On Thursday, I am going to see a documentary about this artist, Meinrad Craighead, who was once a nun and then devoted the rest of her life to creating sacred images of nature and the feminine. I’m drawn to this painting called Mother and Daughter, which clearly was inspired by the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It is said that you can't know Persephone without an understanding of Demeter and you can't know Demeter without knowing Persephone. I think this is true of all mothers and daughters, even when we don't want it to be. As daughters, we can try to disown parts of the mother we don't like, but unless we do it consciously, healing the wounds rather than covering them or pushing them down out of sight, they become our shadow aspects. And you know that little poem by Robert Louis Stevenson that goes,
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, And what can be the use of [her] is more than I can see. [She] is very, very like me from the heels up to the head; And I see [her] jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about [her] is the way [she] likes to grow-- Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow; For [she] sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball, And [she] sometimes goes so little that there's none of [her] at all.
[She] hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play, And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way. [She] stays so close behind me, [she's] a coward you can see; I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up, I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup; But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head, Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
This is the problem with our shadow aspect—it never really goes away; it just dogs us until we do something about it, essentially face it, work with it, and integrate it. Otherwise, it keeps popping up when we least expect it and we end up making fools of ourselves, as in, “Oops, how did that slip out?” Or, “I always swore I’d never say that to my child. I sound just like my mother!” Of course, sometimes it’s this very trickster-like element that allows us to heal—kind of like looking in a funhouse mirror. We recognize our mother in the reflection of our own distorted image and we cringe. What to do?
Once we have dealt with the pain and the wounding through grief work (and I’ve done a lot of that), I think all we can do is just notice, laugh, and embrace it. For we can never really put the shadow to bed. It is our teacher, and so our mother is our teacher, and our grandmother, and all of our ancestors that speak down through the generations to remind us who we are. As well as being part of a particular family with all its foibles and flaws, we are also part of the human race, fallible and imperfect. We are not gods, but we are enough. It is enough to be a human being who stumbles, who doesn’t always get it right, who doesn’t need to prove anything-- even that I am not my mother. But I am my mother’s daughter.
So when I take in this painting of Mother and Daughter I see the reflection and the opposites; one can’t exist without the other. It’s a little cosmological joke. It reminds me, once again, to accept, to embrace, to love life, and the one (and many) who gave it to me.