Ram Dass once said: “If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family.” Well, I spent almost 3 months living with my wife’s family in 2022, and what a reality check it was.
At the time when we moved to my wife’s family house, I had been meditating for 5 years, sober for 4, had spent over 40 days in silence meditating, had a gratitude morning routine, and so on. I thought I had made a lot of progress by then. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It started small. First, I got annoyed at my wife’s dad for asking us to do this or that in a specific way that made no sense to me. Then I got annoyed when he said I should speak in German to my wife and child. I couldn’t stand him when he said that I should be learning German already. “Who does this guy think he is to pretend to know what I should be doing with my time? He knows nothing about me!” I thought at the time. I couldn’t stand him when I saw him yell at my kid or the time he made my wife cry for some inconsequential thing he didn’t like. If I didn’t like him before, then I fucking hated him after that. I hated his negative energy, the fact that there was always something wrong to comment on, and the list went on.
I thought, “At least I work on myself, I work on my issues, I don’t yell at my kid or my wife, I am positive.” I felt superior to him. But I was no better than him; in fact, I was worse. I was constantly judging him, only focusing on the negative things he did. I had so much hatred in me that one day I couldn’t even sleep. He had done something earlier that day that really angered me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it while trying to fall asleep.
One weekend he went on a trip with his friends. That day, the rest of the family was in the living room, eating and having fun. The atmosphere felt lighter and more positive. I thought, “Things will be much better when he passes away.” That’s how low I had sunk; I was wishing for his death now. I’m ashamed to admit this. The phrase ‘holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’ comes to mind here.
I was so blinded by my anger that not once did I stop to appreciate the positive things he was doing for us. He was letting us stay at his house while we found an apartment, even clearing 3 rooms in the house so we could sleep and work from home. He would prepare dinner for us almost every day, clean our dishes, and take care of our child. He even got us bicycles so we could get around. There was no compassion in me. I didn’t consider that he had a rough childhood. Who knows what he went through and what traumas from his youth he still carries? But at the time, I couldn’t see any of this. I couldn’t wait to get out of their house and not see him ever again.
Extended silence and isolation have a strange effect on us. Your whole life flashes before you. You think of nothing and everything. It shows you the things you are doing right and also the things you are doing wrong. Silence has been an invaluable teacher to me. During the last meditation retreat I attended, it showed me how wrong I was. All this time, I had been placing the blame on him. He was the terrible one, he was the one that needed help, he was the negative one, he was the one that needed to change, not me. But it was not him; it was me. Yes, sometimes he did give us the gift of negativity or anger, but while my wife saw that gift and rejected it, I took it with open arms and made it my own.
At the retreat, I was reminded of something I already knew but had clearly forgotten: we are 100% responsible for our happiness and for our misery. Not the external world, not another person, but us and only us. If we are not already happy, truly happy, money or people won’t make us happy, momentarily yes, but not for long. Something that can make one person furious, another person can react in a completely different way. Like Viktor Frankl says: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
So, he was not making me angry or miserable, I was. I saw that I still have a long way to go, to be able to see something that before would have angered me and just observe and remain equanimous. I’m doing better than years ago, and I will keep working on this.
Sorry I judged you during your bad moments. I know you were just doing the best you could at the time, and so was I.
LESSON: we are all doing the best we can