I woke up this morning with my head full of words and conversations. I felt as thought all night I had been dreaming conversations with Sri and those thoughts were exploding to come out. I usually scribble down a hundred words or so after I do my morning meditation to center and clear myself, but this morning I felt driven, yes driven to go to my laptop and start typing. If you’ve ever been a writer or had to write a paper and felt “in the zone,” I think you know what I mean here.
“Write about separation,” Sri commanded. Sri was ablaze with gold as the light streamed in through the window onto a square patch of sunlight on the floor. Sri, loving the sun, then stretched out in his legs and did a perfect log roll on the floor. Even his toes stretched and quivered as he extended his legs top and bottom as his back was also in a straight line. I am no competition in my yoga stretches when I see Sri’s magnificent stretches.
He repeated himself as I was drawn to the pleasant distraction of cat stretches, yoga, and warm sunlight. “Write about separation, your memories of separation, and how it felt. Then, we will go from there. But first, it is important to share your earliest experiences of separation.”
I breathed in deeply then exhaled. I knew I needed to write about this. So I begin.
My disclaimer here is my experiences aren’t worse or better than anyone else. I am not bragging such as pulling up my sleeve and comparing cat scratches with someone else to see who had the baddest, worst, deepest wounds. I share this so you may then go to that deep place within and examine your own experience of separation.
I grew up in a huge family. Technically I was number 5 of nine children, so as much a middle child as you can imagine. I say technically because there was a younger step brother and step sister as well in the mix. My step brother lived with us as my step sister grew up with my mother. As is sadly the norm in the world, my parents divorced when I was five years old. The seven children at the time went with my father, who remarried and thus my step brother soon emerged. My mother remarried as well and created my step sister.
As in any family, every single individual will have a different story and perspective on what it was like for them each in an experience. Each person is given the opportunity to learn from their unique perspective and experience. You could for instance all share a memory of what a holiday was like and each person will remember it in a different way from their own viewpoint. Even if every person came together and shared their story, the combined collage would not recreate the full essence of the original event.
As in most families with multiple children, they pair off into groups growing up to be instant playmates. For convenience and smoother parenting, the sibling closest to each in age becomes their always friend. In this case, I was paired with my brother Mark who was 17 months older than me. Thus in the very early years of stuffed animals, playing in the sandbox, and riding tricycles in circles in the driveway, Mark was my best friend and big brother.
I learned my first experience in separation when Mark was in a car accident when he was six and I was five. He just crossed our small street to visit a friend. Our street didn’t have a lane marker line down the middle to make it one of the “busy” streets. There were cars, but they were occasional. However, jumping to the point, Mark was hit by a car, put into a coma for six months, and then suffered irreparable brain damage affecting his speech, motor abilities, and cognitive abilities. He was changed forever. (Another time I will write more about him. He is somewhat happy, surrounded by caregivers and living semi-independent in a one bedroom apartment. We frequently are in contact.)
That accident left me without a friend in my family. My other siblings were still in their pairing, so I began my experience of separation. My parents had struggled with their relationship and as they go, things got very complicated and unsettled. They separated about two months after the accident, and soon divorced. Within about five months, my father remarried.
I don’t need to write much about the divorce because from my child eyes, it just meant loss. I didn’t know about all the grown-up complications of the situation until I too was an adult. So I write here how it effected me from a little person’s perspective.
Instantly I no longer had someone to dress me, read me bedtime stories, brush my hair, and otherwise be my mother. This was on top of losing my brother as a playmate just months earlier. Each of my siblings was working through their own grief and separation issues, and the pairs or threesome of siblings became tighter. My father remarried, yet sadly his new wife was not prepared to step into the role of being super-mom to seven children. I wasn’t prepared either for her to be a new mommy. I can still remember when she introduced herself to me. She told me, “I am your new mommy.” I responded as any five year old might say. “I already have a mommy,” and I left the room. Needless to say, we never had a good relationship. So I went through the rest of my childhood being alone, and experiencing a profound separation.
The pain I felt of not having a brother playmate was pain like losing all my toys and taking away my crayons and coloring book. It was an emptiness that dragged on hour after hour, day after day. For a small child, that was eternity. The pain I felt of not having an engaging mother figure was like part of my heart was ripped out and stored into a locked metal box.
I basically raised myself. Yes, there were family meals, but I dressed myself, brushed my hair when I remembered, and did my homework on my own. In school, I felt and was treated different from others. I didn’t have any friends for several years. I was invited to a birthday party in third grade for an all-girls slumber party. That was the last birthday party or invite I had in childhood.
I remember being so miserable, so broken and sad to being so alone in the world with no friends, no brother playmate, and no mother. There were many, many times I would sit and hug my knees so I could feel a hug and fall asleep crying to myself, only to wake with my pillow drenched and eyes puffy.
When I read the famous book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in third grade, I remember many a day going to my closet, sitting on the floor in the back, and praying someone would take me away. I wished for the back of my closet to open up to another world and to be able to escape to Narnia.
School picture days were painful. I felt so alone and in pain that I just couldn’t smile for the pictures. The photographer would laugh and try to get me to smile for the picture, but inside I couldn’t smile and I wanted someone in the world to notice I was in pain. I was alone and hurting in a world with no one to love me. So year after year, just when the photographer would take the picture, I would turn my smile into how I really felt, sad and broken.
The windows in my bedroom were huge and went to about two feet above the ground. There were many times I would wake up in the middle of the night and sit next to the window and stare up at the star filled sky and wish someone would take me away from this nightmare of an experience in separation. No space ship came. I was alone.
My greatest solace was exploring on my own. Our Victorian house had a “dump area” as many did before public sanitation existed in the 20’s. I spent many days digging in that dump area to find small glass bottles. Once I found a chandelier prism which I loved to hold up to the sun and watch the reflections. I lived on the bluffs of the Mississippi river, so during many summer days would go exploring on the bluff and into shallow caves. As long as I was home for meals, no one ever asked me where I was or what I was doing. I was alone when it came to friends, but I had a wonderful peaceful time in the woods with the deer, squirrels, and other wildlife.
As I continue to write, I can remember the child-me and these feelings. When I go deeply into the memories, I can see and feel myself crying and in pain. I’m amazed I’m so much at peace and feel the complete opposite of separation today. I feel connection to all.
Sri got up and stretched, then moved to where the sun was as in the time of my writing above, the sun had shifted about three feet. He settled down into a curled mound of fur in the new sun area. Then he spoke.
“Separation is an illusion. It feels real, but it is as real as a dream or nightmare in this case. All life, no matter what shape, color, size, species, or nature is connected. The air you breathe is the same air breathed by all living things. Your exhale becomes the inhale for the trees. Their exhale of oxygen rich air is your inhale. The natural world is perfectly balanced for life and connection of all.”
I understood all this from biology class and studying ecosystems. The connection of all life made perfect sense. I loved and still love walking in the woods by myself and observing the peaceful balance. It was this connection to animals and trees and water that brought me out of the intense feelings of separation and loss. In the summer months, I would lay on the grass and stare at the clouds drifting by and feel connection and peace. In those moments, the pain of separation disappeared for a little while. I could allow that locked box with my heart in it to come out when I was by myself in nature.
“Please explain to me why so many people, from young to very old feel so much intense separation. It feels like such a paradox that we have cell phones, smart phones, Internet connectivity, and social media which can then connect people across the planet. And yet, there appears to be an obsession with these things.”
“They are feeling disconnected. Social media, music, and movies all show perfect smiling people engaged in activities, surrounded by friends, living a perfect, beautiful life. That dream is very provocative and inviting. Many people are caught up in a lifestyle of get up, commute, go to work or school for many hours, commute, and then have little time left in the day to meet with friends person to person. The lie becomes, ‘everyone else in the world has friends and is happy except me.’
“This then is compounded by social engineering in social media to get people addicted to being connected to all the many forms of connecting using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and dozens of other platforms. They feel a compulsion to keep their smart phone with them and connected at all times, just in case there’s a post by an Internet friend or there’s something to like or share. They get a hit of endorphins when someone ‘likes’ their post. There have been documented studies showing the heightened anxiety people feel when they step away from their smart phones and Internet for even short periods of time.”
I reflected on my own lifestyle. I intentionally own a dumb phone, a flip phone with no Internet access. When I send a text, I it takes several button presses and over a minute on the numeric keypad to type PLEASE CALL ME. I don’t have a Twitter account. I keep notifications off on my tablet and only check into Facebook at most midday and in the evening. I put my tablet in airplane mode when I sleep and usually don’t turn on WiFi until late morning. I don’t feel the need to stay connected, which really means I don’t feel separated to begin with.
“Please explain to me how I got to where I am from that painful period of feeling separation to where I am today. What was the key to how I came to feeling I was connected to everything?”
“Look within yourself. You know the answer,” Sri responded. “Ask yourself that question.”
“Love,” was the first thing that popped into my head. “I started to love myself. I learned to love my wavy dark blonde hair. I learned to love my creativity. I learned to love the faces I made at myself in the mirror. I learned to love the silly tunes I would hum to myself or sing out loud. I learned to love skipping down the street as an adult or jumping in the sprinkler. I learned to love snuggling up next to cat, and stroking them until they would purr and snuggle back against me. I learned to love sitting and doing nothing for hours not distracted by watching TV or surfing the Internet.”
“Ah. See, you know the answer. Love is the answer and the first step to freeing yourself from the illusion of separation is self love.” Sri then sat up and looked deeply into my eyes. “That is enough for today. We will continue with this discussion soon.”
And with that, he disappeared from view in my imagination. The journey continues.