Our family is establishing two new traditions in the new year that will yield fun memories, greater personal peace, and deeper connection to one another. As an educator and curriculum designer, I am excited to share these two routines with you. Join us on this journey!
I’ve had a personal meditation practice for about six years now, but I’ve only recently experienced the power of meditation within a community. The experience of meditating with others has opened my eyes to the power of shared awareness, and this has prompted me to introduce a regular meditation practice with my family of four. We call it the ‘Family Satsang.’
My first goal was to share some time together in meditation in order for us each to experience the awareness behind the thoughts, the soul, or the quiet observer part of us behind the temporal changes and thought patterns that come and go. It is important to spend time in that quiet; life is more painful when we do not regularly access our inner equanimity. Life’s pains have more effect when we become unconsciously driven by our thinking mind, rather than experiencing life from our intuitive heart-center, our core.
Every parent wants to ease their children’s pain. But how we act on this desire is important. We must not alleviate their suffering by attempting to remove all of life’s obstacles, by completely sanitizing our children’s lives, or by keeping them ignorant of what is happening around us. Instead, a wiser strategy to fulfill this desire is to provide our family members with the tools to access their inner resources. This way, no matter what obstacles or challenges may arise, they will know how to feel at ease and at peace while facing these.
At the same time, as I created this routine, I also had the intention to establish an avenue for us to share from the truth inside us and seek one another’s wisdom and support. While the intimate, one-on-one conversations we have are wonderful, if the whole family can share in a safe, nonjudgmental space, then the whole “team” can be more loving and helpful to one another. We can gain more of a sense of family unity.
Life is tough for each one of us; no one escapes challenge. But life’s burdens are lightened when we have open lines of communication with loved ones, and time spent in stillness, remembering we are bigger than the situations we face. With this awareness and our family standing beside us, the saltiness of life can taste savory instead of stinging!
Family Satsang Session 1
On a whiteboard beside me, I noted the agenda for our session. I had constructed this earlier in the day, thinking ahead about how I could help my kids stay engaged and find it meaningful, when they are relatively new to meditation and to sharing in this way. My kids are age 12 and 14. They know what meditation is, but we haven’t made it a regular practice yet. We needed to mix it up a bit in order to sustain their interest during our 20 minute session:
Step 1: Cultivating Stillness guided meditation in order to get still and build our ability to direct the mind
Step 2: Externalize in order to focus releasing distractions in order to be present with one another
Step 3: Mine the truth within using song as a guide in meditation, staying in receptive state, noticing arising truth
Step 4: See the questions listing your life’s questions so your family can best support you as you live these
We started by going over the agenda, discussing the activities we’d walk through together at each step. Reviewing the agenda is a key step! It helps us all maintain focus to have foreknowledge of where-this-is-going before we start. It also helps to prevent any “Is this over yet?” kinds of questions, which would undermine the goals of the exercise.
After reviewing the plan, we jumped right in!
Step 1: Cultivating Stillness (5-6 minutes for our family of 4)
In order to still the mind and practice being its director (instead of following its lead), we listened to this easy, 3 minute guided meditation.
Coming out of the listening exercise, we discussed how it went for the next 2-3 minutes. How successful were we, staying with the voice and doing as prompted? All responses were taken with equal interest, within open discussion, and we did not judge one another’s responses as either positive or negative. Instead, we simply noted what we observed about ourselves, and how it went during those 3 minutes.
Our goal in the future is that we become able to keep our mind focused on the voice, staying with her just as she is speaking each word, and that we keep our attention right where she directs. But at the start, we don’t yet have that skill of holding our attention without being carried away by our own thoughts. Since we are just beginners doing guided meditations, a good goal for us right now is to simply commit to bringing our attention back to her guidance each time we notice our mind took us away from the guide.
Redirecting the mind to where we want it to be (rather than were it leads itself), no matter how many times we have to do it, is great for building the strength of our focus!
Step 2: Externalize in order to focus (2-3 minutes for our family of 4)
Next, we each tossed out the thing that was on our minds, distracting us from being together in the present moment. We said aloud something we needed to release in order to be present in our exercise.
My daughter shared that when we were meditating, the dogs’ playing had distracted her because they were crazy cute, and also that she was a little restless. When I shared, it was helpful to externalize that I was leading the family through this experience for the first time, so I noticed some nervousness within me, as well as some hope that everyone would enjoy and benefit from it. Jack and George each also shared the top-of-mind thoughts that were pulling their attention away from being fully present together.
Again, each person contributed and experienced a neutral response from others– neither positive nor negative value-judgments were made about what people verbalized. Since each person was “externalizing in order to focus,” each comment (even if it was somewhat negative) was shared with a productive purpose, to clear the air and remove the distraction so the person could return their attention to our shared experience. Thus nothing needed to be taken personally. We all found this step helpful for refocusing!
Step 3: Mine the truth within (5-6 minutes for our family of 4)
Next, we used a song as another guided meditation. I did not pre-select the song for us; I instead took suggestions. The only requirements were that the song be enjoyable and uplifting, so it could assist us with our goal of keeping our attention focused. Jack suggested Feist’s “1, 2, 3, 4,” and we went with it.
Before it began, I told everyone to try to hang on every sound and stay with it, so it can help us build our attention stamina. But this time, they could also try keeping their mind in a receptive mode (relaxed and open) rather than in an active mode (trying to figure something out, or determine meaning), and they were invited to allow themselves to receive the song, to feel the song. Afterward, we were going to share if anything popped up, unconstructed, in the mind, while they had stayed with the song in a receptive mental posture.
When the song ended, the unconstructed truths that people said popped up weren’t terribly deep or interesting, and we supposed the song choice had a lot to do with that. We plan to try different songs during step 3 when we return to do Family Satsang again– especially instrumental songs. It will be fun to notice how the truth we mine from our interior, while in a receptive mode, is affected by the stimulation coming from the outside.
Even when the song didn’t assist us so much with our goal of mining inner truth, this also produced learning we appreciated. These meta-conversations, discussions about how the routine worked or could be adjusted, yielded as much rich learning as the process itself.
My goal with this step is to increase my family’s awareness of the two mental states of passive receiving versus active constructing. It seems to me our culture values the latter more; we are constantly working to improve cognitive performance at school. However, our intuitive sense offers truth to us as well, and inner truth likes to arise as unconstructed flashes of insight, which we can passively receive after our mind is stilled and calm.
In our future repetitions of this Family Satsang, I hope we can cultivate our ability to “mine the truth within” through varied songs and silence, and that my family learns to recognize the difference between constructed and unconstructed insights, learning to trust in their intuitive knowledge alongside the knowledge processed and synthesized by their thinking minds.
Step 4: See the questions (5-7 minutes for our family of 4)
Finally, I shared a favorite Rilke quote:
I shared that we were each living interesting lives with different questions on our minds and hearts. I invited us each to list our current, compelling questions, and to share these with one another. This is when things got deep!
Both kids shared questions on their hearts that were valid, interesting, and so exciting to unearth! The questions they are living indicated a great deal about how they are growing and perceiving the world and themselves. They offered a peek at what’s happening below the surface of their typical, daily activities.
With the rush of life in 2020 being such as it is for families, opening up this opportunity to share the questions we are living was a wonderful way to have a chance to see what everyone is working on within themselves.
I shared that a question I am living is how to be a good mother. Since this is a deep curiosity for me, I am very interested in any potential answers, or information that advances my understanding on the matter. Now that the family knows I am very interested to understand this, I invited the family to share anything they can that will help me understand this in the coming weeks.
By sharing our questions in this safe space of togetherness, we indicated our openness to knowledge-sharing. If another family member does have a few clues or some wisdom to offer the one living the question, it is welcomed. But decidedly, and as the Rilke quote suggests, each person gets to answer their own questions and live along, as long as it takes– even if it is a “distant day”– to its answer.
At the close of this time together, we all felt calm, connected, and supported. The time was well-spent, and we are looking forward to next time!
All Teach, All Learn
Our second new tradition is time together we call, “All Teach, All Learn.” During these 15- 30 minute sessions, rotating family members will teach the rest of us about any topic of their choosing.
My goal with this is to establish regular times for sharing, and provide a structure that makes each family member experience the role of expert/teacher, as well as the humble learner/student. I gave our new routine the name, ‘All Teach, All Learn’ to make this intention explicit. (In fact, we are actually– all the time– both teaching others and learning from others. I like that this routine helps to cultivate that awareness as well!)
We had our first All Teach, All Learn session last week, and it was fantastic!
Jack, the youngest member of our family, taught us all how to write in “Jacklandish,” a language he created. He gave us an intro lesson into the letters/characters and its punctuation marks. He demonstrated how to write in this language, and then we each got to practice on a whiteboard and reattempt after his feedback. It was super fun!
As my son’s student, I appreciated the chance to see Jack’s mind-in-action: how he made the language, how he chose to teach it, and how he enacted the ‘teacher’ role and what personal qualities that reveals.
Harper, the oldest child, set up a calendar for the year, and we keep this posted on the refrigerator. This will help us stay committed to the new routine. It will also remind teachers to prep ahead of time.
We are keeping it low-pressure and entirely open. I’m excited to see what each family member will teach the rest of us this year. If the first session is any indication, it will produce lots of fun conversations and opportunities to learn from one another!
These new routines don’t take very much time, but they’ve already made my home a very happy one this week. Family Satsang and All Teach, All Learn are fun ways to create safe space at home with your family, all while developing resilience and providing avenues of expression and compassion between parents and children.
Please join us in trying one or both! Share your questions or your discoveries by leaving a comment below!