The question of the week in the dojo is about your relationships, “What is the most enjoyable thing your family has done together in the last three years?” For many of the students who have brought their family to the dojo, practicing martial arts might be that thing. For those of us who no longer have family practicing here, it may be less enjoyable when we do techniques to them.
Some people hear this question and think I can’t possibly choose the best from all these incredibly enjoyable things that I do with my family! Others struggle to remember their last enjoyable family activity. They might even see this question and start thinking about their relationships and wonder how they got so distant or strained. This was not necessarily the point of this question, but it is what I’m going to talk about here.
We have a tendency to think of relationships in terms of the problems that we have with people. This often just comes down to the brain’s natural inclination towards the negative (unless we train it to do otherwise, as we do in meditation). We wish we were closer. Perhaps we wish we fought less frequently. We wish we did more fun things together. Yet we are often met immediately with the thought, Well, that’s just the way we are, or maybe, assigning a little more blame, That’s just the way that person is.
In other words, we tend to think of ourselves and the people in our lives as fixed or constant. Like ancient Greek statues, we imagine that human beings are changeless, aside from the effect of time on our bodies. Of course if we think about it logically that people grow and change over the years, yet that’s not the way we feel or act in the day-to-day of our relationships.
We are not fixed. We are constantly changing. Every moment of every day, we physically and mentally change. So when we think about the people in our lives as being a certain way, it’s really just our attachments or lack of understanding. Our relationships, therefore, are also capable of changing in an instant. Just because in the past we have withheld our emotions or we used to dive into every fight with reckless abandon doesn’t mean we have to today.
A New Relationship
A simple example from my own life that I like to reference is that of my relationship with my Mom. I used to think of her as someone who nagged and complained about my life choices. I thought no matter what I did, she would find fault with something. One day, she called my cell phone and when I saw her name on the caller ID, my first thought was Great, what’s she going to nag me about now? When we started talking, she did indeed begin laying into me about something I could be doing better or different.
I decided to really listen in a way that I hadn’t in some time. I got rid of the thoughts I had about her, or how I needed to defend myself, and just listened. After a minute, I had a realization. I told her right away.
“Mom, I get it!”
“You get what…?”
“For years, I thought you just loved complaining and telling me what I was doing wrong because you like giving me a hard time. I just got that you love me and really just want what’s best for me.”
“Well, of course!” she said.
This was a huge breakthrough for me. It was really me who changed in that moment of understanding. My relationship with my mom changed, and she changed after really being heard.
This kind of realization is possible for all of us, both in our relationships with others and ourselves. We are in charge of how we deal with everyone in our lives. We can get out of those ruts in an instant. All it takes is a willingness to free ourselves from our attachments. When we have that blank slate, we can create the relationship that we’ve always wanted…or maybe something we haven’t even been able to dream of.