December 6, 2013 | Comment

denise_scottoHow is family life affected by the spiritual teachings and practices of the Brahma Kumaris? What happens when children encounter a spiritual path through their parents? Why do some children, who grow up with their parents’ enthusiasm for spirituality, then reject or rebel against what their parents would like them to adopt?

In this second interview, we ask Mike George to explore some of the issues that arise when children come in contact with the Brahma Kumaris through their parents.

ABK: When some people, particularly couples, decide to follow the spiritual teachings of a spiritual community they often try to either integrate their children into the community or bring them up with the ideas and beliefs that they receive from the community. It’s similar to parents taking their children to church and trying to force their religious beliefs and practices on to their children. Then later, when the children themselves grow up, they often become resentful of both their parents and the community for being such a powerful influence on their lives during their years of innocence. What do you understand is going on and what would you say to those who are a bit unhappy with what they believe has happened to them during their formative years?

MG: Yes I know quite a few people who have been children growing up when their parents decided to follow the teachings and practices of the BKs. The parents believed that what is good for them will be good for their children so they started to involve their children in the BK community and then in the BK understanding and lifestyle. Some do this forcefully and some do this gently – either way it’s impossible to tell how that child will grow in their relationship with the BKs as a community, or to the actual teachings.

It seems that some grow up and really appreciate the stability and insight it gives them at an early age, while others grow up and just reject the whole thing outright either in their teenage years or later as an adult. Most grow up somewhere in between. It helps to recognize that the parents just made choices at a certain stage in their own lives just like any other people do in their lives. Those choices just happened to be when their children were still quite young. It’s not surprising the parents wanted to involve their children in their own learning and practice. My father was a great football supporter and started to take me to football matches every weekend so I grew up with a deep attachment to a particular football team. I came to hate it in later life but could not blame my father for my hate. He was just doing what parents do, sharing their interest and their beliefs, their values and attachments, with their children. Yes of course a religious belief system or spiritual lifestyle is much more ‘involving and invasive’ in one’s life, but the principle is the same.

ABK: So why do some parents push their children into something more than others?

MG: Well it’s not helped by the mistake that most parents make, which is to believe that they can control and should control their children. This belief is a kind of mini religion in itself! It’s this belief that makes parents try to force their children to do what ‘they’ want, believing and therefore justifying it as something for the child’s own good. Again this can be an extreme form of attempted forcing or a more gentle form of cajoling. Most parents sit somewhere along this spectrum of control. You hear it in their language as, ‘you must, you have to, you should, and you will, if you don’t then…’. It’s where we (you and I) learn this language and then, we tend grow up ourselves, to repeat similar mistakes in our own relationships.

ABK: So you are saying most parents don’t realize what they are doing, what damage they may be causing?

MG: Well yes and no. It’s not a question of damage as such. As children we just got landed with two extremely controlling people or we didn’t! We got landed with one or two parents who, during our childhood years, decided to go off and inculcate and practice spiritual teachings and then they wanted us to follow. It happens. Eventually we have to find our own way forward and part of that is letting go of the past by appreciating and accepting that they were just doing what they were doing because they thought it was for the best at the time. They probably didn’t realize at the time what they were doing i.e. exactly what they were trying to impose.

One of the problems that arises when you grow up with someone who believes that you can control others is that as a child you also learn to believe that you can be controlled. Again, if you look deeply into this, it’s impossible. It’s impossible to control others or be controlled by others. That is a fundamental truth for me, but it takes a little while to fully realize it – so deep is our conditioning. We all make our own decisions at all times. But when people ‘believe’ they can be controlled they often become dependent on being told what to do. So when they hear and are attracted to the teachings, the words, the ideas of that are emanating from people in a spiritual organization, they perceive it as being told what to do and just follow blindly, believing it’s the right thing to do! It’s just another habit. And this is what happens to many who connect with a spiritual or religious organization/institution. They take everything literally and follow blindly and ‘religiously‘ and if they have family around them they often start to try to ‘impose‘ the same on their family, including their children, believing it will be good for them to. This is a kind of naivety that many go through.

So let’s say you are ten years old when your mum and dad start to bring home spiritual practices and teachings and then impose them on you. In retrospect you could say it was unfortunate or that it was fortunate! But you won’t say it or know it at the time because, as a child, you’re unlikely to have that level of discernment. And the parents certainly wouldn’t call it unfortunate. They are more likely to say you are/were extremely fortunate. It’s only later on you might reject what they imposed.

ABK: Is it usually as you say, ‘unfortunate’!

MG: No certainly not. Some children grow up to appreciate many, if not all, the teachings and practices, as they recognize their parents created a more peaceful and loving atmosphere in the house as a result. Some even remember the moments when the relationships changed and there was less conflict and resentment. Other kids are just oblivious to it all at the time and it just wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. And then some children immediately notice the ‘disconnect’ between the way their parents are relating and living and the way their friends parents and wider society are relating and living.

But trying to ‘control’ children is just a very common parental ‘mistake’! It’s a kind of lazy parenting, because the parent doesn’t take the time to learn how to ‘influence’ the child in kinder, gentler more loving ways, which usually takes more time. And trying to control is not the same is learning to influence. When you attempt to control someone and you don’t get what you want you will make your self very unhappy and believe they are responsible for your unhappiness. But when you know you cannot control you won’t get upset. You will seek other, more creative ways to influence. When you attempt to control someone you may get a short term result, but in the long term the relationship will break down simply because there is no respect for the other in any controlling intention or behavior.

So if controlling parents have affected your life as a child or adolescent in some way, it’s impossible to change how that affected you in the past. All you can do is be aware of it now, NOT look back and see your self as a victim, let it go, be your own person now, and move on with your own life from today.

Yes it may have felt like your mother ‘made you’ and forced you, and many parents do just believe they are able to ‘make and force’ their children to do what they (the parents) want, based on their belief that it’s a right thing – but they (the parents) were just misguided. I think you’ll find controlling parents in all family contexts in almost all cultures. It’s like the father that tries to make his son be a doctor when the son just wants to go and paint or be a teacher! Unfortunately, it happens. Most of us have been on the receiving end of our parents ‘seeming’ to make us think and be and do what ‘they’ want.

ABK: So what to do? How do we deal with a legacy of having been forced to absorb and adopt teachings and practices just because mum and dad said we should?

MG: Well there’s an old saying – life is like a car journey, you can create and live your life by looking straight ahead, with a clear vision of your destination while making your way there, or you can spend the whole journey looking in the rear view mirror which pretty much guarantees you are going to crash. Many people spend their entire life glancing in the rear view mirror every few seconds or minutes. They look back with blame or regret or resentment. As a result they don’t realize they are sabotaging their own ability to create their own life and live freely and joyfully.

ABK: Many grow up feeling that the actual teachings are abusive and because they decided not to follow they felt rejected by other family members who did follow. So what can they do now?

MG: Well the abuse is not sitting in the actual teachings or practices. The sense of being abused arises in relationship with the people who may be trying to force you to do something or be a certain way that suits them. We may not want to recognize and acknowledge that when we were children it was our parents’ forcefulness and insistence that induced our sense of being abused. So we project those feelings and memories onto the source of the teachings and practices, i.e. the organization that our parents became involved with.

If the child rebels against the teachings/practices and the parents are not very mature, the parents may take that as a sign that the child is rejecting them personally. So they then find it hard not to reciprocate that rejection in some ways. So the child picks up signals of disapproval, which it interprets as rejection. Now it’s getting messy and if it goes on for long enough it becomes a pattern of interaction in those relationships. Suddenly the child is creating a self-image of being a reject. That image may sit within their consciousness for the rest of their life. But it wasn’t a set of teachings or practices that did that. It was a real life daily interactive relationship with an authority figure that hastriggered that effect!

If, in reality, some members of your family did say and display disapproval, and behave in rejecting ways, then they were misguided and had not understood one of the main aspects of any authentic spirituality, which is no one is rejected regardless of their intentions or behaviors.

ABK: So it does happen, people do reject others who don’t want to follow?

MG: Well it can of course, but as I said the one who is doing the rejecting hasn’t yet realised the real meaning of spirituality. But there is another dimension to this. Let’s say you and I are brother and sister, we have grown up together, we are so close and familiar with each other. We are so comfortable in each other’s company. Then one day you discover a spiritual teaching that says it’s time to wake up to who you really are as a spiritual being, become aware of the bigger spiritual family, learn to stop making your self unhappy by learning to be a bit more detached from everything and everyone because it’s attachment that creates any and all sorrow. When you attempt to inculcate that it’s highly likely you will change the way you think and behave. That’s what happens when you start meditating and contemplation brings spiritual insights and then having your own realizations. Suddenly you start to become a different person to me as you no longer react and respond to me in the same way that I have been used to all our lives. Suddenly I don’t know if your change towards me is something to do with me, or at least a message to me. And from there it’s a small step to me starting to believe you don’t like me any more and that your new way of life is in some way including a rejection of me. But really it’s just you exploring and experimenting with a spiritual way. It’s just you trying new ways of perceiving, thinking and behaving. But it’s so easy for me to take it personally simply because of our history and how I have become comfortable with you.

ABK: What if the parents are just following blindly and also doing what they believe they are being told by the organization, isn’t that a form of abuse?

MG: Well that takes us right back into the territory of belief, control and guilt. If you were brought up by controlling parents then you were taught (told) to believe what they said was right and good. If you didn’t then you would be wrong and when you were told you are wrong you would likely have been encouraged to feel bad, see your self as bad and create the feeling of guiltiness. This is how many parents, some knowingly and some unknowingly, operate. Why? Because that was the dynamic they learned from their parents. Now parents are essentially ‘authority figures’. So let’s say that you are young parents and you encounter a spiritual organization giving spiritual teachings and recommending certain lifestyle changes. You are attracted by those teachings/practices for whatever reason and you start changing your beliefs and lifestyle. The organization and its main teachers become ‘the authority’ figures for you. So the old pattern kicks in. You blindly believe and do what is said. When you don’t, and it’s slightly pointed out or mirrored back that you didn’t, you immediately resurrect the ‘I am bad’ self image and create guilt. It’s a pattern. Now obviously when you feel guilty you are not happy. So others see your unhappiness and may start to believe you are being taken advantage of, that you are being abused by ‘the organization’.

You may even start to believe that yourself, because within all guilt there is a component of anger and at some stage you will start to project that anger outwards. And that is what happens when many people bring their habit of ‘blind belief in authority’ into a spiritual or religious context. Then, when they fail to be obedient to that authority, or live up to the practices, they feel guilty and then project their anger onto the source of the teaching, on to ‘the authority’! It’s just one big pattern that keeps replaying itself.

Most people who walk any spiritual path will encounter this pattern within themselves at some stage. Why, because it tends to be at the heart of the parenting process in most societies. Many walk their spiritual path and it can take them years to recognize no one is abusing them, no one is making them believe or do anything, it’s just this pattern in their own consciousness of unquestioning obedience to authority that they are not seeing within and for themselves.

You can always stop, walk away, switch on the TV, move to another town or country, get a new job, get married, get divorced, eat more, eat less, eat nothing etc. etc. These are all choices no one can ever take away from you. You don’t “have to” follow anyone or any idea, any philosophy, any teaching. You don’t have to “live up” to a theoretical image of the perfect spiritual follower!

For some, fully realizing this is a huge step to what is sometimes called freedom! Actually when you follow anything blindly you make yourself a slave of what you follow. Which is the opposite of waking up and being a free spirit. No one is to blame. It just happens. Usually according to our own personal level of naivité at the time! That naivité can also be simply described as a lack of self-awareness.

ABK: Yes now I can see all that, but I couldn’t when I was a child, even in my early teenage years!

MG: Well here’s another way to look at it…if you want! From a purely spiritual point of view just about every child is abused. Why? Because just about every parent will use emotional blackmail to manipulate their child’s behavior. The moment the parent threatens the child with any kind of consequence then you could say this is a form of abuse, from a purely spiritual point of view. I would even say almost all of us are recovering from this kind of abuse! It’s when we learn to fear authority. When we create fear, we create stress. We make ourselves unhappy. But it’s our naiveté that’s ultimately responsible. Yes people can take advantage of that naiveté, and parents do. Unwittingly most parents teach their children how to be unhappy! But it’s also their naiveté (the parents) that stops them from seeing that. They know not what they do! So both parties are naïve. No one is to blame but we are all challenged to wake up and take responsibility.

So here I am as an adult having experienced this and probably many other forms of manipulation. During my upbringing I learned that it’s OK to be fearful and angry, that it’s OK to try to control others, that others are responsible for what I feel, that success is based on how much you make, that others are responsible for my happiness – so many lessons that are plainly not true from a spiritual point of view – all absorbed from parents and upbringing. It’s no wonder there are so many therapies, self-development courses and transformational methodologies on offer out there to help us heal, help us wake up, help us ‘realise’ what is true and what is false. It’s no wonder workplaces are often such unhappy places full of messy relationships between people who bring not only their hurt and defensiveness from childhood, but all these relational habits that they learned from their parents.

So what can I do? Well I can’t go back and change the past. I can’t fix my parents. They didn’t just tuck me in to bed every night so I could sleep peacefully, but they also unknowingly tucked in to my head every day so many illusions and delusions that are keeping me asleep now! All I can do is wake my self up. And that’s what I have been doing for over thirty years. I use many of the teachings that I have found within the BK community and I practice the ancient spiritual practices of meditation and contemplation to that end. That’s my choice. My eyes are now very open. I don’t just blindly believe all that I hear. That’s called religion and I am not interested in being blinded by an attachment to a set of beliefs because that’s what attachment to belief does, it blinds.

ABK: Some people say that their life has been destroyed by the organization/community because it had such a hold on their parents? They say they lost out on love or money or opportunities because their parents gave more time and energy and money to the organization that they should have given to them as a child. They even accuse the organization of denying them money that they would have inherited if their parents had not donated it to the organization?

MG: No one destroys my life without my permission! Besides it’s impossible to destroy a life. Influence it yes, but not destroy. If by destroy you mean what I sense most mean which is, “I didn’t get what I think I wanted or should have got”, that’s not about destroying, it’s just a belief that I missed out on something in the past. I think we could all look back and say that to some extent or other. It is just about complex relationships between parents and children and what I thought were my desires, and what or who I thought got in the way of the fulfillment of those desires.

I could look back and say when the Labour government in the UK devalued the pound my parents lost a lot of money and that money would have come to me. So I could spend my time blaming the Labour government for destroying my inheritance! How daft would that be! Stuff happens, as they say. But yes some people do look back like that and make themselves extremely unhappy in the process.

No one can destroy your life. It took me many years to realize one fundamental and transformative truth. And this is not a BK truth. It’s just a truth of life, for me at least. And it goes like this: I am 100% responsible for all my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, in all situations and relationships100% of the time.

Now that is not easy to see because we have all learned to believe the opposite. We have all been brilliantly programmed to believe the one belief that runs the world today; which is ‘it’s not me, it’s them’. Both Hollywood and Bollywood do a great job keeping us trapped in that belief and then we learn to see ourselves as a perpetual victim, then we think and behave like a victim. This is a dis – ease called “victimitis”. Having said that I do know that even when people hear and understand this, most are not ready to realize it. They are not ready to accept full responsibility for their life.

It also leaves us with a daily decision. Are we going to look ahead and create a vision for our lives and focus our energy creatively towards that end, or to look in the rear view mirror and experience frequent crashes induced by regret, blame and resentment and thereby making ourselves extremely unhappy in the process? Are we going to see ourselves as victims in life or as masters of our lives? It seems to be a choice that many of us don’t realize we can make.

But that’s life!


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