What follows is an inquiry into the nature of life and who we are, not by contemplating life before we die, but by imagining life after death.
As an only child, I had a wonderfully close and loving relationship with my mother, who loved me more than anything. I knew and felt that she always wanted the best for me. Having a small family, I remember as a kid my parents and I visiting my relatives almost every weekend, since my mother really wanted me to develop relationships with my extended family so that I would have a family after she and my father were gone.
Without going into the whole story (I’ve written a book about this – Awakened by Darkness: When Evil becomes your Father), at a certain point in my life my family catastrophically imploded to the point where at the time of my mother’s death, we barely had any relationship at all. It was as if something had come between us, as if my loving mother had not only been taken away from me, but had turned against me. To say this was unbelievably painful is truly an understatement. I would never have believed what took place if it hadn’t happened to me. The incredible love between us made what played out between us that much more tragic.
To make a long story incredibly short, it wound up that my father was a really sick man—extremely emotionally disturbed—and I was one of the primary recipients of him acting out his unhealed abuse (my mother and his sister being the others). As if under my father’s sinister spell, my mother aligned with and supported my father, seeing me, once I began expressing the pain I was in from my father’s abuse, as being the one who was sick. In my family I became what is known as “the identified patient.”
At a certain point psychiatry entered the scene, who was more than happy to concretize in stone my alleged illness by labeling me with a diagnosis – thereby affirming to my parents that I indeed was the sick one in the family. At the same time this served to protect my father from his sickness. In being allied with my father, and having enlisted psychiatry to support their point of view that I was the sick one, my mother legitimized my father to the rest of the relatives. In my parent’s—and my extended family’s—mind, the situation was clear: If only Paul would stop blaming his father, denying his illness and simply take his medication, the problem would be solved.
As you can only imagine, this process became a total nightmare for me regarding my relationship with my mother, which included not just the person of my actual mother, but the image of my mother inside of my head. Over the subsequent years it has been a real challenge for me to come to terms with the fact that my beloved mother unwittingly played a key role in enabling the abuse from my father to play out the way it did – my father could never have gotten away with what he did without my mother siding with and covering for him.
My mother died in 1999, my father died in 2002. Since their deaths, I’ve been banished, scapegoated and excommunicated by the extended family, the very same relatives who my parents and I would visit almost every weekend during my childhood. Contrary to the best intentions of my mother, who so wanted me to have a family after she and my father were gone, in protecting my father and pathologizing me, she ironically played the key role in ensuring that I had no connection with any remaining family member after my parents died.
By siding with my father’s view of things, my mother invalidated me and my experiences of his abuse – turning me, in the eyes of the rest of the family, into a psychological “in-valid,” i.e., someone whose perceptions have no currency. I was seen as the “crazy” one in the family, and my mother played a key role in keeping this dynamic in place. As if enacting a Shakespearian tragedy, my mother had betrayed her beloved only child.
Since my mother’s passing, one of the most painful things I’ve ever felt is to imagine my beloved mother—wherever she is now—realizing her complicity in her only child’s abuse. Since her death, the sense I have when I tune into my mother—in my imagination—is that she feels overwhelming guilt, shame, pain and self-hatred for the role she played in betraying her only child. It is as if she is called to look at and come to terms with one of a mother’s worst nightmares. And yet, recently I’ve noticed that my imagination is morphing, taking on a different form.
As a direct result of having been forced to deal with the suffering that resulted from the abuse in my family, I have over a number of years created a body of work—articles, books, interviews, etc.—that I never would have been able to bring forth without the abuse that I suffered. This is to say that my creative output was spawned by the very abuse in which my mother played such a key part. As I imagine into and amplify this process, at a certain point I notice that, as my work reaches and inspires more people around the world, the internalized image that I have in my mind of my mother is transforming.
My mother now seems relieved, lighter, as if a burden has been lifted due to this gradual turn of events, or so I easily find myself imagining. She seems proud of me, and actually seems happy, not to mention over-filled to the point of out-flowing with love. It is as if she, in her core essence (her soul)—out of her incredible love for me—had chosen to play the incredibly painful and unpopular role in my life that she did, in order to help me find myself. In other words, as I’ve managed, over the course of decades, to transform my situation and extract the blessings hidden within the abuse and find my true vocation, this has seemingly—at least in my imagination—concurrently helped to liberate my mother from her nightmare.
The question naturally arises: Is my imagination of my mother actually affecting whatever state she is in right now, or is this just my own wish fulfillment—mere fantasy—my own active imagination gone wild? In other words, is my feeling that my mother is experiencing redemption simply my imagination with no correlate to “reality,” or am I genuinely picking up, tuning into and intuiting a process that is happening at a deeper level of reality? Is there a difference? Or am I creating and participating—via my creative imagination—in this whole process?
In any case, it’s as if my letting go of clinging onto a static and fixed idea of what played out in my family—and who my mother was (and is)—is seemingly giving my mother the space she needs to become free and continue her soul’s journey. As an added bonus, my not holding onto or solidifying my mother in her seemingly negative role is helping me to heal too. It’s helping me to forgive – both her and me.
I’ve noticed that holding a solidified image of my mother in my mind is an unmediated reflection of my own solidified—and stuck—state in that very moment. As I become more spacious in envisioning who my mother was, the role that she played, and who I imagine her to be right now – my spacious attitude has a direct, instantaneous and expansive effect on my own image and experience of myself.
It’s as if there is some sort of bridge and connection between those of us still incarnate and those we love who have passed on to the other side that continues to grow and evolve after death. Though contrary to the pervasive reductionist, materialist mindset of our culture (where only what is quantifiable is real), the notion that there is a relationship between life and the afterlife is something I imagine that many of us who have lost someone whom we love feel to be true from our own experience. It’s as if my letting go of my fixed, concretized image of who my mother is—a form of blessing her—constellates her to reciprocally bestow her blessing upon me. In this process it is as if the grace of the universe has found space to come full circle and make itself real in time through our love for each other.
In any case, deep in my heart my mother and I have returned to our loving relationship. If this is just my imagination, I celebrate it.
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father(Awaken in the Dream Publishing, 2015), Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013) and The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis(Authorhouse, 2006). He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. He is the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center. Please visit Paul’s website www.awakeninthedream.com. You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org; he looks forward to your reflections.