Parents grow old. Naturally. And yet it can be a difficult transition for both parties. Especially because sometimes we seem to be stuck in a self-image as their children. I read a beautiful article on 8 things your aging parents want you to know. In a few days, Aalif posted an article on the spiritual gifts of parenting. I couldn’t help but wonder… there are so many articles written on spiritual or conscious parenting, but there seem to be none (?) written on being a “conscious child”. Here is a small attempt at seeing those things that have been cause for friction and expansion between my parents and me. They are still the greatest reason for my spiritual growth for it is an adventure to discover love for them through consciousness.
Going beyond the excitement of a spiritual pursuit:
I “stumbled” into meditation, etc. when I was in my early twenties. For my parents it was nothing but one of my hobbies. In those days, the excitement of having found something that answered my deepest questions was unbound. Naturally, like a person in love, I wanted to share this love with everyone, especially my parents. Hence it disappointed and frustrated me when they did not share that excitement. It took years for me to see the bigger picture – they have decades of conditioning behind them which might be standing against the concepts of spirituality that are very commonplace for us now. Though it is very common in India to have grown up with terms like karma, past lives, etc., these are “conditions” taken for granted, rather than conditions that can be consciously influenced. This understanding still feels as strange to them as having cornflakes for breakfast.
What helps? Asking yourself if getting them onto a spiritual technique or path that seems to give you peace or a high is a subtle way of seeking approval for something you are uniquely pursuing. Especially for those of us who don’t have people in our family on any kind of a spiritual path. Secondly, noticing if getting them onto a path is a subtle way of trying to change them. This showed up for me in the form of thoughts like “if only they would be as much at peace as I am”, “I wish she would see that it’s her own thinking that is a problem”, judging them as negative or ‘unspiritual’ or insensitive to the changes in you, comparing them to the ‘models’ you learnt at a spiritual workshop or lecturing/advising them about their patterns they seem to carry. The only thing that brought me peace was to truly see them as they are and trust that if a spiritual path is supposed to find them, it will. The homework really takes you home when you begin to share your insights (if it feels right) with them for your sake alone. If that has truly brought you joy, people around including family members notice it and at the same time approvals don’t carry any value whatsoever. Lastly, in India especially, spirituality is still associated very strongly with renouncing the external world. Sitting at home and meditating for hours might attract worry or a reprimand for being an escapist.
Being intimidated by technology:
In her spells of anger, my mum expresses scathing disdain for technology. Seeing us sit on our laptop for hours, laughing and joking on a chat window or glued to our cellphones makes her feel ignored and confused at times (yes she isn’t tech savvy at all!). My dad on the other hand struggles to get a grip on the ever-changing Gmail which has too “fluid” a UI for him to really distinguish the buttons. He also frowns a lot when Firefox asks him a question or asks him to upgrade every now and then.
What helps? One day I was listening to a talk show in Hindi on the age-old Akashvani – a government-run radio channel that is broadcast in India since time immemorial. An educated parent expressed her worry about her children dismissing her curiosity on what they did on a computer all day, before requesting a song. I couldn’t help but empathise what she and perhaps my parents must’ve been going through. We broke the technology ice when I uploaded our family pictures and showed it to them. Seeing the video stream over Skype when I was working abroad awed them. Sending cute love messages to our dad hooked him into writing really short and doubly-cute SMSs (even when we were too cross to speak sometimes), while earlier he would feel clumsy doing so. Showing my brother’s updates on Facebook and his WhatsApp pictures as he was backpacking across unheard of regions in India warmed them up to both these portals and they implored us to check them every now and then. Sharing Youtube videos of how to chop onions by chefs around the world brought out whoops of delight from my mum. Setting up a website for my dad brought tears to his eyes. All of this has hacked down my earlier perception that they become attention deficit because of our addiction to technology. On the contrary, they really love to be included. The more they age, the more childlike they become.
When they stop having control:
Unconscious parenting since the 80s and perhaps earlier means having complete authority and control over children’s choices. Unless you are lucky and your parents themselves have been the ones to break this control myth in their own generation. And the more I interact with my peers today, the more I see that we are breaking all their paradigms. Living on your own, choosing to not get into marriage or moving in with your partner when you are at an age when everyone around your parents is asking them about your marriage, losing the will to do regular corporate jobs that paid you a great salary and pursuing an independent vocation that was supposed to be “just a hobby” in their view can all be viewed as threats to their sense of safety. Sometimes they withdraw and despair about it only in our absence and sometimes they start reacting strongly at the unlikeliest incident.
What helps? The mirroring theory is the most artistically at work here. I’ve often observed that if there is even a single thought wandering in my subconscious against my decision to break a paradigm, it will get projected in their thinking. Like it or not, parents exist in the same thought field as you and are more sensitive to picking up thoughts from this field, especially when one is defensive or in conflict about a decision. Clean up your thinking and they certainly respond. I’ve shared some of the tools for this below. Secondly, the goal of acting on something we deeply care about and the goal of rebelling against authority can sometimes get mixed up and the consequences can be very messy. To ensure that what you feel like doing is only for your sake, and not for the sake of proving something to your parents takes absolute courage – because it demands your total honesty to yourself. A friend of mine had wisely pointed out that this is where guilt can be a precise pointer –when there is guilt, the act almost always is being carried out as a rebellion against something rather than rising from a heartfelt intent. Thirdly, acknowledging the conditioning that worrying = good parenting in the realm of unconscious parenting. The only way I’ve found that has worked around this is to casually bring up the discussion and being a willing and open listener, providing a safe space for them to voice those fears out for themselves.
Fairytale marriage meets old age
Marriage is often a status quo. While our parents may have got along very well (irrespective of whether the marriage was arranged or out of love) in our childhoods, as they begin to get old, they begin to reminisce a lot. Whether it is because of menopause, or a constant sense of a past weighing them down all the time, or simply a physical condition translating into irritability, parents can get into fights where they might bring up old issues and buried emotions that had no room earlier. It can destroy our perception of them as being “ideal” parents having an ideal marriage even if we are exposed to our friends’ families falling apart. It can disillusion us and leave us confused. I know I went through hell in my mind struggling to choose between my parents haunted by the thought that they might decide to separate. On the contrary when disagreements carried on for days, I would sometimes pray silently that they would divorce and restore some peace and quiet.
What helps? When I went to my friend who I would turn to for counselling after one such disagreement broke out between my parents, she very wisely told me to mind my own business. It came as a shock initially but then as she explained, I saw the wisdom of it. Parents have often rushed through life – through their careers, babies, investments, taking care of our schooling, then college and marriage and now the train of doings seems to have halted abruptly. Often things may have gone unexpressed between them at various points in time due to various reasons. Now the emotions and memories seem to be catching up. When I learnt to relate this way, their disruptions and issues didn’t seem personal to me (even if I happened to be the subject of those conversations). I stopped interfering and just watched. At best, I would lend them support by just rubbing their back in turn after they are done, or making them an extra- delicious pot of tea.” These are two people working out their soul’s journeys with each other. Why interfere?” I remember my friend saying. When they ask me to take sides, I check within if I can give them an authentic, balanced viewpoint. If not, I just tell them frankly that I don’t know what to say because I’m feeling too emotional about the whole thing and walk away. To put in your confusion alongwith a train of emotions for “working it out” is to add to the mess. (The film People Like Us shows one such brilliant conversation).
A lot of moodiness
At times even the most trivial situations can really aggravate parents. Like the house-help not turning up on time even if that is usual for her, forgetting to put the dishes for a wash after a meal, cracking a joke on someone who is a favourite relative of theirs, etc. If caught unaware, they might be like volcanoes that can erupt anytime and we might mistakenly take their irritability or lack of tolerance personally.
What helps? Reading up about menopause and the different emotions your mom could be going through could really help. Apparently men, too, go through an emotional cycle of sorts at a certain age. Sometimes it could be a dis-ease that may be creeping up on them. Hence, atleast being aware that their medical check-ups are conducted regularly can really help. Sometimes there might be unspoken anxiety running in their system. Every 10 years our body-mind cycles out buried emotions – for example if an incident at age 10 still has unreleased emotions, situations will occur at age 20 for you to release those specific emotions. That which has been unreleased at age 20, will get triggered by similar or dissimilar situations at age 30. Hence, emotions often pile up resulting into dis-ease. Asking them if some memory is bothering them might give a clue. Often regrets manifest into aches and pains in various parts of the body. The dull, persistent throb of a knee can be the cause of a quick temper. A weakened sense of hearing or robbing eyesight can be the cause of misunderstandings leading to inner frustration. Sometimes they are not tuned to their body and hence expect the same levels of ‘perfection’ from their body, like the ability to move swiftly, being able to handle a lot of excitement, etc. Other tools that can help are shared below.
Uselessness, emptiness or unwantedness
If either or both the parents have been working into retirement and most often, exhaustion, then a sudden change of rhythm can be very disconcerting for them. They might themselves be unaware of this. Not having a 9-to-5 job to serve, or a business to actively manage can suddenly seem like too much time on one’s hands. They often don’t know what to do with themselves. This can make them feel empty unconsciously, which they may not be aware of how to handle. Also, when one leaves a workplace, one leaves a community as well that they were with for atleast 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. The mind can get into a spin at that time and they might even thirst for feeling useful or wanted. Especially if kids have grown up and are all into their own thing, it can be really hard on them.
What helps? Taking out old photographs can help them come to a place of closure. Spending extra time with your parent right after he/she has retired and learning to bond in a new way can go a long, long way. It can even help them really “see” you for the first time as their confidante rather than as someone who just depends on them. Finding out about their lost hobbies and dreams they had as children and getting them the means to spark those interests again can be very healing for them, and sometimes life-changing. Sometimes they are afraid to take the first step after being out of touch for so long. Being with them in their first steps can take the bonding with them to a whole new level. For example I often take my parents out to new restaurants to try new cuisines that they are curious about. I often take my mum to handicraft exhibitions because she excelled at crafts and needlework in her childhood, even though her eyesight gives her too much trouble to get back into serious needlework at this age. Going out to watch action movies with my dad is also frequent, given his love for 3D! Taking my mum to cooking classes when she expressed her desire to experiment with her cooking was a gift to both of us!
Tools to transform you into a conscious person from a child-by-default role: (no particular order)
- The Work by Byron Katie – this work is the most influential in getting out of unconscious projections that we repeatedly use to staying attached to our parents. Using the 4 questions alongwith the turnarounds, watching Byron Katie in the Youtube videos, doing the one-belief-at-a-time worksheet on every “should” or “should not” that we impose on our parents, reading her books, especially Question Your Thinking, Change The World are all immeasurable contributors to healing this relationship. PS: This Work can run into months or even years before you are finally able to let go of all projections. You know you are done when, as GD mentions, you start seeing your parents as simply divine beings without any judgement.
- Ho’oponopono technique – this technique is based on the understanding that anything that is happening in the world around us is a co-creation. There are no isolated events even though they appear to be so. Something in us has contributed to it and something in us can heal it. For this, the 4 statements usually used are: “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you”. How I apply is when either of my parents is in some sort of physical or emotional pain, I hold them in my inner vision and keep repeating these 4 statements. Or I keep saying to myself, “I heal that part of me that has created this reality”.
- Bach Flower Remedies – Very recently I learned to use these simple, intuitive flower essences that brought immediate relief to my parents. You can read the simplest way to use them here. Most importantly, one can start using them intuitively, immediately with no training required, and no side-effects. Moreover, they are easily available at any homeopathy pharmacy. I also keep a bottle of Rescue Remedy, an emergency combination remedy, handy in case they run into emotional or physical issues in the middle of the night.
- Physical touch – I’ve blogged about how vital affection is here. So we often completely forget how valuable physical touch can be for parents. Not only giving them spontaneous hugs for fun, but also holding them, learning to give light simple massages, rubbing their limbs, etc. can give them a lot of comfort. One can also learn modalities like Access Bars and EFT (doing EFT on them instead of them doing it for themselves) and see how they respond to it. Keeping aromatherapy oils and asking them to whiff every once in a while also can go a long way in helping them release any emotions easily and effortlessly.
- The Breakthrough Experience – This is a stellar book by John Demartini. In the chapter on relationships, he asks us to make a list of those things you miss in your relationships and then asks you to look deeper into how life is providing those very things to you either through another relationship, or in some other ‘disguised’ form. It is a very revealing exercise because often we are unconsciously seeking some qualities or experiences from our parents. Somehow we miss seeing that this is already being provided to us in another ‘packaging’. This exercise cuts through those projections. You can even do this for your partner/spouse.
- Inner Child work – Inner Child is a concept laid out by Carl Jung and is invaluable for healing wounds we carry as children. A lot of people have done wonderful work in this area such as Lucia Capacchione and John Bradshaw. Many people have experienced deep, life-changing transformation through it like Shakti Gawain and recently, Alanis Morisette. A part of this healing process is to re-parent yourself. When you truly begin to take the authority back from your mother’s or father’s voice in your head, you experience freedom from guilt, unspoken rules and the urge to confirm. You can read more about Inner Child work here.
- Celestine Prophecy – in this popular book by James Redfield, there is a chapter that talks about the control dramas we play in our families. In the Experiential Guide of this book, there are questionnaires that help you to truly become aware what control dramas we play out with our parents that we have learnt over the years to defend our sensitivities.
On a last note, in the path of consciousness, parents are our biggest mirrors. At one point life asks us to stop viewing them as just caretakers and changes our roles into caregivers. For some this happens very early. For some, the change happens and takes us by surprise. Either way, the final step is to grow out of the roles and start viewing them as two unique individuals you are born to, so as to work out our lessons together with them. It is indeed a defining moment when you learn to love and be there for them as if you’ve completely chosen it, rather than as a chore or running in a default mode. While becoming a parent undoubtedly has its rewarding moments (which I have only heard about second hand), transforming into a conscious person in their midst unabashedly has beautiful rewards. And this I can tell by first-hand experience. The grass is definitely green on this side.
P.S: The title of this article is inspired by a song of the same name by Joni Mitchell, a favorite.