Family Dream Map

Family Dream Map

The beginning of the year is always an important time to reflect, assess and make new determinations. As our day is determined by the night before (how you slept, if your kids did his or her homework, if you ate something funny) so should the year before help us prepare for the one that comes next.

So, in the next few weeks, why not take some time to dream out the first weeks of the year with God and family? It’s a great time to think of our goals from last year, what we accomplished, and take the time to think through new ones.

This month you can do a simple activity together to think through what you want to accomplish this year through family dream maps. Modified from activities you can find floating around on the internet, Dream Maps give us the time and space to express what it is that we actually want. Although we usually think we know what we want, most times it’s easier to know what we don’t want! Instead, with Dream maps, we articulate our concrete goals in specific categories as a way to become clear on what we want in order to be able to work towards them.

We chose four specific categories, described below, to help us in our relationship with God and each other – but feel free to modify them as you would like:

Growth goal: Something connected to your personal spiritual growth and development. The more specific the better. If there’s an area you feel you’re lacking, try to articulate it in a positive way and to connect it with a specific habit. For example: by the end of the year, I’d like to have the habit of gratitude and so I’d like to write down three things I’m grateful for each day.

Relationship goal: This one should come up as particularly important for your family. Try to key into a specific relationship and a daily habit that can improve it. For example, I would like to work on having great communication with my son so I’d like to make sure I take at least five minutes every day to have a one-on-one conversation with him before bed. Having a general idea of when you will do it also helps to keep the habit!

Health goal: our health is interconnected with everything else and so our physical health is an important priority in our lives. Try to find a health goal that is, again, connected with a daily habit. For example, I’d like to work towards a specific BMI (generally between 18-24 is considered average in terms of health) and so I’d like to work on this by eliminating snacks and sugary drinks from my diet.

For our family, we also decided on a material goal, although we understand there are some dangers in doing so! Here we asked each person to identify something they’d like to have and to also think through some plan to achieve that goal. During the Christmas season, we could see that our kids were heavily dependent on Santa but with no steady means of income, we will have to consider how we’d like to approach money and responsibility another time. For us as parents, we were a little flexible with what that meant (I opted for a family experience rather than a possession).

In doing this activity, we made it a crafting activity and each person cut and glued origami paper onto a piece of thin cardboard. We decorated each sheet to our hearts’ content and drew the year in a big oval we drew in the middle. We then divided up the square into four quarters and wrote down our goals in each division. We all helped each other to complete our boards and we finished it off by announcing to each other our goals for the rest of the year.

I got a wire with clips attached and put it on our fridge so it can serve as a daily reminder.

What would your family dream map look like?

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.

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.

Discussion Activity for the Family: Who Am I?

Discussion Activity for the Family: Who Am I?

Discussion Part 1: Who am I?

Questions:

  • Do you know who you are?
  • Why would knowing “who I am” be important to how we live our lives?

Consider this shoehorn.

Some of you may not know what a shoehorn is. It is simply a stick that helps you get your shoes on more smoothly. In some places, this is a household staple and many people appreciate having it very much. If you’ve ever had a little trouble getting that last bit of the heel of your shoe on just right, this is just the thing you need.

Now, if you didn’t know what it was, you might still find a use for it – a slide for your kids’ marbles or to clumsily swat hapless bugs or others but you might be annoyed at the way it is shaped and wish it was shaped more like a flyswatter so you could actually swat flies…

But one day, someone tells you, “That’s a shoehorn. It’s for when you’re wearing your shoes so your foot slips right in and doesn’t ruin the heel of the shoe.” And you might look at the shoehorn in wonder – now you know why it’s the length that it is, and it explains the reason for the way it curves inward. Now, the little thoughtful addition of a hook curved perfectly for a person to comfortably grasp the shoehorn as they slip on their shoes makes perfect sense. From then on, the shoehorn has a little place of honor next to wherever it is that you keep your shoes.

This is – yet another of many more to come – a silly little story to suggest the more serious idea that – if we know our purpose in life, we can meaningfully make the choices and take actions in a way that allow us to fulfill our fullest potential. We are no longer swatting flies with a shoehorn. We might even imagine that, after we knew the purpose of the shoehorn, the shoehorn itself is much happier now assisting people on get their shoes on because – it was made for that purpose.

It may be a curious metaphor to use but consider an often used but the little discussed phrase “I was born for this!” of “I was made to do this.” When is this phrase used? What do people mean when they say this?

Discussion Part 2: Life, Meaning and Purpose?

Questions:

  • Do you feel you know your life’s purpose?
  • What do you need to know to know your life’s purpose?
  • Do you live in a way that connects to your life’s purpose?
  • Would you live differently if you knew your life’s purpose?

So how does one determine one’s life’s purpose? We come back to the shoehorn story to say – that perhaps the best way to know our purpose, we need to know what we were made for. I.e., we need to know our Creator.

And in fact, in a not-so-secret secret, the spiritual traditions have long taught humanity through the ages of a global interconnectedness between all people, rooted in our common origins in a Divine Creator. Read the following quotes from below:

  • Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? (Malachi 2:10)
  • O, mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you might know each other. (Quran 49:13)
  • All the people of the whole world are equally brothers and sisters. There is no one who is an utter stranger. There is no one who has known the truth of this origin. It is the very cause of the regret of God. The souls of all people are equal, whether they live on the high mountains or at the bottoms of the valleys. (Ofudesaki 13:43-45) Tenrikyo
  • But a single man [Adam] was created for the sake of peace among mankind, that none should say to his fellow, “my father was greater than your father.” (Misnah, Sanhedrin 4.5) Judaism
  • I look upon all creature equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear. (Bhagavad Gita 9:29) Hinduism
  • Even science has begun to show this, calling the fact of a “Genetic Adam and Eve” and recording the birthplace of all humanity in Africa.

If we all share a common origin from one man and one woman – and we are one family it might make us then think – If we’re to live as One Family Under God, what should my family, as my personal template for other social relations, look like?

We ask these things not expecting people with perfect families to answer them perfectly and we don’t need to come from or have perfect families to work towards healthy, happy families. In fact, if we come from less happy homes we might know all the better the reasons we would want a healthy, happy family for ourselves.

Craft Activity and Lesson: Seeds of Strength

Craft Activity and Lesson: Seeds of Strength

CRAFT ACTIVITY & LESSON

Age Group: 12 & Under  

As kids, we’re oftentimes told “no” “wait” and “later” and, for some, it might be one of the most frustrating things about being a kid. You’re not allowed to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. Yet as parents, we know we must set these limits and expectations in order that our children can, someday, set these limits for themselves.

This is an activity we might use to help kids think about these small frustrations differently. Rather than looking at each frustration individually, we might redirect kids to think about them as taking small steps towards self-mastery. We usually associate strength with invincibility, superhuman capacities but in reality, we want to associate strength with strength of character and virtue because it is in this much more difficult but worthwhile endeavor that we’re able to manifest our fullest potential as sons and daughters of God.

Materials: paper, coloring materials and stickers

Directions

  • We start first with a simple discussion about seeds. How do seeds grow? What do they need? (Sunlight, air, water, nutrients)
  • Today we’re planting some seeds. Seeds start out very small and by looking at a seed, we don’t necessarily know what kind of plant it is going to be. Our seeds will become trees – but what kind of tree will it be? You can decide – it can be a pine tree or an orange or apple tree or even a tree that doesn’t exist – a tree that grows cars or the like. Decide what kind of tree you want to plant! Draw the outline of this tree on a piece of paper and don’t forget to outline some of the “fruits” of the tree so you can remember what kind of tree it will be.
  • Talk about how sometimes we get frustrated about things – we aren’t allowed to do things, we have to wait for things. But when we’re able to overcome these feelings and still be grateful for all the things we do have, we grow our own seeds of character. We’ll use this chart to track our progress. Every time we have a little victory – we can take a sticker to fill up the outlines our trees.
  • Display the picture somewhere to serve as a reminder. You might want to ask your child/children if they had a little victory that day and if they want to share it with the rest of the family. Celebrate the little victories with a sticker to add to the picture. Even if he or she wasn’t able to get a victory that day, gently nudge and encourage them towards the good.
  • Once the tree is filled, consider making a special time during family time for the person to receive recognition for his or her accomplishment. It is also a great way to encourage him or her to reflect on their progress and make new determinations going forward.

As a parent, you might consider making your own tree and sharing your own ups and downs. Most times we focus on teaching our children but the best way to teach them is to become the kind of people we hope they might also strive to be. Sharing – appropriately – our own challenges helps them see growth as a meaningful, lifelong process.

Also, we want to think of this entire activity as a fun, visual way to hone a positive habit in our everyday lives. Like training wheels, we want to use this concept of “seeds of strength” as a way to cultivate the habits of self-mastery in ourselves and in our families.