Last week I wrote about our stories and how they perpetuate despite their dysfunction. Tonight I consider patterns and how they also resist change—for better and for worse.
We had a wedding in the family recently. Aunts, uncles, and cousins flew in from all over the country to attend and celebrate. I have graduated to the parents’ generation at most weddings now; it feels strange and natural at the same time. ‘Kids’ these days do things very differently in some ways (everything was online—no paper!), and exactly the same in others (there was a beautiful dress, an aisle, rings, kissing, and I saw her wear something blue). Sitting with my fellow zhang bei (elder generation), I recalled when each of us got married, all on the order of 15-20+ years ago. Like the happy couple, we were all young, most of us were thinner, and we had darker hair. Our Chineseness and its influence on nuptial activities felt a little heavier than for the next generation, and yet that cultural heritage still shines through today—that makes me proud.
How will the new couple choreograph their marriage dance? When the rest of us started out, could we have predicted our tangoes to look and feel how they do today? Part of me says yes, absolutely—just look at how our parents boogied—we humans learn by mimicking. Just imagine your spouse’s father dancing with your own mother, or some other familial counterpart pairing, and you probably see something resembling your own relationship. Psychology research tells us that our stories and patterns of relating form very early in life, and persist for decades. We carry the lessons, traditions, and burdens of our families of origin in our neurons and even our DNA—we cannot escape them.
Not that we need to or should. Each of us is the product of all the atomic, molecular, cellular, interpersonal, and interstellar interfaces that created and continue to recreate us, in an infinite and complex web of moments and contexts. It’s really quite beautiful, when I stop to think about it. We can hear echoes of our ancestors in our children. We pass on core values and family traditions with tribal pride, maintain bonds that hold us up through adversity, and anchor to relationships of identity and belonging. We can also choose to forge new paths for discovery and growth, diverging from generations of redundant dysfunction and suffering. Through iterative tribal mergers our children inherit all that came before them—the good and the bad—and the universe both differentiates and unifies with each succeeding generation, with every single individual.
Each dandelion seed is a miniature version of the whole flower itself. Each human family is a subset of the family of humanity. We are all uniquely ourselves, and we also belong wholly to one another.
Nothing stays the same for long. And some things never change.
It’s just a thing of beauty, no?
Interesting, Cathy. I’d like to hear more about how this holds true for people who deliberately defy the destructive and unattractive patterns of their parents and/or family. I imagine the patterns are still there somewhere, but the desire to escape or make entirely different choices overrides them? I’m going to have to mull this over.
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Hi Donna! I tried to reply on my phone but it did not work, sorry for the delay! I agree, I think our deeply rooted patterns are always present, and exert varying degrees of influence at different times, under different circumstances. So I always come back to practices of self-awareness and -exploration as the primary methods of understanding how all of our patterns intersect with everything and everyone around us… What you have you come to in your mulling? 😀