I write about families for the reader who, like myself before I became a psychotherapist, is drawn to this material as a way of creating understanding, healing and positive change in his or her life. It has been my experience that looking at your family life provides the richest context with which to create personal change.
Why I write about families begins with my own journey and my experience with reading about families. I began with reading about these families decades ago before I became actively involved in my own personal development. Reading about families was an integral part of my personal and spiritual development. Reading on these topics prepared for the transformation that would follow as I engaged in therapy and transformative spiritual practices.
Reading has always been a soulful practice for me. Through reading, I would explore and discover new and old parts of myself and the world. Through reading about families I would deeply consider aspects of my personal life. This allowed me to reflect on my life in ways that would bring put me on a trajectory that would bring healing and positive change to my life.
What follows is a glimpse into my relationship with reading about families as a soulful practice and scaffolding to my personal development. Lastly, I discuss why I write about families.
MY OWN EXPERIENCE
For me reading is a soulful practice. Throughout my life reading has been the doorway into exploring aspects of myself that were longing to be discovered and integrated. Reading prepared my mind, my body, heart, soul for the actual experience of doing the personal work that would make meaningful, positive changes in my life. As a soulful practice, reading introduced me to the material that would allow me to think about my life differently and realize that I could make choices that would positively change the course of my life.
I discovered the power that ideas carry and that if you came across a powerful idea, or system of ideas, that persuaded your soul just enough, an idea could change the course of your life.
After decades of reading, I realize that when new areas of interest would come into my awareness, it was another part of me that is looking to unfold, to be discovered and integrated into my life. I learned to allow ideas move through me as I read, to shape my consciousness and to see if any new ideas were useful in living my life. If not, I would discard them (yet even discarded ideas had their usefulness before letting them go). If so, I would pursue them, find ways to incorporate them, learn from them and to build my life upon them.
By engaging in reading and attending to the ideas that are pulling, nudging and urging me along, I find that I am ever recreating myself, discovering myself and the world around me.
Reading with Soul
When I was fourteen, I was introduced to the works of Thomas Moore through his work Care for the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. His writing was my initiation experience for reading as a spiritual practice and reading with Soul. This book cultivated a pre-existing reflective attitude about life and how to honor the symptoms as a voice of the soul. This book engendered a way of living with soul that I yearned for even in those early years of my life.
“Soul” is not a thing, but a quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance. I do not use the word here as an object of religious belief or as something to do with immortality. When we say that someone or something has soul, we know what we mean, but it is difficult to specify exactly what that meaning is. Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul
Care of the Soul introduced me to a way of thinking that honored all parts of myself: body, mind heart and spirit while instilling a reflective attitude about my experiences. At age 14 I had a spiritual awakening that would lead to work with my dreams, practice yoga and meditation, all the while living a rather ‘normal’ experience in high school. Care of the Soul encouraged to be present with my experience as it was unfolding. As I was so young, reading became a practice to learn more about what unfolding within me and to witness and be curious about this unfolding. The engendered a reflective way of living life.
Care of the Soul was my first introduction into considering my family and its significance on my development and experience of myself. Being only 14 years old, the seed of the significance of family life on one’s personal life was planted.
Honoring the Mystery of Love and Relationship
Years later, while living with my girlfriend, soul and its care took another dimension within the context of relationship. At 22 years old, I read Soul Mates: Honoring the Mystery of Love and Relationship, also by Thomas Moore. This book brought together the many threads of my life at that point: philosophy, psychology, spirituality and relationships. It reminded me of soul and its care from within the context of relationships. It was timely as the questions of relationships that were working within me while living with my girlfriend.
One sign of soul is reflection. The soul doesn’t have to know what is going on in life. It doesn’t need interpretations, explanations, or conclusions, but it does require musing, reverie, consideration, wonder and exploration. Thomas Moore, Soul Mates
I knew that I loved my girlfriend but I also knew that it was a relationship that was not going to last the test of time. This was a significant relationship for me as I was sharing many levels of intimacy with this person. This experience of love and its expected end surfaced brought many questions to my mind. I began to ask myself, “What makes a relationship not work even though two people love each other? What are the unseen forces in a relationship that give the strength to last or fall apart?”
These questions made me reconsider everything that I heard about love and relationships, my own experiences, family scripts and what I thought I desired in a relationship. This was the soul at work within me. This relationship would not last but these questions would. This is where my interest in families and relationships really began to flourish. Reading became a place where I could continue the soul work involved in these questions.
When people observe the ways in which the soul is manifesting itself, they are enriched rather than impoverished. -Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul
Intensive Reading and Personal Psychotherapy
In my early twenties, the writings of Thomas Moore connected me to a line of writers in this soulful way of thinking and writing about life: James Hillman, C.G. Jung and other writers. However, their writings, although could considered in some ways esoteric and erudite, they further engaged my own soul work of considering all facets of my life. In my early twenties, I was not sure what the connection but I knew it was important.
With the desire to continue to understand myself and others in this way, I chose to become a psychotherapist and pursued a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. There I would read plenty on families and relationships. The reading was, as to be expected, academic. This academic study was important because it provided a contrast to the soulful reading through Thomas Moore and other writers. I was able to engage the reading for my professional development while also reflect on it with soul in my personal life.
The scaffolding of solid theory of psychodynamics and relational theories of families brought further depth to my reflection in my life. Theory brought a strong scaffolding as I engaged in my own intensive personal psychotherapy.
Reading and studying about family dynamics while engaging in my personal therapy significantly accelerated my healing process and additional depth to my therapeutic experience. Reading about families allowed me to be able to name dynamics that were typical in my family and provided an outline to the puzzle that I was working out in psychotherapy as I worked on my personal challenges.
Looking back, I see that the reading I was doing the years before was preparing me for the transformation that would occur within the confines of a psychotherapy office and in becoming a professional psychotherapist. The changes that would occur through psychotherapy, and other transformational practices, would forever change my life in relationships with my family and getting married and starting a family of my own.
WHY I WRITE ABOUT FAMILIES
Care of the soul begins with observance of how the soul manifests itself and how it operates. We can’t care of the soul unless we are familiar with its ways. -Thomas Moore, Care for the Soul
Finding Yourself Within Your Family
My experience has told me that reading about families 1) can prepare ourselves for the deep work that personal transformation entails and 2) it helps us while we are going through the transformative experience as a guide and scaffolding to that transformative experience. I am grateful for the writers that I have read and the mentors that I have had that have brought this knowledge to life and helped me to integrate it. This has been pivotal in my personal and professional growth.
When we read about families and family life, we are always finding ourselves. We may be looking at the concepts on the page or reading about the life of some person we will never meet, but somehow it always reflects our own life back to us as much as it is the person our concepts we are reading about. This kind of reading is beneficial when we are honest with ourselves and our experiences. In this honesty we touch the soul of our experiences.
The most significant thing that reading about families can do is support and help you to become more fully yourself while dealing with the challenges of family life and remaining connected to your family in whatever way is appropriate for you.
We All Have Families
If you were born, then you have a family. Our earliest experiences of family life do impact our life trajectory. Family life offers so many different permutations of experiences: Self as parent, self as child, self as sibling, self as spouse and so on. All experiences we have of ourselves in our family can and will be impacted by our previous significant family relationships. The degree in which we can bring awareness to family relationships allows us to act freedom within these relationships and more freedom as person.
Similar to my own experience, I believe that readers who are in therapy do benefit from knowledge of family dynamics as they consider their life in therapy. Readers benefit to even before entering therapy. Understanding how families work gave me a backdrop from which to reflect on my own family experience. Reading about families also validated my experiences of my family life and how my upbringing has shaped me. These experiences are possible for all readers.
The overall goal of looking at your family of origin is to experience more freedom as individual AND in significant relationships. This means to have the freedom to be yourself as a whole individual and the freedom to be your whole self with others. It is here that you strike the dynamic balance of togetherness and autonomy in family life that will branch out into all areas of your life.
My Intention and Hope in Writing About Families
Reading about families provides a doorway to soulful living and the scaffolding to create positive change for yourself and your relationships. I write about families for people, like myself at one time, who are looking to further understand themselves, their experience, and desire to have more freedom in their lives or to simply understand “what the hell was that all about?” when thinking about their life. Regardless of what brings you to read about families, understanding how families work is a path of self-discovery and understanding other people. Reading about families can cultivate a soulful way of reading and living.
It is my intention in my writing to provide enough theory for people to apply to their own lives to make the changes that matter. Sometimes just a little bit of outside perspective can provide all the difference.
It is my hope with my writing will offer both the soul of reading and the scaffolding of enough theory so that readers can consider their own family life to make lasting, positive change in their lives. A good theory provides a map, a way of looking at things, so that the reader can make choices that will change their life in a positive way. Reflecting on one’s life, being touched soulfully by experience and using enough theory to reflect and to live one’s life with more freedom is the alchemy that creates meaning, significance, and lasting change – a soulful experience indeed!
- What in my life has attracted me to read about families?
- How does my reading about families involve soul-work? Do I journal about what I’ve read and my life experiences? Do I engage in regular individual psychotherapy?
- Where am in my life and what impact does reading about families have on this?
© Joshua Watson
Photos credit in order of appearance: Hans, Braxmeir, Amber Avalone, Dieter G, Elena Marsh, Christophe Billard, Unknown, Unknown