To create a peaceful family requires patience and tolerance mixed with a good dose of love, generosity and a sense of humor. Not necessarily an easy combination to maintain when the individuals are your brothers, sisters, and parents come together for the holidays. Why is it so difficult to get along with each other? We tend to act things out with our siblings that we might not with other people. We also have expectations of them that we don’t have of anyone else. Then, when things don’t go as expected, enmity can result. There are an endless number of family stories to illustrate this point, but you each, no doubt, have your own.
I have heard it said that we are born into a family, but not always into our tribe, meaning a group of people we have a common affinity with. Do you ever feel like the stork delivered you to the wrong family? Or, to take a popular fairy tale, are you the “ugly duckling” who’s hoping, one day, to see yourself for what you really are, a graceful swan?
We can relate the story of the ugly duckling to our lives as spiritual beings having a human experience. We are already enlightened beings (the Swan), born into a world ruled by our deluded ego self (the duckling) and trapped in a cycle of suffering. We identify ourselves by labels that society imposes and that we accept, (I am a doctor, husband, dentist, teacher). As human beings we struggle to find a semblance of our true Self within the framework of what we have been taught and what we choose to believe. Mistaking our Swan nature for the duckling keeps us cycling our conflicted emotions and mental suffering. Following your yoga practice, when sitting in meditation, your true nature can bleed through the fabric of your conditioning so that you can recognize your beautiful swan Self as always having been present. You can also see the true nature of those around you, including your family.
Spiritual teacher, Carolyn Myss, tells us that we come into this lifetime having made “sacred contracts” with other souls we will meet in human form. The Dalai Lama reminds us to be kind to others because they may have been your mother in a previous incarnation. Whatever, you believe your connection to be with your family, they are individuals who can tax your patience, your tolerance, and your ability to love unconditionally. Parents, in particular, often start families with the expectation that their children will be perfect little gems and grow up to be just the way they want them to be. A daily practice that includes yoga and meditation can help to alleviate some of the suffering caused by holding on to our familial fantasies.
According to Buddhist teachings, the law of karma can be carried from one lifetime to the next and can determine the situation your are born into. Often, the most important relationships you have in life are those with your immediate family. These can also be your most challenging, terrifying, supportive, and joyful. It makes sense, then, that your family has probably been a part of your previous incarnations. You and your family have a particular “karma” to complete together in this lifetime.
Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah taught how all things are transient, including love and hate. You can both love your children and at times feel hate for them, as if they were bullets fired back into your heart. For parents, your children are your karma, the good ones as well as the bad ones. For children it is the same; your parents are your karma, for good or bad. How you deal with them in your life depends on how your mind works for good or bad. Know that you will experience both love and hate toward them; when times are most difficult and you want to run away from them all, remember that all things pass. All emotions and thoughts die away to be replaced by others. Nothing is permanent, and what is occurring in your mind will shift and change. What you replace any negative thoughts with is part of your practice to learn ahimsa: to do no harm in thought, word or deed. And truly, your family will give you ample opportunity to practice this lesson.