If You Think You’re Enlightened, Go Spend a Week With Your Family.

Ram Dass, the spiritual teacher, once said: “If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family.” This is one of my favourite quotes and seems appropriate at this time of year. As we head into the festive season we may be spending more time with our extended family. Christmas is a time for family, whether we go to them or they come to us.

As the festive season approaches it is not uncommon for people to feel more anxious – I know I do – as we try to juggle home and family commitments on top of our regular work. It can also be an emotionally challenging time of year, partly due to expectations. I don’t know how many times have I watched the Marks & Spencer’s Christmas adverts and felt a bit flat and disappointed, because my Christmas did not match up.

It may be helpful to step back from our experience and remind ourselves that we are being marketed an idea, a concept of how things should be. The problem with concepts is that, however nice they may be, they are not reality, they are something we layer over our experience. Sometimes we might feel there is no place for our difficult experiences, because it’s Christmas and we should all be having a wonderful time. The festive TV commercial offers one scenario while life delivers another. We may find that any progress we saw in ourselves as a mature aware adult, who practices yoga, maybe meditates, goes out the window, once we are back in our family situation again. I am often humbled to find that I can easily revert back to acting like a sulky teenager within 48 hours of spending time with my mum! It can seem as if the mature 40-something is nowhere to be seen.

So why is this the case? A complex number of factors contribute to family dynamics. The relationship with your parents is the primordial relationship and it creates patterning for all subsequent relationships we have. For many Christmas is a time when they are reminded of the family members that either they are no longer in relationship with, whether through estrangement or bereavement, which can be painful.

Perhaps if we drop any unrealistic expectations of what the festive season can deliver and be open to whatever unfolds, we may find that we can be less reactive and more responsive to those around us. Knowing what you need to do to take care of yourself can really help. Creating time to meditate, doing some yoga, taking yourself off for a walk, can really help you to come back to yourself and a sense of spaciousness which in turn will have a positive effect on those around you.

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
Thomas Merton