I am 20 years old and currently a student. My family is not happy. My dad is an alcoholic and has several affairs outside marriage; my mom is jealous all the time. The family life has been like hell for years. Recently, my mom could no longer tolerate the loneliness and lack of love, and fell in love with another man. It made me more devastated. A few days ago, my parents had a fight, in which my dad turned violent and hit my mom so badly that she was hospitalized. Probably they will file a divorce after this incident.
I feel so depressed; at times I find no more joy in my life. I hate to be their child. But I realize that’s something beyond my choice. They are my parents anyways, who have raised me until now. I can’t concentrate on my studies and I always feel upset by what happened. Sometimes, I just want to run off to the temple and become a monk. But I’m worried about who will take care of them, as they grow older as I am the only child. I am hopeless and don’t know what to do. Please give me some advice.
Thank you for your contacting us. You are truly lucky to know that you should seek help and support during this tough time. Many others are not that lucky and may not have enough good karma to go through their crises. Instead of seeking out for help, they plunge themselves into negativity and ruin their life.
Indeed, everyone wishes for a perfect marriage. Few would expect unhappiness in their family life. Yet, few know how to make a happy marriage, as happiness is something you must build and nourish. As Buddha said, everything is impermanent and will disintegrate at the end. Happy marriage needs to be fed just like a human body. If we feed it with good nutrition, it will grow healthily. If we instead feed it with negativity or even starve it, they will wither in the end.
In the beginning of your parents’ marriage, they probably had a happy period together. However, they were not lucky enough to know how to take care of their relationship, leading to the failure of their marriage. It’s quite a shame, right! Nevertheless, we can’t blame them; that’s the best they knew and could do.
Happiness is something you must build and nourish.
Have you ever wondered during your parents’ lifetime, from childhood to adulthood, what they have learned and experienced? What are your grandparents like? What have your parents learned from your grandparents about how to live harmoniously in their family? Or your parents were just like you now, feeling left out because their parents were not happy either. Did they receive enough love from their parents? Were they adequately understood and cared for? Were they tortured by their own inferior complexity? What were their dreams? There are many aspects to look deeply into a person. Only by looking deeply can we understand their current person and why they keep seeking out for someone else who can understand and love them.
Even your parents may not understand themselves. Your dad may also not understand why he keeps seeking companionship with other women. Probably he just wanted to assert his sense of masculinity? Or he had an empty space inside that just wants to fill up. When one doesn’t understand oneself, one will unconsciously pursue something from the outside.
The seeds of violence and anger exist in all of us. If we stay in the condition that is conducive for their growth, sooner or later they will manifest themselves. Just like in your dad’s case, those seeds had been passed down to him through many generations, and he didn’t know how to manage them. Instead he made these seeds stronger with alcohol and other toxics, and consequently your mom took them all. In addition, the environment may also play a role in this problem.
For example, your mom might have contributed partly. She might have used harsh word against him when he made a mistake, and made it even worse. By understanding that way, you can recognise that both of them have acted without wisdom. And without wisdom, people lack understanding about themselves, about the problems, and the capability to look deeply and see the root causes of the problems. Normally they blame each other, or the situation. Therefore, instead of improving the case, they exacerbate it until worst comes to worst.
And the lack of wisdom even widens the deep abyss between the two. There should be one who is wise enough, calm and generous enough to bridge that gap. Of course, it’s not solely your responsibility to do that. But you can help by one way or another!
Understanding that, please sympathise for your parents. Sympathy doesn’t mean approving and tolerating what they are doing. Sympathy is to free yourself from recrimination and disheartenment. Sympathy is to see that you are luckier than them to have a chance to ask, to seek for answers, to understand ourselves, and to avoid being a victim of our unwise desire that we are not even aware of. If one day, when you are strong enough, you can come back and help them find real happiness. In fact right now, it is not for sure that your parents found happiness with their new partners. Why? Because they brought the same old person to a new relationship. And that their new partners are capable of bringing out the goodness in them is still a question. The chance of your dad’s violence and your mom’s jealousy may grow bigger is still there. And history repeats itself.
My dear, up to here, let me invite you to pause for a moment. Gently close your eyes and relax them; relax the muscles in your face. Let your mind think of a soothing image, silent beach with blue ocean, a fresh flower, or a breeze that blow through you on a hot summer day, and you smile gently. Enjoy those nourishing moments. Then you relax the muscles in your arm, part your hand from the keyboard and drop them down slowly. You breathe in and out three times, feeling light and feeling fresh. “Breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in, breathing out, I am aware that I breathing out.” Do you feel better now?
Now you can open your eye and continue to read.
You are very lucky. You know about Dharma, so you need to help your parents. Since they are not that lucky and don’t have the chance, you need to do this for them. Thich Nhat Hanh “Thay” said suffering is everywhere, just that we need to learn how to suffer to make them helpful, make them a learning opportunity and grow, just like using mud to grow a lotus flower.
May you not lose faith in life, in love. Life is full of sufferings, and yet full of wonders of which we can recognise and nourish ourselves. Those wonders lie within ourselves and the surroundings. If you are willing to come back and come within, to know and love yourself, you will be able to understand and love others. And by love, I don’t just mean the romantic love commonly mentioned by most. Beside those, there is a love that transcends them all. That’s the kind of love that makes people sublime, creating lots of space without bondage. If only you want to love about this love…
You should invest a portion of your time to practice meditation, to be with friends with a benevolent heart, so that your positive energy can be watered and grow. You never have to pick sides on your dad or mom. Both of them need your empathy. You don’t necessarily have to do something. Never mind if you can do something; even if you can’t, just don’t make it worse. You just need to practice on your part, that way you can take care of both sides. Learn to breathe, to walk, and sit in peace for a while so you can help your parents.
You should invest a portion of your time to practice meditation, to be with friends with a benevolent heart, so that your positive energy can be watered and grow.
Learning to breathe, to walk, to be present in the here and the now every moment in your life can help you build calmness and clear mind, and you will realise that you need to rely on no one to be happy. Even if one day you meet someone that’ll click with you, love will naturally flow out; but don’t blindly follow that passion. You need to build it wisely so that even when it vanishes, you won’t be paralysed by the pain and run around to fill up the hole by toxic negativities. We can claim our happiness and be our own oasis.
When one wishes to be a doctor or engineer, one needs to invest a few years to learn. Similarly, when one wishes to be able to live happily, one needs a certain investment in one’s spirituality. Do you agree with me? That capability never comes in default. I hope you see the significance of this matter and start to invest sometime of it. Becoming a monk/nun is also the same work. It starts with knowing oneself and gradually transforming the suffering in our heart. Indeed, becoming a monk/nun is not the end of everything; it’s where everything begins.
Never feel embarrassed with your peers. If you can stand on your own feet with your practice, you can even help them in time of need, to overcome their problems and help rely on themselves. Everything happens for a reason.
May you have enough strength and faith in the goodness of this life and keep walking. The flowers, clouds, rivers, the streams are there for you. The mother earth and sky father are there for you. And everywhere there are many generous souls, loving hearts to make life more beautiful. Just be mindful to be in touch with them.
Strive on your study and practice, my dear.
With love and faith
This article was originally featured in Vietnamese on langmai.org