Choose your community wisely.

Continuing our theme of enriching the soil for life long good health, in this post I will talk about the importance of our community in which we live. I will use the word ‘community’ in a wider sense than the usual meaning; it will also include sense of connectedness and formation of social networks with other individuals in that community. So this includes all of our relationships with each other, including family, friends,work colleagues, acquaintances and strangers; as well as the relationships with the broader world, to the universe and the  community in which we live. I am using this wider sense because we are social beings, and we as individuals can only flourish in a good, wholesome, fertile Eco-system.

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Eco system that promotes stress will cause ill-health. Studies show living in communities that are stressful and cause unhappiness contribute to ill-health and in communities where there is happiness and contentment are health promoting.

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Our Eco-system starts with our families and on that we may not have a choice. If possible we would want to experience in our family a wide range of emotions without fear of harsh judgement and with over all feeling of  happiness, feeling of being safe and supported;  and also having a sense of  unconditional love. In this kind of environment we produce less toxic hormone in our bodies. We are able to learn from our mistakes and grow. We can explore and can afford to be adventurous. Of course the opposite is true when our family environment is not supportive but is  judgmental and so resulting in us shutting down, unable to share our emotional life. The first situation as you can imagine is ‘life giving’ and the second situation is ‘stifling and life draining.’

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Friendship can be mutually beneficial in different ways. The best friendship, according to Aristotle  is that in which both individuals are equally virtuous and never do any harm to each other, to do so would be against their nature; and they have mutual love for each other. Lesser friendships are where there is limited mutual benefit through the association.

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The further away we move from our association with family and friends, to work associates, acquaintances and strangers our reasons for association become more limited but these associations still can have significant impact on us depending on whether the relationship is stressful or not.

The sense of the relationship to our neighborhood should be where its safe to be there without coming to harm from individuals, noise and pollution.

We also want to have the sense that we are not poisoning our planet and we want to leave behind a healthy planet for our children and many future generations.

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Obviously we don’t have complete control to organize our community around us so that it allows us to flourish. We never the less need to align ourselves so that it causes minimal harm to our person-hood  This requires deep thought on what we value, practical wisdom and great courage to make a change. In the end, the change that results in less stress and more contentment will be healthy one indeed.

Reflection on our own family – is it nurturing ? Here are my reflections on mine.

In the last few posts on the family it is clear how important family is in shaping us who we are today. It may be worth while to reflect on our own families to see how close it come to an ideal one ; if it significantly fall short of the ideal then how could have it been better ? and most importantly has it left us with any lasting imprints which are not serving us today  and  has it left us with any gifts which enrich , delight and comfort us?

Virginia Satir in her book “Peoplemaking ” envisions the nurturing family as follows :

Immediately, I can sense the aliveness, the genuineness, honesty and love, I feel the heart and soul present as well as the head. I feel that if I lived in such a family, I would be listened to and would be interested in listening to others; I could openly show my affection as well as my pain and disapproval;I wouldn’t be afraid to take risks because everyone in my family would realize that mistakes are bound to come with my risk taking – that my mistakes are a sign that I am growing. I would feel like a person in my own right – noticed, valued, loved, and clearly asked to notice, value and love others.

How close was your family to this description? I grew up in a family which had lot of these features and always felt loved by my mother, sisters and brothers. My father was little hard to figure out, he only seemed to show emotions when we did something exceptionally well or exceptionally bad. When he was displeased we felt the disapproving force without him even saying anything, just by his look our knees would buckle. His favourite punishment was to make us go into one corner of the room , get us to bend at the waist with our head pointing to the floor, our legs slightly flexed at the knees and our bum sticking up in the air. He would then tell us to stay like that and if we lowered our bum from us getting fatigued he would hit our bum with a slipper and tell us to keep it up in the air. Our leg muscles would ache and we could no longer hold our bums up and often ended with us crying and promising not to repeat the offence.

My first memory of my family are when we were in a small village in India, there was no traffic, everyone know each other, we played and fought with the neighbourhood children. We had no toys but we were never bored, we made our own kites to fly, climbed trees, played in the nearby river and come home tired. There was never a pressure to spend time with our parents, they were there if  we needed them. We were supervised by all the grown ups of the village, if we did something wrong it got reported to our parents or sometimes we got disciplined right on the spot by whoever the grown up happened to be there and witnessed the inappropriate behaviour. My favourite activity in the summer was to go out in the fields and eat baby chick peas, melons, mangos, carrots, chew on the sugar cane sticks, pick lime of a tree – peel it and then suck on the fleshy part; the sourness was refreshing on hot thirsty day, no one liked it except me. Everyone else would just cringed with the thought of me eating lime on its own, this made me enjoys it even more because it was one thing I could do and on one else would or could. I have so many other good memories of my childhood in the village but this is not the place to tell. I visited my village after being away for several decades, it seemed so small from the way I remembered it as a little kid.

We moved to England when I was about 8 years old, it was cold, we could not run around in our bare feet, we had chill blaine because of the cold  and we would huddle near the fire-place. We couldn’t speak English, the teachers at the school didn’t know what to do with us and to occupy us the they got us doing crafts, pottery and basket weaving. My mother got sick but I think she was just depressed from the culture shock. She had no friends, didn’t know the customs and she missed being outside in the fields seeing things grow and harvesting fresh bounty for her family. Here she was stuck in the house with no adults for company until my father came home from work. He came home looking tired and didn’t look to me as though he was in the mood to have a heart to heart talk with my mother or anyone else. He seemed to lack the ability to show affection, but he would always praise good work or good deed. He worked hard and expected others to do the same. My older brother felt the full force of his expectation of doing hard work, not only did he expect him to help around the house but he expected him to do well at school. Doing well at school was emphasized over and over again. When he would ask how we were doing in school , I would always say “great “- I was becoming a great basket weaver !

The early years in England were difficult for my family, we were isolated and if we ever saw any Indian person we would talk about them for days. There were no special programs for newcomers in those days, we had to somehow learn the language ourselves and participate ( or more like blunder) in the society as best we could. We got our uncle to teach us all the English he knew and once we learned several hundred English words we started to translate our language to English, which of course come out all wrong. Once I went to see my friend, his mother come to the door, I translated from my language to English to say ” I want to see Douglas ”  but my translation came out ” I want Douglas”. I don’t know what Douglas’s mother thought of this, but eventually she understood what I wanted.

This isolation in England made our family become more closer than we were in India. We needed each other, we become to genuinely appreciate and love each other, we listened and helped one another, we could share our disappointments  and also have fun with each other. We kept our spirits up by encouraging and helping each other. I remember my older brother keeping me safe from some bullies at school. They wanted to knock my turban off for fun. My older brother with the help of my sister had also taken on the role of making sure the house run smoothly, since my mother was sick. We younger ones had easier time, less responsibility , less expectations and got away with lots from my fathers watchful eye. We loved our older brother , we looked up him, he was a natural sportsman and was always winning prizes but my father never really valued this ability. He wanted us to be good in academia. He had a bad habit of comparing us to children who had done well in school, until one day I broke down and told him never to do that again; to my surprise he never did. My children must have taken after me because they now tell me how to honor them for themselves. Unfortunately, I don’t always have my fathers wisdom and I repeat the same mistakes, so I get reminded again.

The family for all of us was a top priority, my father would tell a story about brothers who stuck together  during troubled times and survived, he would say they were strong like delicate sticks bound together; while another set of brothers did their own thing and they got ” broken ” like a delicate single-stick would  break; but had they been  bound together like the sticks , he would say, they too would have survived. He taught us to be helpful to each other and make the family a top priority. It seems the message got through because even now we would do anything for each other or for the family. My father also left us with another gift. He would tell us stories in which the Sikhs were the heroes and I grew up believing Sikhs culture was the best and I was honored to be a sikh. It was not until I went to university one of my fellow Indian friend burst my bubble. There were lot richer and older tradition in India which I only came to know much later. My father however left me liking myself as a sikh.

Yes, there was lots of disagreements and fight among us, but it didn’t take long for us to forgive each other. My younger brother loved to have a clean house and was alway trying to keep it tidy. The rest of us annoyed him because we didn’t care about the clutter. He would complain and so we would try to keep it tidy too. My older brother would get annoyed because he had to accompany anyone who couldn’t speak English to their medical appointments, so we would help out with that too. I am sure there were lots more areas of disagreement but we always seemed to have worked them out without too much trouble.

Reflecting back I must say my family had lot of attributes which made it easier to learn some of the valuable virtues one needs on a life journey. The things that would have made my family ideal would have been for my farther to show his emotions towards my mother and us. This would have helped me to be in touch with my own emotions more and would have helped my relationship with my loved one. It would have made me a happier and a healthier  person. I hasten to add that my parents tried their best and I know they loved all of us and wanted the very best for us.

I feel immense gratitude and appreciation for the  parents I had and the family that I have. They made it possible for me to work hard, have a career I love, have the family and friends who love me, have confidence and healthy self-esteem, have the ability to speak my mind, voice my thoughts and convictions, have conviction to tell the truth, have good intuition and I feel connected to higher power or universal consciousness. That’s not bad at all, I remain in gratitude.

Resources:

Chop Wood Carry Water

By Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingrasci.

Family Life – love it or fight it – it will shape your future.

Family is the most important mode of association in our life. We can love the family or hate it but like it or not it will shape our future. It is hard to ignore or neglect the central role family play in our life. It is the matrix of life where our journey begins and in this matrix we share a bond of common experience  and love that is unique in its strength and depth. It is this beginning which leaves in us a psychological imprint of our family and influences our future relationships. Sometimes without us even knowing that our family experience is influencing us. At times I see patients who know that  the way they are conducting themselves doesn’t make any sense but they still continue repeating the same destructive behavior because they don’t know how to stop it and it makes no sense to them that they are doing it. It is not until we examine the early childhood experiences and the patterns of behavior that got established, that we fully start to understand the present behavior. The family is such a rich source of information about ourselves that some therapist don’t even want to work with the patient directly until they interviewed as many family member as they can to understand the family dynamics because that’s where the best hope lies for helping the patient.

We don’t get to choose our family, like we do our friends. We are born in a family , we have no choice of the parents and no choice of our siblings. If our values and outlook on life differ from those of our family we still have to get along with them until we are of an age we can leave home. Family, therefore can be a demanding training ground for learning how to live with our fellow human beings. Generally speaking if we “graduate” with flying colours from the family life then we will do well in life outside the family. If we had a difficult time of it in the family, experienced little love and support, didn’t feel safe and secure; were unable to resolve the problems with our parents and our sibling then we will take these issues with us when we leave the family and then recreate them in our relationships with others outside the family until we learn our “lesson”. Many of the problems that are reenacted result from suppressed feelings stored from incidents that happened when we  were children. The same unresolved conflicts we had with our parents always seem to ” mysteriously ” reappear to affect our current adult relationship.

Most people’s experience of the family is as a loving support system from which we can live our lives, venture out into the wider world to explore and interact with confidence; and then come back to a loving family at the end of the day. The family also act as a mini-society where we can test and put into practice all the ideas about the sort of life one wants to lead. If we want peace in the world, we can try to create peace in the family; if we want a loving life we can practice building loving relationships within the family. Our family will give us very accurate feed back on our performance which can be valuable information for our own personal growth. It is hard to overestimate the influence our families have on us and some people believe it starts even before birth.

Importance of the Family  may also be one of the important ingredient for creating a positive future for the world according to sociologist Elise Boulding. She writes….The truth is that the home is the training ground where people first learn to live with one another, where they learn to love , to hate, to get angry, to fear , to forgive. Unless they can learn in their homes how to love and work with other people, how to handle hate, anger and fear so that it does not destroy themselves or others, and unless they can experience the full depth of forgiveness in the give and take of family life, they are not going to be able to go into the world and help….

Resources:

Chop Wood Carry Water

By Rick Fields, with Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingrasci.

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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