You can’t just think of your family as an island in the sea of humanity anymore. We’re too interconnected and the family has to prepare the child to envision his (or her) relationship to the larger society, so the family is a little circle within the much larger circle today. 

Robert: Hello and welcome to Inner Sight. Our topic today is the family. It was only a half a century ago that the typical family was more or less represented like this: mom and dad were together, grandma and grandpa lived around the block some place or not too far away, uncles and aunts were around, and it was very typical that on a Sunday, family members who were biologically related would get together and they would share experiences and talk about old times. Today, there’s been a lot of upheaval and a lot of change. Because the family is so valuable and such an important part of society, we think it’s a worthwhile topic to discuss and also to talk about how we can cope with all the changes that have taken place in family life. I like this quote from Kahlil Gibran, from his book The Prophet. It’s about the family and children. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love, but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” There’s so much information in that. What makes a family? It really seems to be changing, doesn’t it? 

Sarah: It’s, by many people’s standards, in a real state of crisis. But as we know, a crisis is often spiritually productive, so that isn’t necessarily bad from the point of view of the spiritual values of human experience. For eons, the family was kind of a place of retreat and a kind of a united front that people grouped behind to face the world and out of that quite often came the sense that the parents had possession of the children and could determine the children’s future depending on what the parents envisioned for them. Arranged marriages were based on this concept so that family ties were extended and alliances were formed that would be productive to the family. But that gave way; now more and more we see that the family is a smaller unit within the larger community. I think that recognition is beginning to develop. You can’t just think of your family as an island in the sea of humanity anymore. We’re too interconnected and the family has to prepare the child to envision his relationship to the larger society, so the family is a little circle within the much larger circle today. 

Dale: That’s very true here in the West. But I think as you mentioned, the practice of arranging marriages is still practiced very much in the Eastern countries. Quite often there is a conflict now, with so many of the people coming to the West and they’re in conflict with the values and the societal structures that we have here in the West. So, there is some conflict when East meets West. 

Sarah: Well, it’s the old conflict of family obligations versus individual freedom to determine one’s own destiny. It’s a constant tension that the family really galvanizes. 

Robert: Yes, I see what you’re saying. I also think that what people do in California is very interesting too, as far as forming their own families, and of course this happens all over the United States now. Many people have relocated and I’ve noticed that what they’re doing is choosing friends, more or less making their own family by the values and what they have in common. So, they’re more or less creating a family for themselves. 

Sarah: Well, I think that analogy only extends so far, because that’s pertaining to adults, isn’t it? When you think of children, they have their family life within the home of the parents, unless they’ve been adopted or whatever. The extended family that you’re talking about is something that a lot of adults experience. One other example, besides that of California, where people wash up on the West Coast having left their homes elsewhere, is the people who live as expatriates in other countries. They often form a kind of a family with their fellows, who are also expatriates in what is to all of them a foreign culture. I remember being part of that kind of community many years ago when I lived in Turkey, and it was very nice. We had a great deal of closeness. We observed the holidays together, looked after each other, and nursed each other through illness and so on. But it’s not really the same as the real nuclear family. 

Robert: Why is family life such a test spiritually? 

Sarah: Oh, I suppose because it forces us to learn group relationship. It’s the child’s first experience with a group. There are probably other siblings. There are parents, maybe cousins, aunts, and uncles, so it makes the little human being aware early on that he isn’t the centre of the universe. It makes me think of a French-Canadian friend I had. She was one of thirteen children, and she described growing up in a home where she had twelve brothers and sisters. She said, “being one of thirteen children means it’s never your turn.” So, you learn sacrifice, you learn unselfishness, you learn to get along in a group. That’s a test, spiritually. 

Dale: I think there is also a test going on today, particularly here in the West, where there are so many distractions that families have to put up with. There are all the activities that children are involved in every day. There are sports, after school activities, ballet, musical programs, band, and all of these activities that children sign up for, and it becomes just a huge race every day to keep up with all of this. There isn’t time just to be a family together. I think many parents get caught up in this kind of frenzy, but now they’re kind of stepping back and realizing that this is too much, that they’re just moving children around and the whole idea of family life kind of breaks down. 

Sarah: Well, yes, its done because parents want the best for their children and they think that having them taking all these classes and being involved in activities is going to prepare them for life, and in many respects it does. It’s just that in some cases it seems to get out of hand and the child has no free time to lie on his stomach, watching bugs or whatever it is that children need to do part of the time to develop their imagination and their sense of place in the world. We’re becoming a very active, hyper frenetic society, and the family is demonstrating the stresses and strains of that. But at the same time, the family life is, as the writings of Alice Bailey call it, the crucible of spiritual development. Something is worked out in the early years of a human being that sets him for life. In fact, psychologists say that a child is formed psychologically, I think they say by the age of three. When you think about it, what happens in the home in the early years is really critically important, and it’s full of spiritual ramifications. We learn responsibility, we learn sacrifice, we learn unselfishness, we learn to forgive in the family, or hopefully, if we come from a fairly stable family, those are gifts that we learn that we take with us. 

Robert: You know, Jesus Christ had a very interesting viewpoint of family. He looked upon everybody as family, and he spoke about all men as being his brother and sister. I think that was a very advanced concept really and there’s a lot of evidence today, scientifically, that we are all connected and so perhaps he was right on target. Another thought that I like is from Alice Bailey. It’s from her book Esoteric Psychology Volume 1: “There is no better training school for spiritual development than family life, with its enforced relations, its scope for adjustments and adaptability, its sacrifices and service, and its opportunities for the full expression of every part of one’s nature.” Do you think one’s sense of family changes as one begins to develop spiritually? 

Sarah: Yes, I think it does. That comment from Alice Bailey that you made has a lot of impact on people who are endeavouring to develop spiritually, because I think there’s a common misconception that if you want to be spiritual, you have to live a celibate, monastic life, without family, without children, without husband or wife, like those who take vows and join orders where they become monks or nuns. That certainly is one beautiful path of spiritual development, but what Alice Bailey was trying to say is that you can also develop spiritually within the family. It provides that crucible, as I mentioned, that really in a sense generates the perfect conditions for the soul. The soul seems to love friction in the sense that it needs the testing and the crises that the outer worldly experience can provide so that it can develop and hone its sense of values and purpose, and the family provides just those conditions quite often. You’re living with people that may or may not understand you, they may or may not love you, but they belong to you and you to them, in the sense that you are related by blood and this enduring tie kind of forces you to make things right, doesn’t it? I read something recently about sibling relationships being the most enduring relationship that any of us have, in the sense of longevity. Your siblings are those who go with you through life from the beginning to the end, approximately, because you’re of the same age. You have to put it right with them. You have to develop a right relationship with your siblings, or you should keep trying to. So, there’s this kind of enforced sense of obligation and responsibility that I think has a lot of value. On the other hand, the writings of Alice Bailey also point out that many disciples stumble in their development because they can’t learn to release those that they love, their children especially. They remain so attached to them, and so involved in their welfare that they can’t let them be free. That’s the essence, to me, of what the opening quotation from The Prophet said: “Your children are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.” They don’t belong to you. You gave them a physical vehicle, but they don’t belong to you or you to them after they are mature enough to live on their own. Each soul is free. 

Dale: Yes, I would agree with that. I wanted to mention also, the sacredness of the family that perhaps not everyone takes into account too often, because it is a little obscure perhaps. In the traditional family unit there is the father, the mother, and the child, or maybe more than one child. If you think about it, this is a symbolic reflection of the Divine Trinity. There is the father, the mother, and the son, or the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as the Divine Trinity, at least in the Christian faith. This is exactly what you have in the family unit and why the family unit should be as respected as the Trinity is. It’s just as sacred, at least in my estimation, and it’s symbolic of the basic unit of creation really, because we have Father/Spirit and Mother/Matter, and then the Soul as the product of the two. So, from the macrocosmic down to the microcosmic, you have this same Trinity, this same relationship. And it comes down to the word relationship that’s very important. 

Robert: I mentioned before about how Christ’s concept of family was that every man was his brother, and every woman his sister. Of course, he was so advanced spiritually, but does our concept of family change as we develop spiritually? 

Sarah: Yes, there is even a recognition of that in Hinduism, in the different stages that the human being progresses through. According to Hindu belief there is a time and a season for each stage in life, that of the child, the youth, then the mature person, the householder, and then later in years, the stage that they call the Sannyasin—the  stage when family responsibilities have been met and fulfilled. It’s a time then for—usually I think this is applied to men, I don’t think to women, who stay in the home and continue to serve—but the men are allowed to release a lot of those family responsibilities and enter into a time in their lives when they develop and focus on their spiritual development. So, it’s a recognition that there are phases to life, that each has its own responsibilities. I don’t think that same awareness is present in the West quite so much, but I find it intriguing that there is a realization that these responsibilities don’t go on forever and ever and maybe that’s an area that a lot of people misunderstand. The obligations, in my opinion, which is only my opinion, might be extended longer than they need to be and become constricting. Of course, if you have little children, you’re responsible for raising them and devoting all your resources to them. But then as they grow up, they have to be free and you have to be free. I wonder sometimes what the meaning is of so many adult children returning home to live with their parents. That’s an interesting phenomenon we see today. 

Dale: Talking about spiritual potential, there is also something called the spiritual family that sometimes we encounter, in which the spiritual family may not be the same as one’s earthly family. By that I mean, you are born with certain parents, they give you the physical body and the siblings if you have any, and these are the people that you grow up with. But as you move out into life, into your profession whatever it is, then you begin to encounter other people of like thinking, that have the same type of thinking as you, and you develop relationships with people of a different spiritual makeup and you’re attracted and drawn to these people and they’re drawn to you. You realize that there is a difference, that you have this other group of spiritual people of like-minded kindred spirits that you like to associate with, but then you also have your biological, earthly family, at home. So, quite often I think there is that parting of the ways that one develops, understanding that they have a spiritual family as well. 

Sarah: I suppose you could say you have obligations to both your biological family and to those you consider your spiritual family. 

Dale: Well, yes, absolutely. You shouldn’t just give up your relationship with your biological family because they’re the ones that brought you into the world and you continue to love them as you always have. 

Sarah: I suppose ideally your biological family would be your spiritual family in the sense that your spiritual family is composed of those who help you to grow and develop as a soul, who foster and stimulate whatever is most precious and most evolutionary within you. If that’s the understanding of your spiritual family, then it would be wonderful to find that kind of stimulation within your biological family, and perhaps many people do. 

Robert: Speaking of a spiritual family too, I’m wondering about what happens to that bond that we have with people we love so much who are part of our family that die and pass on. What happens to that family? My mother who I loved so dearly, even though she’s been gone several years, I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t think of something that she said or some viewpoint that she had. When I’m looking at life, sometimes her viewpoint runs through my mind, and to this day, even though she’s gone and she’s not in this reality any longer, she lives on in my heart. I still think that bond is so strong that we have with people who we love.  

Sarah: Especially the mother, I think. She was your mother. My mother died 16 years ago and I still think of her every day and we weren’t even that close, to be honest. But she was my mother. I think it’s a very deep bond and in fact, the Ageless Wisdom speaks of the concept of reincarnation in terms of a group of souls who come back together life after life, not just individuals, but you have a group relationship which is repeated over and over again, and your family is part of that. 

Robert:  What are some of the spiritual implications of adoption? Many people who’ve been adopted have a lot of issues about adoption and their biological parents. There are so many issues related to people who were in group homes and orphanages. What are some of the spiritual implications of that? 

Sarah: Well, that comes back to your earlier statement about the family not necessarily being confined to the biological family; it might be those with whom you are most compatible or with whom your lot is cast. Think of a child who’s adopted. The father and mother are the people who raised the child, aren’t they? There was the birth mother and father, but those people who raised the person, I would think, are the true family because they provide the environment in which the child grows up. This is a concept that I know is very controversial. People have very deep feelings and I suppose if you’re not adopted, you don’t have the full impact of what it implies, but there’s a lot to be said for the people that choose the child and raise and give that child a home. Orphanages and group homes are another example. That movie which escapes me now, last year with Michael Caine based on the novel by John Irving, was an example of people who were doing their very best to provide homes for children who were orphans. Do you remember the movie? I can’t recall the name of it. 

Robert: None of us can. I think what you’re saying is the most important in relation to those people, because it is a deep issue: who is my father and who is my mother? And I think you’re right, your family very often is a matter of behavior, who’s paying the rent. They may not be biological parents, but they’re putting their feet on the ground, even when they don’t want to get up in the morning and they’re going to work in an effort to provide food and shelter. So, the family is really those people who are there for you, as you were saying before, those doing the job. Family is a quality of mind and behavior. 

Sarah: Yes, those responsible for you. 

Robert: In closing we invite you to ponder on this thought. Goodwill is the touchstone that will transform the world. Goodwill is love and action. It’s the energy that draws us together in right relationship and there’s a world prayer called the Great Invocation. Let’s listen for a moment to these powerful words. 

Sarah: Recites the adapted version of the Great Invocation

(This is an edited transcript of a recorded radio program called “Inner Sight”. This conversation was recorded between the host, Robert Anderson, and the then President and Vice-President of Lucis Trust, Sarah and Dale McKechnie.)

(Transcribed and edited by Carla McLeod)




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