Family life can be difficult -- if I've learned anything, that's one thing that's very reliable.But the connections it brings makes us part of something deeper.
"Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for." -- Bob Marley
I recalled a time when I was so unbelievably disgusted and went for a drive, hoping I could find a rock big enough to hide under for a while. Family life can be stressful at times and love really is a long road. Some days, it's longer than others, for sure. We sure get thrown our own share of excrement by life in the journey we share with others. But seriously, as much as we all may fantasize from time to time about escaping the madness of the people we love, where are we going to go where we don't have to deal with that stress from emotional turmoil? Run away? And do what? Live in isolation? We can go live in a shack in the woods, but then there'd be the aggravation of trying to get Wi-Fi or a pizza delivered. Truth is, we would soon miss people we love. There is no place to go and no people we're going to be entangled with in this life where we don't have to cope with problems or have our hearts broken.
Whoever said that first had a very clear grasp of reality. In love and marriage and in some unfortunate cases, with children, there's always the option to ditch a relationship and seek out something you think is "better." Usually, the veneer wears off and in short time, there's an excellent chance that person has problems to cope with, needs your emotional support, has annoying habits, insecurities, and leaves their underwear lying around. No, I'm not suggesting enduring a bad relationship, I'm talking about the general unpleasantness life gives us. Into each life some rain must fall and some of it is in the form of excrement, and it invariably hits the oscillating device; if you live to be old enough, it can entail putting up with actual shit. It's like hiding under the rock or in the shack in the wilderness -- people realize what they miss and most of the times it's too late to get it back. The fallout from abandoning people who love us is too great for all involved.
"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." -- Buddha
Relationships always get complicated but being able to stay on the long road has its benefits. Most of us want some sort of security and a soft place to land. If we want to be part of this bigger thing -- family -- and enjoy the contentment of continuity with people we have a shared history with, experience the richness of intimacy, closeness and companionship, and a degree of safety from the harsh world, then we have to absorb a certain amount of unpleasantness from time to time. It's inevitable that at some point, someone you love is going to hurt you and piss you off, and yes it is highly likely that in relationships with family someone's going to put you in their shadow, exclude you, disappoint you, tease you, and eat the last brownie or slice of pizza you were saving.
"Mindfulness helps you go home to the present, and every time you go there, and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes." -- Thich Nhat Hanh
Sure my husband drives me crazy at times and I do question his sanity, given the fact that after all, he married me. But for as annoying that whistling in the car may be, mostly I appreciate the wonderful things he does: makes me laugh hysterically; cooks amazingly and makes a mean gravy; he's mindful of useful things I have no grasp of, like making sure the oil is changed every 3,000 miles and the tires are rotated. Oh, and we have toilet paper and a stocked freezer. When we realize the small and large gestures of those around us and how they make our lives better, we can experience their presence in a whole way and have a humbling gratitude.
"With this greater understanding comes greater compassion, an acceptance of 'How it is'... an ability to see the divine plan in everything, even in your failings and the failings of others." -- Ram Dass
It's the little things in family life that can bring unexpected redemption. You never know -- the brother who ate your fries the other night will be there to cover you next time you're short on funds in the drive through. The kids who were had you so confused and defeated by pointing out your shortcomings or blowing off school work can make your heart burst with love all over again. The fact is, we all need a cheering section and when you have that, it's all gravy.
I thought about all the garbage my parents put up with raising me and my brother and sister. I'm sure they had days they didn't feel like going to work and probably wanted to take a detour and keep on driving on the way home. But they didn't. My parents made it past their 50th wedding anniversary and it was a wonderful celebration of a huge milestone, made more remarkable by the fact that their marriage weathered a short tour of duty in divorce back in the 70s. That my parents were still moderately sane people after raising us is inspirational by itself. No matter how old we are, we still need our parents, and when they are present for us, that is much to be thankful for.
The Buddha may have said that attachment comes with suffering, and detaching from the feelings, anxieties and struggles of our loved ones can be difficult because of the deep connections we have to each other. We can't break away and be done with people we love when things are temporarily unsatisfactory in a fruitless effort to eliminate the suffering of attachment that way. Usually I have to breathe and stay quiet and practice tolerating the discomfort with the faith of knowing it too will pass.
"Wherever you go, there you are." -- Jon Kabat Zinn
We can show respect and mindfulness for the sacrifice of energy, time or money we got from our family by passing that on to our kids. That continuity makes the cycle complete, paying it forward and back by staying with the feelings, pleasant and unpleasant. The metaphor of the family tree didn't just sprout up by accident- the roots are there to keep us grounded and keep us connected to something even greater than we could be all by ourselves.
This article also appears on Leigh's blog, The Noble Sk8Fold Path.