A few weeks ago, my mom had back surgery—and we all know how much we “love” to take care of our family members when they are debilitated. I remember walking into the hospital and getting frustrated with all of her demands: “Can you please hand my water cup to me?”, “Would you mind getting the nurse and telling her I’m running a fever?”, “Could you move my pillow to a more comfortable position?”. What I thought was going to be a nice, leisurely visit then turned into me moving items, turning up the T.V., grabbing tissues and blankets. I remember sitting there, agitated, irritated at my mom, until the nurse walked in. At the time, my mom was running a fever, and her pain medicine began to wear out, and as my mom winced in pain, tears streaming from her eyes, the nurse walked over to her with the most soothing voice, and the most concerned look on her face. She expressed her genuine sympathy towards my mom’s pain, and began moving immediately to alleviate some of those symptoms. It was at that moment that I realized I was looking at my mom the wrong way; I needed to look at her through someone else’s eyes.
You see, the nurse did not know the history behind my mom and my relationship. She didn’t know all the times we have hung up on each other, the times we slammed doors, called each other names, ousted each other on social media. She didn’t know we didn’t talk for at least three months when I moved out of her house, that we’ve spent many Mother’s Day apart, and even more occasions apart. Of course, she also didn’t know that my mom forced me to dance, sat at the hospital with me as I slept for three days straight when I contracted meningitis, sent me to etiquette class, and founded my spunky spirit. She didn’t know about all the private conversations we’ve had, the life philosophies we’ve shared, the lessons we’ve both taught each other, the stories I’ll pass onto my own children. The nurse didn’t know about the time we went camping, and brought the electric coffee pot, or the time the Harry Potter books burned in the back yard, or the time the ceiling rained at Christmas. So when I looked at my mom, laying in the hospital bed, I brought all of these burdens, both positive and negative, into my perspective. But, all the nurse saw was a suffering person who needed help.
Because so much of our existence is tied to them, our perceptions of our family members are often tainted, clouded, unfiltered. We get to see these people in their most vulnerable, desperate, illogical states. When they come home from a rough day at work, we get to experience them “decompressing”. When they stay up too late, don’t eat enough food, or get sick, we get to watch them suffering. When they are dumped by a significant other, betrayed by a friend, overshadowed by a promotion, we earn rights to the front seat of disappointment and hurt. Of course, we are around for the good times, too. We are privileged to watch their excitement when they master skill, come home with their newly earned set of wheels, fly back from a life changing vacation. We bring all of these notions about a person into our perception of them, so of course who we think they are is intercepted by these experiences. Its not fair for me to let my own selfish perceptions taint the perception of others–for me to sit in that hospital room, sighing, making rude comments, sharing some of these biased accounts.
But this doesn’t just rest in our relationships with our family members–this is also true with any other relationship we have—friends, significant others, co-workers, gym partners. Because we are all different people, we carry different relationships with us, which infiltrate HOW we see people. My co-worker might make a seemingly off hand comment to me, which taints how I see them. My friend might make a poor decision, which alters my perception of them. My gym partner might accidentally and unknowingly cut me off in the parking lot, and that changes how I view them. But, these experiences are unique to me, and other people certainly do not have those same biases, and its unfair for me to taint their perceptions, or expect them to have the same experiences, as I do. With my friends, I can pick and choose which state they see me in. If you asked them, they would probably tell you that I am energetic, thoughtful, and creative. My family, on the other hand, does not get to pick their experiences with me, and they have seen me in some of my most dire states; they experience the full gamut of Britany Ederveen’s existence. If you were to ask them about me, they would probably tell you that I am stubborn, too logical for my own good, have strange eating habits, and I never do my laundry. My family has a different experience of me than my friends do than my co-workers than my gym partners than those that I date, etc.
In yoga, the term is called “satya”, which means truth; it calls for seeing the world through an unfiltered, unbiased lens (which is much harder than it seems). Because, when I see the world as weighted down and I see my interactions with people corrupt, unfair, and harboring, it’s traumatizing to my ego, harmful to my mood, a burden to my consciousness; I am not nearly as productive, I center on an emotional point, and I sleep way worse. But, when I choose to be positive, to not ruminate those things that do not serve me, I experience a sense of freedom and a vividness of life that makes me productive, creative, and most importantly, loving. One way I can practice satya in my relationships with people is to see them through someone else’s lens; someone else’s lens that might not be so clogged, so polluted, so burdened by life’s experiences and trajectories, like mine is. I watch those pure interactions, and mimic them for myself.
In the case of my mom, this practice takes me from sitting in a hospital room, where I am grumpy, stressed, pessimistic, ruminating about all the ways we have wounded each other, to sitting in a hospital room, where I see my mom, as the nurse does—as a person, who has real feelings, real needs, real desires, and real significance in this world. I can’t let my clogged lens inhibit that.