I woke up the other morning dreaming that a busy, uncommunicative parking attendant gave me a £416 fine (very specifically, £416!). In protest, I went marching through endless council offices, speaking to person after person, explaining that there had been a mistake – I’d only been there for a moment and was away buying my ticket and hadn’t done anything wrong! But no-one was listening. They just kept repeating their silly rules and insisting that I’d better pay £416 or they’d double the fine. It was so unfair and so frustrating!
Now, its said that all the characters in your dreams represent an aspect of yourself. Hmmn – so I have an inner officious, busy, uncommunicative, petty minded beauracrat, do I?… Oh yes! I recognise her well!
Years ago, when I was part of a Buddhist right livelihood team running an ethical gift shop (a job I loved, but that’s another story) I found my inner officious, busy, uncommunicative, petty minded beauracrat alright. I called her Helga. She was a big, loud, tank-like, German bossy boots who liked everything exactly her own way and for no one to get in it. (Excuse the national type-casting. I do actually relish characteristically German directness and two of my very best friends are German.)
Helga would march around her territory – the throws and cushion department – making sure not a fold was out of place. God forbid someone would talk to her, or worse still, ask her to do something else whilst her mind was on the task! Nowadays, Helga is only usually in evidence at Christmas time when I’m cooking for my guests . “Can I help with ….” “NO!” Helga barks before my poor sister-in-law can finish her sentence. “I’m better on my own!”
Bless her, my mum is similarly self-determining. Her kitchen is her domain and its best to stay clear whilst she’s busy preparing a meal. Like my mum, I love to express my love by providing meals for friends and family and want the kitchen to be all mine as I’m doing so. Also like my mum, I generally think I know best and want to do things MY way, even if it means exhausting myself because I’m incapable of delegating. You can see how this connects with ‘over-giving’ and it not occurring to me to say no, traits I also share with my remarkably generous and extremely dynamic mother.
Love Your Inner Parking Attendant
So the moral of this tale is that it pays to love your inner parking attendant, or any other het-up inner character who pipes up and misbehaves when you are under duress. Making friends with them (or even giving them a pet name like Helga) is the best way to make sure that you remain in overall command of how you behave, not them. If these guys remain unrecognised and un-named they have a habit of taking over automatically and wreaking havoc with your life.
The tricky time is when you are not even aware that we have a Helga or whoever in operation. Some unconscious part of you has been activated by a situation and off it goes pontificating or whining or bashing other people and your bigger self is powerless to do anything about it. It’s like you are possessed. Eventually, rant over, you come around to yourself again and wonder what happened. But by then it’s too late…
However, spotting your particular tendency to flip out (and the situations that trigger them) is really helpful. Even better, giving this aspect of your personality a pet name allows you to have a humourous, affectionate relationship with it. You can then give this protesting character some recognition, validation and attention without letting it take over inappropriately. It’s exactly like handling a naughty child.
And so I’ve also come to understand the good that Helga stands for. She has very high standards and is prepared to work hard to achieve excellence. Actually, she is quite talented and makes an exceptionally good job of things. She is proactive and strong and determined. (Part of my previous Buddhist name, Srimati, reflects this positive aspect. Mati can mean determination or strong mindedness).
The down side of Helga is that she is superior and up herself. She doesn’t rate anyone else or trust that they can do anything useful to help. Superiority is, in fact, a state of defensive fear – you compare yourself with others and set yourself apart in a misguided attempt to protect yourself. You don’t like what you think you see in someone else (some form of weakness or vulnerability) and don’t want to have anything to do with it because you can’t admit to your own weaknesses. However, in cutting yourself off from others (and any experience of vulnerability) you also sever your connection with your true nature which is total and absolute BLISS.
To allow yourself to be connected and intimate with others means allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable. It means admitting that you suffer sometimes, that you are fallible, mortal and fragile. It means being HONEST about your human experience and condition – that failure, loss, and pain are an intrinsic part of being alive.
Oh , Jeez, if we could only just surrender to our true feelings and honour the fragility and impermanence of all things, then we would experience incredible tenderness and joy – that we are utterly linked with one another, that there is indescribable, breath-taking beauty in every moment, that we can totally let go and float on an infinite sea of divine care.
Relaxing into the Fragile Mess
In the modern, developed world we live in a culture where fragility, unpleasantness, suffering, illness, pain and death are kept as far out of consciousness as possible. We create great armies of thought-police and institutions and industries to uphold our collective denial. We work and spend ourselves senseless and never pause long enough to breathe properly, never mind smell the coffee! And then when we get to the top of our ambition mountain – the successful husband and kids, the million dollars in our bank account, the huge house overlooking the sea – we wonder why life feels hollow, that we are not truly happy.
Have you ever wondered why ordinary people in poor parts of the undeveloped world seem so happy? Have you noticed the sparkle in their eyes, the bright colours that they wear, the connection they have with one another despite being surrounded by abject suffering? Well, I don’t know for sure, but it’s my guess that these simple people are living in a way which actually allows them to stay in touch with their true humanity in a way that eludes us in the developed world. And I wonder if the key to that humanity is to allow our natural experience of vulnerability and suffering to be a full part of our experience without fear.
Poor old Helga! What a lot she’s missing out on. If she could only realise that it’s okay to get it ‘wrong’, that the world won’t fall apart if a cushion is out of place or a Christmas dinner is late. If only she could relax and laugh and enjoy the great, chaotic play of people and events around her, muddling along, making mistakes, supporting each other, getting there somehow. She might notice that her shoulders are aching or that she’s really hungry, but there would be something so sweet about admitting that she, too, is a delicate human being. She would feel at home in this great fragile mess of perfect imperfection and finally realise that the point of life is not to strive to keep it all in order, but to let go and enjoy it just as it is.