Quote of the day:
Eventually, as the teacher-student relationship matures, the student manifests these qualities herself and learns to stand on her own two feet. The projections are reclaimed. What we saw in him is also inside us. We close the gap between who we think the teacher is and who we think we are not. We become whole … This projection process also can get more complicated if we haven’t individuated from our original parents. Natalie Goldberg (page 91)
Yesterday I read Natalie Goldberg’s The Great Failure, on the train into the city, in the waiting room of my dentist, and on my return. I felt as if I could not take my eyes off the pages. I even carried it around as I was walking between the kitchen and my study, or up the stairs to collect our mail. I loved how she described her father’s reaction to her revelations about their relationship, in a letter written to him after "hours of group and individual therapy." She wrote to him describing how her childhood had looked to her, what a terrible father he had been and how she hated those years. She writes:
Two weeks later I received a thin envelope addressed in my father’s crooked hand. I imagined a gorilla gripping a pen. "I don’t know what you’re talking about, but don’t worry. I’ll never leave you." (page 30)
I burst into tears when I read that, recognizing pieces of my life. My mother and I had gone through something similar when my own book was published. Even though she absolutely hated it, and after I sent her a copy, in which she was acknowledged in gratitude and with love, she had called me to tell me so. She had said over the phone, right after calling me an anti-Semite (because I had written that I was Jewish growing up in racist Rhodesia, and that her husbands were Jewish) almost on the eve of my coming-out book party: "There are two Tamars. The one who is my daughter who I love and adore, and the other, a terrible woman who wrote this vile book." She concluded an almost hour-long tirade at midnight with a final defiant statement: "It is an anti-Semitic racist book against whites!"
But, the fact is, after all was said and done (and a lot was, believe me!), she did not leave me. I have always admired her courage for that.
Goldberg writes how if a person wants to learn the truth and become whole, we have to write about the people we are closest to, so that we might have "contact with our wrinkles, our scars," because by touching "the dark nature in someone else," we might know it in ourselves. She quotes her teacher, Dainin Katagiri Roshi: "Don’t worry if you write the truth. It doesn’t hurt people, it helps them."
But I especially love how she opens the book with a discussion about success and failure:
Downfall brings us down to the ground, facing the nitty-gritty, things as they are with no glitter. Success cannot last forever. Everyone’s time runs out. This is not a popular notion, but it is true.
Achievement solidifies us. Believing we are invincible, we want more and more. It makes us hungry. But we can be caught in the opposite too. Human beings manage also to drown in the pool of despair, seeped in the mud of depression. We spend our life on a roller coaster with rusty tracks, stuck to highs and lows, riding from one, trying to grab the other.
To heal ourselves from this painful cycle – the severe split we create and the quasi equilibrium we try to maintain – we have to crash. Only then can we drop through to a more authentic self. (from the introduction)
I have always felt sorrow for people who do not allow themselves to crash, who hold on so tightly to the illusion of self-control, and who never have the opportunity to "drop through to a more authentic self." Indeed, it is what I have always cherished in therapy – grappling with some of my darkest shadows. Each and every time I came out of the pain, as excruciating as it might have been, feeling stronger and more whole.