How Do You Know if You are Enlightened?

How to Emotionally Thrive This Holiday Season and Beyond

There is an old adage, “If you want to know if you’re enlightened, attend your family’s next reunion.” I went home for Thanksgiving last month. The first time I went home for the Holidays in 12 or so years.

I have come to learn that my attraction or distancing from certain family gatherings has little to do with my family. This is all about me. These settings seem to bring out different sides of my parents that I don’t see when I’m one-on-one. It’s my habitual emotional response to their behavior that, in spite of years of personal growth work, still surprises me.

The Source of Our Suffering

A Zen Master from Santa Fe named Joan Halifax says, ”Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” Nothing illuminates this dynamic more than family members who push our buttons. Pain is part of life. My family has had its share of pain yet the suffering I experience when I replay the past is self-imposed.

It’s not what people do, say, or don’t do or don’t say that causes our hurt. It’s the way we interpret our experiences that triggers us. We go through life as though our heads are encased in a bubble that occludes our vision by continually and unconsciously referring us to our past. When a person with whom I have no connection makes a so-called judgmental remark, I stay neutral. Yet if one of my parents makes such a remark, my bubble has me hear different words and I go through the roof. I guess I’m not enlightened yet.

My bubble makes me hear people’s judgments instead of their hearts. My bubble jolts me out of the present. Before I know it, I have regressed to age 10, girded for the next comment and dropped into judgment mode myself. Why is it that when certain people say certain things we no longer see their vulnerability?

Staying in the present and seeing another without judgment takes work. Seeing other’s actions and hearing their words as reflections of them striving to meet their core needs or hungers and express their emotions takes work. When I am compassionate no matter what, I am enlightened. In this state, I think clearly. I am imperturbable and can tap into unreasonable amounts of joy.

The Way Out

Liberation from our suffering starts with us taking responsibility for it. Only then can we use the situations and people who trigger us as pointers to what needs healing.

Then we can ask questions like: What are our expectations of the family holiday gatherings? What are our expectations of our parents? What deeper need went unmet in our youth and causes us to be traumatized every year around this time? Was it our need for connection, affirmation, of being seen, heard, or understood? How might the answers to these questions neutralize your bubble?

When we connect with our inner lives, we create unlimited possibility for healing for ourselves and our families. We see our families as the source of life. What naturally emerges is compassion and gratitude. I will spend my Christmas reflecting on the abundance of gifts I have received in my life ~ especially from my family.

Recognizing the challenging economic times many of you are living and working in, my wish for you this Holiday Season is that you can slow down enough to fully experience God’s Grace and unfathomable compassion and love. When you do, you will be the Star in the East that leads those around you to the divine, compassionate heart that radiates from within each of us.

Coming in January:

I am launching a blog. I will still email monthly Musings and I will also post them on my blog and will add new podcasts and video blogs there as well. My vision is to interact with business leaders interested in personal and professional growth. Contact Brian.