Maybe, like me, you were born into a family about whom you sometimes wondered, “How did I end up here?”
Maybe you feel that as family members have grown and taken separate paths, the family harmony remembered from childhood has waned.
Maybe you notice that no adult in your birth family is anyone you would ever see yourself befriending, or even engaging in conversation, were you not related by blood or marriage.
I love my family but I’ve never really understood my part in it. I grew up wanting to escape and plotting to be free of them because I believed that would mean ultimate freedom. I am now practically free from their influence, and I am independent. Just as I dreamed when I was a little girl, I am earning my own money, living the way I want to, and I’m happy for the first time. Still, my family rattles around in my head and probably in my biology. I am not free, especially not mentally.
If you are reading this, chances are you’ve had similar thoughts and experiences.
Families, like many other institutions in modern society, cultivate some degree of homogeneity. Homogeneity requires acceptance of common norms, not challenges to those norms. When we question the way we were raised and others in the family have not asked similar questions, we may be in for a rough ride.
What to do:
Yes. Do this first. With meditation practice we may gain a deep sense that we are all one. This awareness of our interconnectedness is not a belief, but a feeling. As simple as this sounds, for me this is step number one. Before sending that snarky email or starting a potentially confrontational phone call, do this. Difficulties will seem a lot less ‘big’ when we have some time in meditation behind us.
2. Send our families love.
Ideally, we can finish our meditation with the soothing balm of a loving-kindness meditation.
3. Practice mindful speech.
Try to refrain from saying or doing anything that may provoke challenging responses , and that we may not be able to correct or retract. Restraint can prevent more pain for everyone in the long run.
4. Run, move, or go outside.
After one family feud I went for a very long walk. With my toddlers. In high summer temperatures. I came back fuming even more. The company of older children may soothe some of us, but I found two demanding kids and the intense heat did nothing to quell my rage. Instead I found another outlet: running.
In The Summit Seeker, Vanessa Runs writes about her belief that because humans used to run to survive from physical threats, running can now help us cope with our contemporary challenges: families, relationships, jobs, and more. I agree wholeheartedly.
If running is not your thing, try something else—swim, practice yoga, or meditate again—but getting out in nature to move and exercise (away from any form of instant communication) is best.
If you have to stay at home and are feeling particularly restless, work in your kitchen. Get some tough vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots, put on the fastest music you enjoy, and chop-chop-chop. Your effort makes a nice veggie dinner too: just add coconut oil and roast. Two birds, one stone.
5. Give. It. Time.
I am impulsive and often have a burning sense that if I don’t do something right now, I’ll never do it. In hindsight, some impulsive things might have been better left undone. For example, if we feel we must write out our feelings and responses to family so we don’t forget the words, we can go ahead and write. Just consider that these notes and letters don’t need to be sent right away. Trust me, I know.
I have taken to heart the suggestion that we not make a permanent decision based on an impermanent emotion. Make this your mantra. Thoughts and feelings are impermanent—they aren’t as concrete as they feel. We can practice seeing our emotional thoughts as weather, like passing clouds or storms that will naturally change.
Meditation can help us see that the mind jumps from one thought to another without finishing the first. Quieting this monkey mind can help us notice the bandwidth of calm lurking deep within. This state of calm is permanent because it isn’t dependent on external factors. It can be tapped at any time, and it is our true Buddha nature.
The calm is there to remind us that everything else is just stuff, irrelevant and meaningless in the grandest scheme of things.