Fall '97 Issue 3
Disease As A Spiritual Path
Urban Shamanism: From the Old to the New
Communication-Loving the World into Life
Reflections on Simplicity. . . How I Re-Inhabited My Community
Back In The World
Rapid Eye Technology
on Family as a Spiritual Practice: North Cascades National Park
A week and a half alone in the wilderness with two daughters, 11 & 13 years old, hormones flying everywhere, and no distractions. My wife and I haven’t spent a lot of intimate time together and the effort to get away has exhausted us both. Not to mention that we just went through the surprise party from hell (this is a story for another time).
I knew we were in for a spiritual event of magnitude. A family vacation!
This path is not for the weak of heart because family life can throw every fear, insecurity, lack of patience and compassion in your face daily (on vacation, hourly). If we ask Spirit to let our family lives clear us of our fear of surrendering and letting go, of dissolving the separate self, it will happen!!
Since I’m a householder parent and deeply in love with the path of truth/dharma, I have been over time greatly helped and comforted by this view and use of family life. At first I fought it ( it seems to be my way this life), then, ever so slowly, my own aspiration and sincere desire to awaken eased me into realizing the futility of fighting. Thank the Beloved, now I view all the stuff of family life as an ongoing intensive retreat. It is my hearty recommendation that we all do the same.
The great ones have told us To Know Ourselves, To Know The Self, and To Know The One. Let us look at the “Know Yourself” piece in spiritual practice. It is fairly safe to say that all paths teach the transcendence of the separate, egoic self and the reemergence of what has always beenThe True Self, Our True Nature. Families are egoic incubators, where we develop “healthy egos,” where we learn the codes of Duality, where the laws of cause and effect become responses and behavior. Families are also incubators for awareness. The awareness engines run with the fuel of the history we bring from our karmic influences, culture, gender and our family of origin. We play such roles as parent, husband, wife, mate, son, daughter, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, grandparent, cousin, niece, nephew. Each of these positions brings with it a series of questions and explorations which generate illumination into who we are. For example, parenting : What is it to be a parent? How was I parented? What blessings and wounds do I carry into my present family? What do we see and how do we feel about these issues? How have we compensated or overcompensated? Do we feel good about it? If not, why not? What are we scared to see? What are we willing to embrace? Are we willing to see both joy and pain, and accept them both as mirrors, equal in helping us cleanse and open?
I know that the sheer volume of material is staggering. Most of us get tired, lazy and give into patterns of being partners and parents that, if asked about them, we would say “I would never act that way or be that kind of a partner or parent.” Unfortunately, occasionally we do. By the way, have you noticed how often we resemble our parents? Humbling, isn’t it? What are we to do? Fortunately for us, the call of our soul’s hunger for truth and balance impels us back to the path. We stop, take time to feel, reflect, meditate, pray, read, journal, see a therapist or spiritual teacher, go to church or synagogue, do our work, and ask for guidance and grace. Then the awesome powers of compassion/forgive-ness/awareness transport us to acts of health, accountability and consciousness in our families.
Family life, with its millions of sacrifices, moments of tenderness, pain, boredom, heartbreak, laughter and joy, is an unparalleled arena for our training in giving and receiving love. We get to find out for ourselves how little we know of the unconditional nature of love. We get to see that, where we can’t receive love, such personal limitations restrict our ability to love those we hold most dear.
In our families we also get to learn how no-big-deal love can be. A touch, a glance, a tickle, a note, a call, a prayer, a cup of tea, a kiss. We also get to feel the unfathomable mystery and grace of what love can be when we deeply surrender into its naturalness. We watch how it instinctually knows where to go and be itself. We watch love by seeing its effects on all it contacts and, in its reflection, we are transformed, reborn and awakened.
Our family life offers an unrelenting series of opportunities in the practice of letting go and surrendering. For example, wanting our children to be good, helpful, industrious, kind, understanding, patient, cooperative, studious, communicative, athletic, sensitive, intelligent and intuitive, just to name a few. These notions are immediately challenged by the fact that life is not something that we control. As we find out who our children are, we either let go of being the ‘Good Parents’ in control, and shift to being good and true stewards with spirit’s guidance, or we suffer. In learning to let go, we experience the birth and death of our agendas, our fears, and our notions about being a ‘good parent.’ We realize that we are not in control of this daughter, son, mate, familyrather we are participants. In facing these difficult realities and freeing truths, we can now more genuinely approach being authentic, present and alive with our families and ourselves.
Another example of little ways we can practice letting go are the hellos, the good-byes, the good mornings and goodnightsthe punctuation statements of daily living are pregnant moments for insight. What comes to mind is how habitual and careless we are with these. We live in such assumptions, like “I’ll see you later.” But this is simply not true. We don’t know. To bring our attention, presence and authentic affect to these little moments makes a way to focus and quiet the mind and practice open-heartedness. Each entrance and parting is an opportunity to come to the presence what we call ‘The moment,’ the here and now, a place of life just as it is, where freedom and love are ever bubbling up.
Our families are obvious learning labs in the spiritual practices of Karma yoga and selfless service. As Mother Theresa said “Give until it hurts and then give some more.” There is a discipline to true service that is rooted in heartfelt generosity. To arrive at the understanding that to give is the same as receiving is a task of true merit and humility. Our families are ripe for these lessons and who should benefit from this awakening more than those who have helped us learn.
Raymond Diaz N.D. is the co-founder of Opening To Life, a center for sacred growth. Communicate with him at the Center, 532 SE Ankeny, Portland, Oregon 97214, or call 503-231-0424.