“When the student is ready the teacher will appear” is a quote I heard many times in my martial arts career.
Of course the truth of this statement goes far beyond how to kick and punch. Or do yoga poses. Or learn to ski.
A year ago was a dark time for me. The whys and wherefores don’t really matter, but I was not in a good place. I kept telling myself I was strong. That I could get out of the dark place if I tried harder. The thing is, the more I tried and failed the deeper I went.
Then someone told me about the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
The book was the teacher I needed. That book opened the door for more books, more teachers, more study.
I remember very distinctly my feelings as I started it. Within the first few minutes I realized that this was going to be an important book. I decided to read it slowly, to savor it, and give myself time to really process the words and thoughts.
I’ve probably gifted at least 20 copies of that book to friends and family that were struggling with life or relationships in the last year.
I could go on and on about what that book taught me. But today, as I continue to see Facebook notifications of the anniversary of my moms death, I want to talk about family.
One of the premises of the book is that we are born innocent and with a free and joyful spirit. As we are “domesticated” we are taught what is right and what is wrong. What to fear, what to hate. We are given rules and laws starting with our family, then school, church, the government, conventional wisdom, peer pressure and our partners in life. We are told what to think and what to feel. We are taught what is “ladylike”and what is “manly”. What our role in the relationship is. How we should parent.
Of course we need rules and laws to peacefully exist and keep order in the world. And I am certainly not saying children don’t need discipline. But the reality is that much of what we were taught and what we accept as truth is because it was passed down. It was tradition. The way it was always done. And sometimes that is just bullshit.
Racism and prejudice are alive and well in part because belief systems within families, churches and communities perpetuate it. All you have to do is spend a little time on social media and you will see the power of the group think domestication of our thoughts.
What does this have to do with family?
Today I read in The Art Of Living: Peace and Freedom Living in the Here and Now by Thich Nhat Hahn “ It is true that each of us is a continuation of our mother, we ARE our mother. So whenever we are angry at our mother or father we are angry at ourselves.”
I loved my mother. I miss her deeply. I take it as a huge compliment if I am told that I look or act like her, even and maybe especially the goofy and silly stuff. She was funny and wacky but incredibly smart. I get my love of reading, my writing and artistic talent from her. Also my insomnia unfortunately. I treasured my time with her because she had her first heart attack at age 52 when I was 20 years old. There were several more close calls in the more than thirty years that she was with us. But I will tell you that woman had a joy and appreciation for life that came from the realization that life is precious and could end in a heartbeat. She passed that on to me, it was part of my “domestication”.
I can’t remember ever being angry with her after I got out of the terrible teenage years and moved into adulthood.
My dad and I did not have a good relationship. He was quick to anger, quick to lash out. Irritable. Short tempered. Stubborn. We battled and fought, once almost coming to blows. After I moved out I put up with him but I kept my distance. And I did not want to be anything like him. Our relationship had a foundation of anger and resentment. Unfortunately I never changed.
They are both gone now.
After reading TheFour Agreements I was able to make peace with my dad. His father was infamous for having a bad temper. He beat my dad and uncles. He taught that to my dad. My dad was in the navy for 25 years, he learned a military culture. He treated me the way his father treated him. He didn’t know any better. His words and actions and thoughts were passed down through generations, forged by the culture and places he lived.
He was also generous and would help anyone in need. He loved with his whole heart and was loyal. As he got older he became sentimental and would cry when we gave him presents or cards. He changed. He mellowed. He became less of what he was, less hard and harsh. It took me years after he was gone to acknowledge the softening, it was easier for me to think of him as one dimensional and justify keeping my distance.
I thought of all of this yesterday when we were talking with some friends about athletic ability. Steve made the comment that I got my athleticism from my dad, not my mom. Dad was a great golfer, he was on the Navy Golf Team and almost went professional. He golfed regularly well into his 80’s. So yes, that is one way that I am like my dad.
He changed as he got older. I didn’t recognize it. It’s painful for me to realize that he reached out to me and I didn’t reciprocate on a deep and real level. I went through the motions, but deep inside I held back. I held on to that anger. And as I quote so often “anger burns the one who holds it close”. I don’t know if I wanted to justify the anger I had carried for so long, or if I was too caught up in my own life to care.
By making peace with my dad, I was able to find acceptance for the part of me that I frankly didn’t like. And only after accepting was I able to start to change. And only then was I able to really understand how deeply our domestication affects us and our relationships. It will always be a struggle.
We say Namaste in yoga. “The light in me recognizes the light in you”
That is easy to do, we are instinctively drawn to light and joy.
I had to dig deep to recognize the dark in my dad was also the dark in me.
Marriages, work culture, spiritual teachings, parental relationships ,friendships and so many other things contribute to our story of how our life was, and what it should be. I got caught up so many times in how things should be rather than what was. I know now that much of the deepest pain I suffered at the hands of others was really not about me. It was about their struggle with truth, with pain, with their domestication. Letting go lifted all of that hurt and anger and resentment. It gave me space for love, acceptance and understanding. Light.
My parents are in me. They are in the way I think and react, my talents and my faults. The way my body is built, the color of my skin and the way I age. My dad is close when I am pushing my body for perfection and when I decide nothing and no one is going to keep me from a goal. He fought in the war, if I am brave I got it from him. My mom is with me when I cry over the beauty of this world and feel something so deeply that I have to write. She taught me how to laugh until we cry.
Now I can focus on the gratitude of knowing the best of both of them is in me, and understanding they had their own struggles and victories. They did the best they could.
Now I can change the rest of story.