Most people (and probably most of your family members) are largely unaware of their ego and its totalitarian control over every aspect of their life. As long as they are completely unaware of this they take ‘the thinker’ to be who they are.
This is the ‘egoic mind’. We call it egoic because there’s a sense of self, of I (ego), in every thought — every memory, every interpretation, opinion, viewpoint, reaction, emotion. This is unconsciousness, spiritually speaking.
Their thinking, the content of their mind, is of course conditioned by the past: their upbringing, culture, family background, and so on. The central core of all their mind activity consists of certain repetitive and persistent thoughts, emotions, and reactive patterns that they identify with most strongly. This entity is the ego itself.
The ego loves to complain and condemn. These are often two favorite family pastimes when they get together for an extended family visit. One of your jobs is to be aware of when this happens and choose either not to participate in it, to bring the subject to a more positive and meaningful conversation, or to point out the pointlessness of complaining and judging. What you choose will depend on you and what you feel comfortable with.
Your sense of who you are within your family system determines what you perceive as your needs and what matters to you in life — and whatever matters to you will have the power to upset and disturb you. So you may want to ask yourself the question: “What are the things that upset and disturb me?”
If small things have the power to disturb you, then who you think you are is exactly that: small. That will be your unconscious belief. What are the small things? Ultimately all things are small things because all things are transient.
If you’ve been doing inner work for some time, a visit with your family is an excellent opportunity to discover how well you’ve done. You’ll easily identify the areas where you’ve made significant progress. You’ll also see where your weaknesses still lie. Ram Dass, the spiritual teacher, once said: “If you think you’re so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.” That’s good advice.
The relationship with your parents is not only the primordial relationship that sets the tone for all subsequent relationships, it’s also a good test for your degree of Presence. The more shared past there is in a relationship, the more present you need to be; otherwise, you’ll be forced to relive the past again and again.
Many who are on a path of awakening choose to avoid contact with their parents or family members. This can be helpful, if the intentions are truly good and not a pattern of avoidance.
As you spend time with your family, don’t expect that you’ll be the perfect embodiment of all you’ve learned and integrated. You’ll be put to the test day after day, moment by moment. This is normal.
You’ll gain the most from this experience if you don’t take it too seriously, if you don’t create impossible standards for your conduct of behavior, if you try so hard to be Present and Still that you behave like a robot, if you withdraw into a cocoon of self-protection, or if you blame your family members for every little imperfect act from the past that harmed you in some way.
Instead, and above all, choose to relax, reduce your expectations for what may or may not happen, expect little skirmishes, disagreements, moments of humility or failure, and the distance you may feel with your family as a whole, knowing that you’re trying to move beyond the ego patterns that have been impediments to your soul and that they care less about ego and Presence and even Truth.
Love and accept them where they’re at. Have compassion for their pain. Be observant while being engaged as guilelessly as possible. Watch yourself and your reactions, out of curiosity, not judgment or blame, but for the benefit of learning how and where you’re really at in your spiritual evolution.
~ Eckhart Tolle
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