Thursday, October 29, 2009

The School of Family

As the final quarter of the year progresses, many of us are planning holiday gatherings with family.  In our household, these reunions are occurring slightly ahead of schedule.  I feel very lucky to be spending long stretches with all four of my boys' grandparents this year, before and during the holidays.  I am also getting to see my sisters more often and I can't underestimate the gift of their presence in our family life.  For me, 2009 has been a year to contemplate each of my family relationships and to evaluate the lessons we can all take from each other.  Some conflicts have occurred as I have tested the strength of some family relationships.  I am grateful that the loose ends have come nicely together to round out the end of the year. 

We have just returned from a week spent with my inlaws in Pittsburgh, PA, which also happens to be the home city of one of my sisters.  I was sad to return home.  Seeing my children interact with their grandparents and aunts is a great source of joy.  Simply enjoying a week of extra family members at the table brought such warmth into our routines. 

My own mother is arriving in New York this evening and will stay with us for a week to celebrate her 70th birthday.  One day after her departure, my father and his wife will be coming to visit for five days.  During this time, both of my sisters will join us and for the first time in several years, we will have all of the Garrison girls together with their Dad.  At Thanksgiving, we will celebrate with my sister and brother-in-law and then at Christmas we'll be back in Pittsburgh with Nona and Papa as well as my husband's sister, her husband and our twin nephews. 

I am opening my heart to each of these extended family gatherings and my hope is that this year, more than any in my past, will raise my awareness of the way my life is enhanced by every family relationship. 

It is said by some that in a spiritual sense, we choose the families into which we are born.  I rejected this idea the first time I encountered it.  With more experience, reading and further reflection, I am coming to my own realization of the spiritual significance of family roles.  Every relationship presents unique challenges.  The individual qualities of our family members comfort and uplift us in every stage of life.  Our own personalities are greatly influenced by the behaviors of our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  If we believe that a higher power is guiding, or at least present in our lives, is our place in a particular family coincidental?  If it is, then I am greatly benefiting from coincidence. 

Many people dread long visits with family at the holidays.  I don't think that I have ever felt 100% enthusiastic about an impending family get-together.  There is at least a small degree of resistance, discomfort or trepidation.  Some of this is simply to due to changing my norm and adapting to the company of people I don't see often enough.  A bit of the discomfort also stems from prior encounters and known challenges.  I am learning that the challenges are often the most valuable aspects of my relationships.  In a spiritual, and also an intellectual sense, I will always have so much to learn.  I find it difficult to grow if I am completely comfortable.  One of my extended family members has this e-mail signature: "Life is change.  Growth is optional.  Choose wisely."  In spite of the ways that I am being stretched, I am opting for growth.  What I would like to change going forward is my handling of the challenges.  In this endeavor, acceptance is my friend and resistance is my enemy. 

In meditation, I have recently been focusing on sending love to my family members and friends.  I have specifically been honing in on my more challenging relationships to experience more peace and love in my life.  After entering a meditative state, I envision the person with whom I experience tension or conflict on some level.  I then send that person love and a message of forgiveness.  I also ask to be forgiven.  As I do this, I can feel myself becoming less rigid and more accepting of differences.  Additionally, I find it freeing to focus on the easier relationships, savoring in a meditative state my most favorite qualities about each individual.  It is a joyful and healing practice that I would recommend to everyone, especially at this time of the year. 

As our schedules become more packed and we are asked to interact with larger groups of contacts, familial or otherwise, we would be wise to prepare ourselves to gain power from these interactions.  So often we feel drained around the holidays, but this doesn't have to be the reality we experience. 

I am finding more peace in my life simply through the practice of acceptance.  I acknowledge that I have not been accepting in the past.  I attempt to be accepting in the present.  I embrace the opportunity to fully accept each of my contacts and relations in the future.  I am thankful for all of the teachers in my life. 

May you never graduate from The School of Family. 

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