By Aparna Jacob May 2005 Faith fosters strong families, which raise sound human beings. Here’s to the family- the world’s greatest institution and one of nature’s finest masterpieces. Creating Effective FamiliesTake a cue from motivational great, stephen coveyI like to think of families as airports. This is where we first arrive when we come into this world. Here’s where we are fitted with gear we require to fly through the rest of our journey. It is what happens here that often determines if we will soar or if we will sink. It is imperative then that this airbase is sound and resistant to any turbulence. Every successful family needs a flight plan, says Stephen Covey in his best-selling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. A successful family’s flight plan would reflect their values and principles that enable them to handle problems and reach the desired ‘destination’. Covey prescribes these seven habits:Be proactive: This entails being responsible for our choices. It is the freedom to choose based on values rather than moods or circumstances. Covey uses the analogy of the Emotional Bank Account where family members make ‘deposits and withdrawals’ which impact the trust levels in the family. Maintaining a high balance is the goal so that even mistakes will be compensated for against ‘emotional reserves’.Begin with the end in mind: Covey suggests that families develop a ‘family mission statement’ that describes what kind of family you really want to be and identifies the principles that will help you get there. A mission statement can be a list the family compiles together based on each one’s vision for this unit. For example: ‘To be honest and open with each other, to maintain a spiritual feeling in the home, to love each other unconditionally…’ Does your family have a mission statement? Put first things first: Covey cautions that, ‘Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.’ Prioritise taking everyone into consideration.Think ‘win-win': Mutual benefit and respect must be kept in mind when making decisions. Thinking as ‘we’ and not ‘me’ will circumvent a lot of disagreements and hurt.Seek first to understand . . . then to be understood: Listen, says Covey, and understand the other person’s viewpoint, thoughts and feelings before communicating yours. Such feedback helps foster trust and increases love in the family.Synergise: Work in tandem. Think of the family as a team whose combined efforts will far surpass individual efforts. When based on the dynamics of loving, learning, contributing, and creative cooperation, families can troubleshoot any calamity that befalls them.Sharpen the saw: Traditions play a key role in nurturing the renewal of family spirit. A family increases its effectiveness through personal and family renewal in four basic areas of life: physical, social/emotional, spiritual and mental. Family rituals repeated countless times, are a symbol of acceptance, love, provision, peace, and fellowship. Aparna Jacob It’s the close of another day and my mother’s kitchen is silent. My father turns off the TV after his nightly dose of news and coaxes my brother out of his den. I’m eagerly sitting cross-legged on a fading reed mat, old as I am, my toes curling in happiness. It’s that time of the day when my family gathers for prayers, something we’ve been doing for as long as I can recall. A family that prays together, stays together, my mother is fond of saying. And I do believe her prayers have been the glue that has bound us together as a family and tided us over the roughest times. So each evening, while my parents commune with God, I too send up thanks, glad to see all of us have survived the day, are safe and home together. Ties that BindIt took me several long absences from home to appreciate my family, be humbly grateful for them, to realize how important they are to me. All families are important, even those of the worst kind. Because blood, as past life therapist Brian Weiss tirelessly reiterates, is indeed thicker than water. Members of a family are often cast together over lifetimes, reveals Weiss, because we have certain issues to resolve amongst ourselves; because there are lessons to be learnt from each other. Weiss says the soul connections between family members is like those of leaves on a twig; interconnected and interdependent, sharing strengths and shortcomings. Our bonds are not to be taken lightly. If anything, they are to be cherished, nurtured and strengthened. Strong families often have at the heart, a belief in something higher than themselves. Spiritual families make strong families. They function better from the sense of security, of being provided for, and being taken care of, that being spiritual bestows upon them. It gives the members cause to celebrate life as a gift. Spiritual families carry a gratitude and optimism that encourages them to enjoy even the little things of life as special events. Spirituality gives meaning and purpose to families. Most important of all, it proffers strength and hope in times of adversity. In Times of TroubleAround 10 years ago, the Virmani family found itself in the eye of a storm. ‘My father was diagnosed with a cardiac condition and was required to undergo a bypass surgery. My sister, Abha, was facing problems in her relationship with her husband of 12 years,’ recalls Ashish of that tumultuous phase the family underwent. Ashish himself was faced with a crisis of identity, was plagued by doubts about his career, about his life drifting in no certain direction. In retrospect, Ashish claims, this period of strife proved a blessing. ‘It made us realize that there was something bigger in life to be achieved than merely getting married, earning money or having a good time.’ The family was always spiritually inclined but spirituality was not the focus of their life, as it is today. ‘A cousin from Delhi introduced my mother to Soka Gakkai in 1997,’ recalls Ashish. ‘My mother thus became the first connection between our family and the Soka Gakkai. Abha followed her, then I. My father was the last to come into the fold.’ In keeping with the teachings of Gautam Buddha, Soka Gakkai believes that happiness is the birthright of every individual and prescribes a practicable plan to achieve it. This is done through a process called Human Revolution, whereby the individual transforms himself and his environment by spreading the message of peace, culture and education in society. Almost immediately, things began lifting for the family. Abha’s business began flourishing. Their father successfully underwent surgery and has been in good health since. Ashish is a more peaceable individual today. Mooring OneselfThe Virmani family had always been close-knit. However, their eight years as Soka Gakkai International members, says Ashish, has further intensified the bonds between them. ‘We are far more united as a family than we ever were in the past. We are more caring, more demonstrative with our affection and are no longer afraid to say Mom, I love you or I love you, Dad.’ Nothing bonds the family like shared spirituality. Life is constantly challenging our faith by hurling the unexpected our way, or careening out of control. At these times, spirituality comes as a stabilizing factor that gives us a sense of perspective and relative control. ‘It moors us when the raging storms of life buffet us,’ says Ashish. The Virmani family prays together regularly. They come together unfailingly once a week to share a family meal despite Abha living half-hour away. They exchange books like The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and Conversations with God. These days instances of anger and resentment are far fewer among them. ‘Which is not to say that conflicts don’t occur,’ Ashish clarifies. ‘Abha and I may still feel that our parents interfere too much in our lives. But the difference is, we talk about it amicably instead of blowing a fuse. Any sibling rivalry my sister and I may have had earlier has now been transformed to concern. We no longer blame our parents for the things that have happened to us. In fact, we realize how fortunate we have been to be born into this family, to such wonderful, caring parents…’ Spirituality compels one to shifts focus from the negative to the positive. The Virmani family now considers itself less judgmental about their own and other people’s lives and experiences. Spirituality has armed them with a greater sense of purpose and a stronger sense of support from their extended SGI family, whom they regularly meet with to pray, to discuss, to share smiles and tears alike. Anchor of Love Central to the notion of the family, like in spirituality, is the struggle to transcend the ‘self’. Once the continual preoccupation with the self dissipates, we allow ourselves and others the freedom to make mistakes, learn from them and grow. Santosh Sachdeva, a Brahma Vidya practitioner, had always considered herself a spiritual person. But then in 1995, during the course of her daily meditation, she received an important insight that changed her life. ‘In a sudden flash of clarity I realized than nothing was right or wrong. It was the way I perceived it that made all the difference,’ says Santosh of the moment she graduated from being unconsciously spiritual to spiritually conscious. ‘All of us act according to a pre-meditated script,’ says Santosh. ‘When our script does not match the script of the other person, conflict arises.’ Spirituality, in a sense, is about putting aside your script or agenda, suspending all expectations and judgment, San
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