For weeks, my brothers and I had been planning our Mother's 80th birthday celebration, and looking forward to getting together, if for a brief time. I don't often see my brothers and their wives, all of whom I adore and feel so comfortable with, so any opportunity to gather is happily anticipated, yet fraught with the usual dramas.
Our dramas are ordinary family grumbles, no family is immune. Aside from the immediate potential stresses of organizing and directing a big family get-together, ie. who will get stuck in traffic? will anyone remember candles for the cake? will such-and-so show up even though they ignored all email correspondence?, there are the conditional stresses and habits of a life time together with these people you call your family!
It really gives us a chance to step back and take a good look at the 5 Aggregates, the stuff of Ego Self construction.
Ah yes, there is that tendency to strike out when I feel impatient. And here is my aversion, rearing up like a cobra head, when another bottle of wine is opened and offered to someone who has clearly had "enough".
Yet another judgement, another place of discomfort, of dis-ease, of Dukkha! How interesting!
The belly tightens, the heart beats faster, the fight or flight response, so deeply ingrained over the millenia of my ancestor's struggle, kicks in, and before I know it, I'm stuck in reptilian brain mode or child mode or projecting all of my swampy stuff on to my poor mate...who looks at me as if I'm from another planet.
And truly, I am from another planet.
I'm from Planet Mindless, at least for a moment, before I can pull myself back a bit and simply observe.
But sometimes the damage is done and I've hurt someone's feelings and certainly not helped the moment and those involved....such is life sometimes.
The weekend supplied many opportunities to practice, as well as unexpected quiet moments to read a book on my mother's coffee table, Taking The Leap, by Pema Chodron.
It turned out to be the perfect 100 page survival manual for the weekend, and I smiled often while reading, recognizing my own knee-jerk "biting the hook" reactions to uncomfortable moments.
And I recalled too, my mother's phone call, one late winter afternoon after she had bought the book--I remember she said it just jumped off the shelf into her hands at the local bookstore, and seemed so comfortable and comforting. She brought it home.
She asked me, "Do you think I could do this? Will it help me with my anxiety?"
I remember how her sincerity made tears well in my eyes, and I was flooded with so many many emotions. Here in a nutshell was the crux of our relationship together, over 56 years, and I remember thinking instantly, you will never read this book, even if I tell you it can and will help with "your" anxiety, and that of course you can do it! But even in this instant of negativity, something else rose to meet and surpass that negativity.
"Mom," I said, "She's an awesome writer and of course you can do it--it's such a powerful practice, you'll really like it!"
And I wasn't fibbing, it was my sincerest response to her need and the heart of my compassion for her was completely ignited. Of course, a 1000 times over, I knew she could read Chodron's book and gain sweet, powerful relief!
Since that phone call, she made it to page 8, a beginning...that's where the cover flap was tucked.
But I have read it, and I read it during a weekend when I required Chodron's wisdom and compassion, and it made an enormous difference to untangling places where I habitually "bite the hook".
And maybe it is enough that I have read the book, because it helped my Mother indirectly.
Tonight I'll call to encourage her to keep reading.