Théun, in guidance previously given to others, you mentioned that hardships encountered as a child often occur in order to prepare people for a life of service. You've also mentioned that attempts to resolve some generational family issues may be reflected in childhood situations. This got me to wondering about the meaning of my current situation with regard to my sister. What follows is a recapitulation of our relationship.
Approximately eleven years ago my mother was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's disease. Her condition gradually worsened, following a fairly typical course, with attacks of paranoia and rage increasing in frequency and intensity. Through all this my Dad was determined to take care of her himself at home - and he died trying. Dealing with the aftermath of his stroke and eventual death was the most stressful experience of my life. My sister and I were forced to explain to my mother - over and over and over again - that her husband was dying, each time as if it were the first time we were breaking the news, while dealing with funeral arrangements and care for my Dad.
My dad's untimely death brought my mother's relatively comfortable and secure world to an end. She was unable to cope with her grief, anxiety, rage, and panic with failing a memory - but she insisted on living alone. No one could legally place her in a safe facility until she either consented, or became a danger to herself or others. During this time my sister came up with the strategy to somehow persuade our mother to sign a power of attorney to give my sister control over her assets. That would at least make it financially possible for her to arrange for our mother's survival needs.
I had reservations about my sister having the power of attorney, as she was neither mentally nor physically well herself. My sister had gone through a period of abusing drugs a decade ago which had resulted in lingering serious health issues. She also continued to exhibit increasing paranoia and panic attacks. She had applied for disability income rather than face the world, complaining bitterly that the income was not enough to live on. My mother, increasingly paranoid herself, accused my sister of using her credit without her authorization to buy herself the luxuries she couldn't afford but still craved. My sister claims our mother twisted the facts to stir up yet another drama to make her look bad. I didn't know what to believe.
The key factors were that I lived fifteen hundred miles away and worked full time while raising three children, whereas my sister lived alone, was unemployed, and lived in the same city as my mother. During the trying time after my dad's stroke, my sister behaved with genuine concern and caring. I knew there were other alternatives such as conservatorship, but I didn't know how to go about it and did not want to take the time to do the research. My sister had no money, and I did not want to bear the financial responsibility of paying for an attorney. I decided to accept the risk and assisted my sister in obtaining the signed power of attorney from my mother, a stressful drama in itself.
One night the police picked up my mother wandering the streets at 3:00 AM, unharmed but frightened and incoherent, so we were able to gain temporary, emergency conservatorship over her person. My sister even bestirred herself from nursing her hypochondria in front of the television set long enough to find a reasonably priced facility for my mother, hired an attorney using my mother's funds, and followed through with the lengthy legal proceedings necessary to gain permanent conservatorship. She also got my mother established with the doctors, medications and social services she needed to be relatively independent of us. Even knowing that my sister "secretly" schemed to help herself to some of the money when she wanted it, I was extremely grateful, as it would have been extraordinarily difficult had I been alone in handling these responsibilities from 1500 miles away.
A year passed, and although my sister was frequently impatient and rude on the telephone as usual, she nevertheless did maintain contact and I was able to corroborate affairs for myself with follow-up phone calls. However, under the power of attorney, no accounting of any kind is required by the courts for how our mother's assets were being managed. I really had no way to verify what might be going on "behind the scenes". From my sister's stories and intimations, I gathered there were indeed occasions when she spent money on herself, as my sister believed she was entitled to our parents' estate due to her neediness. Before Alzheimer's hit, my mother had often spent money on my sister. I told myself that as long as my mother's bills were paid and her care was adequate, I would look the other way. My sister clearly held the power at this point.
Into the second year, there was a noticeable change in my sister's demeanor. She avoided contact for months at a time and was consistently nastier when she did contact me, more impatient and raging than ever before. I was alarmed, but I felt powerless to do anything without more information. Soon after I received a concerned phone call from my mother's care facility saying that the bill had not been paid for over three months and my sister was not returning phone calls. Even for my erratic sister, this was unusual behavior. I knew something was terribly wrong - but I was afraid to imagine just what. I advised the care facility to file a complaint with the adult protection services and take whatever other legal action was available to them.
Eventually I received a call from the police detective assigned to elder abuse cases. She quickly surmised that my sister had drained the estate of money, most likely due to drug abuse, and launched a thorough investigation which eventually resulted in my sister's arrest. My last contact with my sister was on the day of her arrest, listening to her raging at me and twisting the facts to blame me for all her misfortunes. When I later flew down to the scene, I discovered that the condominium my mother had owned had been foreclosed upon, sold at auction, and all the belongings already confiscated - even though I technically had 30 days to retrieve them. I was sad to discover all the family photo albums and many other mementos were gone forever. I spent a week rearranging my mother's affairs, hired my own attorney, and took over conservatorship of my mother and what was left of her estate - mostly debts run up by my sister.
My sister negotiated a plea bargain in lieu of a trial which granted her release on probation on the condition that she secured and participated in a drug treatment program. Violations of her probation terms would result in the full prison sentence being enforced. The detective and district attorney were in favor of this, as they fully expected her to thumb her nose at the terms and get herself re-arrested and thrown into prison, saving the expense and stress of a trial. Four times my sister did indeed fail to meet the terms. She would participate in a drug treatment program just long enough to get her disability income reestablished when she'd walk away to live on the streets. She was supposed to have been thrown in prison after the third failure to comply. However, the sympathetic judge released her and gave her yet another chance.
This time she pulled together enough personal power to get enrolled into a residential drug treatment program, stick with it and (barely) keep her court appointments for the period of one year. When they re-evaluated her case, she was found in compliance and they lifted the restraining orders against her. She still has three years of probation ahead of her, but the first major hurdle had been accomplished.
During this time, "coincidentally" I was enrolled in a class called "Leadership, Justice and Forgiveness" where the model for forgiveness was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which formed in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. At the same time I was working with the Ruiz apprentice and our topic was - forgiveness. The primary focus of this work was to forgive and accept oneself for one's humanness. But in class I was asked to not only forgive my sister, for whom I discovered I still felt tremendous blaming rage and sadness, but to then ask for her forgiveness of me for my contributions to the situation in an academic paper. My blaming rage wanted me to pick someone else for the class assignment and wanted no part of this exercise.
I therefore decided to accept the challenge for its value in challenging my view of the world. I proceeded to recapitulate our entire relationship back to childhood. I saw how we became a polarized pair within our family system, and I happened to be stuck with the "good" end of the stick, while she with the "bad" end (though we each have both submissive and rebellious streaks within us.) I saw our mutual jealousies, envy, and conflicts. I saw how the only real difference between us was the degree to which we assumed response-ability for our lives as adults. I could easily have - and almost did - end up in similar drastic straights myself when I was younger.
Whereas my blame wanted to view everything as "her own fault" I was determined to see my contribution to my sister's plight. I took responsibility for not actively participating in the selection of an attorney and arranging for proper conservatorship with accountability rather than the "carte blanche" power of attorney. I had released a large sum of money into the estate, creating an irresistible temptation which may have contributed to her drug abuse.
My blaming rage painted her as a "criminal" deserving of punishment. So I searched in memory for times when she was loving and caring, particularly with animals. Even when I went down to clean up the smoking trail of debris she left behind when she was arrested, the car which she had been living in contained more belongings and food for her cats than for herself. Seeing her basic goodness, deeply realizing my contributions to the situation and our relationship, seeing how I could easily be in her shoes under the right set of conditions, I felt a spark of forgiveness in my heart. I could accept her and wish her well.
Shortly thereafter she contacted me by voice mail for the first time since her arrest. Just hearing her voice triggered emotions all over the spectrum. I knew a "showdown" was imminent. My challenge was clear: was I going to indulge in blaming rage or could I truly forgive her for her human failings and allow a new relationship to emerge? I suspected she would continue to blame me for her troubles, so how would I deal with her worldview?
Sure enough, her first act when we spoke on the phone was to rage at me for failing to rescue her from the district attorney and why didn't they arrest me, since I was just as guilty, and on and on. I listened and said nothing for a long time. Then I told her I had never wanted to see her again if she continued to rage at me like she did at the time of her arrest. She immediately said the same about me. I told her that the reason they didn't arrest me is because the property I sold had my name on it, the transaction was legal. Legally Mom still owned the property she was managing; it wasn't hers until Mom died. She finally accepted that I couldn't have helped her even if I had said something to the DA in her defense. She rambled on again, now about her horrific experiences while caught in the legal system and all her current troubles and how everyone was to blame (but herself). Finally I said, "For many of the things that happened, I have a different interpretation than you. Nothing you say will likely change my mind, and nothing I say will likely change yours. Why don't we just set the past aside and start over from right now?" She agreed.
She began to do better for the following six months, going to counseling and group work, so we arranged for a reunion visit. Just before I flew down there, she had a relapse, was caught and thrown out of the halfway house where she was living. She called me in a black state, saying she wouldn't likely be seeing me when I came down because her car had been stolen, she was calling from a strangers house and didn't know where she would go next. Indeed she never called while I was down there visiting my mother. Two days after I had returned home, she called to tell me she had tried to kill herself that weekend with an overdose of prescription drugs, but obviously didn't succeed. She had no money, since she spent it all the night she tried to kill herself, thinking literally "there was no tomorrow". We had a good belly laugh at that. As we talked, I spoke of how Eckhart Tolle had written about his desire to kill himself "because he couldn't live with himself any longer" - and then he suddenly wondered, "Wait a minute, WHICH self can "I" no longer live with? There must be two of me!" She admitted there had been a state that took over, leaving no hop, just a black hole that sucked her up. She seemed hopeful and ready for a new life.
She asked to borrow fifty dollars from me; to which I consented as a test of her sincerity. She indeed returned the money as soon as her disability check came through. Though she returned to counseling and group work, she feels she has nothing to look forward to, no reason to live. Now she simply sits by the television all day, along with others sharing her plight. When I call her, she sounds tired and depressed, with no motivation to do anything. She is back on legal drugs to manage her moods and health. She hasn't read any of the books I sent her at her own request. The opening I perceived in her when she had hit bottom now seems to be covering over.
Looking at her role in my life, she has reflected my weaknesses, my lack of courage to face her blaming rage and manipulations (she was QUITE the petty tyrant when abusing drugs!) She reflected my inability to ruthlessly pursue what I intuitively know to be the preferred but more difficult course of action. I chose to avoid the unpleasantness of dealing with her and accept what turned out to be devastating consequence rather than do battle with her.
Last night my mother passed on. I began writing this request for guidance well before her death. Though she lives only 20 miles away, when I told my sister that Mom was dying, she had mixed feelings about going to see her. Today I called to inform her of Mom's passing, and she said she had been thinking about visiting her tomorrow. Then her mind began calculating how to get out of having to pay restitution, since she would have inherited half of the estate anyway. If she follows her typical pattern, she'll next lay claim to anything I might inherit that's left in the estate because she believes she is entitled due to her neediness. I'm hoping that with our tenuous attempt at a new relationship that this may not happen, but I'm considering that I may have to fight that battle.
What is my response-ability toward her? How can I truly support her journey without supporting her weaknesses and shortcomings? What is the deeper meaning of our relationship in terms of our growth and development? What is the best strategy for handling our relationship from this point forward?
:) I am happy for your mother that she has finally been released from her ill body. She had obviously taken from her illness what she had needed to take, and therefore could finally let go in peace. I trust that you are also okay in letting her go in peace? :)
My friend, as I said to one of your fellow apprentices just a day or two ago, we CANNOT be held responsible for the actions and the decisions of others. It is undeniably true that all of life is interrelated, and therefore also interdependent and interactive. But even so, we ALL, EACH and EVERY one of us, have the god-given ABILITY to CHOOSE how we are going to either RESPOND to our life's challenges, or REACT to them. There is absolutely NO way in which I can BLAME another person for firstly, the challenges I have called forth; and secondly, how I respond to or react to those challenges. So if I NEED to learn about abuse, and I call YOU forth in my life to abuse me in some way, then it is ENTIRELY up to BOTH of us what we CHOOSE to do with our MUTUAL challenge. If you are a warrior you will tell me to go seek abuse elsewhere because you REFUSE to abuse me. But let us say that you are NOT a warrior, and that you don't know any better, or worse still, that you actually ENJOY inflicting pain upon others, in which case you ALSO need to learn about abuse.
In such a case you WILL abuse me, but in this I again have a choice! I can either become your VICTIM or I can choose to FIGHT against the abuse. Either which way I will learn what I NEED to learn, and you TOO will learn what YOU need to learn in terms of abuse! But should I choose to become your victim, then in order for ME to learn what I need to learn, you will be forced into having to become ever more abusive towards me until FINALLY I DO learn what I need to learn. But at what COST to both you and me? :) And it is herein that lies the poignancy inherent within the interrelationship of life. You and I have a CHOICE as to HOW we are both going to approach our MUTUAL challenge surrounding abuse. We can BOTH learn as quickly and as efficiently as we are capable of, and with as LITTLE cost to BOTH of us as is possible. Or either one of us, or both of us, can drag our FEET and make life terribly difficult for one another, and very costly too.
NONE of us can escape our fates, my friend, which means that NONE of us can avoid our challenges, our learning, within life. But in order to materialise our challenges we NEED to call forth people within our lives to "TEACH" us what we NEED to learn! But learning always comes at a PRICE to both student and "teacher!" Nothing in life is for nothing. There are NO free handouts within life. As students we PAY to learn, and as "teachers" of others we also PAY to "TEACH" so that we in turn may also learn what WE most need to learn about ourselves through the medium of what we are teaching others. Such is the Law of Economy. And it is also herein that lies the deeper meaning of the statement that "the warrior is NOT a willing partner."
So to return to your sister. What you were taught as "forgiveness" is a total farce and a distortion of the truth. The hypocrite, Bishop Tutu, should have been shot dead when he founded the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I cannot tell you how this commission angered a GREAT many people in South Africa, irrespective of colour or race, because of the absolute hypocrisy upon which it was founded, and the outright LIES it was designed to cover up. It was a heinous and outrageous political move that had ZERO to do with forgiveness!
If you consider very carefully what I have shared with you above you will see that it is IMPOSSIBLE to forgive others. What are we going to forgive them for? Are we to be so idiotic as to THINK that we should forgive others for having called them forth for OUR benefit, for OUR learning? And it is absolutely WRONG to go to someone else and EXPECT that person to forgive US for our own learning. Are we truly to be so cowardly and so pathetic that we can even contemplate ASKING someone else to forgive US the fact that we COST them to teach us? Is all that cost merely to be swept under the carpet with a few empty words? Can we REASONABLY expect this? WHERE is the responsibility of SELF in all of this?
Forgiveness as it is taught through social conditioning is a diabolical strategy designed to enslave us to concepts such as guilt, shame, endebtedness and blame! This kind of reasoning is for me, as Toltec, like waving a red flag in front of a bull! LOL! I start seeing RED, and it takes ALL of my personal power to NOT lash out in rage at the hypocrisy of it all! And when it comes to people like Bishop Tutu, a sung "hero" of peace and reconciliation, I want to go beserk, for people like me, who were on the ground during the Freedom Struggle in South Africa, witnessed with our own eyes the remains of teenagers having been burnt alive on the streets with old car tyres, the so-called necklace murders, because they refused to follow the tyrannical leadership of Winnie Mandela and Tutu! But, of course, the rest of the world never got to know about this, for it was CAREFULLY covered up, and no members of the news media would ever have risked their necks in the townships lest they also got given a burning necklace! And so today Tutu is acknowledged as a loving man of the cloth who worked so hard to reconcile the crimes committed during apartheid and the consequent Freedom Struggle! But where, in Tutu's approach, is the FREEDOM from the ACTIONS that were committed? I, like millions of other South Africans, watched that man cry his FALSE tears in television interviews, and inwardly my heart broke and I cried for all of South Africa.
No, my friend, the ONLY forgiveness there is, is forgiveness of self. And this IS what is termed FREEDOM! Until we can and do forgive ourselves for our own fumbling and stumbling in learning, we are NOT an ASSET to life, but a LIABILITY, and a very COSTLY liability at that! And the ONLY way in which we can stand FREE from the effects and the impact of our OWN learning upon all of life around us, is when we finally, and with the utmost HUMILITY, come to the realisation that NONE of us can turn back the clock! NONE of us can say, "I am sorry for all the harm I caused whilst I was trying to learn." But...........what I CAN do, is to USE all the knowledge I have gained at GREAT expense to both myself and others, in being of SERVICE to the One Life. Only in THIS way can I, even if only in some SMALL way, express my untold gratitude for the PRICELESS gift of life, and for the HUGELY extravagant journey we call learning.
So. Forgiveness. What exactly does this mean? It means that not only is it IMPERATIVE for my OWN freedom that I LEARN to forgive myself, but it is ALSO imperative in terms of the freedom of those I called forth into my life so that I may learn. People in general do NOT like to acknowledge this, but unless we CAN and DO forgive ourselves, the people we called forth in our lives from whom to learn are also not free! Why? Because in not being able to forgive ourselves, or more precisely, in not being WILLING to forgive ourselves, we have still NOT learned the greatest lesson of all, namely, that because of the interrelationship, the interdependence and therefore the INTER-ACTION of life, there is NO blame and therefore also NO guilt. There is only YOU and ME, walking side by side in our journey upon life. And I learn from you, just as you learn from me.
So how do I forgive myself? By striving with EVERY fibre of my being, EVERY moment of my life, to be OBJECTIVE in my perception, so that I may be REAL, and therefore making my own continued learning as cost-effective as I possibly can. And then in doing a FULL recapitulation of my life so that I can finally see my life, and the actions of others, in its proper perspective, I also CORRECT the many misperceptions that caused everyone, including myself, so much pain and suffering. And once I do that, all sense of guilt and blame falls away, leaving nothing but a very deep sense of utter HUMILITY and a profound and unwavering love for ALL of life.
You ask what is your responsibility towards your sister, and I will say only this: BE REAL with your sister! This is your ONLY responsibility towards her! Be REAL and be OBJECTIVE in your interactions with her, for this is YOUR gift to her! The ONLY gift any of us CAN give with impunity!
And you ask how can you support her in her own journey without supporting her weaknesses? The answer is the same as above.
What is the deeper meaning of your relationship? I have already answered this in everything I shared above.
You finally ask what is the best strategy for handling your relationship with your sister? My answer is BE REAL with her. But realise that being REAL means having to forfeit any form of blame, and above all, guilt! We cannot BE real when we are riddled with blame and or guilt.
I trust this guidance will serve you.
With my warmest regards,