Healthy Family, Healthy You

This article was first published in The Huffington Post on July 25, 2014.

Because we are all connected, individual health is inextricably intertwined with the health of our relationships, most importantly, those of our families. “Family,” of course, means different things to different people — family of origin, family of choice, adoptive family, conscious community, and so on. Whoever we include in our “family” circle, these people are the ones closest to us, the ones on whom we can count not only for the times of celebration but also during life’s challenges and struggles.

Relationships need the same kind of nurturance and cultivation as gardens. Without our time, attention, and care, they wither. To the contrary, when we invest our love, energy, and thoughtfulness into our relationships, they flourish and provide us a sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging — all of which are critical to experiencing true wellness, on every level.

Here are some basic Slow Medicine steps for optimizing the health of your family relationships:

  1. Identify your family members: Some of us define “family” as those to whom we are related genetically or through formal adoption. Others define family as a consciously-selected group people who love and support us unconditionally. Take 20 minutes to write down who is in your family circle, why you include them, and what they mean to you. This foundational exercise will help you identify where to invest your time and attention in relationships.
  2. Put aside time: Make it a priority to spend quality time with your family members. Even if it’s just for one or two hours per day, be sure to relax in nature, attend a community event, go on a bike ride, or eat dinner together. Create the time and space for spontaneous and meaningful moments, or “bonding,” to take place. If your family members live in different parts of the country or world, set aside time to speak every day or every week.
  3. Pay attention: Be mindful of how your family members are acting, and check in with how they are feeling. Demonstrate that you recognize and care about whatever is going on in their lives.
  4. Be thoughtful: When family members accomplish a goal, experience a loss, or feel uncertain about the path ahead, make the time to listen and provide counsel. Also make a gesture to help celebrate or uplift them — whether writing a thoughtful card, taking them out for lunch, or buying them a spa day.
  5. RESTore: Whatever day you choose, put aside a 24-hour period to unhook from the outside world and return to the inside one. Turn off your phones, televisions, and computers, to be more present with each other during this period. Play musical instruments, go for a walk on the beach, host a barbecue, or find some other activity to enjoy together during this luxurious stretch of time.
  6. Heal: If you are experiencing conflict or tension with a family member, take the time to facilitate healing. Try writing a letter to your loved one, expressing your feelings — including your willingness to forgive and your desire to heal and move on. Alternately, do stream of consciousness writing: For 15 minutes, let your feelings emerge, by writing whatever comes to mind on topic, however it comes out. Censor nothing, so you have the opportunity to express whatever you need to express. Destroy the paper and let go, once you are done.

Remember: The whole point of getting well is enjoying our time on this planet, and harmonious relationships are key to our overall health. When we nourish our family relationships, we ultimately nourish ourselves.

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