9 February 2014
Storm’s a-coming: Dealing with past pain.
I wasn’t quite prepared for the tempest of carefully buried emotions to whirl around me as I read the first chapter, entitled “Son”, of Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree.
Somewhere during the thoughtful investigation into how parent’s deal with children who display a trait or value different from their own, I felt the winds of my past gather momentum. The spaces around my mind and my heart became overcast, and those clouds became heavy. I felt as if my emotions were being held at bay by a structurally compromised dam, and the forecasters were calling for a 100-year squall.
It was at this point that I remembered why I was reading this particular passage. As a yoga intern at Sangha Space, I am challenged to read and respond to writings that may inform my practice. So, I called on some courage that I’ve been practicing on the mat, the courage to accept uncomfortable feelings.
Readjusting my body into a more aligned position,
taking a deep breath and
consciously pushing out my fears about the
imminent emotional storm,
I re-approached “Son”.
Through a poignant narrative, Solomon introduces the concepts of vertical and horizontal identities. A vertical identity is one passed from parent to child through genetic transmission or shared cultural norms. A horizontal identity, of which the entirety of the book is mostly concerned, is one that differs from the trait or value of the parent.
Solomon asserts that “it is often ourselves that we would like to see live forever, not someone with a personality of his own”. He also posits that production is a more appropriate term to describe two people having a baby than the widely used term reproduction. The argument being that as a sexual – versus asexual – species, humans never create exact copies of themselves. The strong desire for one’s traits and values to live on in future generations can be subverted by offspring created by this mixing of genetic dispositions.
I have felt the sting of parental disappointment. Growing up, I felt constant pressure to act exactly as my mom prescribed. She left no detail to question. I learned very quickly precisely what to say and do to earn her love. I certainly possess a horizontal identity and early in life I thought that I was mutated and sick. So I hid, from her and from everyone. This self-doubt and shame kept me from forming any real human connections.
As I reached adulthood, I became more aware of myself and started to form a new perspective on my relationship with my mom. I became very interested in how she became the person that she was, and I did something completely out of my comfort zone.
I began asking her about her past, her experiences. Through this sharing, we were able to actually get to know each other. It is still a journey, but she and I are on it together.
To conclude the chapter, Solomon reminisces on a conversation he had with a Buddhist scholar about nirvana. Explaining this scholar’s insight, he relates that “[n]irvana occurs when you not only look forward to rapture, but also gaze back into the times of anguish and find in them the seeds of your joy”.
Sitting here now, I am surprisingly relaxed. The dam didn’t hold. The storm of emotion came, but I now I’ve had the remarkable opportunity to catch a glimpse of that first ray of sun. I still experience some past pain, but I can also see how that pain prompted me to try something different, to authentically interact with my mom.