Do We Choose Our Parents?

I once had a conversation with a woman who attributed much of her childhood trauma to a pair of obviously dysfunctional parents. After recounting a litany of well-rehearsed abuses, she added, “Why would I choose parents like this?” With an air of resignation she added, “I guess my soul needed this, Right?”

There was a time when I would have answered her question with an affirmative nod. I now meet such statements with a smile knowing that she, and others like her, are simply parroting an assumption that has become popular in many spiritual circles, especially those of an alternative nature.

Why, with no way of really proving this to be true, would the concept of choosing our parents appeal to so many? Probably because it follows the logic that we are spiritual beings, that our parents gave birth to our body, not to our soul. This certainly invites some interesting and spiritually productive new ways of thinking of our earthly tenure.

Let’s assume that we, not our parents, were responsible for our earthly debut. From a strictly logistical, non-emotional point of view, the choice to experience earth as a human being obviously requires a body, which also requires a set of parents. Do we choose specific individuals— warts and all—to provide this service?

If we assume that our ability to choose extends to this level, the issue is complicated with the introduction of practices like in vitro fertilization (IVF). Here, a sperm and egg can be extracted from donors, fertilized in a laboratory culture, and placed in the female body of an unrelated third party. If you happen to be the offspring of such a procedure, did you choose the donors, the third-party host, or the laboratory where the formation of your body actually started? While most of us entered through conventional doors, science has provided this interesting patch of weeds to add for our consideration.

Sticking with conventional doors, let’s focus on parents. What problems would choosing our parents solve? From my observation, people who find this concept most appealing are those who’ve had a difficult childhood. The idea of choice allows them to move from a lifetime of thinking of themselves as a victim to the much stronger, empowering position of having been the choice-maker. I’m empowered if I see myself as one having come to help others. Or, I chose them because I knew my soul had something important to learn from their dysfunctional behavior.

Both are reasonable arguments that most of us have applied to certain relationships. Who hasn’t played the role of attempted rescuer? And who hasn’t had the experience of escaping a completely dysfunctional relationship with the sworn declaration that you would never again be deceived by another wolf in sheep’s clothing?

What’s reasonable from one perspective may not be so from another. From the soul’s point of view, both arguments are problematic, primarily because they’re made from a body-based point of view. A commonly reported element of near-death research, for example, is that a person’s feeling of “coming home” supersedes even the strongest of family ties. We speak of a mother’s love for her children as the strongest in the human experience. Yet we have mothers who report their NDE confessing they would rather continue their body-free journey than return to their earthly children. This doesn’t mean they don’t love their children. Nearly all recount this experience with the remorse of admitting they even had such feelings. What these reluctant admissions tell us is that the experience they had was so vast, so beautiful that everything on earth, including these strongest bonds of love, paled in comparison. Perhaps it’s the sentiment Isaiah was attempting to capture in these verses:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

In other words, I assume this lofty vision that I believe we gain with the loss of the body is one we also possessed before we took on the body. It’s the soul’s natural mode of seeing and being. We would have viewed all souls, even those struggling with a body-related crisis (the genesis of every crisis) as having little to do with the eternal experience of the soul. With a body, we think like people. Without a body, we think like God.

So, how would God think if God were making the decision to incarnate? Laying aside the whole Jesus narrative for the moment, I’ll be bold and say, The thoughts of God would be the same as those of our boundless, eternal soul. Would we see our incarnation as a mission to fix people and save the world? Would we see it as our soul’s purpose to learn something of value from people who need fixing?

At the soul level, people are not broken. They are spiritually asleep. All so-called spiritual problems stem from having lost conscious contact with the soul. This contact is not re-established through either correcting or exposing ourselves to dysfunctional human behavior. It is established only through a concerted effort to know the truth of our being. We make this effort to the degree that we awaken to ourselves, not as the senses-based, body-oriented self-image we have believed we are, but as the eternal soul that we actually are. Most human beings will not make this shift while occupying a body. The belief that humanity is on the verge of doing so is job security to those who make their living as the self-proclaimed saviours of the human race.

How do we go forward with this issue of parental choice? Let’s say your parents, now dead, were indeed the culprit. They left you with all this damage, but you can’t tell them what you think so you’re left with the task of somehow resolving the whole thing within yourself. Becoming the choice-maker helps, but it doesn’t remove the scars. You may even find yourself duplicating the very dysfunctions you despise. What can you do?

Imagine the offending parent or parents standing before you now, free of their bodies and all the body-oriented dysfunction that defined your relationship with them. They no longer see themselves or you in the way you remember. They now see from the lofty context of the completely unfettered soul. You can see in their eyes that they deeply and sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering they may have caused. They admit that they were in a foolish, self-centered struggle for survival, with much to protect and much to hide. You were in a relationship with them when they believed cheating, stealing, lying, predation, manipulation, and creating false pretenses were necessary for survival and social acceptance. They admit that the self-image they perpetuated was the short-sighted product of a consciousness void of understanding of who and what they were at the deepest level. If they had known then what they know now, everything would have been very different.

Is this an exercise of letting irresponsible parents off the hook? No. It’s a way of saying, if you insist on holding the belief that you choose your parents, then these are the parents you might consider choosing.

A Guiding Principle in Relationships

[From, A Spiritual Journey]

A question I hear often has to do with relationships. What is the best way to deal with, or interact with a negative person? There are, of course, many kinds of relationships. Some are close and long-term while others are casual and short-term. Because of the wide variety of relationship types, there are no pat answers to prescribed actions. There is, however, a guiding principle in relationships that you will eventually discover, if you have not already.

We are trained to think it is our religious duty, or the mark of a spiritually enlightened soul, to love everyone in spite of his or her immature, manipulative or needy behavior. Love, however, is not something we do for others. Love is a word that describes the true nature of our being, and being true to our spiritual nature is our first responsibility, our guiding principle.

If a loved one decides to sit waist deep in a pit of mud and asks you to join them, and they express clearly that if you do not grant their wish, they will be very hurt; would you feel it is your duty to appease them? Of course, you wouldn’t. You can offer your hand and help them out, but if they don’t want to come out, you will do the most for them by staying out of the pit.

There are many who desire to control others with the goal of building or maintaining their not-so-grandiose empires. If you allow yourself to be a pawn in their scheme, you become resentful. You will resent them for using guilt, shame, and pity to get their way, and you will resent yourself for confusing your compliance with love.

To love is to be a giver, but not necessarily at the level the requester is making. I give most when I believe in others, when I see that they are the inlet and may become the outlet to all there is in God. If I only give at the level they request, then I encourage them to stay at that level. This is not a very loving act when you think about it.

The best way to deal with a negative person is to continue to act from the highest that is in you. Either you’ll inspire them to follow your example or you’ll pry their fingers from your arm and move on. Either way, things will ultimately improve for you both.

The Fullness of Emptiness

Many who teach the philosophy of nonduality encourage the practice of self-inquiry. This involves the process of letting go of all roles connected with title, gender, the act of spiritual seeking, long-held spiritual perceptions, concerns around age, all ambition, goals and intentions, personal history, marital and parental status, education, place in family, regrets of the past, anticipation of the future, today’s to-do list … everything. The idea is to bring your awareness to that part of you–the I–that requires no effort to sustain, that very essence that you are. For those who struggle with meditation, this practice may provide a more concrete approach to reaching a profound point of stillness.

In letting go of all these things, you are emptying the vessel that is the self-image. Jesus referenced such a practice when he said,

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29).

To leave these things does not necessarily mean we are to literally divest ourselves of them. In the safety of our own quiet time, we let everything go so we may experience that part that needs no propping up, that needs no further achievement of anything to make us more than we already are in truth. Jesus’ phrase, “for my sake,” is not a personal reference to himself. It is, rather, a way of saying, for the sake of the truth I am teaching. Spend periods mentally and emotionally letting go of all these pursuits and relationships and delve down into the very core of your being, that part of you that needs none of them to simply be. Here you find your complete soul.

The self-image has tricked us into believing that we are not enough, that something more needs to be added to become whole. We need to find our other half, or make enough money to gain power and control, or get that degree to prove to the world that we are capable of handling anything that comes our way, at least in our chosen field.

I was thinking about all of this as my wife and I undertook the project of stripping old wax from the kitchen floor. Over the years, as the floor appeared to need something more to make it look better, layer after layer of wax was applied. As we stripped the floor to its original condition, we were totally amazed how good the floor looked. We had considered replacing it only to discover that removing all those layers of wax was what was really needed.

The self-image is layers of accumulated buildup of things we’ve added, often to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. This is not to say that everything we have achieved or acquired is our attempt to fill some empty space. A loving relationship, for example, is a good thing as long as we’re not trying to use another person to make us feel whole. The best relationship is not two half-people trying to make a whole. It’s two whole people coming together to share from their strengths. Likewise, the best relationship you can have with your work is one where you are giving to it as much as it is giving to you. Those who work only for a paycheck or benefits are not usually interested in giving more than they have to.

I’m sure most of us have been in both kinds of situations. You may be in one now. In all cases, the practice of self-inquiry will provide some enlightening benefits. You and I are not lacking power, peace or the inspiration to engage life at an exciting level. The weight of the baggage we carry has no value, as it provides the illusion that this weight is actually a signal that something more needs to be added. In truth, much needs to be released. Nothing is needed to compensate for the wholeness of the soul, for the soul needs no compensation. Think of this kind of releasing as self-denial, or self-image denial. Denial is not the art of pretending a thing does not exist; it is a letting go of all those pieces of baggage that blur our spiritual vision.

Spend quality time stripping yourself down to your original “floor” and you’ll quickly see that you already have what you’ve been trying to get from people, places, and things. When Jesus said that by letting go you will gain a hundred times as much, he was pointing to the fact that your world will look like a very different place when you are free of this taskmaster that is your self-image. You will never acquire what it is telling you that you need for happiness. Nor do you need to. But you will never know this for sure until you free yourself from the task of trying to fill this bottomless pit and make a conscious connection with the truth of your present, spiritual completeness.