This time celebrating a birthday — my mum’s 80th. Not that she’s counting. She says this feels ridiculous, that she simply can’t believe she’s 80. And she doesn’t look it, I tell her, and I mean it.
We zipped down recently to spend a weekend with her and my dad. Time always flies by so quickly on such visits. “What mum-treat can I give you on your birthday” I asked her on the phone as we planned the weekend, thinking to squeeze in a little mother-daughter time around the planned family dinner. She told me all she wanted was a hug from me, the way that only I hug her. Apparently when she puts her arms around me I always say, “Not like that, Mum, hug me properly” until she gives me a good hard squeeze, wrapping into one another, rather than the weak press that she always begins with. I didn’t realise she liked this so much, that it is part of our intimate ritual, unique to us.
Families are full of unique rituals of course, some of them formal and long-running like how Christmas goes, some of them simply daily habits like who lays the breakfast table, funny names for things that only you understand — and how your hug feels. I’m beginning to develop small rituals with our newest family member, my little niece, as we get to know each other little by little on each visit, discovering what we like to do together.
This visit in our playtime together we did some colouring, dressed up a doll, read a book, played football, and did some yoga shapes in the garden. How many of these things will she want to do with me next time I see her? Will we always play football the way I loved to as a child? Will we always do yoga the way I love to now? Will I be someone she wants to read with, perhaps discovering some favourites together? What rituals will we develop together that support our relationship?
When it’s something I enjoy the familiar family rituals seem a lovely part of the fabric of relationships and intimacy. They unite us a group, remind us how much we share, strengthen our connection. When it’s something I don’t like, these rituals seem bonds that bind me in the past, not allowing me to move forward in the way that seems right. They feel like the grooves of samskara in a very tangible form. The rituals of entrenched positions in long-running family arguments, endlessly repeating the roles allotted to us, though we’ve long outgrown certain aspects of the parent-child relationship, or reliving well-worn stories from childhood that are painful and don’t really bear repeating.
But I guess I am waking up to choices. There is vidya (awareness) where once I was completely blind and abhaya (fearlessness) where I previously felt trapped and powerless. The dialogue between past and present becomes more nuanced and full of possibilities. I’m not aiming for full-on enlightenment, but I’m hopeful for liberation in some sense, at a more mundane level than freeing my immortal soul!