“It’s that time of year when the world falls in love…”
…until they travel home to be with their families for the holidays.
I know that some people are blessed to live near their families and see them year-round. If you’re one of them, then perhaps holiday family gatherings don’t inspire terror for you as they have for me.
Nonetheless, for anyone who’s gone through a spiritual awakening, spending time with family almost has to bring up issues and conflicts. It’s the “gift” that our family gives us, as part of the soul contract that we make together to help each other grow.
And if you are like me then you know how it feels to put so much energy into being a better person – a more evolved, loving, patient, and accepting person – only to feel like you’re back at Square One after two days with your family.
This year let’s think about it ahead in advance: How can this time be different? How can we put all of those spiritual teachings to work so that we don’t lose touch with Who We Are when we’re surrounded by family?
1. Recognize that each journey is individual and unique.
It can be a culture shock to leave the life you’ve built for yourself to spend a few days with family. Sometimes it’s the perfect thing that can show you how much you’ve changed in so many positive ways – but it can simultaneously be frustrating to realize how the people back home are exactly the same as they used to be – perhaps even more like themselves than ever before!
As you become more spiritually aware, sometimes the choices of others make less and less sense. Especially when those people carry the same genes as you. How can they not get it??
Realize that once you’ve had your awakening, it may look like others are still asleep but in truth their path may simply be different. Your soul’s calling may have intentionally pulled you in a different direction than the people that surrounded you when you were growing up.
2. Don’t try to change anyone. Not yourself, not them.
Resist the inclination to fit the mold of who they expect you to be; it’s not going to make you any happier than being yourself and experiencing a little contrast because of it. Notice the inner voices that want you to be accepted by everyone, including the inner child who still believes that Mom or Dad knows best, and let them know that it’s OK to be authentically you now.
Similarly, recognize that you’re not going to change them either. Like that grumpy uncle who’s been grumpy for as long you can remember and insists on quoting from media talking heads about how this country is going downhill. Or the mother who doesn’t understand that you take care of yourself just fine the other 364 days of the year.
This is not the time to tell them the truth you see about the political party or church that they belong to, nor is it the time to throw a tantrum about how independent you are, ironically enforcing your parents’ view of you still as their little child.
Be the peacemaker without needing them to meet you halfway. Let them have their stuff while you smile warmly and nod patiently, just as your spiritual teachers have taught you to do.
3. Have an escape plan
Unless you have the mastery of love and patience equal to Mother Mary, you might eventually reach a point when you simply can’t smile and nod any longer. That’s the time to gracefully walk away.
Know that you’re going to need time by yourself, and figure out in advance how you’re going to get it. Take an afternoon walk or a nap – activities which are both completely justified after a heavy holiday meal and provide a more gracious explanation than “I need to get out of here.”
If your family gatherings are especially tense or overcrowded, consider staying in a local hotel. The small challenge of explaining your choice to the rest of your family (some of whom might actually envy you) will be outweighed by having a guaranteed quiet space or neutral corner to retreat to when you get overwhelmed. (Practically speaking, having your own bathroom might be worth the hotel cost right there.)
4. Come back to center as often as possible
All of those spiritual practices you apply in your daily life (or wish you did) will serve you abundantly right now.
Plan meditation time into your day – not as a means of escape but a means of resetting your emotional setpoint and reconnecting with Who You Are.
If you know an energy healing modality, use it! Reiki yourself, do IET, tap – especially when your family gives you the “gift” of bringing up all the childhood stuff you thought you’d gotten over. What a beautiful opportunity to heal yourself!
And I do mean yourself: Sneaking off to do secret healing sessions on your family may be your passive-aggressive way of trying to change them. Where is the line between that and trying to be genuinely, lovingly helpful? I would say that anytime you want you can clear rooms and download people with unconditional love, but watch out for any attachments to outcome, such as thoughts like “I want Uncle Fred to be nicer.”
If you can’t get away to do any of these things or don’t have the practice down, remember the power of breath. Your grumpy uncle will never notice if you momentarily tune out his rant while you slowly breathe in and out for 3-5 cycles. Meanwhile, it will do wonders for calming your physical fight-or-flight defenses and stopping the flow of cortisol through your bloodstream so that you can be more loving and patient.
Ultimately, the key to surviving – perhaps even enjoying – time with your family is to remember that you are the loving master of your own life. What you put out into the world influences what you get back – even in a “world” limited to your family. Offer love and patience to them, and have love and patience for yourself, and you’ll get it back tenfold.
Peace and blessings to you. If you celebrate Christmas may it be merry, and a Happy New Year to all!