Mindful relationships, starting with ourselves
American spiritual teacher and 1960s icon Ram Dass quipped that if you’re arrogant enough to think you’re enlightened, you should spend some time with your family and see how that goes! Our most important relationships are very fertile ground indeed for self-awareness, and many of these close bonds are also our first ones so their roots run deep.
Unconscious parenting can lead to unintended negative consequences. I was a very sensitive child and my parents rarely acknowledged my experiences, which were often minimised or dismissed as overly emotional or unimportant because – in retrospect – they were preoccupied with their own thoughts and emotions.
The feeling of not being listened to resulted in a wall of resentment rising up between us that eventually shut me down from any desire to share or connect with them. My mother’s criticisms and judgements continue to play out in my mind at times even now, and overcoming them has been an integral part of nearly every new thing I attempt to accomplish. Practicing mindfulness and yoga made me more conscious of this emotional baggage over the years, so the effect of this ancient voice has dimmed considerably and my self-talk is a great deal more inspiring.
I sometimes look back on nearly two decades of my own parenting and think hmmm… if only I had been more conscious of this or that, things could have gone so much smoother! But hindsight is 20/20 as the saying goes, and I can’t do it over again.
What I can do is continue to practice mindfulness in such a way that the healthy communication and love I share with my teenagers continues to flow through and around the ups and downs of life. If I make a mess I clean it up, and hope to be more conscious next time.
This is also how I have raised my children to live their lives, through their own unique messes, and their own cleanup jobs. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my practice, my sangha, and our dear teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who has been an inspiration and guide for the three of us for the past ten years.
We’re at the beginning of a 5-year astrological period which, historically, is when our social and institutional rules are rewritten. The last time Saturn was in this part of its cycle was from 1988 to 1994; the time before that was 1959 to 1965, and the time before that was 1929 to 1934. Our world looked considerably different before and after these periods; in the coming years, big adjustments will have to be made within society and its organising structures, just as they were back then.
But we’re also entering a big new cycle of 200 years in which Jupiter and Saturn (traditionally the astrological markers of historical eras) will soon be shifting into the air element signs after two centuries of joining up in earth element signs every twenty years. There is a strong end-of-an-era feeling in the air – from the materialistic and heavy industrial age, to the increasingly non-material age of information and high technology – adding to our overall uncertainty and frustration with what isn’t working any more.
How we use technology is a huge factor in how we relate to each other, and this is changing at such a fast past it is hard to know where to begin to fill the gaps created by the smartphone era of the past decade.
The need for constant stimulation in the form of extreme busyness, distraction or by creating chaos around us is a way of avoiding deeper emotions. When we have such chaos going on around us we can hang on to the comforting idea that the anger and despair we feel inside is a result of what is happening on the outside. But our emotions are always a result of our inner process.
Anxiety and depression are very closely related, and are becoming a social epidemic. An inability to be with our emotions is the root cause, and mindfulness teaches us how to accept ourselves whatever our current state. From this place of acceptance we can take a deep breath and pause for a moment – yes, you, reading this, right here and now! – just long enough to realise that we are experiencing these emotions, yet these emotions are not who we are.
As parents, or anyone concerned with young people, we will need to remain open and aware of how the younger generation chooses to go forward, as it is likely to be very different to how we think about the future. Letting go of the need to control is a helpful side-effect of mindfulness practice, and actually gives us a lot of leeway to respond instead of react to what is changing around us.
On this New Moon day, take a moment to set an intention to invest in something of value to you – your relationships, your projects, your health…. Reach out to those around you who will walk this road along with you, and, in the words of Jon Kabat Zinn, live your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment.
Much love and light,