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Catch, Hold, and Help: A Yogi’s Formula for a Fabulous Family Visit

three family members standing outside wearing sunglasses
My mom, me, and my niece, Ali Littman

 

I recently visited my family on the West Coast for my mom’s 90th birthday. Of all my family visits over the years, this was absolutely the best. Why? How? What did I do differently this time? What was my mindset and how did I manage to feel so much love, appreciation, and gratitude for the family I have?

 

Ram Das, famous yogi and author of the 1970s book, Be Here Now, said that if you really want to know how enlightened you are, go home for the holidays! He’s completely right.

 

Our state of mind when we’re with family reflects our current progress in consciousness.


In the past, when I would visit my family, I would start out confident that I would not allow myself to fall into old patterns. But after a short time, I would devolve back into my old childhood wounds of shame, judgment, anger, and discontent. It seemed automatic and predictable, and completely out of my control!

 

I’ve done so much spiritual work on myself, thousands of hours of practice of yoga and meditation over 44 years, and it would seem that I should be able to manage myself better on family visits. But not a chance! I’m as vulnerable as the next person. I would be completely overwhelmed with childhood patterns.

 

Our childhood patterns, or Samskaras (grooves or imprints in our subtle body, of every experience we’ve had, both negative, neutral, and positive), govern how we react and behave. These grooves are especially stimulated during family visits given that a large percentage of our grooves developed during the first six years of our life during our childhood when we were developing our identity.

 

So, what is the formula for ease of family visits? Catch, Hold, and Help.

 

The basis of my discovery, in general, was that I knew what I needed and I provided that for myself. I prioritized my own needs first. Then I was open and receptive to catch, hold, and help my family.

 

During my visit, I was given the role of “chauffeur” for my mom and her two closest friends, who are also near 90 years old. These two friends, Gloria and Linda, had lived and raised their families in the same neighborhood as us in Grand Rapids, MI. They had ties at the Temple and Synagogue. Their bond of friendship was strong.

 

I had been close friends with their children and we spent a lot of time together as friends and close families.

 

I called them the Three Goddesses because they were exactly that! In the speech I gave at my mom’s birthday party, I said that the goddess is the one with the most experience. That wisdom comes with experience and since they were the most senior beings present, they held the most wisdom.


three elderly women sitting on a couch together and laughing
Linda, Mom, and Gloria

I was honored to be their “person.” I made sure they got in and out of the car safely, as sometimes their balance was a bit challenged. I walked them in and out of venues, made grocery and drug store runs to ensure they had everything they needed. I even worked on their tight shoulders, neck, and postures, giving them mini yoga therapy sessions. And we engaged in some very profound conversations about life and spiritual practices. Linda, especially, is a Jungian psychologist, poet, and author and had so much wisdom to share. I was enthralled.

 

And I must say that they always looked so Shri – beautiful. For every event they were decked out to the max with fashionable clothes, makeup, and jewelry that would give the Hindu goddess, Lakshmi (goddess of exquisite beauty and abundance), a run for her money!

 

I figured out that what I needed to be present for my family is to not succumb to their lifestyle, criticism and judgements of my way of life, how I eat, how I cook, and the practices I do that nourish my soul.

 

Although they tell me they understand my needs, when I’m with them day in and day out sharing a kitchen, meals, and sleeping overnight at their home, not only I, but they too, fall into old patterns from childhood. In the past I’ve found it very difficult to keep my sense of “self” when I’m with them in such close quarters.

 

This time was different. Knowing that I need my own space, my next step was to give myself permission to honor my needs without shaming or belittling myself. Despite repeated attempts by my sister who lovingly offered me a room in her home, and my mom who wanted me to stay with the goddesses at their airbnb, I proudly and boldly insisted on getting my own room at a hotel that had a full kitchen so that I could have my own space and cook for myself.

 

This made all of the difference in the world for me.

 

My routine for most of the days was to do my yoga and meditation practices in the morning, followed by a jog along the ocean, which was breathtakingly beautiful. Then use the fitness room at the hotel and do a weight workout! After that, I would have my breakfast of quinoa, steamed vegetables, two eggs, and some fruit, then hit the shower.


man jogging on beach at sunrise

By the time I finished my shower, I felt so good, “full” of myself in the best possible way. I felt that I had the capacity to handle any situation, any conversation, any complaint, suffering, or judgment coming from any family member with ease, space, and compassion. Basically, I had soothed my samskaras by taking care of my personal needs to feel whole and complete within myself. Only I could give this gift to myself.

 

I remembered my role as chauffeur, and I was so happy to serve. My mantra to myself was, “I am here to catch, hold, and help.” Catch meant that I needed to be ready at any moment to “catch” the goddesses, and anyone else, if they stumbled or were about to fall. “Hold” was about holding space for my family to be themselves, to have their needs without any need of mine to judge or diminish or complain. I was there to simply love them and help. “Help” is my capacity to be of service, make things easier for others, and to reassure them that they are worth it.

 

What I discovered is that each family member and friend was an incredibly amazing being who lived a productive and fruitful life.


I met and saw several of my cousins whom I haven’t seen, some in over 30 years. I had some of the deepest and best conversations with my cousin Russ, who’s an organic farmer in Oregon; Geoff, who’s a professional musician in LA and who’s played with the highest level musicians; Cousin Tom who is well-read, well-traveled, and runs jazz conferences in Savanah, GA, (we had a lot to talk about!!) and Connie, a prominent author who wrote five books on women in the workplace! OMG! Such interesting and talented family I never knew I had. And I know there’s more family members and friends just as amazing that I didn’t get a chance to meet at the party.

 

I had two peak moments of the visit. One was driving my mom from just south of LA where she lives to San Diego to my sister’s house. The drive was on the Interstate 5, which is always a crazy busy 8 lane highway. It was pouring rain when we left, and I had to go slowly to be able to see. Lots of fog and mist and water!

 

I decided to chant a mantra to Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, and with my mom’s permission, I began chanting. I’ve memorized the Ganapati Atharva Sirsa Upanishad, which is a several page mantra that takes about 10 minutes to chant. I’ve been practicing this mantra for years and I chant it usually when I leave on a trip or during times where I need extra support to remove obstacles.

 

golden Ganesha murti with flowers

I began chanting and right in that moment, the clouds began to dissipate. After about five minutes, the sun came out. I glanced over at my mom, and she was sound asleep!!!! The mantra knocked her out, or perhaps she transcended into a deep state of meditation. Regardless, it was so sweet to see her completely relaxed and tranquilized by the beautiful flow of Sanskrit mantras.

 

After I completed the mantra, I remained in silence for quite some time to give my mom space to rest and receive the healing effect of the mantra. It was such a joyous moment of communion with my mom in the presence of spirit! We had great weather the rest of the weekend!

 

The second peak moment was after the birthday party, which included a strolling Frank Sinatra impersonator who was very good, 40 friends and family, amazing food, and speeches to honor my mom filled with lots of tears and laughter.

 

After dessert, we all went up to the deck of my sister’s home where you could see the ocean in the distance (about two miles away). The sun was just setting which exhibited a beautiful array of reds, blues, yellows, oranges, and purples across the sky. The fire pit was aflame keeping everyone warm.


fire pit on the beach at sunset

It was a calm and soothing moment of gentle conversation and laughter. Just the core family, cousins, and close friends remained. Everyone was close. I asked Geoff to play us a song, which, after a bit of coaxing, he agreed. He’s very humble. As he began to play and sing, all conversation stopped. He drew all of our attention to his beautiful original songs and lyrics. He is a master musician and has the ability to play with passion and feeling from his heart. Everyone melted then erupted with enthusiastic applause after each song.


Check out Geoff's website: Geoffpearlmanmusic.com

 

For his last number, Bill, my brother-in-law, grabbed my mom for a dance. You’ll see a point early on where she lost her balance and was about to fall but Bill caught her, and they continued dancing! Here's the video so you can capture some of the joy of the moment....



 

After the song and dance, Geoff played a somber song and several of us stood in a line, arms around each other’s waist. My sister was on my right, Bill was on my left, Mom was next to my sister, and the cousins flanked the sides. We swayed together to the rhythm of the gentle music and Geoff’s heart voice.

 

I turned to look at my sister and caught her eye. It’s hard to explain what that moment contained. But it was a moment of mutual recognition of perfection and love, that our lives, with all the gifts and challenges, brought us to this very moment. The peak experience of feeling “at home” within ourselves and literally at home with each other. Complete and true acceptance of the moment, without getting in our own way. Seeing behind the veil of the miracle of the universe that orchestrated this perfect moment to be what it was.

 

My sister had worked so hard to pull off this party, take care of mom’s friends, and provide all of the food, dessert, strolling musician and more. I knew she was exhausted. But I said to her, “Sherri, is this a perfect moment?” She said, “Yes!” There we both were, savoring a perfect moment of family on her deck, so close and connected, surrounded by the beauty of nature and song.

 

To top that moment, which I never believed could get any better, we looked up into the sky and saw a rocket soaring up into the stratosphere. Someone shouted out. "Look up there! That’s Elon Musk’s Space X satellite being launched from a nearby launch pad in San Diego. OMG!" As we took in what we were seeing, it became obvious to all of us that the rockets were fired in honor of my mom’s 90th,😉and in honor of this precious moment of perfection being in harmony with family and all that is.

rocket trails ab

I will never forget this moment on the deck, all of its nuance, dimensions, and beauty, and especially the glance of complete heart connection I shared with my sister. The moment was perfect and beautiful. But what was even greater was sharing it with her. In mutual recognition, our hearts were united as one in the deepest way, with appreciation and gratitude, knowing that this moment cannot last. But that for now, happiness is all there is.

 

May you choose to prioritize your needs first, then catch, hold, and help your loved ones, family, friends, students, and all beings everywhere. May you give yourself permission to value your needs and to know that you are worth it.

 

I look forward to seeing you on the mat!

Namaste,

 

Todd



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