My mother as a set of relationships

15/05/2013 § 4 Comments

I had a really good chat with my mum the other day when she and my father came to visit. It was probably the most mature conversation we’ve had, ever. We talked quite easily and naturally about things from the past we’ve never been able to really talk about before. It was a good feeling.

It was no coincidence my father wasn’t around at the time. He was busy playing with Lucas. Not that this says anything against my father, it’s just that my mother is a different person when he is around. I can have a different kind of conversation with my mother if my father isn’t there. Likewise, she has different conversations with my father when I or my brothers are with them  – she says that they don’t argue when we are not around, for example.M&DWeddAnniv

My mother, then, is not just a being, a collection of emotions, a body, thoughts, a soul. She is also a set of relationships. It is not possible for me or anyone else to encompass all of who she is, because she is changing all the time, in constant flux as she moves in and out of relationship. She’s one person with me, one person with my father, one person with my brothers, with her friends and so on.

That duality is mysterious. It is mysterious because she is not just a set of relationships, but also this physical, emotional, spiritual thing. To start to make sense of her, I need to see her as both, not just one. In that sense, she is like light. One of the mysteries that was uncovered in the 20th century was that light has both a wave form and a particle form. In some experiments light exhibits the properties of a wave and in others it exhibits the properties of a set of particles. And it is not accurate to say that light has simply the form of a wave, or simply the form of particles. It is both these forms, simultaneously. You will get different responses depending on how you measure it. Likewise, my mother, you, me and all human beings are both individuals and parties to a set of relationships.

I suppose the significant thing that comes out of this for me is that it reminds me how complex and mysterious we are. I think I know my mother but all I really know is what I have experienced in a series of encounters with her, separated in time. She is in constant change, even at the age of 79. She is, like all of us, both order and chaos, interacting constantly. This means that how I choose to engage with her, what spectacles I am wearing when I encounter her, will affect how I see her – will affect who she is, in my eyes.

It also makes me realise that I should be paying more attention to the relationships that I’m in, if I want to influence my direction in life. To live more consciously I need to pay attention not just to my own practices and thoughts, my own choices and habits, but also to the nature of the relationships I am in and who I am in those relationships. Which ones make me feel more whole and which ones weigh me down or make me want to hide my light? How am I in relationship to my son? Do I change as he changes? Do I allow him to change sufficiently while I model stability for him in his rapidly evolving life?

I also start wondering what other conversations I might have – with my father, my brothers, my wife – in the right context. The sort of conversations rich with meaning that we can spend lifetimes yearning for and yet avoiding.

What relationships nurture you? How conscious are you of the impact that relationships have on you? What meaningful conversations could you have to enrich your life and your relationships? Think about it.



§ 4 Responses to My mother as a set of relationships

  • donsalmon says:

    I apologize if this seems incredibly sappy (I am writing from the US, so forgive me for that too), well, here goes: “If you replace the “I” in “illness” with “we”, you get “wellness.”

    Ok, to make amends for that, there’s the “blue zones.” Journalist Dan Buettner has spent many years studying communities where people are unusually healthy and long-lived. Controlling for all variables, what is the single most powerful factor for health and longevity?

    In Roseto, Pennsylvania, about 50 to 60 years ago, the men smoked old Italian stogies – small cigars – ate meatballs fried in lard, and worked in incredibly toxic environments – yet they were amazingly healthy. There was little crime in Roseto, the elderly were deeply respected, and the wealthy mingled with the working class easily, understanding that it just wasn’t right to flaunt their wealth.

    The secret? Caring, support, people helping each other, in other words, strong relationships. So powerful, in fact, that the weaving together of relationships, of support, of caring, overrode the effects of the cigars, the lard and the toxic environments.

    Similar findings have emerged from Okinawa, Ikarai, Greece, the Nicoyan peninsula in Costa Rica and in Sardinia (where a pair of researchers were studying the locals and drew a “blue line” around the area of Italy where they found so many healthy centenarians – hence the term, “Blue zone”).

    Not surprisingly, as modernization led to the fraying of the social fabric, and relationships become more about bartering and individualization took over, people started to get heart attacks at younger and younger ages, crime rates rose, the wealthy began to separate themselves from the rest, and people began dying at younger ages.

    Now we have to learn to create our own “blue zones”.

    How do we do this?

    • Nice, Don. It reminds me of the title of a book by Satish Kumar “You are, therefore I am”.

      Or a slide that Margaret Wheatley used to conclude a series of talks I attended. It showed a picture of an old couple holding hands and it was captioned “We were together …. I forget the rest.

  • Hi Patrick, what a wonderful post! I love the wave-and-particle thought. In a somewhat similar way I had an epiphany some time ago in which I noticed that a human life is not a spectrum or continuum or gradation but is punctuated by quantum leaps – adolescence, mid-life crisis etc, rather like an atom, whose electrons make sudden, quite dramatic changes as they shift from one orbital diameter to another, giving out powerful bursts of energy in discreet packets as they do so. Indigenous peoples, who tend to mark these periods of dramatic change in a lifetime, often seem to live more harmonious, integrated community lives than does our culture. We overlook them at our peril…

    • Dear Robert,
      what a great thought. It occurred to me recently that I have struggled in recent years because I hadn’t quite made the quantum leap from being a married man with no children to married man with a child – I was stuck somewhere in the middle. Jung said that rituals (that, as you say, indigenous peoples tend to use) are key to helping the sub-conscious make these transitions – it is in the sub-conscious that we normally get stuck, it seems.

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