Posted by: Sarah Lidsey | August 1, 2010

Navigating in the Long Now

There is no time to Life… it is now, always Now’ ~ Prof. Robert Thurman

Gustav Klimt, The Three Ages of Woman, 1905

A few months ago I mentioned in a posting [House of Straw, 3/10] how a lecture series I had attended given at Tibet House by Buddhist theologian, Robert Thurman, had helped to focus me on the business of life.  In it he talked about recognizing the fact that we might die in the very next moment, and, knowing this, grabbing the chance to live in each moment. Every part of life matters, because we are continuous expressions of creation without beginning and without end.  Dying is part of the continuous process of living – In short, we are Living in the Long Now.

In the Buddhist path of understanding we journey onward with the subtlest aspects of consciousness, or mind.  These are the things that encode our deepest patterns.  One aspect of living in each moment is that it gives us the opportunity to consciously address qualities that we are light on now, so that we can fill up our eternal reservoirs and take as much as we can forward into our next existence.  For instance, if you tend towards anger and impatience then you can consciously choose to live in a different way, calmly and with patience. You can become aware of how your anger can alienate or destroy you as much as those you turn it on; how impatience hinders you – how it colors your life and stops you from living in each moment. Other patterns include gratitude, love, and wisdom. If you are weak in any of these, their obverse aspects – selfishness, separation, and confusion or misunderstanding – might be showing up in your life. Life is such a blessing and I don’t want to let this opportunity to live it fully escape me, so I am committed to living it as consciously as I can in each moment, which includes taking those positive attributes and embedding them into my relationships.

I believe that the true nature of all life is grounded in love. Over the last year my real appreciation of this has deepened as I have witnessed my mother’s steady decline in health.  She has been my master teacher in so many ways, a fact that I have only really understood as I have comprehended the importance of extending compassion both to myself and towards others.  While at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing I often heard the phrase ‘your biggest challenge is also your greatest gift’… or words to that effect.  For me, the navigation and transformation of my relationship with my mother has frequently felt like that.  My mother has been an extraordinary achiever, a powerhouse of energy, and someone who has constantly offered herself and her time to others.  She was a war baby, brought up in a period of food stamps, fear, and deprivation during World War II.  The ethic that was instilled in her was one of worthiness through service.  Now, in the twilight of her life, I am looking at what I have learnt and hoping that I have the chance to deepen my love and compassion for her and her life’s challenges, for myself and my life’s challenges, and for us and for all those places in which we have loved or hurt each other.

From the start my rhythm in life was very different from my mother’s.  I wasn’t able to operate at the same intensity or pace.  These last years, although still razor sharp, my mother has slowed down, and I am finally able to keep up with her.  Being able to ‘meet’ her has been key for me in the evolution of our relationship. Sometimes the navigation and transformation of our history is successful and we are able to work through our issues, landing in a place of deeper understanding.  At other times I have moved through increased alienation as the pain created by the distortion in my attachment pattern becomes too much for me, and the very best I can do is come back to myself and remember how lucky I am that she is here and I can go back and try again. Even if we fail to connect from our hearts one time, there is still a chance to work at transforming what we have the next, and to continually feel how we are progressing in our relationship.  I am not sure that she has ever been aware of the consciousness I have applied in the reframing of our connection. That doesn’t matter, because I know that she senses some of the changes.  The gift for me is that I am able to do this with her now, in person.

Each one of us creates defenses towards perceived threats as we grow from infancy (and helplessness) through childhood (and dependence) into adulthood (and independence).  The relationships that we establish rise out of these defenses and create our experience of life.  All of us, without exception will have developed ways of coping with situations that were overwhelming to our younger selves.  Part of my integration of these wounded parts has been in coming to understand my defenses, as well as my mother’s, and what might have created them.  I have learnt to really appreciate how our experiences of life have colored our individual worlds.  Finding compassion for her and what she has consciously and unconsciously created in her life has been humbling to me.  Learning to be compassionate to myself as I come to see what I have created has been just as challenging and equally important. A turning point in our relationship was when I recognized that I had held a silent demand for her to change.  When I dropped that, the underlying energetic of all our interactions instantly changed.

It is quite easy to walk through life with very little knowledge of how our ways of coping shape our reality and create our dramas, but once we start enquiring into why we respond in specific ways, stop shifting the blame away from ourselves, and take back ownership of all aspects of our interactions then there is no hope but to meet ourselves head-on.  Like most people I know who have committed themselves to a path of self-responsibility and evolution, my journey has at times been painful, but the integration of those parts that are out of alignment has resulted in my being able to live from my heart.  Where I have strong reactions, they often point me to my own defenses.  I have found that when I am unable to tolerate specific behaviors in others, it is usually because I cannot bear that in myself.  For instance, I found overt neediness in others made me feel angry?  Why? Because my own deep needs were not met.  I noticed how vulnerability in others really upset me – I discovered that I hated the vulnerable little girl that I was, and that I was often cruel as I defended against that self-hatred.

As we bring each distorted place in our own personal reality forward with compassion for examination and transformation, every relationship around us is affected. The understanding allows for a different dynamic, from an undefended place, one where those things that annoyed or hurt become benign, and so a new response from a place of love can emerge to replace the old ways that fostered separation not connection.

I have become aware that although I was able to appreciate the enormous amount of compassionate and selfless work that my mother did for others, I was angry and hurt as a child because I felt that she was not there for me.  Sometimes I refused to receive her love when she offered it to me in order to punish her.  As I delved into my relational fortress and extended compassion to myself I found that, as a wounded child, I had chosen to live from a place of separation rather than risk feeling deeply hurt. Understanding this I was able to love myself back into relationship.  Only then was I able to be authentically loving to my mother and receive her love back.  As she has come to a place of greater vulnerability, where she is often forced to live from a place of naked need, I know that out of necessity she is examining her own fortress erected all those years ago when she was just trying to survive in her world.  She too is letting love in, giving and receiving it, and experiencing how it is helping her to fill up the reservoirs of her eternal existence.

One of my sister said to me recently that even in life, the mother we grew up with is already dying to us. She is no longer the feisty fast moving person she used to be.  She is now soft and vulnerable at times, and more often than not she has no option but to show that as she is forced to let go of her defenses and surrender to receive what she needs.  It is true, she is no longer the mother who raised me, but nor am I the same daughter.  We are each letting go of our old building blocks of protection.

As we are thrown together as a result of our mother’s declining health, my family and I are navigating our way through our connections, life long ways of relating that can now be seen in their truth or distortion as pretense drops away and love once more takes center stage.  We are face to face with what we have created, and we can choose whether we still want that, from a place of love, Living consciously in the Long Now.  Even in the heartbreak which is present alongside the understanding of the impending completion of the circle of my mother’s life, these things help me to appreciate the preciousness and beauty of life and the opportunities we have to grow now, in this moment, and forever.

©2010 Sarah Lidsey.  All Rights Reserved.



  1. Very interesting to read. I find my one oldest child rejecting my love as you mentioned you did to your mom, and it help me realize why she may be doing this. From your blog I have a better feeling why she reacted the way she did, thanks

  2. Sarah, What a wonderfully insightful writing. I am so delighted to read how much healing you and your mom have done.

  3. Awesome blog I enjoyed reading your info

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