Certain people drive us crazy. We all have at least one in our lives. A demon with our name tattooed on its face. An entity so powerful it demands nothing less than our total attention. Its impact on our well-being is often way beyond what makes logical sense.
I call them phantoms. We find them at home, at work and at play. Whence they come, they work their magic in the invisible world—the world of our psyche.
But here’s the interesting part. Their venom can be medicine—jam-packed with our forgotten power. Just what the universe ordered, prescribed to fast track the path towards our bigger, happier, and more whole selves.
There’s one small glitch: the longer we perceive the other to have it and ourselves to lack it, the more polarized and weakened we become.
Whether this personal phantom is a tyrannical boss, a kiss-ass colleague, an irresponsible ex-spouse, a way-more-adept-at-everything best friend, or an entire racial or ethic group that we’ve decided we’re not like, or not to like, these powerful others wreak havoc in our dreams and haunt our waking.
I’ve known a particular elderly woman for some years now. She may be tiny, bent and frail, but don’t be fooled, she’s a powerful one—a master of her home and hearth, arbiter of all that happens in her four-walled domain.
Do this. Get me that. If you open that window I’ll make you sleep in the backyard (haha). Why aren’t you eating the cornbread and yogurt? It will all go to waste!
So I pack her food in a bag and head out. Take photos of myself picnicking while wearing the fleece jacket she bought me. Is she delighted to see me eating her cornbread and wearing the fleece?
What’s that you’re eating? Is it the plain yogurt? I was looking for that at lunch today. I bought the vanilla for you.
I do everything I can to keep my patience and good humor as we sort through boxes of her things. She inspects every item and shares each back-story. A postcard of a ceramic vase made by her friend in 1954 and entered into a local contest—the same contest in which she herself won first prize for a quilt. A doll from her childhood whose dress is hand sewn. Her daughter played with it, but what should she do with the doll now? Beautifully preserved children’s books from the 1960s. I mention that I’d love to give one to a baby that I know, but she’s very reluctant to part with it.
Why does her behavior get to me? Sure, she’s selfish. Manipulative. So what—she’s old and unwell. Where’s my compassion? Why, after a day or two in her home, do I end up in floods of tears?
Here’s the crux: The woman makes her needs known. And if there’s is any pushback at all, any feedback that doesn’t go along with her desires and demands, well…her hearing aids are out that day.
She’s a woman at the center of her universe.
My medicine, the message from this phantom for today: Focus on yourself, Jan. Let it be all about you.
For me, this means, setting my compass inward. Concerning myself with the question of inner rightness, as opposed to others’ expectations and outer yardsticks for success. Is this (fill in the blank) in alignment with who I am, and who I wish to become? Am I being of service to myself, and concurrently, of service to the world?
When I let this unbidden medicine take effect, I am different than the phantom, but I have learned from her.
And with this insight, I am whole again. And I can love her.
Who’s your phantom for today? What magic power can you steal?