I don’t fully understand how or why it happens that certain members of my family who have passed on come to me in dreams, but it has happened often enough, intensely enough, for me to accept these visitations as real. So when my uncle Edgar, who died a little over a year ago, showed up last night, I listened to what he had to say.
He told me of his anguish at having killed people as a soldier in Vietnam. How nothing was the same for him after this. How he never recovered, never could fully allow joy, knowing that he had robbed others of their joy. He told me all this not for sympathy or to justify anything. He just desperately needed to be heard, needed to be understood. So, I simply held a non-judgemental space for him to tell his story and I think this somehow helped him to move towards letting go.
There’s no hell like that of being unable to forgive yourself. Two years after I’ve stopped performing, I am still psychically dragging my ass over the coals over what I did or didn’t do as a dancer. I have examined every failure so often that it is like a scratched record inside my head. With each cycle, the grooves dig themselves deeper and deeper, leaving Grand Canyon sized holes in me that I sometimes trip into. Then I spend hours, days, scrambling through the dirt and bracken before finding my way back again, up into the light.
Why is it so hard to forgive one’s self? Why do we prolong the torture long after the lesson has been learned, even unto the next life? When do we decide that we’ve suffered enough?
Edgar’s visit roused me. I was haunted by thoughts of carrying unfinished business into the next life like the vegetables you discarded on your dinner plate as a child that showed up again, instead of pancakes, for breakfast. And the longer you put them off, the harder they were to swallow.
After some digging, I found a reason for why we may prolong our suffering in an unlikely hiding place. Now, I think we tend to associate ego (that part of us that always wants to separate) with arrogance, but the ego is a tricky little so-and-so. He can masquerade as suffering.
In order to explain, I need to reference another dream…Although the circumstances vary, the theme of this recurrent dream is always the same. It’s an anxiety dream in which I am unprepared for a performance. In this particular instance, I was warming up in a basement studio beneath the stage. I only had one pointe shoe on when I heard the bars of music that announced my entrance. I went tearing towards the elevator, shoe in hand, to make my way upstairs. A small group of people were casually getting on or off the elevator, chatting, friendly, at which point I starting shouting hysterically for everyone to hurry the fuck up. I had to get to the stage! Well, all of that hysterical shouting must have awakened a part of me, call it my higher self. So big Tai came into little Tai’s dream and told me to relax. I was making it all up. And just like that, little Tai saw her ego at work: the performance cannot go on without me…all of this drama must mean that I’m doing something really important. The suffering was making me feel important but I was creating it and my ego was feeding off of this self-inflicted pain.
I think our inability to forgive ourselves operates in much the same way. It’s like, if we don’t let go and forgive ourselves, it proves that what we did was really bad and therefore, really important. I don’t mean to downplay the horror of taking another life. That’s about as serious as it gets. But even the suffering from this has its end. No, even this is not important enough to keep us from our birthright for all of eternity. And that birthright is, that no matter what, we get to keep growing. All of us. Soldiers, criminals and reluctant ballerinas alike. It’s actually the bad stuff that often makes us grow the most. Like manure.
So, just imagine what we’ll be.