Spiritual teacher Ram Dass once said something to the effect of "So you think you're enlightened? Go visit your family for a week."
I have been noticing in recent years how I can flip into a fearful and relatively unconscious person when interacting with family — especially around money and what's 'fair.' It's like I get lost in this weird fog that seems to surround my family of origin. Even when I KNOW I'm acting in ways that are childish, it's like I'm under a spell and can't seem to quite control my own behavior.
It sets me thinking . . . what might the mechanisms of this family fog be, and can I blow it out of my psyche?
Two clues have come across my path in recent months.
Clue #1: In Carolyn Myss's 1996 book, Anatomy of the Spirit, she talks about the energies of the first chakra, which she equates with Tribal Power, or the belief patterns we first encounter in our lives . . . those of our family of origin. Having a strong sense of honor and loyalty to one's original tribe is crucial to feeling truly grounded, feeling like you belong in the world. And the beliefs of our original tribe can also keep us small if we don't grow beyond them. Because these first chakra belief and experience patterns are laid down earliest in our psyches, they are the most automatic, the most fundamental, the most strong, and the most unconscious. It takes a wicked strong inner commitment to do what it takes to unearth these belief patterns in ourselves. It's like asking a fish to be aware of the water it swims in. Tribal Power is an essential power that supports you, and/or a power that controls you at the most basic level.
Clue #2: I had a conversation with a psychotherapist friend who told me the biggest source of conflict in families is unconscious and rigid role-playing. Families are like molecules, with each individual having a certain kind of bond, or a unique relationship, with every other family member that plays out in associated behavior. These bonds form an overall configuration that is familiar and so, stable (whether the configuration is healthy or not). If one inividual starts acting differently, or leaves the group in some way, through an act of will, or even death, it threatens the stability of the family's comfortable interpersonal patterning, or molecular structure. Instability is very problematic (for a molecule, and for a family) and constituent parts will instinctively do what needs to be done to re-establish stability. After this conversation, I noticed that in my family, as the oldest child, I am the responsible one whose wishes are uncontested, and who always tries to make peace. I can be a bit of a 'queen on a high horse." I've come to see how I play out this pattern in many subtle ways, and my siblings play along, each in their own manner.
Family fog is a form of unconsciousness that lives at the foundations of our psyches, one that plays out as a relational pattern born of our fundamental human need for safety and belonging. This fog not only make family gatherings stressful, it keep us stuck, reactive, and unconscious. So how can we start to clear it?
Here are a few thoughts:
First I must be able to see that family fog exists. I must be aware of the dynamic, and be able to watch it as an outside observer.
Then I have to figure out how to become a lung fish and crawl out of the water. I have to practice again and again noticing how I react to family members; to be aware of the emotional feeling tone of these reactions in my body, and to discipline myself to wait a second before I react. Then two seconds. Then ten. Then maybe not react at all. Then eventually, consciously choose how I react.
It's helpful to remember to tap into the part of myself that is bigger than personality, bigger than family, the transpersonal part of me that is exploring this human experience. If I can identify with that part of myself, and learn to act from it, I have a good chance of not getting lost in family fog.