Family Tree: Understanding My Context

Family Tree: Understanding My Context

    “A person is always situated in a context, relating to what is above and below, right and left, and front and back. This context determines his or her position. Your life will turn out better or worse depending on whether you properly create relationships with those above you and below you, with those to your right and to your left, in front of you and in back of you.” From True Families: Gateway to Heaven (p 1)   This passage might be hard for a nine year old to understand, much less a seven year old or a three year old. So to break it down, we made a little family tree to be able to explain it in very specific terms. As always, we decided that the best way to do this was by making it a family craft activity! This was how it went for us:
  1. Since it was Christmas season, our family tree took the shape of a Christmas tree. First I took a large piece of paper and cut out a Christmas tree shape and had the kids draw and cut out ornament shapes from colorful paper to decorate the tree.
  2. My daughter made the star at the top and drew in glittery gold letters “God.” A good start.
  3. We then wrote the names of our (immediate) family members onto post-it notes and put them on our trees. We left space so that we could add in our extended family members in at a later time (another project!)
  4. We used special glittery pink and silver washi tape to draw out the lines of connection between each family member. Right now there are blank spaces but we will be filling in those soon.
  5. One further step – we had every person write down what they were grateful for. Our three year old was grateful for our family and, fittingly, Washi tape. 
Once we completed this tree, we could point to each line and name and say to Emily, “You are the older sister of your three younger siblings; the daughter of mama and papa; the granddaughter of grandpa and grandma on both papa and mama’s sides; and then niece of your aunts, uncles; cousin of your cousins, etc. That is your context.” Emily’s eyes lit up and she exclaimed,”Ahhh…!” What was wonderful was that, as comparatively big as our family might be with four kids, when we looked at our extended family tree we could see the more extensive network of loving bonds that went outwards to our cousins, aunts, uncle and grandparents. Looking at the pink and silver lines on our tree, we could see those above, below, left, right, front and back, our little microcosm became that much more complex and wonderful. Personally, I grew up in a small family with very little contact with my relatives as my parents had immigrated to the United States before I was born. This being as such, I never had strong ties or relationships with my grandparents and cousins and so I never understood the wonderful world of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandmas and grandpas. Now as a parent, I’m very happy that my children have very strong bonds of love and trust with their relatives and hope to keep them strong through constant communication and exchange. This is our family tree at the moment. What would your family tree look like? Happy Holidays!  
The Hard Thing About Easy Things

The Hard Thing About Easy Things

In a time of “life hacks” and all the alluring conveniences we see cropping up in every corner of our lives, it becomes ever more important to step back and reflect on what we’re doing and why. To put it simply, we want to ask ourselves, in reaching for convenience, what is it that we actually get?

Does the convenience give us more time for the important things in life?

Or does it allow us to ignore or side-step important opportunities for growth?

The truth is that a lot of opportunities for growth are not packaged in a neat, happy package. Much of growth is wrapped in things that we do not want – many times, pain can be a precursor to growth, choose to make it as such.

We can see in the age-old wisdom of the sages, there is a certain caution against the easy things in life. In the Christian scriptures, Romans 5:3-5 extolls the virtues of suffering and the potential it carries in making us better through the hardships:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.

Similarly, in the Dhammapada of the Buddhist tradition, we see the comparison of becoming a person of character as a process that might be like that of tempering metal: 

By degrees, little by little, from time to time, a wise person should remove his own impurities as a smith removes the dross from silver.

While most people are probably unfamiliar with the process of producing fine metals, it is the most intense heat that produces the best silver and gold. When we consider this, we might want to ask if the price of convenience – the automated teller machines, the opt-out button for anything and everything, the “set it and forget it” mentality – might be costing us more than we bargained for.

In fact, the Quran of the Islamic faith extolls the beauty that awaits one behind the pain of growth in that it brings one closer to God:

O man! Verily you are ever toiling on towards your Lord – painfully toiling – but you shall meet Him…

And in the Jewish Talmud we see the benefits of the struggle that comes with the inconvenience of something that we moderns might deem inconvenient or incompatible with our daily, busy lifestyle: the continual effort to refine one’s character:

The study of Torah leads to precision, precision to zeal, zeal to cleanliness, cleanliness to restraint, restraint to purity, purity to holiness, holiness to meekness, meekness to fear of sin, fear of sin to saintliness, saintliness to the holy spirit, and the holy spirit to life eternal.

From Hinduism, there is the caution against turning a blind eye from the challenges that life will inevitably come our way. By accepting my own personal responsibility to make the tough choices in life to grow and become the people we are meant to be, we become our best friend instead of our own worst enemy:

Man should discover his own reality and not thwart himself.
For he has his self as his only friend, or as his only enemy.
A person has the self as a friend
When he conquered himself
but if he rejects his own reality,
the self will war against him. Bhagavad Gita 6.5-6 (Hinduism

And last but not least, Confucius reflected on the process of learning through his own life as one of training in order to become truly free:

The Master said, “At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty I had planted my feet upon firm ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities. At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven. At sixty, I heard them with a docile ear. At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right.”

All of these passages from the different wisdom traditions point to this truth about our human potential as rooted in the Divine. From this, we can deduce that the pivotal role personal growth – of our hearts, character, maturity, habits whatever pain that might come with it – helps us in fulfilling our divine potential. 

So in the many different choices, decisions that we come up against in our everyday lives, let’s begin to acquire the habit of asking: which are the choices that make us become better, help us to bring out the best in ourselves and which are the easy outs?

Take action

To put this lesson into practice today follow these steps:

  1. Start thinking about lifestyle habits, daily practices that you know will help you to better connect, align with God, the divine and energy of the universe. Properly done, any practice that helps you do that, were you to do them every single day it would make you better and your life better.
  2. Thought of a few or even many? Great, write those down. Keep this list.
  3. Pick out one habit, perhaps the smallest, easiest one that you know you can do without any problems, starting today.
  4. Commit to making that a habit in your life – start with trying to keep it for one week (perhaps mark your calendar with a star on the days you were able to keep it.
  5. This small promise to yourself helps you to build the relationship and alignment with God that we all need to sustain us and keep us focused and doing the kinds of things we need to be doing to reach our fullest potential. 

Once you’re able to master that first habit, you might begin to build confidence and trust in yourself. And then you might start to think “what else can I do?” Go back to the list you made in step 2, add to it as you go along, it’s meant to guide you in the long haul journey of growth and spiritual development.

This could be the first step in a personal transformation that can impact not only your own life but that of your family, community, nation, and world. Take it seriously, but take it slowly – one day at a time!

Seeking Out the Divine

Seeking Out the Divine

Religious and spiritual leaders must lead this peace process. Instead of advocating their own narrow doctrinal perspective, they must help all people of faith to recognize the shared values and principles that come from our common heritage in one God.

 —Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon (Global Peace Festival 2008) 

Seeking out the Divine

The founder of the Family Peace Association, Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon, has always emphasized the central importance of placing God at the center of our families, communities and nation, and world. He has also advocated for the special role of spiritual leaders and faith communities in doing this:

We have discovered that relations between faith traditions are not about mere toleration of one another’s prayers and rituals. A true interfaith experience is a celebration of the core principles that bind all God-affirming people together as one family.

It is with this understanding that we seek to provide a platform for like-minded partners to collaborate for the cause of building strong, God-centered families. Through attuning ourselves to look for spiritual truths in everyday places and through sharing the wisdom of our respective faith traditions, we hope to become ever-more conscious of how we need to live our daily lives. In this, faith communities need not approach one another as rivals but as brothers and sisters of faith in the journey of building greater spiritual consciousness in our nation and world.

Faith and wisdom traditions have always played a seminal role in helping people explore the meaning of life and individual purpose in life. The many people who go through life seeking meaning and purpose find them in his or her faith community. Whatever word that we might use: Ultimate Reality, the Absolute Being, the Transcendent, Brahman, Creator, etc., when we root our origins in the Creator, we then become grounded in the idea that we have a purpose. In order to know that purpose, we need to know then, the Creator, God. Different traditions may know this Being by different names but for our purposes, we use the term God to represent something that is ineffable and could never be fully expressed in words.

On a practical level, becoming spiritually conscious means to become more and more attuned to the spiritual laws and nature of life and then to align ourselves accordingly. Dr. Moon’s father, Rev. Sun Myung Moon outlined the most practical way to do this: in our families. In True Families: Gateway to Heaven, he explains:

Whether it concerns issues in your family or problems facing the nation or the world, the same formula applies: we must deal with relationships to those above and below, on the right and on the left, in front and in back. […] This is the case whether you are relating to your parents or your children, to your husband or your wife, or to your brothers and sisters.

True Families, Gateway to Heaven, pp 9-10

It is in the family that we learn to love and care for our mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles. It is within this network of love and care that allows us to develop our character and cultivate emotional ties with other people as well as learn how to deal with others. What we learn in the family we can then extend to those around us:

The same applies as you relate to the nation and world. Your family should take the lead in your nation to embrace families in the east and west and north and south and encourage all families to do the same. Your family should embrace the civilizations of East and West and of North and South and embrace all the people of the world as your brothers and sisters. This is the way to bring about one world family.

True Families, Gateway to Heaven, pp 9-10

To do this, we challenge ourselves to create plans to practice and embody God’s eternal truths in our everyday family life as concrete actions, behaviors, and habits. The following is an activity to develop our spiritual consciousness – to seek out God in our everyday lives together as a family. 

 Activity

Creating Healthy Family Habits: Seeking the Divine Image

The steps to this activity are really very simple.

  1. First, plan out time for your family to go out into nature. The setting doesn’t matter so long as it is in nature – the forest, a beach, a field – somewhere you can ‘study’ nature. The purpose of this time is one in which we seek out reflections of the “Divine Image” in nature.
  2. Take something for each person to take personal notes, questions, sketches, etc. While it’s fine to talk as you go along, you want to make sure that you don’t lose focus on the activity of investigating.
  3. Some general themes to observe:
    • What does nature need to grow?
    • What limits growth?
    • What are the different stages of growth?
    • What is the general dynamic of life in an ecosystem?
    • Did you observe important roles each species plays in the ecosystem?
    • Did you observe instances where the energy did not flow (air, water) – what did that look like?
    • If or when you observe “invasive species” – what are the qualities that make them invasive in that ecosystem?
  4. Then, to wrap up you want to take some time to share with one another your observations and questions. What patterns did you see?

This might be a bit awkward in the beginning and we encourage you to try it in different ways until it starts to feel more natural. For some people, it is like training a muscle and we need time and consistency to see or feel results.

It will also take time to be able to draw lines of connection between observations made about nature and the laws that govern nature and the laws that govern the human world. These types of shared experiences together as a family are important as they set a basis for which to later explain lessons from the natural world to our spiritual lives.

The more we engage and learn to share and explore with one another about life, universal laws, growth and nature the easier it becomes to share on anything and everything else. We encourage you to treasure these moments and make efforts to make it a central part of your lives together as a family.

For all these reasons and more, this is an activity that can be repeated without end. In fact, all of the activities we include in this book is of that nature. And every time the activity is done, a new layer of knowledge, consciousness, skill, etc. is added – we ourselves have become different. In that way, every time we do an activity, in some sense we are different people from those who did the activity before!

For an approach for younger kids, click here.

Storytelling Brings the Family Together

Storytelling Brings the Family Together

Parents and elders have been storytellers since the dawn of humankind, passing on wisdom, knowledge, caution, or simply entertainment. And what is amazing is that we cannot grow out of being the listener. There is always something we can learn from in the words and stories of others.

Have you ever watched your younger sibling, maybe your students, niece or nephew, or even your own child as they were discovering that those beautiful depictions of their hero or heroine on epic adventures were not always fantasies woven in their storyteller’s mind, but rather the ability to interpret scribbles on a page? In wonder, they grasp the book in their own hands, squinting and proudly declaring, “Now I will tell the story to you!” Made all the more adorable when the entire book is upside down.

Children are drawn to the sound of language, learning to love being read to before even noticing the existence of printed words. Reading books out loud to children is essential to stimulating imagination, creativity, and comprehension skills in preparation to become the storytellers themselves.

Reading with others is a great bonding activity. It’s a chance to bring up topics in the story and hear how the child is doing, how she interprets the world, her dreams, and aspirations. Children (and adults!) automatically find the commonality and differences between themselves and characters in a story. It helps to ask questions and engage with your young listener when you can or just relax and enjoy the reading session because even the act of reading together will benefit everyone involved. 

It is also an opportunity to create a family ritual. Intentionally spending time to read and learn together feeds into our personal excellence both inside and outside the home while building a common language, so to speak, and points of reference between family members.

So, go ahead, read together and share stories, from books on science and history to tales about dragons and lands far away. Incorporate diversity and listen to what that special child in your life is interested in reading about as they grow because whatever the topic, they are bonding, expanding their knowledge and vocabulary, enhancing concentration skills, and learning to love learning!

People We Don’t Like

People We Don’t Like

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”

—Abraham Lincoln

 

Missing the village 

As families have become smaller and the circle of the family has become less inclusive, relationships in the community, society and the nation have also changed. In ways small and large, significant shifts in the family inevitably have a powerful impact on the way society at large conducts itself. Whereas families used to be large and closely-knit, with aunts, uncles, grandparents, in-laws, children, parents, grandchildren, cousins and everything in-between including the friends and neighbors who essentially became a part of the family, today there is a sad and lonely call, a gap of family and community that we instinctively feel to be missing.

A 2014 blogpost that went viral lamented the loss of “the village” that she never had, describes this ache, this feeling that we shouldn’t have to go it alone, articulates the feeling that the experience of raising a family and children is supposed to be a communal one. She writes:

I miss the village I never had. The one with mothers doing the washing side by side, clucking and laughing hysterically, tired in body but quick in spirit. We’d know each other so well: annoying one another from time to time, but never staying mad long because the truth is, we need each other.

It’s no wonder that this blogpost had gone viral – as it touches on a certain something that we all collectively seem to be feeling. The post even points to the importance of even the annoyances and irritations of having “a village”—the everyday irritations and frictions that inevitably happen in living, working and loving in close and constant relationship with others. We could say that the village is a thing of the past, something that we used to traditionally naturally have living as part of a large, extended family. Yet, without casting back and trying to force back ourselves into a golden age that may not have necessarily even existed, we want to question different aspects of living in a closer relationship with people – including people that we now more commonly avoid: people we don’t like.

The fraying of the ties that bind

We might say this is something we do as a luxury of modern life. As families and communities have frayed in the last generation, it is not unusual to notice that relationships and connections – in general – have also frayed.

Recently, the Prime Minister of Britain appointed a “minister of loneliness” to take on the issue of loneliness by teaching students “relationship education” in schools. This was initiated to combat the rising numbers of people, particularly youth, who report feelings of loneliness.

This is not a phenomenon limited to Great Britain as it appears to be a rising trend around the world.

 And along with loneliness, there has also been a correlated rise in problems such as difficulties having and maintaining relationships. Dr. Gabor Mate, one of the foremost researchers on addiction, might even argue that it is the difficulty of having healthy relationships that cause things such as addictive behavior. He asserts the idea that “that addiction—all addiction—is, in fact, a case of human development gone askew.” Even while he defines trauma in very broad terms, his examples point largely to traumatic experiences in relation with others—usually our families and when we are very young—that have the biggest impact on how we perceive ourselves and how we then learn to cope with this trauma. 

These both point to something that we should find alarming and yet expected, with the disruption of the most fundamental institution of human society throughout all of human history: the family. And we don’t mean the family as the more recent understanding of a two-generation, nuclear family but rather the family as it was always intended and designed throughout human history: the extended, multi-generational family.

People we don’t like

In the opening quote, Abraham Lincoln expresses something that some of us might find amusing—as usually, we would avoid those that we dislike. Yet there is deep and simple wisdom in listening to the part of us that would challenge us to look at those that irritate us in a different way. Perhaps it is in recognizing that our dislike is not about that person but about ourselves or in recognizing the growth opportunities that come along with challenging ourselves to put ourselves into uncomfortable situations and relationships.

In a world of endless options and so many different forms of escape, we need to begin to turn around and face ourselves. And to face one’s self means, in many ways, to also face one another. There is value in relating with people that don’t necessarily always make us feel wonderful or perfect. There is value in hearing hard truths from people or from forcing ourselves to have the discipline to be kind to those that frustrate us. There is value in each and every one of us and when we start to treat others with respect, with kindness, with intention—regardless of how we might feel about them—we also begin to change ourselves and our relationships. We might even find ourselves appreciating even those we thought we didn’t like! 

So, the next time someone makes you cringe or brings up feelings of frustration or annoyance, think about Abraham Lincoln’s words of wisdom. Even if you don’t immediately change your attitudes and behavior, slow down. Stop and consider what might change if you were, perhaps to take a different view of that person.

Some questions to help you do this might be:

  1. How would you treat that person if he or she was your brother or sister, aunt or uncle, cousin, etc.?
  2. Imagine what that person may have been like as a child.
  3. How do you think his or her parents might feel about him or her?
  4. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do?
  5. How might this person fit into your “village”?

Either way, these small tactics can help you to build new mental resources for change and personal growth.

Life Stages: Growing from an Individual to a Family

Life Stages: Growing from an Individual to a Family

Taking a family outing compared to trip by yourself might  be comparable to the difference between spiritual growth as an individual and as a family.

A trip where you’re responsible for only yourself is easier to prepare and plan for, just as focusing on your own growth and development is less complicated than having to consider the needs of all the members of the family.

Even just preparing to head out for any activity is immensely complicated with your family in tow. If you have multiple kids, questions that might run through your mind might include:

“How many changes of kids’ clothes will I need?”

“Should the kids bring their own bags or no?”

“Vests or jackets?”

“Is he old enough that he won’t need an extra pair of underwear?”

“Will this snack be enough to keep them quiet on the ride over?”

“Three diapers or four?”

“Should I bring a carrier or a stroller or both?”

“Will the stroller fit in a coin locker if I don’t need it?”

“Will she sit in the stroller?”

“Throw up bags?”

“Stickers? Crayons?”

…along with a million other considerations.

Whereas heading out the door by yourself might be more along the lines of:

“Phone? Wallet? Keys?”

From Dependence to Independence

Despite these and many other complications, there is something to be said about the messiness and discomfort of having to think about more than one’s self. And perhaps this speaks to God’s design.

We all start out as babies, completely dependent on those around us. Our choices are, at first, not our own as our parents make them for us and may or may not give us varying levels of independence as we grow. But no matter how we are raised, we eventually go through a process through which we must become independent, autonomous adults.

Just as our bodies need to go through a period of maturation and growth in order to create human life, our spirits need to do the same. Much of this process of maturation can happen on the individual level but, at a certain point, our spiritual growth and development hinges on our ability to go on to a higher and deeper levels wherein we need to begin to consider ourselves as part of a bigger whole.

Becoming Part of a Bigger Whole

When we become part of a couple, we then come to reflect God’s divine image in the sacred union of a man and woman. As a couple, we need to consider the needs and desires of the other person. As parents, we need to consider the growth, education and development of our children, one another and the family as a whole. Later, as adult children, we begin to need to consider the needs of our elderly parents.

It is in the critical period of youth where we begin to make all the choices and habits that then sets the trajectory for our whole lives. This is the period where we are no longer tied to our mother’s “apron strings” and begin to make the decisions that will determine who we will become in life. It is at this juncture that, if we’re able to have a clear purpose and direction, we can make the choices that allow us to fulfill our God-given potential, to have fulfilling and meaningful relationships at home and at work.

Preparing for the Next Stage

All this starts from knowing both where we come from and where we want to go!

If — even in the period of our flourishing independence — we clearly know our identity as sons and daughters of God and His purpose for us, it makes it so much easier. Put simply, it cuts away the confusion and fumbling that is often associated with adolescence. Instead of searching for meaning and purpose, we can direct our energies into positive pursuits towards fulfilling our God-given potential. We can then also focus on how and in what ways we would enter back into a web of interdependence, in preparation for building our own families in the future.

Knowing and understanding the importance of these natural life stages as being part of God’s grand plan for our personal, spiritual growth and development is essential to guide us towards good choices and habits in our lives. And how lovely is it that the process of our growth is in one that can also bring us so much satisfaction and delight?

So, whatever stage you might be in – how are you growing? What would you like to work on?