Awareness is like an onion said a Lebanese friend when I told her I’m parsley. What she was referring to is that like an onion, our personalities are made up of layers of identities. If we are to get down to the heart of the matter, we must peel back the layers.

What I was hearing was yet another ingredient for my famous Gavurdag Salad as I was in my hausfrau identity at the time we were messaging each other. I believe it was close to dinner time. I think this salad (with an offensive name referring to “infidels”) has so much to teach me – but that’s another story.

In my mind, the downside of onions is that working with them leads to tears. And as we shed our layers of identities, the inevitable is the shed of tears or catharsis.

What are these layers I’m talking about?

Any label you put on yourself that distinguishes you from others is a layer or a mask. Businessman, doctor, accountant, lawyer, academic, journalist, mother, father, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, honest politician, and the list goes on. It’s true that you’re a unique human being, in that no one else in the world has had the same experiences you’ve had – but you’re also a part of the whole. This is what I’m trying to understand as I’m exploring my subconscious through shadow training. It turns out as much as 99% of our behaviours arise from our subconscious, which is the part of our psyche unknown to us.

Our dreams provide a doorway to the subconscious but unfortunately, many of us don’t remember our dreams once we wake up. I certainly don’t – despite keeping a dream journal.

The labels I put on myself are conscientious, hardworking and logical. This means I cut myself off from that part of me that’s lazy, irrational and emotional. The truth is, as a whole person, I’m both hardworking and lazy, logical and irrational, emotional and thoughtless.

I am all of those qualities and also I am none of them. As you’ll see when you get to the heart of the onion, it’s space.

As Rumi said:

Many of the faults you see in others, dear reader, are your own nature reflected in them.

These days when I catch myself labeling someone I try to stop myself (I don’t always succeed) and ask myself these things:

  • Am I being fully considerate of this person?
  • Is the shadow lurking in my subconscious keeping me in the dark?
  • Am I blocking myself from seeing their light?

My Tears

In this story, I’m not certain whose light I was seeing, whether it was mine or hers you decide.

In Istanbul, I visited my maternal grandmother a few times. One of these visits exceeded ten minutes and was overwhelming – not to me, as I was rummaging through old photos, but for my mum. At one point, her emotional instability caused physical discomfort and she retreated to a bedroom to have a nap.

My grandmother doesn’t see or hear very much these days.

This must be frustrating to her and she tries to gather information in a very ineffective way. She asks the same question over and over again louder and louder and then throws her hands up and says she can’t hear the response.

It’s impossible to stop the questioning by trying to respond.

So both my partner and I save our energy and we nod and go on with our own business talking among ourselves.

My mum, perhaps because of her history with her mum, can’t do the same. She tries to make her mum understand.

Here’s the backstory of their relationship (and again this is what I gathered so comes from my own filter and may not be accurate).

Mum was raised in a family that valued beautiful women who find wealthy prospects using their beauty. This was probably the norm for the generation they were raised in as I don’t think many women were pursuing higher education back then. Their good fortune and happiness were to come from the man they ended up marrying. To marry such men, the daughters had to be beautiful and dress in the fashion of the day. To this day, my grandmother, in her 90s, looks good. Her skin is smooth and she is slim as she exercises. My aunties are still very much concerned with fashion and the image they put out.

I can only imagine that as the firstborn, Mum got a heavy dose of her mum’s projection of what happiness looks like, which is wealth as signified by a large house. To make matters worse, my mum does not care about the things she perceives as “superficial”. She doesn’t care about dressing in the fashion of the day and sloppily throws on whatever’s lying around, which is most likely a hand-me-down (or up?) from her sisters.

Because her own family could not provide a big house – they didn’t own a big or a small house – it became a duty they passed onto Mum to ensure she got the house. Anyhow, this wasn’t really grandma’s message to my mum but Mum got stuck in the details.

All my grandmother was saying was:

“My daughter, be happy, be well.”

This is what all mothers want for their children. Sometimes, as mothers, we unconsciously project our own idea of happiness as something our children should go out and get for themselves. Luckily some children figure this out and they don’t listen to their mothers. Somehow my mum listened and probably felt she wasn’t good enough because it took her quite a number of years to get a house of her mum’s dreams and unfortunately her mum never saw the house.

Ahhh… Such is life.

So that visit to my maternal grandmother was a complete failure from the perspective of mother-daughter bonding. But our next visit, well that was a completely different story.

There was a new presence in the room – someone with no prior grievances with my grandmother. They were meeting for the first time and what with not being able to speak the same language and grandma not being able to hear or see properly, they had a beautiful time together.

Here’s how the magic happened.

She sat next to my grandmother and just looked at her. They looked into each other’s eyes with no plans, agendas, nothing to talk about but to just study what’s happening in each others’ eyes.

My grandmother stopped asking questions.

She stopped and started talking from the depths of her soul and here’s what she said.

“It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, who you are what your language or religion is. As long as your hearts are together, that’s the only thing that matters.”

Then my mum looked at my grandmother and moved to sit next to her. Their souls spoke. Mum said this was the first time she heard the wisdom of her mum. I cried and cried and cried. Women understanding each other and understanding that no one understands us like each other, this is the message I hear.

We are all made up of light and dark as whole beings. When we deny this we lose touch with who we are, who others are and that everyone has a light side and a dark one…

And here’s the thing about onions. They are the layers. If you continue to peel the damn thing, you find that there’s nothing in the middle. As such, our souls are space and to operate in the world we have these layers called ego. It does serve a purpose. But drop it every once in a while and you may be surprised what or who enters that space.

Over to you…

When was a time you approached someone without an agenda, not caring about who they are in the world, just for the sole purpose of hearing them out? Were you surprised at what they had to say?