Flowing with Family.
“But, is she hot?”
My brother interrupts my storytelling as I stare out the car window at the passing ocean-front houses lining the Great Highway. Frustration and exasperation rise into my throat and anxiety builds. “Well, yes, and what are you asking? Do you even care about the story?” He’d asked me who the last woman I’d slept with was and I was explaining the circumstances of our meeting, which I held with tenderness. His direct question that ignored every aspect of our getting to know each other brought a rise from me. We drove on.
Being with my family can be emotionally challenging. My siblings or parents can act familiarly towards me, speaking with emotional undertones that push and pull me. Trying to look inside and understand these internal forces is like untangling a knotted rope, and it takes time, energy, and patience. My brother often enjoys correcting me, proving he is right. In turn, I feel defensive and insecure. This is an old story that has played out many times before. Though I understand that it’s just a story, I know that there is a lesson I have yet to learn.
“The surf’s looking cleeeaaaan today!” my brother said early this morning, just as I got out of bed, ready for my personal Yoga practice. I sighed, expecting his eagerness to surf, which I didn’t share. “I bailed after 20 minutes yesterday,” I said, “It was too big and I didn’t enjoy it. Ocean beach is a mess...” I continued, trying to rationalize with him, but feeling unheard in that I didn’t want to surf this morning. The cold, the dirty city-ocean water in my hair, the brutal pounding of the waves, the evil-eye vibes from the other salty city surfers, felt like obstacles I didn’t want to overcome.
But, for some reason my brother’s entire desire to surf hinged on me accompanying him and he directed all his energy at convincing me that I wanted to surf, too. I tried compromise: “Can we go after I practice yoga?” I asked. “Ugh, well how long is that?” He asked with impatience. “An hour.” I said. “Ughhhhh, can it be half-an-hour?” he pleaded. “No!” I said impatiently back. It took his wife coming in as mediator, telling my brother “You have work to do, let him do Yoga. Surf after.”
I’m aware that I’ve been triggered after it happens, but often in the moment I’m unconscious. Like a dream, I wonder how I got to be in this perilous situation, where the forces around me are foreign and I am out of control, saying things I don’t mean or hurting others out of my own emotionality. Strangers or other travelers rarely activate me like my family does. I feel there must be a lesson to learn. Yet, out on the surf that morning I felt like a child who touches a stove and burns his fingers again and again, never learning.
My family reminds me of the old parts of me, the shed layers that are decomposing in the soil of the past. These are the skeletons and the shadows of me - parts of me that still exist, but that I want to be rid of. My emotional risings are expressions of resistance towards these parts. And yet, the shadow side must be embraced, as there can be no light without dark. Once again, surrender lies across my path.
The next morning, there was no argument. I was determined to accept and without question, we drove to the beach. I noticed the song, “She’s So High” playing on the radio. It’s a Yogic practice to acknowledge the beauty and divinity of another, but we each are so high - there is no one ‘above’ me.
Often we use blame and guilt or validation and affection, consciously or unconsciously, to manipulate the characters in our lives, just as we ourselves were manipulated by those forces growing up. If I want to go surfing and you don’t, I blame you and guilt you, because I want you to come with me and that brings you down below. Then, if you swallow your truth and lie to yourself and come surfing with me, you are my best friend and I will be attentive to you and you are high above. But, if you yield and I get what I want, now I have your false truth on my shoulders and you have resentment smoldering on yours.
When we arrived at the beach, the waves were perfect. For an hour, it was fun. I’d surrendered, I wasn’t thinking about the implications of this or that, I was just on the water, going with the flow in my life and the flow of the waves.
Then the flow changed. The waves became more difficult to catch and the current picked up. Crowds came from the shore and soon the ocean was spotted with surfers as far as the eye could see, to the north and the south. After a bit longer, I signaled to my brother I was heading in and we met up on the shore.
“I’m hungry!” I said. Before we’d left that morning, he had implied we would go out to eat, and I was expecting immediate gratification. “Well, we do have leftovers at the house.” He said, but I was not interested in more marshmallow sweet potatoes or bread stuffing from Thanksgiving. I voiced as much, “I don’t want that food, I want peanut butter and bananas!” I said, more loudly, like an irritable boy. He said, “Well, I’ll have to call my wife and see what she’s up to.” I felt he was resisting me and I yelled, even more a child: “I want peanut butter and bananas!”
I’d surrendered into the child self that grew up with this brother. I had no regard for my actions or how they affected others as I frustratingly changed without a towel in public. I don’t remember what I crankily yelled, but I remember I punched my brother’s arm in anger as I maniacally said, “It doesn’t matter how dysfunctional we are, as long as we’re together, right?!”
After a stop at a grocery store to feed the hungry child, my mom called. I vented to her the experience I’d just had, the emotions behind my words. I felt that stating things calmly didn’t get a response. I told her that I express compassion when I choose words that are clear and calm, while confronting my dark emotions inside rather than spilling them out and poisoning others. I felt this practice was not reciprocated or appreciated.
Then I expressed more to my mom than I knew had been on my mind: I judged my family to be sleepwalking, with the TV on all the time. Don’t they realize we are all going to die soon? With our numbered days, is the intention really to turn on the TV, right after returning from the theater? Was the message in the movie itself not even heard, when the mother said to the daughter as she silenced the radio, “You don’t need to be stimulated all the time!” What’s the point of even watching TV if it’s not going to be watched? It’s just sleeping, then.
All of this I expressed to my mom, with a voice of fire and passion. In turn, she responded with the patience of her years and the compassion of loving three children through their adulthood. She told me, “David, like we talked about before, don’t take it personally. It’s not all about you. We each have made our own choices and do the best we can. Not all of us can make the decisions you’ve made.” Her words were joined by the knowledge that my judgements create a hell that is worst for myself. I don’t want to judge others, yet I am filled with them. Before I could voice this, she said, “We are all imperfect, hobbling through life…don’t you see?”
I paused. I didn’t know what to say to that. I felt that agreeing with her would make it ok for us to see the people of this world as broken. But I am on a path to show to myself that I am whole, that we all are whole. I told her, “I understand, but I don’t know how I want to reply to that, yet. I feel it’s dangerous to see the world that way.” She heard me. No, we are not broken. Many of us have just agreed that we are, even myself. I doubt that belief and it is my mission to continue tearing that old belief down until I stand in my own wholeness without any doubts that I am worthy of happiness and peace.
When my brother and I returned to the apartment, I thanked him for being with me through my emotional turmoil. I felt lighter, like my hunger had given voice to feelings that I hadn’t been expressing. Later, on the phone again with my mom, I told her “I’m just trying to find a different way to relate, where everything isn’t kept inside all the time.”
She spoke of acceptance and shared her insights. I told her, “Yes acceptance and surrender, I know, but I don’t know. How do I live with surrender? How do I discard all of my beliefs and judgements that to live one way is right and to live another way is wrong? How can I let go of the voice in my head that tells me I must pursue this goal or that objective, otherwise I am not worthy? How can I let go of all that I’ve identified with in order to find liberation?”
It’s a life’s journey, we agreed. In the end, I am grateful that I have a mother who can listen and relate to me. I am grateful I have a brother who houses me and cares about me so much that he’d rather not surf if I don’t come. I am grateful for my sister-in-law’s whole family that has opened up to me and accepted me as I am and all of the challenges that allow me to peer deeper inside myself. I’m grateful for this breath that fills my lungs and the voice that expresses my truths.
I’m grateful for this healthy body, that is not hobbled, that is an awesome testament to the wonders of the universe, and that is a home, if only temporarily, to the flame of life and love that knows no tethers or walls, that when released will fly into infinity, will dance with the hearts of all the flames of all the souls, and will sing the eternal song among the chorus of the stars.
I met Kula's Coby and Ananda on a surf trip to Troncones. They held my first cacao ceremony, but not my last. I returned to my job in San Francisco, but later after quitting, I'd meet back up with them in Peru for more ceremony. I help the Kula market their life-changing trainings and retreats - it's a perfect way to promote openness in the world and follow my internal compass towards the nomadic life.