Magic Carpet

April 5, 2011

When someone we love very much dies, it can feel like we have no ground beneath our feet.  We are catapulted into a vast emptiness, away from the world we knew.  We are freefalling, and we have no idea where, when, and how hard we are going to land.  This state of radical upheaval has been described as having “the rug pulled out from under us.”

In the opening line of “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis boldly says, “No one ever told me how much grief resembles fear.”  When Jenny died, I experienced moments of sheer terror.  It was as if one of the poles of the earth had shifted and the whole planet was thrown off its access.  My center of gravity was gone and I could not find my footing.  I had done enough mindfulness meditation practice to be able to shake my head in wonderment at my predicament.  I had not realized how thoroughly I had invested Jenny as being the ground of my existence.

I subscribed to the school of parenting that said a daughter should not have to parent her mother.  As a single mom for many years, I often had to fight the urge to confide in my kids, to lean on them for emotional support when I was worried or hurt.  Not a natural disciplinarian, it took all my will sometimes to let my “no mean no.”  I wanted my daughters to be able to rest in the safety of the loving limits I set for them.  I wanted them to know they could rely on me to be the grownup.

Ha.  The abandonment I felt when Jenny died unraveled the illusion that I was some kind of benevolent boss in charge of my children’s lives.  I quickly realized how emotionally enmeshed Jenny and I had been, and how psychologically dependent I was on her.  Jenny made me feel grounded and whole.  No matter how turbulent her adolescence became, there was this unshakable bond between us, and Jenny was still the person I most wanted to hang out with.  When I was with Jenny, I let down.  I was home.  When she was gone, it felt like there was no safe place in the universe.

It was tempting to shift my center of gravity over to Jeff, my boyfriend.  But somehow I had the presence of mind (a possible result of years of therapy) to sit in the emptiness and explore what it felt like to find validation within, rather than outside myself.  Besides, I mused, so what if there is no ground beneath me?  What’s it like to hurtle alone through space?  And I let go a bit.

Eventually I began to discover that I had not really had the rug pulled out from under me.   Instead, it turned out that my rug was a magic carpet, and Jenny’s death had released the spell and lifted the magic carpet off the ground and out into the unknown.  This journey has taken me into hell realms and heaven realms, back into the mundane world where I could touch down and rest in the love of my loved ones, and then out into the open sky of consciousness again and again.  When I am on the magic carpet ride, the boundaries of my individualized self dissipate, and the habitual sense of separation between me and the universe melts a little.  It’s a relief.  It’s an adventure.

16 Responses to “Magic Carpet”

  1. Rachel said

    Ahhhhhh, Mirabai. You’ve done it again. That terror you felt at and after Jenny’s death sounds very much akin to what I felt when my father died about a year ago. I was set adrift, no tether, no roots, and felt as if I’d died myself. Where was I? Did it matter where or who I was without him, the taproot and rock of my life? Then, slowly, I let the grief pour through me, let myself cry, remember, and cry some more, allowed myself the time, whatever that would be. It’s not that I never cry now but the hole in my heart is healing and he is happy for that. He did a great job of fathering, gave me all I needed, in “designer genes” and by example, to be my own taproot, my own rock, and I could let that come to the fore. I had no idea how much I’d depended on his strength till I had to grow my own. My friends thought I was strong but I was a marshmallow when it came to Dad. I am still growing, of course, still learning how to be a whole human being, but it’s a lot better now and I often thank him for what he left behind, rather than wishing the impossible, that he were still here. Accepting that loss and transforming it, transforming it so it can be accepted, are inextricably linked. There is no “Catch-22” in that; the two intertwine organically as they grow. Thanks so much, Mirabai, for clarifying that state of terror, calling it what it is.

    • Mirabai said

      Thank you for sharing a little something about the connection between you and your dad, Rachel. You were (are) so blessed to have had a father you could rest in. That’s rare for women, it seems. Much love to you –

      • Rachel said

        Thanks to you, too, Mirabai. He was my rock most of the time, but there was a long chunk of years when his addictions to alcohol, prescription drugs and the depression they both masked and deepened, all covered up his deep well of love, just so you know that my situation was not ideal, either. However, before and after that period, I could indeed rest in him and I am so grateful the well came open again, which he shared not only with me but all he met, be they two- or four-legged.

      • That sounds real!

  2. So that is what Steppenwolf was singing about… 🙂
    What a great way to use this metaphor.
    Speaking of the two way parent child relationship (which is often more two way then many parents want to admit), when a child attains a certain level of awareness, usually around seven years old or so (a level of awareness that suddenly has more “self” to it in relation to the outer world), the child begins to notice their parents in a different way. This journey of discovering yourself in relation to your parents is an ever changing one, one that never stops, even after their gone. Who were they really? What were their dreams of youth? Why did they appear to fall short or stop pursuing them? Why did they have me and care for me? Why despite my best efforts, in ways turned out exactly like them? Or perhaps best, “oh, that is what they were trying to tell me.”
    The family karmas and dharma’s that hold sway over us seem an unending source of reflections on our own selves along our entire journey.
    I remember following my father while he was doing chores when I was seven years old and wishing he would tell me what he was feeling, and in so doing, let me know who he was. I needed to know. To know myself, I needed to know who he was. He could or would not tell me, it was not the way he was, or perhaps his generation. I knew when things were bothering him but I didn’t understand what or how until many years later. He told me he loved me, but he never told me who he was. He did not seem to have his voice, or he did in a way that wasn’t loud enough for all to hear. Whatever his problems were, I may not have understood them, but I would have listened and not judged. Perhaps he thought I was too young, or it was not manly and men didn’t talk to boys. Just as an animal can understand emotional states, almost intuitively, so too do our young people. We owe it to ourselves to share with the world as if equals, especially our children. For in our relationship to them is where so much strength, hope and integrity lie.
    In a fit of rage one time I hit my paranoid dog and threw him out of the house. I later cried on his shoulder telling him I was sorry. He never forgot that surrender I made to him. If my dad had ever made that surrender to me, in a way I could have understood, even at seven years old, I would not have forgotten. He would have shared a little more of who he was, I would have known him a little better, and the world would have been a little richer for it.
    It is said that we grow up worshiping our parents, we later come to resent them, and if we are lucky we end up understanding them and loving them for who they are.

    Mirabai your story reminds me again, about our role playing that comes out at times as an inflated or over blown sense of parental (or other type)responsibility for those around us; when we do this we move from treating each other as equals (regardless of age or even species), to a state of separation. We project and lose the spontaneity of the moment to mostly fear. We also to a degree, lose a little of ourselves in the process.
    Again, I distinctly remember thinking, even at that early age; I wish my dad would tell me something so I would know who he was….
    Doug in Traverse City

    • Mirabai said

      Great story, as always, Doug. Fortunately, I failed way more than I succeeded in playing the authority figure in my relationship with my girls. One thing I was always good at was apologizing. Too good, as my readers might have guessed by now…

  3. This resonates with me…I had some of the same goals in my own parenting – to let the children have a real childhood, to be the place for them where “the buck stops” – after having felt like I had to be a “parent” to the adults in my life while growing up. And when it became clear that I was going to have to let my precious 12-year old girl go on ahead without me, the feeling of everything being WRONG was very, very strong. Yet I felt, as her mother, that it was my job to accompany her every step of the way, to be that reliable, unconditionally loving presence; to NOT panic, to surround her with peace and as much fearlessness and acceptance as possible…to ease her way, and to let her go with all my love. That was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

    Thank you for visiting my blog. I’ve sent links to your blog to a number of my friends who are also on this path. Blessings to you.

    • Mirabai said

      Only another bereaved parent will not only understand but likely smile when I admit that I used to be jealous of parents who lose a child to illness as opposed to an accident! Oh, Karen, your daughter was so blessed to have you as her mom. I bow to thee.

  4. Dear Mirabai,
    I do understand what you are saying. A group of four of us grieving mom bloggers created a private blog, and undertook a book study together (Joyce Rupp’s “Open the Door”). Reading and writing to each other about what we read, we learned much about other kinds of grief. Of the four of us, one has a son who passed away from SUDEP, one has a son who passed away from suicide, and one has a daughter who was killed by a freak wave – and all of them were young adults. I am the only one who had any warning, and I can see from my friends’ journeys that, though it was agonizing, the period of Katie’s illness gave us time to do and say so many important things before she passed away. But we suffered a great deal during that time, so I can’t say that one way is “better.”

  5. Mirabai said

    Yes, I was speaking with a large dash of irony. There IS no good way to lose a child. I watched my 10-year-old brother die of a brain tumor when I was seven, and witnessed the traumatizing effect his slow death had on my parents, and the ripples it had on our family life forever after. There are all the things I wished I had time to say to Jenny, and to hear from her – all the hugs I wish I could lavish on her – yet ‘m not sure how I could bear it if I had to watch her suffer. Thanks for your beautiful honesty and courage, Karen.

  6. Dear Mirabai, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your timing is always incredible with your blog posts, for so many reasons that I will maybe share with you some day in private. Without knowing anything about me, you have been accompanying me with your wisdom and compassion on a really difficult journey this past year and provided a number of reminders of magic carpets just when I really needed them. Thank you for all you do and for sharing your own journey so openly.

  7. Gaye said

    I have come back to read this again and again. I am not there yet, but am glad to know that I will not always feel like the rug has been pulled from underneath me.

    Thank you

  8. Antonio Altamirano said

    Hi professor Star The magic carpet gave me strength to live my life to the fullest and even if I walk with a cane I can still run in many deferent ways God bless and thanks for the guidance.
    The 5th Son

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