Unwrapping your gifts: Healing family wounds
Perhaps you've had the experience of opening a wrapped gift slowly—taking the lid off the box, pushing the tissue aside, only to discover something you didn’t even know you wanted, right there in front of you. This is how I think about what it means to unwrap a self inside the packaging of family karmas—the wrapping paper that’s so firmly taped around us that we think it IS us. So much of who we think we are is a collection of past experiences that aren’t even our own. The journey of svadhyaya, the fourth Niyama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is the powerful, scary, and sometimes painful unboxing of oneself from all the imprints of cause-and-effect that have poured down the family line. It’s like opening a Russian doll to find another facade.
The path of the practice is to keep opening.
If you’ve decided to stick around for the yoga beyond the stretchy hamstrings and chaturangas you’ll discover that no matter how much meditation or postural yoga you do, you can still walk out the door and snap at a loved one or fall into old behavioral patterns. This is the moment the yoga begins: when we see our habits and patterns so deeply ingrained that even with our best intentions we fall into the cycle of reactiveness that betrays them. As many of us gather with family this time of year, we’re provided with many opportunities to express that reactiveness. Maybe we see it reflected in our families as well. The important part is that we get to investigate it.
To begin the unboxing we must begin by tracing back to our family and their family. By looking carefully at the belief structures, traumas, and historical grooves that have been passed down into our cells, into our psyche. This is the beginning of healing.
In Buddhism, they say that if heal yourself, you heal seven generations. They also say you must be willing to give your full heart to this journey. If it’s taken many generations to get here and you are wanting to heal the wounds, well, buckle up. This is not for the faint of heart. It’s for those who want to know their true nature, beyond past imprints that bind.
Where to begin? As with so many things in this practice—and perhaps thankfully—it’s an inside job. The starting point of this journey entails taking the time to go below the surface of our initial reactivity, every time we respond, and inquire about where it emerges from, whose it is, and whether we even (or still) identify with it. When we begin to question our stories, our fears, and worries, so often we find that they don’t even belong to us. They’ve just been passed onto us; and we bought into the story of who we were, packaging and all.
The inward healing doesn’t mean we can’t also heal outwardly with those who knowingly or—most likely—unknowingly handed down these stories. But from my experience, this outward healing is more of a byproduct of our own brave work; and it’s not guaranteed. So this season, I’ll be paying extra attention to my reactiveness to the words and actions of my family, to the sensitivities that arise and the external forces that stir them up. I want to hold the story of “who I am” lightly enough that I am okay with it shifting and morphing, as I peel the layers away with my own questioning. And know I will be supporting you from here, as you do the work on your own stories, and your own lineage.
May the true unwrapping of the most precious gift of knowing our deeper nature, remembering the self inside the packaging, begin.