~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Widening the Family Circle

December 22, 2019
If you are ever lucky enough to be introduced to my dear friend Linda, you will instantly feel at home in her presence. The first thing she will do when you walk into her home is invite you to sit down at the kitchen table while she steeps you a cup of tea.

She’ll ask you where you’ve been and what you love, with all the warmth of a beloved auntie. She’ll pull a book off the shelf that she thinks you might love and offer to let you take it home with you. She’ll fetch you a sweater in case you may be cold, and if the day grows long she’ll put a pot of veggies on the stove just in case you’d like to stay for supper. And I’m quite sure that, indeed, you will want to stay. Everyone wants to linger in her presence.

Linda is one of those beautiful souls who takes on both strangers and intimates as family the very instant they meet. There is no waiting period, no litmus test. The connection and the communion are almost instant. You have shown up at her front door, and therefore you are kin.

Sometimes I wonder what might happen if we were to follow Linda's example and reach for some deeper level of connection with everyone around us. What if we were to take on everyone we meet as family, offering them the same warmth we would give a beloved cousin we haven't see in months? (And I use family here in the best sense of the word, considering us as a highly functioning family that is truly looking out for one another’s best interests.)

I have a feeling that our lives would change dramatically if were able to widen our hearts enough to welcome everyone in without exclusions. For starters, we'd treat both friends and strangers with greater kindness and mercy. We'd have fewer enemies. And we'd work a little harder to find common ground with everyone we meet. Mother Teresa alluded to this possibility when she told us, "The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small."

The ancient sages teach us that we are all family, when we stretch out our sense of self to its greatest reach. They teach us that enlightenment rests in seeing ourselves in others and in recognizing others as our selves. For surely, we are all children of whatever light it is that has brought this world into existence and keeps the planets spinning year after year. And that makes us all kin.

It takes so much energy to defend ourselves against one another, anyway. We waste a lot of time sniffing each other out before deciding whether we are friends or enemies, whether we are comforts or threats. Why not simply decide in advance to respond to one another with warmth and care, recognizing us all as members of the same team?

When this finally happens, our values will more closely reflect the goodness of the whole rather than the needs of any individual. Our minds and our hearts will be stretched and softened. No one will be left out. We will feel less lonely. We will save ourselves as we save the world, simply through inclusion. And there will be no more strangers left anywhere.

Perhaps you’d like to try taking on Linda, or someone like her, as a muse today, offering your own brand of familial warmth to everyone you meet. Why not act as mother, father, sister, brother, auntie, nephew and cousin to all, just as an experiment, just to see what happens?

You might learn that your favorite check-out lady at the grocery store has recurrent migraines, but that doesn’t matter because her husband is returning home  tonight from the military. You might learn that your mail carrier has been working overtime to support his three young children, and though he's tired he's thankful for the extra work.

You might be invited to hold your former babysitter’s own new babe, slipping into a tender state of communion when you gaze into those just-born eyes. You may be moved to call a long-lost friend to let her know you miss her presence in your life.

And, you may even learn that your crazy uncle still shares many common bonds with you, even though you voted differently last fall. Through all of this, you will end up feeling a little more at home in the world, a fuller participant in the beautiful and lovely flow of life.

Not everyone will respond in kind, for sure. But that's okay. We'll just keep widening the family circle as best we can through openness and inclusion. We'll do our best to breathe a little fresh air into ourselves and everyone around us. And bit by bit, together we'll create a happier and healthier world, simply by recognizing our common bond, our shared existence, our kinship with everyone and everything.

This essay was written for Dwelling in the Heart, Claudia's online lovingkindness immersion.