Misunderstanding is one of the great challenges we have to overcome to really enjoy fulfilling relationships with family, friends and the community at large. Many a times the generational gap erects a wall between ourselves and our relationships. At others, this wall is created by culture, social class or personal histories. More often than not, however, misunderstanding comes from a knee-jerk reaction to defend ourselves from what we perceive as judgement from the other person. This defensive attitude can blind us towards people and hindrance empathy and true communication. But by putting ourselves consciously in other people’s places, we can help bring down the barricade and open ourselves to them, creating the space for loving comprehension, acceptance and respect.
The Walk the Line practise can be particularly helpful to enhance family relationships. It can also be applied to other people, but you do need to know a bit about them, their history, their culture and so forth. Choose a person, let’s say your mother. Write her name in a piece of paper. Now write the name of her mother and her mother’s mother (if you don’t know the name, just write great-grandmother). You may wish to extend the family line to your great-great mother and so forth. Also write your own name in a piece of paper. On the other side of each paper, write what you know about this people (and yourself), not as formal paragraph, nut just loose words phrases and sentences.
Find a quiet place where you will be undisturbed for at least fifteen minutes. If you want, you can light some candles and play soft music to help you relax. Have a glass of cool water handy, as well as your spiritual journal or notebook. Put each paper on the floor, a few feet apart, making a line that starts with you and end with the eldest person in the family line.
Stand next to the paper with you name and do your centring practise. When you are ready, step over your paper and close your eyes. Become aware of your body, of how you stand and feel. Think about the things that make you: anecdotes, values, experiences, challenges and triumphs. Now breathe in deeply three times, and walking backwards, stand on your mother’s paper.
What does it feel to be your mother? How does your body feel embodying your mother? What’s her story? What are her values? What experiences of hers are you aware of? How about her challenges and triumphs? Now breathe in deeply and walking backwards, step on to your grand-mother’s paper and repeat the process.
Once you have reached the last person in the line and done the process, ask yourself, “what form this person’s life flowed on to the person in front? As you ask the question, walk forwards and step on to the paper in front. Stay on the paper for a few minutes (don’t worry if there doesn’t seem to be an answer to the question). Repeat the question and moved forwards to the next paper. Stay a couple of minutes and continue until, eventually, you are standing on your own paper and repeat the question. Breathe in deeply three times and get off the paper.
Drink some of the water and then jogged down all the thoughts and ideas that come to mind on your journal. Do no edit or fix for now. Put the journal away for a few hours, even days and then come back to it. Re-read what your wrote and then ask yourself, “What have I learned from this practice?” “How have the life and experiences of these people affected my life, for better or for worse?” “Would I act differently if I had their experiences, cultural values, triumphs and challenges.” “How can I use this insight to understand and communicate better with this particular person, as well as others?”
This practise may highlight how little we know about the people we call family and friends. If this the case, don’t wallow in regret, but see it as an invitation to learn more about your loved ones. Find or create opportunities where you can get to know each other better, as well as become more knowledgeable about the family or community lore, anecdotes and so forth. Eventually, you may wish to use this technique to understand better not only relatives and friends, but perhaps people of different ethnicity, race, religion or culture. Another way to use is to revisit your personal history, revisiting your past selves at different ages or stages and see how some events and views from that time may still affecting your present self.
© Karnen Barratt 2015