Jill and me at the Forbidden City.
Chinese New Year is tonight.
I sit and ponder what culture, family, and happiness is today.
I look to the past and see how different we are compared to when extended families were the norm and most people lived with 3 or possibly 4 generations under the same roof. In the West, this is pretty rare but, in China, this still occurs.
Then again, in China, there are kids living with their grandparents, and parents having to live hundreds, and possibly thousands, of miles away, to make ends meet.
As I sit in Beijing, with Jill, and we are getting ready to go out to a hotel and watch hours of fireworks and firecrackers (Beijing’s Chinese New Year’s fireworks are the world’s largest unorganized fireworks display every year) I realize how lucky I am. In fact, at 8 am the day of Chinese New Year’s, as I’m writing this, firecrackers are already going off.
This will last for 10 days straight. I has been recommended by friends that live in Beijing that we would be smart to buy earplugs so we can sleep.
My life, in almost every way, is exactly the life I want to live. The only problematic issue is being apart from my family and friends back home. This becomes quite obvious when someone passes away or a wonderful occurrence happens like a wedding that I will miss because of the distance.
Jill’s grandmother died this week, at the age of 97. She wasn’t able to go home because of the long flights, then long drives, and the timing of everything. So we celebrated Grandma Helen with a few of other dear friends and talked about her life.
I believe that this way of of “family” that expatriates learn to accept and master if they want to stay stable and content living far from people they love.
Some people don’t like being this far from their “family” and yet others love it.
Living in Beijing, I’ve found a new definition to what is “My family.”
That is all there is, in a way, yet there is so much more. My family includes my father, Michael, my mother, Judy, my sister Stacy, and my brothers, Robert and David.
If you extend it a little farther it also includes my step-father, Phillip and his son, Kody.
If you then extend it farther it includes my aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, brother in laws, sister in laws and other people that continue outward into the human race.
Do I include my friends?
Do I include my enemies?
Do I include people I have never met?
Do I include people that I will never meet?
I think of the Buddhist belief that we are all tied together and there is no self in regards to caring about, and connecting with, others.
There is a classic saying “. . .that if a butterfly chances to flap his wings in Beijing in March, then, by August, hurricane patterns in the Atlantic will be completely different.”
Strangely enough this is often mistaken for Buddhist lore but it was stated by an MIT meteorologist named Edward Lorenz in 1906.
I love how science and Buddhism are like cousins, far removed from each other, but actually closely intertwined.
Most of us, at least in the Western World, think of ourselves as more individual and fairly limited to a family connection. I would suggest otherwise. I believe that we are all connected. If you trace my DNA and your DNA back to a certain point, we most likely all merge at some place.
According to the story of Adam and Eve, all humanity descends from two people. Other religions have similar ideas.
As we progress scientifically, I am interested to see what science finds out about our genetics and our connections to each other.
I think that is why I’m so fascinated by Buddhist belief and the style of thinking that the Dalai Lama uses. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If Buddhism has a belief that science is not able to prove incorrect, then we should believe it. However, if Buddhism has a belief, and science does prove it incorrect, we must discard it and take on a new belief.”
As noted before, I work as a behavioral therapist. This belief is one of the reasons that behavioral therapy is so useful to my clients.
I also use behavioral therapy on myself for the same reason. One of the tenets I learned from David Burns, MD, and my supervisor Brac Selph, PhD, was that I had to go through all of the interventions that I would ask my clients to go through.
I would learn more empathy for them and understanding of what they are trying to achieve and how hard it is. I have done, and continue to do this, and I find more evidence, each time, for the method I use and the responses my clients get to heal themselves with an amazing amount joy.
I look at my past and wonder how much easier life would be if I could just learn, adapt and discard illogical, useless and harmful information and feelings instead of holding onto them and causing damage to myself, others and the universe.
I am doing that more and more each day and can quantify exactly how much better my life is now.
I welcome you to do the same on this, the first day of the Chinese New Year and Year of the Horse.