Our families can be both our greatest source of love and joy and our greatest source of frustration and worry. It seems that there is no time when this is more apparent than during the holiday season. Both our joys and our concerns with family members can be magnified as we may find ourselves interacting with people we seldom see. Continuing with the theme of practicing wonder that is the focus of our current Advent booklet, I would like to reflect on what it would mean for us to practice wonder when it comes to relating to our families. Here is an excerpt I wrote for our Living Compass Advent booklet about what this might look like.
“Students of Buddhist meditation talk about the spiritual discipline of developing a ‘beginner’s mind’ when approaching one’s everyday life. A beginner’s mind is characterized by openness, being free from preconceived ideas, and being eager to learn something new from whatever and whomever one encounters. It is said that with a beginner’s mind there are endless possibilities and that by contrast, with an expert’s mind there are very few.
What would it mean to move through the rest of this holiday season with a beginner’s mind? One possible way to think about this is to realize that while we have experienced many previous holiday seasons with our families, we have never experienced this holiday season. As much as we may have traditions that we honor, each year is, by definition, unique. A beginner’s mind remains open to experiencing the particularity of this holiday season in order to discover the unique joys that it might hold.
Cultivating a beginner’s mind is perhaps more difficult when it comes to the relationships we have with people we know well. It is easy to get stuck in thinking that we already know, for example, exactly how annoying Uncle Fred or Cousin Sally is going to be again this year at the holiday gathering. Approaching our relationships with people we know well with a beginner’s mind means that we must commit to practicing wonder and openness, and approach each person as if we are meeting them for the first time.”
When we meet someone for the first time we have no choice but to practice a beginner’s mind. It is easy and natural to practice wonder and curiosity as we get to know someone new. What if we were to take this same mindset into our interactions with everyone we spend time with over the next few weeks?
The mindset we take into our interactions with others does much to determine what we will see and experience. If I am sure I will be annoyed by someone, I will be sure to see and amplify in my mind those things that bother me. If instead, I practice a sense of wonder and am open to seeing the best in someone, I will likely experience the person in a whole new way.
Betty Smith, in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, may have said it best, “Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”