Meditation and Family – A Reflection

Simpsons Holiday

I’m a meditator in my mid-twenties who’s completed Level V of Shambhala Training workshops. So, I consider myself comfortably beyond the beginner stage of meditation (compared to where I was a few years ago), though I’ve studied and sat enough to know that what I don’t know is vast.

What I noticed when going home to the east coast for the Thanksgiving holiday was how much family members triggered habitual responses. In particular, I noticed that my normally “chill” California attitude to life quickly turned into discussions resembling arguments.

I noticed that while I find meditation, yoga, and other practices to be of immense value to me, my family members saw my enthusiasm as bordering on proselytizing, or at least a “hard sell.”

I noticed myself becoming impatient in interacting with family, that I sought comfort in email, reading, even doing work on a holiday because it felt more productive or at least alleviated the anxiety of having to face people who know me in a certain way but where I now see myself as different.

I noticed that I found myself labeling my family members as “stuck in their thinking,” “stubborn,” “attached to how they want things to turn out,” and other unenlightened epithets. That a part of me really wanted to share my newfound knowledge and prove with my new knowledge that my path is better than theirs. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism:

“Our vast collections of knowledge and experience are just part of ego’s display, part of the grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world and, in so doing, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe and secure, as “spiritual” people.”

So upon further reflection, the irony of me labeling my family members as annoying or stuck in their ways became apparent as itself a judgment, a label. My eagerness to judge family members for their habitual patterns is itself a habitual pattern.

And so Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings on “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” are more relevant now than ever, because I notice myself getting to the point where I want to tell everyone in my family to meditate, but they probably never will and it’s not worth trying to “sell” them on meditation.

So, the only alternative seems to be to bring some humor to the situation. I have to admit that I can’t change my parents, but I can accept them where they are and perhaps joke about their habits even if I can’t argue with them. I can choose to treat going home to the east coast like an Airbnb stay where I have to live by someone else’s rules, even if following “their rules” feels like my teenage self wants to rebel. And I can talk more about my experience and what meditation has done for me, rather than trying to make everyone in my family learn to meditate by force of argument.

And wouldn’t you know, tonight one family member commented, “You seem to have become a lot more compassionate lately. You’re really becoming an adult.”

And I think that’s progress.

By an anonymous member of the Berkeley Shambhala Center

Image credit: The Simpsons by Matt Groening