Ok, where do I start? A short back story to give you a point of reference would be helpful I guess…
Now I had best set this straight here and now, what’s laid out before you is my account and my personal observations and view point only. I admit I’m probably misrepresenting my father’s own views on this subject but for the purpose of this piece it’s the mechanics of mindfulness that’s important; opinions are subjective and largely inconsequential.
As a rule I don’t really remember too many good memories as a young child but this most definitely isn’t to say my upbringing was terrible in any way and in comparison to my fathers it was truly blessed. I know the good times outweighed the unhappy events but that noted as a young child and continually through to adulthood it turned out my ego (that voice in your head narrating you through life) really liked to hold onto the not so nice events. I will no longer refer to those events as being negative because now I don’t see them as such, they are just recalled from my memory without any bias or attachment.
My father is a man of principal and is quite authoritative in general. A man whom I felt if I went against his intention there would be consequences. Of course this didn’t mean as a young teenager I took the well intentioned and very often right advice so I guess that played into my perception of his frustration towards me. ‘Son, why have you got to learn the hard way’ (or words to that effect) were often words I heard growing up and to this day I’m still unpicking that behaviour as and when I see it.
Since hitting puberty the relationship between myself and my father over the years just kept getting more and more volatile and destructive, creating ever increasing distance between us both, to the point we could hardly say ‘HI’ to each other without you being able to cut the atmosphere with a knife; on most interactions it felt like I may just have well been talking in a foreign language as most of the time it seemed we both struggled to listen to each other (to actually hear) without having a loaded response on the tip of our tongue purely based on an egotistical point of view. Admittedly one of my old character traits was that I already ‘knew best’ combined with stubbornness and an inability to see outside of my own view often resulting in loggerheads. (The more I reread this piece and make slight alterations the more I see the part I played in the testing relationship).
In the not so distant past I once held my father in part responsible for my noisy head, what with him being one of the internal critics. Unconsciously I had learnt behavioural traits and reactive programing from certain situations as a child that I really couldn’t stand to witness so you can only imagine the huge shock I got when I had the realisation I had in part adopted those traits I disliked so much as a child through my transition to adulthood.
After about six years of practicing mindfulness and witnessing a great deal of my destructive personal demons struggle to survive without my mental engagement, life on the whole was a great deal better than it had been for many years. Most of the time my head space was 80% quieter than it had ever been before and I could process emotions that were relevant to the present moment largely in real time. I had also reached a conclusion that my father would never be the person I had so desperately longed him to be and accepted that he would always be who I perceived him to be but decided to love all of him just as he was.
This acceptance came alongside a letting go of my resentments I had once held him accountable for, but there was still a crucial element that required healing for me and that was the relationship between myself and my father!
If you’re new to mindfulness you may not have heard the term ‘painbody’ before but it relates to an unresolved body of emotional stress held within our being; sometimes I think it may be referred to as the shadow, subconscious or in Eastern terms karma.
This body of unresolved emotions can be transferred from generation to generation genetically and also accumulated throughout our lives from every unsatisfactorily resolved emotional circumstance we live through. The painbody usually has a character of its own and without the gift of awareness (being able to see and feel non judgementally your programmed response or head narrative while in a heightened emotional state) it will cause you to repeat or act out in a way you have previously reacted to a certain life situation when your patience and or rational reasoning are tested.
The scenario plays out like this:
My father and I sat down to have an important discussion relating to a schedule of works for a friend, both of whom we knew well and I was due to carry out the works when the friend was on holiday and the house was empty. I will also add I was flat broke at the time and had a lot riding on the prospect of this project. Admittedly I could feel the tension in me building before we even got to sit down at the table.
We both take a seat at the table and open our books; I get asked a question and because I have no idea why the question was being asked my face glazes over with a vacant look while my internal dialogue says ‘what the f..k is he asking me that question for that’s nothing to do with him and I already have that sorted with the client’ Aarrggghh!!
My father’s response was one of frustration and then enter in our programmed reactive responses, confusion raised voices and bad language directed at each other. I closed up my book in fear and frustration and left the table. While walking away still having an exchange of words my eyes held tears, my throat felt choked and a knot twisted in my stomach but as I heard the words, go on then, walk away, you always do that (or words to that effect) hit my back a quiet whisper something I hadn’t heard before resonated from my heart saying, you can do this, you need to do this. In bewilderment my body turned 180 degrees and made its way back to the table and took a seat. Now by this time my body was flooded with adrenalin, my legs had gone to jelly and I was breathing very deeply and occasionally twitching, not violently but very noticeably. (Sometimes as trapped emotions (energy in motion) releases through the physical body’s nervous system it may twitch, quite pain free but looks a peculiar site). At which point my father said (more bad language) ‘let me know when you come back down to land’ and left to make a phone call from another room in the house.
My mother who was witness to the events asked if I was ok bless her to which I replied yes as I knew from past experiences my body was just processing my painbody and in essence dissolving old trapped emotional baggage. Its notable from the moment my heart spoke to me my head fell silent; although my body was experiencing a whole host of happenings my head was completely still.
My father returned after thirty minutes or so and by then I resembled something normal. We managed to hold a civil conversation about what we needed to and afterwards I clearly and calmly stated ‘I no longer want to continue to shout at each other anymore, I love you, we embraced, I cried and then I found myself asking him if he would like to change how he responds in certain situations and the reply I received was, why would I, I don’t have a problem. Now I’m not laying blame at anyone’s feet here for it isn’t a ‘who’s right’ and ‘who’s wrong’ situation anymore but if you don’t see you have a problem, you don’t have a problem and that is your truth. This was a great milestone and important information for my ears through that statement. It was now completely clear on a level not before available to me that if I wanted our relationship to be different to what’s been before then I was the one that needed and still needs to do the work (internally on me).
Slowly with each and every tricky conversation we had from that point onwards I consciously managed myself being mindful of my language, tone of voice and physical emotional state with ever increasing success. What I mean by success is the situations became less fraught with experience and practice as at first my father still got angry quickly and it was difficult not to fall straight back into the old patterns of behaviour (and that did happen at first but with much shorter less damaging engagements). As I learned to manage myself more efficiently (to fully embrace the uncomfortable emotions that arose in me without allowing the emotions to drive my mouth) our relationship really took on a different appearance.
The status, if you like, of our relationship now resembles nothing I could’ve ever imagined from my wildest projections from my once very limited perspective. As my awareness of self has evolved through watching my own programming not only has it allowed me to offer ‘me’ more acceptance, love and compassion for what was once unconscious behaviours it has also allowed me to objectively witness the unconscious behaviours in others at times of ego confrontation or when a programmed response is received. How people treat you is a reflection of their inner being and how you respond is a reflection of your own inner being.
I now realise how blessed I have been to have him as my father and teacher. With centred reflection I have had the eyes to see he has always done his best for his family the best way he knew how with what he had to give emotionally and I accept the issues I once had and the part I played in it all through the deception of my perception and accumulated painbody. We all have a choice if we allow ourselves the space to breathe, pause, feel and decide what happens next. The only control we ever have is over our present moment responses and if we are able to manage those, then what follows will always be better than what’s been before.
With a heart that can now experience love again. Thank you Dad for everything that you are.
It is important to note the use of two frequent words that really encompass mindfulness training and those are ACCEPTANCE and SURRENDER. To accept a situation you don’t have to agree with it or like it for that matter; it simply means you have aligned yourself with the reality that presents in that given moment. From this place of acceptance – which is a mental process – you either choose to objectively guide a situation in a particular direction if it is within your power or you may choose to fully accept things just as they are. For me surrender can sometimes happen later when the body decides to release the emotional investment or attachment to that particular scenario. With practice and body awareness the process does speed up.
I would also like to add the life lessons keep spiralling around into different situations presenting the same opportunities for growth on an ever deeper level. It can still surprise me when I thought I had already dealt with a personal issue only to have the boundaries of who I thought I was pushed further than before. We are all work in progress and although change can be difficult its certainly less painful than staying stuck.
With gratitude for everything that’s been and for everything still to come,
Barry teaches at our Mindfulness Weekends and he is available for One-to-One Mindfulness Coaching – visit lovelifelivenow.com for more information.