I’ve received several comments these past few years from readers lamenting the pain their family relationships still cause them. This is people in their 30s, 40s and older still reeling from their relationships with their parents and siblings.
Most of you are probably thinking, “No shit, Sherlock. Of course family relationships are fraught. Tell me something I don’t know.” I get that.
But it occurred to me recently that so few people realize that those same family relationships can serve as a goldmine for our spiritual growth. How?
Letting go is indispensable
Let’s start with a refresher on arguably the most important practice in all of spirituality: Letting go. As Michael Singer and many other spiritual teachers have instructed, letting go is indispensable to spiritual growth.
Why is letting go so critical? Because, as Mickey Singer teaches, the central problem humans face is that they have held onto and stored an immense amount of egoic baggage over their lives. And it is this egoic baggage that blocks our energy from flowing up.
Or, put another way, this baggage is what prevents us from living in the moment and all the profound benefits that bestows. Get rid of the baggage and our potential becomes limitless in all matters. Now do you see why letting go is essential?
What we need to let go of
What specifically do we need to let go of? All the experiences we had in our childhoods and into adulthood that we pushed down and stored. Like what?
Your dad always told you you were dumb and would never amount to anything. Now, as an adult, that’s exactly how you feel about yourself.
You were the youngest in your family and never felt like anybody listened to you or took you seriously. In adulthood, you erupt at people who don’t listen to you.
Your mom constantly harped on you about your eating habits and urged you to lose weight. As an adult, you’ve always struggled with food and your body image.
You might wonder: Family issues are a significant part of my baggage, but is it everything? No. We hold onto other experiences as well.
90 percent of our baggage comes from family
But how about this for an anecdotal statistic? My sister has been a successful, highly sought-after psychotherapist for over thirty years. She estimates that 90 percent of the issues her clients see her for derive directly or indirectly from their family relationships. Ninety percent!
These family issues run deep, are incredibly pervasive and spare no one, not even us spiritual types. As Ram Dass famously said,
“If you think you’re so enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”
I’m sure all of you can relate to this Ram Dass nugget. I know I can. That example above about the youngest kid who never felt listened to? That was me.
Not to further my Debby Downer-ness here, but it’s also true that this “stuff” we hold inside never goes away…unless we let go of it. Here’s one more anecdotal piece of evidence to drive this home. My friend told me that his 80 year cousin still bemoans how terrible her mother was. And her mother’s been dead for 50 years!
What we should do about it
Fine. So we’ve established that family relationships leave powerful, intractable, emotional scars. What the heck should we do about it?
Well, if you accept the premise that our egoic baggage prevents us from being content and present and that 90 percent of that baggage stems from our family relationships, I hope that the answer is clear: We need to let go of this crap.
But I’m sure that is also obvious to most of you. What I’m trying to do with this piece is to get you to radically rethink how you look at those difficult relationships.
Seek out and don’t avoid family
How? By convincing you to seek out and dive into these relationships rather than avoid them. The ‘why’ is obvious: In order to let go of something, it needs to be stoked.
Now I’m not saying you should call your 75-year-old mom and provoke her into calling you fat and lazy so you can let go of that. But I am saying that you should look at any interaction with her as an opportunity to help you offload baggage. Baggage that is poisoning you and will continue to do so until the day you die unless you let it go.
How, specifically, do we let go? I find Mickey Singer’s technique the simplest and most effective. Let’s say you’re on the phone with your mom and she says something that pokes at one of your central issues:
“You sure you don’t want to rejoin that gym? Last time I saw you you seemed to have gained some weight.”
How to let go
Here’s what you do. First, and most important, you resist the energy that immediately surfaces that wants to pull you down to your lower self and react. By react I mean, “Mom, why don’t you go F yourself,” then hang up. This is the hardest part because we all know how powerful that energy is.
After successfully resisting that energy, go to step two: RELAX. Everywhere in your body, but especially in your head, chest and stomach areas. Then take some deep, slow breaths. While doing so, see yourself leaning away from the hurtful feeling your mom’s comment elicited. And just watch it. Observe it.
What you’re doing here — by relaxing, leaning away and watching — is softening up and giving space to this particular piece of egoic baggage. Why? So that it can break free and rise up.
Our baggage is energy
These pieces of baggage, which Singer calls Samskaras, are literally pockets of energy (prana) that are stuck in our lower selves. Relaxing, leaning away and watching allows these energy packets to break free and rise.
Does doing this one time exorcise that Samskara from us once and for all? No. But when we do this continually that is what happens. We just keep letting go. And letting go.
By the way, I just wrote a piece about liberation and what it means in the spiritual context. This is it. Liberating this stuck egoic energy is what it’s all about.
I’m not saying any of this is easy. But I hope you’ll at least see the enormous opportunity for growth offered by letting go of emotional scars from your family.
To further incentivize you to go for it, let me expound on what I mean by the ‘spiritual growth’ you’ll experience. This growth manifests in actually feeling better, more energized, more present, more compassionate. All these great things happen, for no other reason than you let go of egoic baggage that was dragging you down.
Go for it. Whether it’s talking on the phone with your parents or siblings. Or seeing them on a regular visit or a holiday. Or maybe your family lives in the same city and you see them often.
Look at any difficult feelings your family elicits in you as an opportunity to free yourself. To feel better. To be better.