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Jun 12
Dharma Teachings
The Family Mandala, part two

photo by Daniel Boyce

photo by Daniel Boyce

Living on the Edge
Part Two

by Irini Rockwell

Co-emergent Wisdom and Mandala Principle

The two most powerful and transformative aspects of the Five Wisdoms perspective are, 1) co-emergent wisdom: wisdom born from confusion, intensified emotions transmuted into brilliant sanity, and 2) the mandala principle: the totality of interconnected dynamic energy constantly in flux. The depth of these understandings were yet to be revealed to me.

Co-emergent wisdom is the interpenetration and inseparability of confusion and sanity. The implications for this is that we need to embrace the chaos of our confusion because the sanity emerges from it. It invites us to liberate our primary emotional fixation(s). Only then are we are able to have a more expansive view and include other energies. This not only brings us into energetic balance with our personal mix of colors, but we can see the dynamics of the mandala.

Trungpa Rinpoche calls the mandala principle “orderly chaos.” The chaos is the juice; our awareness sees the order. I like to call it “the situation.” So we are not trying to stop chaotic situations, but get into them. We discover there are five types of intelligence, with infinite variations and combinations, and each experience is layered, interdependent and interlinked. We can begin to see a pattern in each situation: how we color it and how others do. It is not so hard to see the inevitable outcome of people’s relationships and situations. When we see the interconnectedness of energies, we see the Five Wisdoms mandala.

The beauty of the mandala system is that there is no one to blame! When we look at “the situation” from an energetic perspective, there is a predictable dynamic between energies. What’s happening is happening. It’s just energy, sometimes constricted, sometimes flowing. This is incredibly liberating. It allows us to see others more clearly, without laying our trips on them, and most importantly, it makes us more available to them.

We could say that a family is a mandala, a co-created, fundamentally interconnected and dynamic system, constantly shifting. Family roles – father, mother, children – have defining characteristics and assumptions that exist within an intricate web of relationships which is delicately balanced to create harmony. Or not. When things are going well, roles function naturally, there’s a sense of well-being and everyone is enlivened. When the family system becomes unbalanced, either due to external or internal reasons, the tendency is for everyone to become self protective. The self protective stance is small minded and no longer sees the whole.

Both from the mandala perspective as well as family systems therapy, it is easy to see that at times a family becomes like a pressure cooker. When it is not possible to openly process unexpressed emotions, intensity builds and everyone blames someone else. The atmosphere becomes toxic. There are two habitually ways we deal with it: we either act out, using our emotions as a defense, or bottle them up, denying them their life. When we act out we become the escape valve on the pressure cooker and perpetuate the confusion. When we absorb the energy, it becomes locked in our mind and body and we become physically sick.

The challenge here is to open to the dynamic play beyond self-protecting ego. It is like living on a razor’s edge.

Healing the Family Mandala
Over time, I began to see the profundity of these teachings and how they were applying to our family, but I could not do it alone. I feel enormously indebted to my children, Julian and Karuna. The three of us have shown a willingness to live on the edge with each other and have transparency in our communication. It has allowed not only healing to come about but an unparalleled sense of closeness between us. Even in writing this article, they have given wise and heartfelt feedback.

My daughter and I chose to live near each other, both in Boulder, Colorado and then in Vermont. Our discussions about family and life are enriched by our mutual interests as psychotherapists and Buddhist practitioners. As well, Karuna has worked in the field of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy and I with the Five Wisdoms. We have a deep appreciation for energetic, embodied therapeutic approaches as most effective in unraveling deeply engrained patterns and fixations, which are somatic. Her understanding comes from working with horses and mine from working with the five wisdom energies.

With our passion for congruence and authenticity, we inevitably sought to bring that out in our relationship. With our training, you’d think that we could solve all our differences in a jiffy. But our differences are the point. To this day, we still trigger each other because of our style differences. For example, my karma “let’s move forward and make this happen” is jarring to her more luxuriously buddha/ratna settled contentment and “let’s just be,” which frustrates me…until I relax into it, which so nourishes me.

So we persevere. By exploring how our family had been challenging for us, huge shifts began to happen. Disclosures led to insights, which led to a deepening love and respect for each other. Most poignantly, I began to see that with a predominance of ratna energy, she needed a much more present mother and active family life. Having both her parents traveling for work, for months each year from when she was very young, was not a good situation for her. I had known for years that ratna, at least in its domestic manifestation, was not very developed in me, but I did not realize the impact it was having on my daughter. At one point I resolved that whenever I was with Karuna I needed to hold her in the warm embrace of ratna, with a good dose of buddha, giving her space to be who she is. I had to consciously learn this and practice this. Karuna’s sensuous, earthy, feminine embodiment has taught me about ratna in a very visceral way.

After receiving her masters degree, with uncertainty of what was next, Karuna moved into the apartment in my house. This allowed us to go even deeper, or bust! What a dramatic shift it made in our lives! As she was dealing with an auto immune illness and needed to rest, I realized I was having a second chance at being a mother. She expressed, to our amusement, that she was teaching me to mother! We also realized that as I was manifesting more as a mother, we were both learning how to mother, both ourselves and each other. My own family of origin was likewise impaired. I have no memory of my mother or my sister cooking or being domestic. So she commented that we were healing intergenerationally!

Throughout this time, Julian became a very much needed big bro and eldest son. He has become a primary confidant (padma) and strategist in work situations (karma) for Karuna and I have relied on him for family council. Though at times he can be pushy about his viewpoint (vajra/karma), we have learned to give that space (buddha). I discovered that often my impulse had been to go to neurotic buddha, “I think I will hang up now” but disengaging from someone who really wants to engage does not work. So I have learned to stay in the conversation and let things unfold. At best, he is extremely intuitive about people and relationships and since we all have a lot of padma, we have had many talks about our family dynamics and various relationships over the years. As well, I see him take his seat as the president of his thriving and very people conscious organization.

Finally, there was/is another ingredient to healing the family mandala. Practically to the day ten years after my husband and I decided to part ways, I met a man who almost effortlessly came into my life. What’s more, he brought ratna! Having had a 45 year marriage, putting his family first, and caring for his wife in the year she was dying, his heart was wide open. I basked in his capacity to love. As well, I was learning a lot. At one point a conversation went like this: I said, “Okay, I’ll focus less on my Buddhist practice, study and teaching and devote more time to family.” He (not a Buddhist) responds, “Family is your Buddhist practice.”

I feel blessed by the healing that has gone on in recent years. It has been heartening to have such deep and transformative experiences. From a Five Wisdoms perspective the change in me came about when I transmuted what was binding me. The very things I was most attached to – my husband and my dharma teaching – had me in a padma/karma knot. There was not much room for the richness of ratna: home, hearth, cooking. What most healed us as a family is communication and the willingness to enter each others world and see it from their side. Having the shared language of the Five Wisdoms, giving us more awareness of both self and other, and an understanding of how to develop empathy for one another was very, very helpful. Our journey, both singly and collectively, has allowed us to have more appreciation of our family mandala.

Read part one of this article by clicking here.

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2 responses to “ The Family Mandala, part two ”
  1. Cara Thornley
    Jun 14, 2013

    It’s inspiring to understand that even after children are grown the seeds of the relationship are still there and can be watered and fertilized for further growth of all family members. With appreciation.

  2. thank you Irini for sharing such a personal journey!

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