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A Gracious Antidote to Family Division

Thanksgiving is approaching-- a wonderful time for many of us to gather with our families of origin and endure. You don’t have to, of course. And it’s not like there isn’t some love there at the dinner table. I imagine a lot. That said, it’s not uncommon for many of us to feel bound by obligation to hang out with a bunch of people that can have an uncanny way of making you feel like you’re five years old (or some other version of less than.)

If this is not that case for you… AWESOME! This is truly a day of giving thanks. Deep gratitude for that blessed reality you’ve created. But if this is not your reality (and you find yourself bracing various orifices in anticipation of the upcoming family festivities) I thought I would write something to help you out.

Of course, there are many different threads to follow in an effort to unwind unpleasant family tangles. But I’m not about to write a book here. For simplicity's sake, and given the state of the world, I thought I would focus on how to deal with that painful mind virus called “right versus wrong.” (Other variants of this include “good vs bad” and “us vs them”.)

You know that infectious bug. It can look like your dad’s judging face thinking about how disappointed he is in you for not choosing a more traditional and profitable career path. It might sound like your sister saying stinging things about your weird love life. It might feel like your mother’s painful pokes at your weight. It might come out in your uncle’s righteous political tirade that makes your heart retreat.

Ouch! It can be so easy to be taken down by the “right vs wrong” virus, so much so you may just want to crawl into bed and hide underneath the covers. Hiding under the covers is a totally understandable option. But just in case you want to stay upright, here’s a little morsel of wisdom I would recommend getting a taste of:

Infuse your consciousness with liberal doses of curiosity and appreciation for everybody’s inherent vulnerability.

Right vs wrong…. good vs bad.... us vs them-- these are all different defense mechanisms invoked to manage our vulnerability. When we get triggered by others, we are more likely to be in the defense mechanism than we are likely to hold an awareness of the tender something it’s trying to protect. For kicks and sanity, try loading up on curiosity and make a concerted effort to see the vulnerability underneath the defenses. And when you find it, appreciate it. Both yours and others.

When you encounter something young and innocent, it’s much easier to soften and settle. Who doesn’t look a babies and puppies and go “Awwww!”? Your righteous uncle has some fraction of a young innocent in there, somewhere deep in there, doing the best he can, given his history and resources. Sure, you may never get to an “awwww how adorable” moment with him. But at the very least, you will probably feel less drained and defended in his presence when you hold an awareness of his inherent innocence and vulnerability.

I’m not saying that you should take any particular observable actions with your family. This is more of a perceptual shift I am nudging you towards. Less rose colored glasses, more x-ray vision.

I’m suggesting you do this not so much to change your family and heal them (though stranger things have happened.) I’m suggesting you try on this perceptual practice in honor of your own health and well-being. When you see other people’s vulnerability, it’s much easier to soften your own defenses. Running defensive maneuvers takes energy away from enjoyment and digestion. And I much rather you thoroughly enjoy yourself and feel nourished during this day of gratitude.

For a test run, I recommend doing this perceiving and appreciation practice while you go about your day today. Look for the young innocence in that crotchety old man by the liquor store. Appreciate the sweet vulnerability of that tattooed and pierced cashier as they ring up your pumpkin pie. When you get glimpses of the world news, notice what happens to your heart and body when you honor everybody’s inherent vulnerability involved (including “those people.”)

Chances are, if you do this practice and let it flow forward, you will be tangibly nourished with gratitude for the very fact of your existence and the beauty of the people we get to call family.


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