on Family as a Spiritual Practice: North Cascades National Park
by Raymond Diaz
Oh my, we’ve created enough escape potential to leave orbit, we are on vacation.
A week and a half alone in the wilderness with two daughters, 11 & 13 years old, hormones flying everywhere, and no distractions. My wife and I haven’t spent a lot of intimate time together and the effort to get away has exhausted us both. Not to mention that we just went through the surprise party from hell (this is a story for another time).
I knew we were in for a spiritual event of magnitude. A family vacation!
The moon is almost full and the mountain air is doing its alchemy. My wife and I are in full rest and recovery mode. You know, when you want to wear you’re bed all day long. Our adorable children who have been raised to share their feelings and have a voice, know that they are supported, loved and respected, but today they have decided to become complete and total !!!#$@$%&^%&^$%???’s. So here goes, we’ve just had a family meeting where everyone got to share how they are doing on this vacation, what they want, what the boundaries are. We keep passing the bottle of patience juice around and I feel a slight panic in my belly when the bottle gets to me. I notice the juice in the bottle is low. The air has cleared and my wife is not going to leave, my daughter doesn’t truly hate me and is glad I came along. My other daughter is on her best behavior as she doesn’t want to lose horseback-riding like last year.
My wife and I spent the kind of morning that we always like to, and wish we had with more regularity. Love, tenderness, passion and laughter, noticing that we had half-heartedly considered sending the kids back home. The loons are singing the wilderness blues.
It is early, the lake is vast in its blue gray awakening. As I sit here in this immense pristine beauty, I am struck by the vast spiritual potential of family life. It is certainly true that a structure as essential and significant to our culture and matrix as family has not been milked for the potential liberation available within its structure. It is also patently obvious to me that it is imperative that those of us who have chosen to awaken and evolve spiritually make a commitment to Spirit and ask for the spiritualization of our family life.
This path is not for the weak of heart because family life can throw every fear, insecurity, lack of patience and compassion in your face daily (on vacation, hourly). If we ask Spirit to let our family lives clear us of our fear of surrendering and letting go, of dissolving the separate self, it will happen!!
Since I’m a householder parent and deeply in love with the path of truth/dharma, I have been over time greatly helped and comforted by this view and use of family life. At first I fought it ( it seems to be my way this life), then, ever so slowly, my own aspiration and sincere desire to awaken eased me into realizing the futility of fighting. Thank the Beloved, now I view all the stuff of family life as an ongoing intensive retreat. It is my hearty recommendation that we all do the same.
It is 6:30 in the morning. The wind is blowing. The Jerusalem artichoke daisies are vibrant yellow with blood red centers, oh, oh so beautiful. The sun is coming into the valley to the accompaniment of the Stehekin River. Behind it all, the majestic peaks of the Northern Cascades. What a glorious and calming Maya this all is. Everywhere I look I see relationship, unity, family.
The great ones have told us To Know Ourselves, To Know The Self, and To Know The One. Let us look at the “Know Yourself” piece in spiritual practice. It is fairly safe to say that all paths teach the transcendence of the separate, egoic self and the reemergence of what has always been–The True Self, Our True Nature. Families are egoic incubators, where we develop “healthy egos,” where we learn the codes of Duality, where the laws of cause and effect become responses and behavior. Families are also incubators for awareness. The awareness engines run with the fuel of the history we bring from our karmic influences, culture, gender and our family of origin. We play such roles as parent, husband, wife, mate, son, daughter, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, grandparent, cousin, niece, nephew. Each of these positions brings with it a series of questions and explorations which generate illumination into who we are. For example, parenting : What is it to be a parent? How was I parented? What blessings and wounds do I carry into my present family? What do we see and how do we feel about these issues? How have we compensated or overcompensated? Do we feel good about it? If not, why not? What are we scared to see? What are we willing to embrace? Are we willing to see both joy and pain, and accept them both as mirrors, equal in helping us cleanse and open?
I know that the sheer volume of material is staggering. Most of us get tired, lazy and give into patterns of being partners and parents that, if asked about them, we would say “I would never act that way or be that kind of a partner or parent.” Unfortunately, occasionally we do. By the way, have you noticed how often we resemble our parents? Humbling, isn’t it? What are we to do? Fortunately for us, the call of our soul’s hunger for truth and balance impels us back to the path. We stop, take time to feel, reflect, meditate, pray, read, journal, see a therapist or spiritual teacher, go to church or synagogue, do our work, and ask for guidance and grace. Then the awesome powers of compassion/forgive-ness/awareness transport us to acts of health, accountability and consciousness in our families.
Early morning, the cleansing sound of the river and the swallows are in full ballet. I was struck this morning with what a challenging and great laboratory our families are for learning to give and receive love. There is a tendency in family life to take loving for granted. We obviously love our children, our mates, and, less obviously, ourselves. In this great lab of love, it is essential that we constantly, mindfully monitor our loving kindness and compassion toward ourselves and our loved ones, because our families are representative of learning to love and accept all. Our lives in our families are an endless source of opportunity for practicing opening the “Heart.” The cry from the Heart is “We simply must love, no matter what.” This miracle of giving and receiving is central to awakening. There is no conscious life without it.
Family life, with its millions of sacrifices, moments of tenderness, pain, boredom, heartbreak, laughter and joy, is an unparalleled arena for our training in giving and receiving love. We get to find out for ourselves how little we know of the unconditional nature of love. We get to see that, where we can’t receive love, such personal limitations restrict our ability to love those we hold most dear.
In our families we also get to learn how no-big-deal love can be. A touch, a glance, a tickle, a note, a call, a prayer, a cup of tea, a kiss. We also get to feel the unfathomable mystery and grace of what love can be when we deeply surrender into its naturalness. We watch how it instinctually knows where to go and be itself. We watch love by seeing its effects on all it contacts and, in its reflection, we are transformed, reborn and awakened.
There’s a crisp coldness to the air that hints of an early fall in the North Cascades. Mother Nature has such a graceful way of letting go, season to season.
Our family life offers an unrelenting series of opportunities in the practice of letting go and surrendering. For example, wanting our children to be good, helpful, industrious, kind, understanding, patient, cooperative, studious, communicative, athletic, sensitive, intelligent and intuitive, just to name a few. These notions are immediately challenged by the fact that life is not something that we control. As we find out who our children are, we either let go of being the ‘Good Parents’ in control, and shift to being good and true stewards with spirit’s guidance, or we suffer. In learning to let go, we experience the birth and death of our agendas, our fears, and our notions about being a ‘good parent.’ We realize that we are not in control of this daughter, son, mate, family–rather we are participants. In facing these difficult realities and freeing truths, we can now more genuinely approach being authentic, present and alive with our families and ourselves.
Another example of little ways we can practice letting go are the hellos, the good-byes, the good mornings and goodnights–the punctuation statements of daily living are pregnant moments for insight. What comes to mind is how habitual and careless we are with these. We live in such assumptions, like “I’ll see you later.” But this is simply not true. We don’t know. To bring our attention, presence and authentic affect to these little moments makes a way to focus and quiet the mind and practice open-heartedness. Each entrance and parting is an opportunity to come to the presence –what we call ‘The moment,’ the here and now, a place of life just as it is, where freedom and love are ever bubbling up.
I still haven’t seen a bear. But yesterday we hiked up Bueller’s Bluff and a mountain goat came to say hello. He knew we had peanut butter sandwiches and carrots. The view from the top was breathtaking of the Stehekin Valley, the North Cascades and Lake Chelan.
Our families are obvious learning labs in the spiritual practices of Karma yoga and selfless service. As Mother Theresa said “Give until it hurts and then give some more.” There is a discipline to true service that is rooted in heartfelt generosity. To arrive at the understanding that to give is the same as receiving is a task of true merit and humility. Our families are ripe for these lessons and who should benefit from this awakening more than those who have helped us learn.
Well, it is time to leave. Everyone saw a bear but me! We had a final family meeting. There were tears and confessions grounded in honesty and love. Thank God for this family, thank the Mother for life, and thank you, thank you–SCHOOL IS STARTING!!!!
Raymond Diaz N.D. is the co-founder of Opening To Life, a center for sacred growth. Communicate with him at the Center, 532 SE Ankeny, Portland, Oregon 97214, or call 503-231-0424.