There is a saying in English: “Let sleeping dogs lie”.

There is a saying in “spiritual circles”: ‘To change the world you need to do your inner work’.


This week I returned from teaching in Spain with a bad case of chickenpox. As I already had chickenpox as a child, I didn’t realise this was even possible! This has brought some enforced rest and reflection time. So I have been pondering the whole issue of sleeping dogs, metaphorically speaking. I have also been wondering what exactly has ‘erupted’ through my skin.

My parents belonged to a generation that did not ‘peg out the dirty washing’. Anything dysfunctional or shameful was hidden, silenced or covered up.

I have written about ‘shadow work’ in other blogs here’. Shadow work means looking at the parts of yourself that are not ‘admirable or socially acceptable’ so they get pushed away into a dark corner and hidden from view. These are the things we hide from ourselves as much as from others.

Some people say: let sleeping dogs lie – why on earth would anyone do shadow work?

My parents’ generation was brought up to believe that one does not ‘peg out the dirty laundry’ and anything dysfunctional or shameful is hidden from ‘others’ and ‘outsiders’ and generally from view.

So what happens if we do not do our inner work, our soul gardening, shadow work, looking in the deeper recesses of our own mind?

I am getting a pretty good taste of that right now by talking to my elderly mother on the phone at regular intervals. She was trained and conditioned as a child to  ‘be nice’ and ‘not make demands’ and to make ‘codependency a virtue’.

But she has not been well recently and her defenses are slipping. A lot of passive aggression creeps into our communication.

I love her – but I can’t I say I love our phone calls at the moment.

I am not always sure how to handle this issue but I know one thing: I do not wish to get triggered and react blindly – I wish to choose an approach that my grown up self can live with both now and in the future (when I will look back upon this time of my life) – in other words: my ambition is to ACT not REACT.

I am observing that when shadow work isn’t done, the shadow material will out anyway, sooner or later. Sleeping dogs don’t stay asleep for ever – they wake up and growl with hunger! They may nip someone’s ankles or “bite the postman” if they aren’t fed.

So what choices are open to me here?

I could react blindly  and defensively to everything she says (and she keeps pointing out how much my brothers are doing for her and clearly I am the ‘absent one’- but they are local and I live abroad) and ‘defend myself’ of things I feel ‘accused of’ by implication. However, as my mother will not ‘own’ what  her words (and the aggression behind them) imply – that is a blind alley. It leads nowhere. The moment I defend myself she will claim “I didn’t say that” or “I didn’t mean that”. She has memory problems as well and often claims not to remember significant events or conversations.

I can take our conversations as an invitation to stay grounded and centered within my own reality and belief system, no matter that “she throws at me”. Meaning that I do not give her the power to ‘knock me over’ with vitriolic words or nasty outbursts. This also means that her attempts to emotionally manipulate me will not pay off – I decide in ” relative freedom” what my reaction is and where my boundaries are. I finish phone calls when I feel myself being triggered and losing my ‘cool’ (and that is quite often at the moment. I have become a “master of the rapid exit”).

Of course I can aspire to go even beyond this and counter her every move with unconditional love. (Yes, I DO love you – but no, I am NOT going to be manipulated by you and I am NOT going to be guilt-tripped by you!)

I just ran a quick search and found a whole website dedicated o the belief that we must cut ourselves off from ‘toxic family members’ to be free at last. However, as a shamanic practitioner I do too much ancestral work  to believe the solution is as ‘simple’ as that.

One thing we often do in shamanism is this: if the issue cannot be discussed effectively in ‘everyday reality’ we have a dialogue in the other world, the energetic parallel world. One option always open to us is calling in the ‘guardian angel, overarching being or spiritual supervisor being of any relationship’ – then say what we need to say. It will go in on some (very deep!) level.

So what do I think is really going on here between mother and daughter on the level of soul?

As my mother is well into her 70s she is on some level assessing her life, knowing that the largest part is behind her now. And of course she needs to feel that she did well and that her key relationships are healthy and loving and rewarding.

I know that my mother had a childhood where there was much emotional abuse. I also know that this set her up for a lifetime of codependent relationships where she derived her worth from ‘helping’ and ‘enabling’ others. I know that, unlike all the clients I see in my shamanic practice, she has never chosen to actively look at the core beliefs that drive her life and opinions. So they have remained largely unconscious, meaning that she has not had to take responsibility for any of them. They ‘just are’ and things ‘just happen to her’. She has had a ‘tough life with many trials” because “she has been through a lot” (in her own words).

To me there is an invitation here that was never opened.  A “letter that slipped under the doormat”. But I honour her free will in making that life choice. However, as she is poorly at the moment, she can’t contain the shadow material any longer. It all comes flooding out through every crack and a lot of it hits me – her only daughter, who has lived abroad for decades and no longer feels at home in her country of birth. (Did I ever belong there?!)

So this is a form of healing then – at her end. It means that some vessel has burst open, that difficult emotions are being processed and that I get to see a more authentic version of her – no longer the ‘saintly mother’ she always hoped she could be (the Roman Catholic archetypes of  “The Saint” and “The Martyr” loomed large in our family!) I get to see anger and frustration and resentment and selfishness. And all of those things have their place in a healthy psyche. I admit to feeling all of those things myself at times – but she rarely has.

Then again,  what is my role here? I can make flying visits to my country of birth – but I know I will never live there again. I have young children and cannot be away for long.  What is my contribution going to be in the ‘twilight years of my mother’s life’? What I arrive at is expressing unconditional love coupled with strong personal boundaries. It is holding up the model and mirror of non-codependent relationships. It is holding up a spiritual perspective that my brothers won’t offer her and professional experience of working with death and the dying, with end of life issues, when the time comes.

And I am willing to do all that. But I would never contemplate moving back to my home country – as a well-meaning friend of my parents ordered me to do on the occasion of my father’s funeral five years ago.

What I would like from her in return is that she honours my free will and my life choices, my spiritual path. As I cannot have that I opt for drawing strong boundaries around those things and removing them from the arenas of family discussion and opinion. Some things are not up for discussion. I will not discuss them. I will not justify them (as I have tried to do for so many years already and failed, returned home to lick my wounds too many times).

I practice a lot of listening and silence. Mostly she talks – I listen. I choose what I share with great care. Not because it is ‘dirty laundry’ but because sharing what I truly think and believe leads nowhere, it is a waste of energy, it does not go in. My family doesn’t really believe in what I do (i.e. being a shamanic practitioner and healer). In my work I dance with ‘All That Is Not Visible”  but my family thinks that I my work is about something that “Does Not Exist” (i.e. a waste of time – in plain English!)

In all the months of my mother being unwell it has crossed no one’s mind to ask me to have a professional look at the situation (and here I mean: look on the level of soul, as I do daily for clients) or to help in ways other than ‘returning to my country of birth’. (Healing other families is like ‘sprinkling chocolate over a cake’ perhaps, but obviously ‘healing’ is not going to cure anything of a serious medical nature – or is it?!!)

And so I have whole families traveling a long way to work with me – and harvest the results of such hard soul work – but never my own family.

(And why do people travel a long way – both geographically and emotionally/spiritually speaking? Because I get results. No other reason!)

And I try not to feel hurt about this – but maybe I do, just a little.

So this is the great Dance of the Elderly mother and the Dutiful daughter.

Imelda Almqvist