Born of this world, our parents and the home we grew up in were our first teachers. We owe our family a debt for giving us the body and for helping us to grow into adults. Yet, no family is perfect. The interpersonal dynamics between parents and child, children and siblings, and between the individual and the extended family can become very complex, as we grow. As adults, it’s worthwhile to investigate our relationships in detail, and make sharp decisions. It’s like aligning the body in an yoga asana, to feel more ease, more peace.
Imagine an empty hard drive, (a newborn’s mind) having programs installed on it, that will dictate a lifetime of thoughts, choices, actions, and outcomes. The programs that are running in our sub-conscious minds influence our behavior. Many of these programs are not useful as adults. They can be deleted and replaced with new wirings that support creating the life we really want. While in most cases our families desired what was best for us, we must face the fact that we grew up in a “culturescape”. We absorbed our way of being from our family, a slew of movies, books and popular archetypal images. We easily enmesh with those we grow up with, becoming part their dramas and stories. This can fling us back and forth, throughout our lives.
In adulthood, as we grow spiritually, we may find ourselves pulling away from the family religion. With practice, we begin changing life-long habits and developing new ways of perceiving the world and social situations. The great spiritual teacher, Ram Dass once said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend some time with your family!” What he meant was, our peace of mind and poise will be tested by the “deep triggers” and buttons, that only our family can press. Those ties run deep.
To truly evolve spiritually, it’s important to develop internal boundaries, or defined personal standards of what is acceptable and not acceptable. This way we can appropriate our energy in resourceful channels that support the clear, stable mind, required for spiritual practices.
I just got home from my cousin’s big fat fun Indian wedding in Boston. It was a powerful, and beautiful ceremony, where love permeated the air. However, for me there was a flip side, a shadow, underneath the three day long celebration. While I was glad to see my Mom, a few uncles, and cousins, I was also acutely aware of subtle family feuds within our clan, bubbling under the surface. I saw My Aunt who does not talk to two of her sisters, because of harboring resentments from the past in her heart. I witnessed the disjointed behavior of an Uncle who makes harsh judgements and has overarching opinions that lack flexibility and compassion. I saw how some people use alcohol responsibly, while others abused it, at the detriment to their health and personal relationships. Surrounded by family, in the belly of the beast, I felt the scars of my childhood and life long demons rise up to stare me right in the eyes.
On the spiritual path, the unplugging from our family attachments are a deep, “final stage” level of growth, that is required to truly evolve. The wedding gave me the gift, of seeing my family history, and all the co-mingled relationships, lay bare before my psyche for inspection. For a little while I felt sad, but with contemplation insight arose. Peace followed.
That weekend I made some powerful decisions. I chose to stay deeply connected to the handful of family members that were on the path of positivity and knowledge. I chose to keep a healthy distance from those who function on the primal level alone. I chose to avoid those on destructive paths while not asking for help. Above all, I made a deep commitment to live life on the spiritual path, as I focused on my goals. I decided then and there to not be distracted by or sucked into the negative projections of any family member, ever again. I drew an internal boundary to live in the light, while respecting the darkness, without getting consumed by it. I started to release shame and guilt I had been carrying for a lifetime, neatly tucked away in the corners of my mind.
Family dynamics are extremely complex and deeply personal. At my cousin’s wedding I was able to stand tall and take the good with the bad. On day two of the wedding celebration, as I looked out at everyone in attendance, I became deeply reflective. I saw a large family of immigrants, transition from the third world, to America, and successfully adapt to a new culture in a multi- faceted environment. I was proud of these people. The young beautiful couple being wed were about to start a loving life in a new home that they purchased together. In that moment, it was obvious to me that everyone on earth has their unique path of karmas that they must unravel and address. When I saw my own flaws and the flaws of certain family members, I became very accepting, compassionate and forgiving. Most of all I took a stand for my own life, and mental well being, by letting go of the things that I cannot change. In that moment I started to let go of the pain in my heart, knowing I had made a loving, wise choice.
You’re not alone if you’ve struggled with family dynamics. Everyone must cross this bridge in their own way. With growth, comes new eyes, and a new way of seeing old things can be helpful. Human behavior is complex, and it’s not easy make decisions about how to relate to those we grew up with. However through the lens of our spiritual practice, we must re-negotiate with family members, draw lines within the context of our new life, and eventually embrace our family members as they are, especially when they choose to stay the same.
When we choose to heal dysfunctions and old wounds it’s best to cultivate patience, and acceptance. Some people do not welcome change, and will cling to their established, lifelong way of perceiving us. Some people may be cut off from your life for a while, while others will respect your new found sense of boundary. We must be graceful and prepared for anything, for change is a constant, especially for those that are spiritually tuned.