As featured in Elephant Journal, Dec 22, 2017
I don’t know about you, but when I return home to spend time with family, my brain returns to pre-teen status.
Parts of my conscious practice never seem to make it into my luggage, and I struggle to find the tools to relate to family in a healthy way. Thankfully, long ago, Sage Patanjali brought us the Yoga Sutras (in approximately 400 C.E.), which describe practices to calm the waves of the mind. He outlined four ways of relating to others that I find especially helpful for keeping my mind calm, sane, and healthy during the holidays.
Let’s start with the easy one: those cousins you can’t wait to see, the childhood friends that still make you laugh, those relationships that are filled with mutual joy and respect. Easy-peasy. Enjoy.
That person who is annoying the crap out of you? They’re probably suffering. Yeah, see how I turned that around? When we stop avoiding and extend an ear of compassion, when we listen deeply, we develop the capacity to heal ourselves and others. When you want to turn away, try looking deeper instead. On a personal note, I struggle here with certain people who tend to repeat their sorrows. So I can also attest that when they are fully listened to (sans eye-rolling), the story starts to evolve and I stop feeling like the Grinch trying to steal their word pudding.
There may be someone at your holiday table who has achieved all your childhood dreams, while you’re struggling to pay rent and are obsessing over online dating profiles. Oooh, the envy can be almost as green as the Jell-O mold. Here’s another option: appreciate them. The phrase “there’s only so much room at the top” is completely bogus. They haven’t stolen anything from you and, deep in your heart, wouldn’t you wish them success? Put on your grown-up pant(ie)s and congratulate them; exhale and join them in their happiness.
Upeksha: Loving Indifference
And here’s the juicy (i.e. “really freaking difficult”) one. The practice of upeksha likely applies when we encounter those uncles and aunts with narrow perspectives, harmful actions, and abusive histories. Upeksha means silently chanting, “I love you and I am choosing not to engage with you.” We’ve all learned special ways of escaping these people—or their bodies, anyway—but can we do it without hatred? In other words, can we disengage without causing our own suffering?
Learning upeksha is a powerful practice. It requires us to stay open-hearted in the midst of repugnancy, and calm-bodied in response to painful perspectives. It doesn’t mean that you put your own body in harm’s way, or that you stay in a situation that is dangerous. It does mean that when you walk away, you do it with a loving heart toward yourself and, if possible, toward them.
Bring a cheat sheet, laminate it, and stick it in your pocket. Keep your heart open and choose wisely. Let me know how it goes; we can compare notes on January 2nd.