Oh what wonderful contrast I am offered when I spend time with my beloved family! And to be clear, I choose to spend time with them every year. I look forward to it. I love it.
I twist and turn trying to escape the discomfort of the contradictory thoughts and feelings that overcome me during this time.
Contrast = Where I am right now / where I desire to be
In my deepest heart, I am pure love and acceptance. I can feel it. I know their “stuff” (their feelings, frustrations, expectations) is not about me, I don’t take things personally. I don’t need to fix or change anyone (including myself). I float in my effervescent bubble of bliss, emitting a warm inviting glow.
I can hear my conditioning loud and clear. It sounds critical, and judgmental. It’s easily offended, wondering, is it something I did? I think they really do need to be fixed and changed. They freak me out with their beliefs and drive me crazy with their choices, habits and messiness. They’re a hot mess. Grumpiness and impatience follows. I need time alone to recenter. Often.
Both these scenarios are true. My challenge (or maybe “opportunity” is a better word) is finding acceptance for myself when I am in the the place of my conditioning.
Which is not only judgey and critical of them, but of me for being judgey and critical.
This is what I am wondering about. At what point do I leave alignment with myself? Is it the rejection of my conditioned thoughts? Is it believing my conditioned thoughts? Or is it something I’ve yet to discover?
I don’t really know.
What I do know is my family is fucking with my Zen thing. They always do. I have three brothers—and on our own, we can get along, mostly. Probably following the old family rules. But introduce three wives and a throng of kids and now we have the rules and conditioning of three newly created families along with the generations that came before them. A hot mess. That’s what that is.
I’ve been thinking about my own children as they become adults and about contrast and about what they are creating with their own contrast and desires separate from mine.
That contrast is this beautiful launching pad that sets us on course with our desires. And with that, we can’t do it wrong. It’s all good. Exactly as it needs to be to get us where we are going. To know and align with our desires. Contrast is vital.
My own family was created with a dose of the old family rules, and a huge boost of contrast. The old family rules I am throwing out to create something new.
And with the exception of the value of family, I threw them all out. Food, politics, education, race, home, work, religion—I challenged almost all the beliefs I was raised with.
I embraced the contrast, found my chosen people, the ones who think like I do, and made my life there. And yet, there’s always been a powerful pull to stay connected with my family of origin. To bridge these two worlds. A challenge and an opportunity.
Communicating. Playing. Fighting.
What is the connection?
My family are not great communicators. We play together. Often it’s parallel play, which is us doing individual activities in the same shared space (I’m reading on the porch, my Mom is watching Dr Phil, the kids are playing on the beach, the big kids are jet skiing). This is confusing to my sister-in-law. “We don’t talk,” she says about our family. There is a lack of empathy (enormous discomfort with feelings). She and my brother have just separated and she is trying to make sense of it all.
It’s true” my family’s communication challenges are a contrast on which my life was built. To me, communication is everything. I majored in mass communications, I was drawn to a school for my kids that offers a communications skills workshop, I became a teacher at this school to master the skills of nonviolent communication. I practice mindfulness and meditation, to be free of the conditioning learned in my family.
I no longer need that from my family. I like our parallel play. It’s comfortable to me. In fact, intimate face-to-face conversations with them (that might be comfortable with someone else) make me squirm in discomfort.
We do the best we can. There is deep love there. And acceptance. That’s all I need.
Maybe it’s weird to other people, but whatever. It works for me.
When I need communication, I communicate. I don’t wait for someone else to do it.
Well, that’s not exactly true. I do wait, and I squim and I wallow in grumpiness and misunderstanding until I can’t take it anymore, and then I remember to ask myself…is that so?
The kindness in the question
I am being reminded again (and again) to ask myself, is that so?
My 15-year-old has reminded me that I need to ask that question when I make conclusions about his intentions based on the tone of his voice or his body language or his sassiness. It doesn’t mean he has mal intentions. I often read these nonverbal cues as mal intent. I assume the worst. Of him. That sucks for both of us.
The responsibility for our relationship does not fall solely on me and I have reminded him of this. The way I (mis)read his silent and not so silent cues is also the way many others may (mis)read / misunderstand him. So while I can ask myself, is that so? About my automatic responses to his behavior, he might ask himself is this way of being in the world serving him?
And maybe, it is. Contrast.
As for me, when I ask the question, is that so?, I find that it hardly ever is.
One of my Zen/mindfulness teachers, Deborah Eden Tull, talks about “honoring one’s authentic pace” in mindful living. And what I’m seeing as I get involved in this quagmire of differing communication styles and abilities is that I too am jumping to conclusions based on unspoken cues, in the name of trying to clean up our communications act.
I don’t know why so and so didn’t ask for what they needed. I guessed it was because they were uncomfortable. But that’s a projection. I get uncomfortable sometimes asking for what I need.
The truth is I don’t know. I don’t know why this person didn’t communicate their plans and that person didn’t communicate their needs, and the other person is grumpy, and so and so didn’t eat dinner. I just don’t know.
All I can do is ask. I can ask them what is so, or at the very least, I can ask myself, is that so?
A gentle reminder to clean up my side of the street. At my own time. When I’m ready. That’s all I can ever do.
And appreciate contrast (when everything is not working out the way I want it to). It’s inspiration. It’s a rocket launcher that moves me closer to alignment. If I allow it to be, it’s foreplay. Titillating, exciting, teasing, anticipation of an explosion of pleasure fed by the well-spring of my desires.
Yeah, it’s that.
And maybe, just maybe nothing is wrong with any of it or any of us.