“If you think you’re enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.” —Ram Dass
I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family lately—good time, quality time, with the people in this world I love most dearly. It renews me, recharges and inspires; and can be simultaneously frustrating. Even infuriating.
These people are those with whom I share the most history. Here the past runs both heavy and deep. Much of my self-image has grown and developed through my interaction with, my history with them. And therein lies the rub. Our voluminous, shared past (along with love) defines these relationships.
In college I once took an undergrad anthropology course from an excellent professor, Dr. Craig Palmer, now at the University of Missouri. He made a point that no relationship is stronger than that defined by blood, punctuated by the assertion (somewhat startling, but absolutely true) that any other human relationship can be ended with just a few words. Think about it. Your closest friendships, your most closely held business relationships, a marriage even—all of these can be ended, struck down, destroyed with just a few horrible words. I can’t think of anything I could say to my dad, my mom, my sister that would prevent them from ever speaking to me again—and I’m a writer; I have a ridiculous imagination, I can think of some horrible things to say.
So, family is important. But family can also be dramatic, the energy of the drama fueled in many respects by that shared past. I find myself frequently reacting to something a family member says or does with an energy and vehemence that seems to have nothing to do with the actual word or action I’m witnessing in the present moment. If I go into this reaction, I often find that it’s born of something long since faded. It might be the memory of some childhood disappointment, or some other meaningless slight that I’ve managed to carry with me over the years. Seen, however, for what it is; recognized as a remnant of a past that exists only in my mind, I can let it go. I can drop it. The anti-gravity of that negative pull of the past is, of course, awareness of the present moment.
The present moment changes your relationship with your family. No longer do you see (and feel) all of that baggage (weighted and heavy) of past experience. No longer do you see these people that you love in the light of what they’ve done. Instead you see them for what they’re doing, and for who they actually are, in reality. Now. Not through the fiction of your mind’s (fallible and incomplete) definition of them. Present awareness of another person brings about something else, too, something that I think is nothing less than real love. It’s a shared realization of similarity, in the deepest sense. You are the same as I. With a family member, this goes deeper. You are of the literal same physical composition as I. You are the stuff of me. We share a past, but here, now, we also share a present. And this is a realization that makes me blink.
Will Burcher is a former police officer and current author of “The GAIAD,” a story of ancient secrets not quite forgotten and the positive power of global perspective. He lives and works in Colorado, USA.
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