When my mother found out that her cancer had come back for the 2nd time (it went again, later to return for the third and last time), she spent a lot of time trying to work out what might have caused it, focusing often on various environmental contaminants, which I won’t go into here, as there is no need to pass her fears on to anyone else.
Because unwittingly she had already passed her fears on to me. Or, at least, I took them upon myself and for years have often been frightened by the things she most fretted about. I’ve been having nightmares recently about one of the things in particular that worried her most, recurring nightmares, and this bothered me, until the middle of last night.
I woke up after another such dream, and, as I’ve started doing recently, said to myself, “these are not my fears, I can let go of them”. I had already worked out that these fears were my mother’s, but this time I saw how clearly these fears weren’t just passed on to me by my mother, but were haunting me just as they’d haunted her in her life. Just like a ghost might haunt someone. Through these rather unpleasant dreams I was still asking all the same questions she was, namely, what made her ill.
But that question isn’t mine, it’s hers, and it didn’t do her any good in any case. She might have speculated forever and never worked out what caused her illness. But she did speculate, and I see how I took it on, and now it haunts me in my dreams. But I see it is just that. A haunting. A haunting question that would better have been laid to rest with my mother, and cannot do me any good in the present.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that in order to overcome our fears, we have to understand where they come from. I understand now where so many of my fears come from, and that so many of them are not mine. I think that seeing how they were haunting me like a ghost – the ghost of someone else’s fears, is another important step in letting them go.
And letting go of the haunting shadows, I am freer to choose and enjoy the greatest gifts of my inheritance. My mother (the secret Buddhist!) gave me a sense of wonder and awe in the face of this astoundingly beautiful world, and my father, thankfully still here, taught me photography to help capture and share it.
Update: It’s two days since I wrote this post, and since then the dreams have stopped. Perhaps they will return. Perhaps writing this post, and coming to the realisations behind it, was an exorcism of sorts.
Do you have a problem right now, in this moment? Look at yourself in your physical form, your feelings, your perceptions. Do you have a problem? If we see that we don’t have any problem at all in the present moment, we shouldn’t let the ghosts of the past dominate us. We should not let the projections of the past or the future break us down. They’re just ghosts. That’s why we train ourselves to always be in the present moment. That’s our practice. That’s our path. It’s the way to reconciliation. Thich Nhat Hanh, Reconciliation.