Wednesday, September 16, 2009

6. Strength in Vulnerability

For the past week, I sat down at my desk and opened a blank Word Document on my Mac many times.  Every time, I stared at the white space on the page, only to closed it without putting anything down.  

I wanted to draft a new article for my blog on a subject in line with my previous articles.  Each time I attempted to put down the fragments of thoughts I had floating around in my head on the page, I couldn’t hold on to the fragments to let them turn into a thought.  The fragments remained too abstract and too widely scattered, to be pulled together and close to me.  I eventually surrendered to a possibility that it’s not the time to continue the story the way I want to tell it.  It was probably time to sort out what happened recently that has distracted me.  

I got on a new roller-coaster-ride of my personal journey.  Yes… again.  The series of rides just keep going.  This one seems like an extension of a ride I’ve been on in the past.  Only, it’s going to a new height, and taking me to a yet another plane.

The ride started as a result of a step forward I have initiated, to get closer to my immediate family in Japan, by being honest in a way that’s unprecedented for me. 

For the first time in my life, I opened up and communicated to my mother and my sister, about some of my hidden, but true feelings regarding my hometown and our family life.  This came as a result of series of correspondence that took place between my mother and I, prior to my blog writing… the correspondence that included some inadvertent rude remark from my mother that lead to misunderstanding and pulled a significant trigger in me. 

I have been attempting to handle a strong sense of anger this triggering ignited in me for quite sometime.  As I was planning a long awaited visit to Japan in a near future, I saw the need to address the anger that seems to linger and had no intention of leaving me.

I saw many things that needed to be done.  One of them was to show my mother who I truly am, by coming clean with some feelings I held inside for a few decades.  So I formed an involved letter, and sent it to my mother.  I wrote this letter with much consideration and control, through multiple trials and errors, to avoid hurting her senselessly.   I emphasized that I do love her, and that I am grateful for her love and efforts to raise me through very difficult times.  A copy of the letter was sent to my sister to include her in the process of my “coming out”. 

The content of the letter mainly consisted of my views never expressed outwardly before, due to 2 things, as some of the readers may already know.  One is deeply imbedded teaching which dictated me not to disgrace my family or culture by expressing the negative.  Another is that I took protecting my mother’s mental and emotional state as my duty since my childhood, so I learned to conceal my true negative feelings automatically.  Of course, whenever my mother and I got together as adults, we often had fruitless arguments, as any daughter who wants to break away from her mother psychologically would experience.  That’s different from truly opening yourself up after having to look deep inside of yourself as an adult and becoming aware of so many components in your life.

To contrary to the reality I am seeing now, in my past as an adolescent and an adult, I have always considered myself to be open, aware and honest.  I lived by a strong belief that I knew what was going on.  I had a strong conviction toward my right to live my life the way I thought I should be able to, and was proud because I put great effort toward living the way I believed. I remember I often thanked my lucky stars that I was so free and happy living in the US.

Yet it is obvious now that I didn’t let myself be conscious about the depth of the negativity I held inside, about my family life and culture. The nagging whisper in my head I chose not to listen to, as a young excited expat back in Berkeley, was only getting louder through the years.  The whisper got louder and louder and it finally got loud enough for me to recognize that I can no longer ignore it.

I will choose to not reveal details of the letter for my mother's sake, but I want to let the readers know that I informed my mother, of the hurt I've been carrying, and that I've actually never really felt love toward my hometown and it's culture. I also let her know the reason why I was writing the letter at this time.

Letting myself come out in this way, especially in front of someone like my mother who is weakened as she is aging, was not something I could decide to do easily.  I agonized over whether I should actually go through with it or not.  I sought opinions of a friend, my husband and my counselor who is almost at my mother’s age.  And I concluded that, while I can’t take the impact it would have on my mother lightly, it needed to be done for many reasons.  One of the most important reasons was to prevent my children from getting sucked into an unhealthy cycle of the “Old Hurt” any further, by taking care of a part of my pain.  The part that I inherited from my parents and the environment they lived in.

In response to my letter, my mother expressed simply her sympathy, and sorrow that I had to share my negative feelings about things when she is weakened.  I anticipated this kind of response, and I understand how she feels.  I am sorry for her sorrow, and I know some people would never do this to their parents.  But for me, this needed to be done.  I only put a fraction of what I wanted to communicate in order to leave a room for her dignity and sense of acceptance from me.  I have no regrets that I made an attempt to communicate with her, in order to protect my children, and to have a relationship with her on the base of honesty and undistorted love, in the years that’s left for us.  My only regret is that I didn’t do this much earlier in my life, when my mother was young and strong enough to bear the reality easier.

In retrospect, it feels as though the misunderstanding that happened between my mother and I earlier, which propelled me to initiate this communication with her, happened for a reason.  I felt I was given an opportunity to address an ongoing issue because of it.  I must say it took a lot of concentration, time, energy and caution to open up just the right way so that it would be meaningful, not hurtful. 

Right now, I am emotionally exhausted.  No wonder people avoid this kind of personal work, by just trying to “accept things we need to accept as an adult”!  I did for years.  Why be burdened with deep guilt for hurting your parents who did the best they could…  Why open up a can of worms when we can just keep ignoring because we are adults!  Why give our parents grief.  Never mind that our subconscious won’t accept some things it recognizes as things we shouldn’t live with!!  After all it’s only subconscious. Right? …Wrong.  Dead wrong for the person I am today.  I thank my current husband and my children for helping me be who I am today.  In my case, they aided me to learn the role of the mighty subconscious.  Subconscious is not to be ignored.

In actuality I don’t really mind the exhaustion.  For this decision to open up has given me a new window to see out from, in my heart.  Through this new window, I am seeing in everyone, somethings I’ve never seen before, including a part of myself. 

Since the letter had been sent, my sister and I have been in more frequent communication. Besides using emails, we had a long phone conversation.  I have learned a lot through the conversation.  I am continuing to learn something new about my mother, my sister, and even my late father as a result of my opening-up.  There is a hint of regret in me that I lost so many years of getting to know my own family just because I was blocked from freely expressing myself.  Even the regret itself makes it clear to me that the value of this recent revelation, far outweighs the negative.

Understandably my mother seems lost for now.  My sister and I broke through a wall we didn’t know we had between us.  Right now I feel extremely exposed and vulnerable.  Yet I feel stronger.  It’s a kind of strength that’s new.  It’s just utterly amazing to personally feel the “strength during the state of vulnerability “, the kind of strength I’ve always heard about.  It feels genuine and more solid.  It feels like my puffed up roots on steroids with fake strength have been dug up from sandy ground.  I feel like I am replanted into fertile rich soil.  My roots shriveled up a bit, but now they are increasing in thickness and length, growing deep.  They are gaining real strength and stability. 

I no longer have a coping mechanism to conceal what I don’t wish to feel.  And I don’t have to hold my breath anymore each time something happens that stirs up something inside me.  I can breathe, feel, and see things more clear than ever before.   My hurt is enhanced. So is my joy and happiness.  I see more clearly which baggage I can unload off of me, and which baggage I need to take responsibility of carrying through to the end.

It feels I am almost at the end of the first round for this particular ride I got on only a little more than a week ago.  It is possible that the ride may stabilize and stop for a while.  It is also possible that a sudden assent, a drop or a sharp turn is still ahead. 

No matter what is awaiting next, I feel that the ride will eventually make a stop at a very good place.  I have a feeling, after this ride among many I am yet to take, that I would actually be able to laugh without a tint of sadness hidden in it.  I have a feeling I would be closer to being free in a true sense.  And I hope dearly that my true freedom will ultimately bring a sense of harmony and peace among people around me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tea Break

After reviewing what used to be titled "4. The Inheritance of the Old Hurt", I realized it was too long to read casually in one sitting.  I wrote the article with such feverish concentration, that I didn't realize how long it actually was, even after having it edited several times and re-reading it.   It also seemed that the article contained 2 separate parts describing separate issues.  

So I separated them into 2 articles.  They are now "4. The Secret of the 'Perfect Village' " and "5. The Inheritance of the Old Hurt."  Some thoughts that were lacking in the original version were added, to both of the new articles.  I believe my views are presented clearer this way.  

Comments people graciously posted with "4. The Secret of the 'Perfect Village' " are actually for the article before I split them in halves. 

I regret that it may be confusing for readers who have already read the old version.  I hope you'll see an improvement, if you happened to have enough interest left to read the new version.  

I am learning as I go, and I appreciate your support. 

5. The Inheritance of the Old Hurt

What we experience with our family as a child shapes us. I have described some of what I consider to be the damaging elements in my childhood, in my previous article.

Despite those damaging elements I was exposed to by my parents as a child, I still hold deep love in my heart for my parents. I'm sure many others feel the same way about their parents. My parents tried to love me the best they could. Sadly, I feel that their ability to parent didn't reach the full potential because they were blinded by the severe distress they had to endure. The distress seems to be born of the mental conditioning that is ancient, preserved by unyielding respect for a cultural belief, that they must carry on the pattern of behavior their ancestors carried on for generations.

There seemed to be a disregard for personal happiness there. I saw mental neglect. And it's not just there at my little hometown. It seems to me that the suffering exists at the national level.

I don’t believe that the overall lack of emphasis on happiness and mental neglect is present now because people of the nation today are intentionally neglectful, careless or unloving. I believe it’s because adults of the community are holding inside, deep and ancient pain. Pain that comes from carrying the burden of cultural principles, patriarchy, and group conscious. The pain they inherited from the generations before them. This pain is something so anciet and familiar that people don’t even see it exists most of the time. It’s the kind of pain that eats away at each person’s inside as it’s passed on generation after generation.

Think of any physical pain. Let’s say a severe stomachache or headache. Imagine the symptoms never being addressed so that the pain never goes away. Imagine the pain continuing without relief for days, months, or even years. You can expect that the continuous pain would start causing some dysfunction in your daily activities. The same thing happens with the pain of the heart. The only difference is, that the continuous unaddressed severe pain in your heart will hinder your ability to process reality.

So what do people do with the inherited pain, when it’s level is so high it becomes intolerable, and their reality is distorted? Unconsciously, they spill this overflowing hurt on the only people that are available to inherit… their children. Adults who have inherited this pain will inflict the severe hurt they couldn’t endure themselves, onto the precious children they so dearly care about and want to love. I believe that’s what parents pass on to next generation. And sadly, I see the passing of the pain is happening as we speak today.

To me, as far as the community I knew in Japan is concerned, this old pain seems to have a strong connection to the cultural value the nation held for centuries. What comes to mind is again, the Bushi-Do principle of: loyalty, courtesy, bravery, faithfulness and modesty. This principle of samurai warrior seems noble. But not if applied in a way it seemed to be applied to the community I grew up in.

I am aware that my interpretation here may be overly simplistic and dramatic, but I believe it would help explain the mechanics of conformity in my birth place. It seemed that loyalty, courtesy, and faithfulness were demanded of people in the community, to serve three elements at any cost – honor of the family, the superficial integrity of the community they belonged to, and the survival of the company they worked for. Bravery was also demanded of people to withstand the pain inflicted upon them in serving and fighting for those same three elements no matter what the cost. Lastly, modesty was demanded of people as well, in order to discourage them from putting themselves first before those three elements.

What is alarming is the way people seem to practice these principles with a sense of pride. I cringe because I see this pride to be filled with pain and hurt, caused by irrational adherence to a set of rules that worked in the time when Japan was in the period of constant feudal war.

When I see, the deep-seeded presence of the pride filled with sense of honor and hurt, and the way people praise this pride, I can’t help but sense a disaster lurking just around the corner from them. A kind of disaster similar to what a community may face, if, some life-threatening, undetectable toxin has been released in the air they breathe for ages, and majority believes there is no toxin present at all.

So everyone is breathing the air that contains the toxin with no detectible smell or color. The toxins are poisonous enough to eventually make people who breathe it ill, but not very rapidly. The negative affect of this particular toxin is slow and the deterioration of health occurs over a long period of time. By the time people realize there is something wrong with their health, the poison has already penetrated deep within the body. It’s not easily reversible.

I see the pride filled with pain and hurt in Japanese society, as the toxin in the air they breathe. The toxin mixed with certain hallucinating agent in them, as this pride is considered a noble thing and makes people feel good for a while. I believe the negative effect of concealed “inherited hurt” is just as gradual and subtle, but extremely damaging. The damage would be so great that it encourages people to resign to it and let the damage spread further.

One of the most obvious signs of resignation is denial. By denial, people keep the painful cycle of handing down the old hurt.

Regretfully, I didn’t escape the cycle. I’ve also been a culprit in passing down of the old hurt to the next generation. My current husband pointed out one day, after going through some conflicts with me, that I seem to have suffered some kind of severe trauma in the past. He pointed out the reasons why he thought so. It was only after that point, I came to realize how I had been hurting my own children inadvertently because of the pain I was carrying inside.

My children believed in me. My children came along with me through difficult times after my divorce. They loved me despite my flaws. I was devastated to discover that I, the only person they could depend on everyday, was hurting them like I’d been hurt by my parents. And because of that, I can now at least attempt to prevent myself from passing the old hurt down to my children. Since I have become aware of some of my own pain, I can let the pain lay where it belongs.

I still have a lot to tell. I also still have a lot to learn. As painful as the process of this step in self-discovery has been, I am grateful. For this particular process is turning out to be, perhaps one of the most significant pivotal points of my life.