My Mother the Zen Master and Jewish Sorceress

Once upon a time, when I was a kid around age 12 or 13, on a beautiful summer day with the forever memorable sound of seven year cicadas humming away in leafy suburban Highland Park, Illinois, my mother came into my bedroom unannounced (as she had a penchant for doing) and said in a clearly annoyed/critical/questioning tone of voice, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING??”  I was sitting in the circa 1960’s soft tweed upholstered swiveling armchair (the only comfortable piece of furniture in my room that I shared with my “goody-two-shoes” older brother Neal) rocking and spinning around lazily. I think it was a Lazy Boy recliner. I cautiously answered, “I’m uh… doing nothing.” I remember her looking at me in a peculiar way that expressed equal parts confusion and critical parental disdain. She shook her head ever so slightly and continued towards my tall clothes dresser where she then proceeded to engage in a predictable Oedipal Jewish mother OCD ritual. In this particular secular sacrament she would noisily “rustle around” in my drawers folding and refolding, arranging and rearranging my boys small to medium sized white t-shirts and Fruit of the Loom underwear until her organizing compulsion mysteriously subsided….and then would disappear from the room, always closing the mirror-backed bedroom door behind her in a certain way that seemed to subliminally say, “See, I’m giving you your privacy and personal freedom….but you really have none buster (or “kiddo”)….so GET THE HELL UP and DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE!!!”


This archetypal incident and memory trace reappears in my subconscious mind quite often. Not only do I notice that my mother was an acclaimed master of dual-opposing parental messages (considered by some to be a risk factor for schizophrenia and certain personality disorders) but she also challenged me to solve the Buddhist riddle known as dualistic thinking. For that I thank her very much…..altho I beg off on the schizophrenia part having enough genetically inherited risk, psychological problems and emotional issues as it is. I also distinctly remember that it felt GOOD to see my mother have to leave my room without having scored any lasting “criticism points”. In mid 1960’s Chicago Blackhawks radio commentator hockey language that would sound somewhat like “A SHOT AND A SAVE!!”  by the goalie (Glenn Hall/Tony Esposito). Like Carlos Castenada in the mystical books that profoundly influenced my college years and beyond, I had found my “power spot” by doing nothing and by not engaging with the dark hidden forces or unconscious negative energies that inhabit and later over define our egos, our identities, and even our resulting self-worth on this material plane of existence. Translation: My mother was both a very loving and disapproving Jewish mother as well as a strict Zen master and symbolic Native-American “bruja” (sorceress/witch/teacher in the mystical tradition of Yaqui magic and self-actualization). She was all of those things and that’s not even mentioning her astonishing Oco Bucco, shrimp de jonghe, and almond, cinnamon and ice cream mondel brot (mondel bread biscotti) pastries….the recipes of which are now kept in my sisters head and in undisclosed bank vault somewhere to this very day.

If dualistic thinking is generally defined as a mind caught neurotically conflicted between polar opposites and Buddhism seeks to transcend such forms of human suffering and mental illusion, then perhaps I now at this very moment have a much better idea as to what I was actually “doing” on that Lazy Boy rocking chair in my mid 60’s plaid and madras patterned bedroom with matching twin plaid and madras bed covers on a warm summer day so very long ago. I was in fact DOING NOTHING, but i didn’t realize until now that I was doing nothing effortlessly and purposefully. And in so doing,  I was working on becoming a mindful and consciously lazy adult human being. Of course I was also beginning to practice the stealthy art of adolescent multi-tasking by being both lazy and passive-aggressive at the same time. Two extra Bobby Hull/Stan Mikita Chicago Blackhawks slapshot goals for me. “It’s a Shot and a SCORE!!!”

About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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