Greetings to each and every one! May your New Year be filled with light and peace! As Jupiter and Pluto conjoin, setting off a new twelve year cycle in social trends, and as, concurrently with this astrological event, the social structure of Alandi Ashram re-aligns itself, my thoughts turn to family and community. How do we define family? Does our family operate by expansion and inclusion or by rejection and constriction? What are the qualities of family?
With the development of the nuclear family in the second half of the twentieth century, we began to see a dwindling social network with increasing alienation and isolation .More recently, the nuclear family itself--perhaps because it is unsustainably small--has fragmented into the single parent family, with still more isolation. In India, I experienced a very expansive and inclusive attitude towards family--one in which your brother's wife's aunt's sister-in-law is a family member and someone who will help you and seek your help. And among the Chagga people of East Africa I saw an even wider concept of family. Each child had over a hundred women she called mother, and if there was tension at home, she simply walked over to the next hut.
To counteract the prevalent climate of alienation requires care and intentionality. As partnerships shift and change in our postmodern reality, an Indian-like attitude of expansive affiliation can help us maintain ties with those who have been important in our own and our children's lives. Through such open -hearted and inclusive acts as maintaining a positive connexion with an ex-partner's relatives and welcoming a former spouse's new dear ones into our lives, we can forge an expansive family based upon welcome and inclusion rather than resentment and distance. We can also develop our family of the heart, creating a supportive network among those who share our values and devotion.
Three groups of people are especially vulnerable to the effects of fragmented families--children, elders and spiritual leaders. Children need to grow up in a network of long term relationships. They need grandparents, aunts and cousins whose consistent presence they can count on. Our efforts both to sustain inclusive and expansive family and to develop our intentional family of the heart support our children's need to belong, to matter and to be embraced. Ironically, my work on this letter was interrupted by an unexpected visit from two adorable honorary grandchildren. I spent three hours playing with the girls while the mother of one of them helped Sadananda with a project. We played a game in which they named all their family members. Hot on the heels of biological family came, "You and Matrupriya and Gabby." Postmodern extended family in a nutshell!
Elders also are vulnerable to isolation. Appointing elders in your community and neighbourhood as honorary grandparents can meet the elder's need to matter as well as satisfying your children's need for long term connection with elders. And as I move toward taking renunciate vows, I see clearly how vital extended families are to spiritual leaders. In the Orient, the monastic community is held in the arms of the extended family. Family provides the essential horizontal dimension to support the vertical direction of spiritual leaders. After seventeen years of effort to build community here at Alandi ashram, I still haven't experienced the flowering of spiritual community as I had envisioned it, yet in its place I am feeling the power of extended family, a community of the heart whose long term bonds and connectivity creates the foundation for the flowering of intense spiritual community.
Family values are often presented as adherence to conventional morality. The true family values are caring, sharing, connecting and including. In this New Year, let us look at all the ways in which we can increase our experience of inclusion and sharing to create wider circles of open-hearted family with real values.
On a personal note, I will be taking first vows as a celibate renunciate at sunrise on January 14th. You can see the text of the vows elsewhere on this blog . After first vows I will be an aspiring sannyasini (technically, a brahmacharini). Because the vows are so radical, it is traditional to wait a few years before taking solemn vows that cannot be revoked. Please hold me in your prayers on this special day when I become more fully yours than ever.
With my love and blessings always
Ma's New Year's Message
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