Even now, if and when I bake a cake, I look for a hovering child to lick out the mixer bowl. Those excited faces lined up, one adventurous child, perhaps, hefted onto the counter, legs dangling, arms in easy reach of first dibs. But nowadays there is no child to fill the gap in proceedings. Only me, and I don’t lick. It thinks me of how a practice, a process, can be so affixed into a mind that it defies the truth of Now. And it isn’t just cake bowl licking memories that can stop me in my tracks.
As time moves on bringing more wrinkles and less children I am often caught up in what once was and is no more. The whole process of letting go is natural and normal to us all and, yet, there are times when Time now collides with Time then and they become as one. It can happen as I notice my reaction to something someone says. I may feel a sharp gasp shoot down my gullet or a tear rising, the wind roar of it in my ears as its fingers reach back in time to grasp a moment, a memory and the feeling attached to it, one that hurt a thousand years ago and one that has not forgotten me.
Links to time past can take control of my adult self without ever asking my permission, nor caring whether or not I give it. It is as if I am not in charge at all. Although I know there is a wide space in between an involuntary response to such an encounter and my subsequent choice of action, I can get lost in the mist of it for a few moments. It’s a wasteland, my wasteland, a vast stretch of nothing and rocks. When the argument begins between how I feel and what I will do about this or that thing that just happened, I can feel like that bit of dropped-stitch knitting all squinty frayed and shapeless. My adult brain tells me to let it go, but my memoric child screams at me to fight back. To whom shall I listen?
Ideally, both. In recognising the attachment cord I can follow it back across the decades. I know this. Now what? The words that hurt a long time ago, perhaps regularly delivered, came from mouths long silenced in the sleep of death. They did not mean to hurt me, says the adult. Oh yes they did, says the child. However, in allowing myself to be controlled by this cord to the past, I am going nowhere, not learning, not moving forward. I hear wise people talk of forgiveness and compassion but those two calming friends are both out to lunch. What is left is anger and frustration. I can do nothing about the past, but I can do something about the now in my adult state, if I want to move forward, that is.
In seeking to achieve a happier more confident state my first sheet of homework must be on my self-worth. Had I been taught it as a child, given affirmation and time and support and encouragement I might not be so vulnerable to this particular attacker – the one that tells me I am not good enough by a long shot. I know people who enjoyed this as a child without them even mentioning it. I can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices, watch it in their reaction to whatever life sends them. Learning how to change is something most of the world doesn’t want to bother with. Instead, folk run from it. I did that too, once, when I thought that if I did more for other people without regard to self, I would suddenly be happy, be self-confident, strong in myself, in who I really am deep down at the core. It doesn’t work. But it takes a lot of courage to decide to study my innermost self, that murky depth of ‘not good enough’; all those critical voices I sought to bury for ever that refuse to stay buried for long. I must face them down and then, detach. But that is not the starting point. In order to reconnect with the criticised child, I must re-build her. For me to move forward she has to come with me. I cannot leave her back there in her struggle to be listened to and really heard. And I can learn it all in books and in studies if, that is, I have the courage to begin.
Maybe I’ll lick the bowl myself, next time.