent quite a while staring at the changing landscape here. The rock worn away by the river, the man-made dam, the broken bridge… Comunidad Valenciana, February 2019.

A few weeks back I found myself having a drink with an acquaintance, who turned out to be a reader of tarot cards.

I have a literary fascination with tarot cards, by which I mean I love a bit of magic realism sprinkled into literature and so my tarot card knowledge comes almost entirely from Chocolat (and the sequel the Lollipop Shoes) by Joanne Harris, and one of the Philippa Gregory historical fiction novels which touches upon the life of Joan of Arc.

So later that evening, quietly, I asked if I could possibly see the tarot cards for myself. Sate my curiosity. Which is how, in a mixture of English and Spanish (for the session was conducted in Spanish but I was instructed to think in English) I learnt that things in my life would change, in a good way, but not in the expected way. And that I apparently have issue with the patriarchy…

Which perhaps means nothing, but at the same time did get me thinking about how people change.

In the last article I wrote about meditation and how I’d slowly, and reluctantly, gone from random commitments to meditation to a more consistent approach. And that this idea of daily practice, had impacted my daily routine, forcing it to change.

Now I’m going to start part two of ‘things I learnt from my mother’ by looking at the early hours of that daily routine.

I have never been good at mornings

Going back a bit it used to be that I was simply grumpy in the mornings. Having a strong cup of coffee didn’t seem to help much. The only cure for my grumpiness was time, and so I simply got on with accepting myself as a grumpy morning person. My dressing-gown through my teenage years read ‘grumpy but gorgeous’ on the back, but I can assure you that in the early hours of the day, weighed down with so much grumpiness, I am far from gorgeous.

Things hardly improved at university and got progressively worse when I had a 9-5 job. Except my job was 9:30 to 6:30 because there was no paid lunch break and my boss recognised that it would be better for all concerned if I was given the extra half-an-hour to become more humane.

My mother meanwhile considers seven o’clock to be a lay in

As a child I would wake up to discover her taking a freshly made shepherd’s pie out of the oven, although it wouldn’t surprise me because I was used to being woken by my mother’s battle with the pan cupboard long before my alarm went off.

I learnt to be a heavy sleeper.

Back home as an adult, dealing with trauma, sleep became challenging in a whole new way. In the evenings I would have to convince myself to go to sleep, knowing that I would wake up amid engrossing nightmares. At times I feared sleep. Even now I occasionally have evenings where the idea of sleep suddenly fills me with a sense of dread. Although, I also believe good sleep to be one of the best things ever.

In my darker days, in the mornings my patient mother would wake me up gently with a cup of tea and slowly I’d emerge from my dreamworld. I couldn’t force myself out of the dreams, but having that moment of being cared for early in the day really helped. It gave me something less frightening to cling to.

And slowly I got better. At which point I moved to Spain and started working again. At a school, where my first class tends to begin at 8:30am!

Which, I admit, was at first a challenge

Which is why I’m obsessive about having a strict bedtime. I used to laugh at my mother for heading to bed at half past nine, but nowadays at half past nine you are very likely to discover me in my pyjamas preparing my coffee for the next morning, whilst my house-mates contemplate what they’re going to have for dinner.

But what’s much more surprising is that by 7am I’m no longer in my pyjamas. In fact, this morning at seven I was in leggings and on my yoga mat, as I have been for the last couple of months.

Now I wish I could give a profound reason for it

I wish I could give you a sensible explanation, but the only one I have found is that I finally got fed up of starting the morning trying to bully myself into waking up. I’ve seen the mother in the morning and she too has a dazed look about her. And yet, she just gets up and starts the day and bakes shepherds pies. And by 7am she’s shook off all grumpiness.

So, having surrendered in my morning battle, I have surprised myself by discovering, I love mornings.

Which brings me to: people change

When I was in the routine of therapy, nightmares and feeling sorry for myself I could have easily become stuck in the idea that ptsd was going to be who I was forever. My psychotherapist described it as a chronic pain, something that I would carry for life.

And then the mother would put on some eighties songs and we’d be hula-hooping in the kitchen and making up silly routines, laughing at ourselves and I would forget that I was broken and miserable and instead stare at the incredible woman in front of me who had taken the place of my mother. Because the mother of my childhood did not suddenly think three o’clock in the afternoon was the time for swivelling her hips to Abba. It was for work, jobs, lists and hoovering.

My mother’s mentality isn’t to say, “Have a nice day.”

My mother says, “Have a productive day.”

But between Super Trooper and Waterloo my mother taught me an incredible lesson

People change.

And if people change, then I can too.

But the question becomes, to what?

At the same time my psychotherapist was drumming home the importance of knowing what it is I want. If you know me quite well you might think this is a bit odd because I am always doing things and am clearly quite ambitious. The difficulty I have had has been that I’m not always sure what it is I want and what it is I think I should want.

My psychotherapist suggested that I needed to practice acting on my frivolous desires. She said that if I wanted to run up the hill to the ice-cream shop and buy an ice-cream then I should run up the hill and buy an ice-cream.

I pondered this. At the time I had no income, and even now my income is erratic. I’m lactose intolerant, so I could not have a milk-based ice-cream unless I took a lactase tablet. If I were to run up the hill for an ice-cream, as my psychotherapist suggested, was I supposed to tell her I’d done it, and could I also do it combined with another task such as posting a letter.

Which, you’ll gather is missing the very valid point

When you extrapolate these analytical thoughts into the whole of life you can begin to comprehend how knowing what I want from the start is a much healthier option. Life’s to short to waste on all this meaningless analysis. Rather than trying to please everyone and then having a tantrum and being manipulative to get my subconscious needs met, I need to pull my wants out into my conscious mind and act on them.

Tomorrow I will probably practice my having what I want by passing by the bakery on the way back from the market.

These little lessons began to congeal

And I began figuring out that I didn’t have to be the person that I’d planned to be when I was fifteen but that I could be the person who I want to be today. As my mother was vibrantly demonstrating.

Pulling together all these thoughts, here’s a quick summary:

In part one I wrote about meditation, and about how having a daily practice is much healthier than an ad hoc approach.

Then in part two I discussed my history of mornings, and how coming to terms with waking up in the morning and learning to love the early hours has been a process of surrender.

And finally, I wrote about how my mother gave me belief that people can change in the cliché of ‘show not tell’. And how my psychotherapist started me along the process of knowing how it is I want to change.

Okay, I admit it, despite not believing in magic, I want my own set of tarot cards

Old-fashioned ones, softened by age and use. The rational physicist in me says not to be silly or frivolous, but the girl who was fascinated by a book on witchcraft from the school library and stories of magic-realism wants the tactile ownership of the magic for herself.

Maybe, today, there’s something frivolous you can do, just for you. Just because you want to.

I challenge you to do it.

The seasons change, and so do I

process of change
As the seasons change: Berries, on a walk in the snow.

“And what she said,” the Father continued, “Is that before someone gets any better, they always get worse first. They have to unlearn before they can learn.”

Driving back from the grandparents’ house after dinner, we were talking about the wisdom of an archery instructor. It was comparatively warm compared to other nights, a balmy 8 degrees celsius, and cosy in the car with the heated seats on and our tummies full. Encouraged by the Grandfather, I’d had a glass of wine and a couple of rich chocolates. The stars were out.

Sometimes you really need a quiet moment like that. With the Father talking, telling me stories, his voice calm and reassuring I felt relaxed, and although still exhausted, less like my tiredness was a problem. I’d been out all day. In a new place with new people making art in a new way. It had been fun and exciting, but the fear that rides in my blood was a little closer to the surface than I’m comfortable with. The more tired I get, the less vigilant I become at silencing the thumping anxiety.

The phrase about unlearning in order to learn stuck in my mind

Over the next few days I turned the idea over, upside down and back to front. It occurred to me that unlearning is uncomfortable, and that we resist the command to have faith.

In archery, as someone tries to make a correction to their technique, they find themselves initially piercing the target further away from the bullseye (or missing it altogether). They’re thinking about what they’re doing. It’s the muscles pulling back the string that unlearn how to shoot the arrow, and then relearn. The teacher can demonstrate, prod your muscles to make you conscious of them and keep up some encouraging rhetoric, but it’s the archer, both mentally and physically, who makes the shot. It takes time for the knowledge stored in the muscles to change.

I imagined the ensuing frustration. Like learning to drive on the right of the road when you’re used to the left – suddenly you’re forced to think harder, and inevitably you’re slower, you make more mistakes and you find the simple things more difficult. In moments of panic, when driving a foreign car, I reach for the gear stick and bash my hand on the door.

Is this change really a good change?

Was the technique not better before? The fears and uncertainties go round and round in your brain. It’s uncomfortable not being able to do the things that you used to be able to do with ease. If the archer keeps with the new technique though, they begin to improve again. And this time, when they plateau, the arrow is hitting its target with more consistency.

Theoretically, as a concept I get it. When you’re trying to improve though, and things keep going astray, it’s tempting to quit rather than see the frustration as part of the learning process. Only after working through the frustration, do you get closer to owning that smug smile.

Of course, the instructor smiles a knowing smile having seen the process happen over and over, but there’s nothing much they can do but calmly wait for the internal battle to take place, and hope that it’s won.

My psychotherapist has that smile too, the one that she smiles when I finally connect the dots that she’d been purposely not mentioning. Her eyes brighten, and she leans forward slightly, a positive affirmation of my conclusion.

Sometimes it’s not two steps forward, one step back, but one step back, two steps forward.