I grew up with my family in Iran. My image of my father when I was a child was that of a healthy, strong man. After meeting my English mother in the United Kingdom, he moved with her back to his native country of Iran to build a life together. He worked his way up to be head of fire and safety for the Iranian national refineries, so we lived an upper-middle class lifestyle with a nice house among comparably affluent neighbors.
And he treated me with kindness—mostly. As a young boy I of course had my naughty moments, for I would go exploring behind our house in fields that had many varieties of venomous snakes and would play soccer in the streets with the local kids—two things he specifically told me not to do. So the punishments I endured from time to time created a few intimidating images of him as well.
With the coming of the Iranian Revolution came some changes. At the end of 1978, right before the Shah was overthrown, I was eleven years old. There were armed military personnel, planes flying overhead, and other indications of the fact that Iran had come under martial law. My parents decided that this was no place for me to be, so they sent me to boarding school in England about an hour from where my mother’s parents lived. I had to leave behind friends, learn how to be literate in a whole other language, and had to adapt to a very different culture.
And yet this transition didn’t have nearly the devastating impact that it had on my father.
My father left Iran a few years after I did, in the early 80’s. This was after my mother and sister had already been in the country for a number of years as well. But instead of it being a measured, grounded transition based on the pursuit of new and enriching opportunities, it was an act of desperation. Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini had become an oppressive, intolerable situation. It drove my father away from the only home he ever had.
The effect it had on him could have been predicted. Rather than retire as a healthy, strong man in a moderately affluent home, he scraped by with my mother in England as they struggled to keep me in school. He became depressed. His well-being gradually deteriorated more and more until the only images I or anyone else would have of him would be that of a broken man seemingly robbed of health and home.
Of course, none of this would have been likely to happen had the Iranian government not been overturned in the late 70’s. The previous model had been good to our family, and had we stayed put my father may have aged with far more grace and balance. It would be easy to cast blame on the Ayatollah’s regime and feel resentment toward him and everyone who supported the hard line of his fundamentalist rule. It would be just as easy to blame the Western governments who helped the Shah into power in the first place. It would also be a completely detrimental way to live.
My contributions to The Daily Love often center on the exploration of unconditional love. This is a state of being that is the natural result of having alleviated one’s personal suffering so as to no longer feel a sense of separation from other living beings. Often, people act violently toward others, as was the case under the Ayatollah’s regime. When we respond to these types of actions from a state of fear, anger, resentment, despair or other conditions of emotional turmoil, we place emphasis in our minds on how we are being negatively affected by the other person rather than seeing them as victims of their own personal suffering.
If one were to persecute others in the name of religious fundamentalism, then they are undermining the natural order of life and prosperity. They are acting from a place of fear, and our work on the Yogic path is to see that fear as simply a more extreme version of the fears we face in our own day-to-day lives. Rather than allow ourselves to feel hostile toward them, or to feel a sense of outrage, we develop a sense of compassion. To love others unconditionally is just that: no matter how much they allow their suffering to dictate their actions, we offer them our love. We love them wholly and completely, for they suffer just as we do ourselves.
My father recently passed away. It was the final step of his body surrendering to the imbalance that started all of those years ago. It would be typical for me or anyone else to consider it sad or even tragic that so much of his vitality left him as the result of his response to circumstance. But in a state of love, we see no tragedy. We only see the interconnectedness that we are all blessed with through the gift we know as life. That I have an image of my father living as a less healthy man in his latter years is not nearly as important as the fact that I have an image of him living, period. Through knowing him, I had an opportunity to love and be loved.
And it is because this feeling happens unconditionally that I love him still.
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