Thursday, December 12, 2013

Soul-Making


The end of the year always seems to yawn wide, to bring up from some hidden abyss memories long forgotten. As one gets older, this seems to happen more often, and the memories upwell from an ever more distant past.

They aren't always, or even frequently, welcome, these memories. They arise in a similar way that thoughts arise during meditation, only one is in 'ordinary' self-consciousness and preoccupied with walking, or reading, or doing some daily manual task.

But they're there, and they have to be dealt with. No use saying 'go away'; they will just come back. No good saying, 'why now'; there is no why. And like thoughts that arise in meditation, these memories, good or bad, embarrassing or shameful, have to be appropriately accepted in as dispassionate a way as possible—which doesn't obviate feeling deeply the emotions associated with them.

These phantoms can jerk you back to some of the unhappiest moments of your life. The saving grace—and it is all grace, the memories and the emotions—is that you both are and are not the same person. The memory is woven into your past, but you are not limited to that past.

There's an old saying that the part of life we commonly refer to as 'retirement' (whether or not one is retired from a profession) is an opportunity to 'make your soul'. It's a phrase that authors from the first part of the twentieth century such as Elizabeth Gouge used quite often in their novels. They never explained exactly what they meant, though the narratives often gave hints.

But I am coming to believe that learning to welcome the opportunities that these old memories present, however painful, is precisely that: making one's soul. It's a chance to give these memories their due, whether that means understanding that the reality of the situation was probably even worse than you had realised and forgiving all the same; or whether allowing for the contexts and hopes and fears of the other people involved in these memories; or, whether, for the worst ones that have entirely to do with oneself, to acknowledge full culpability—or not, as the case may be—and ask forgiveness, or give it—yes, even to oneself. It is only through this process that the clutching hands of these memories can be loosed.

Perhaps one of the hardest lessons we have to learn is not patience with others but patience with oneself. Healing takes place in God's good time, not sooner, not later, and always out of one's own sight.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maggie,

An excellent post! I've been thinking about this a lot as I approach my 60th.

Theo

3:01 pm, December 12, 2013  
Blogger Daisyanon said...

Thank you. That was written for me I think!

3:32 pm, December 12, 2013  
Anonymous Frazer Crocker said...

In Robert Coles' biography of Erik Erikson, there is a phrase which has been with me since I read it some 40 years ago. I give it from memory, not going to the shelf to check it out:
'We can always become again that which we once were;
and we may yet become that which we once might have
been.'

Frazer

2:50 am, December 16, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think T S Eliot also talks about this sort of thing in the Four Quartets.

Maybe this is what Keating calls the emptying of the unconscious?

Theo

9:36 am, December 16, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maggie,

this is important stuff (poor language, I know). I hope there may be more in your book.

Best to you

Theo

8:42 pm, December 20, 2013  

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