A friend called me one day, saying he could not sleep well due to a strained relationship with his sister. He was looking for advice.
The poor relationship started a few years ago when he asked his sister to stop smoking because she was having issues with her lungs. The situation has been very frustrating for him: he wanted the best for his sister, but she did not appreciate his help. Instead, she refused to quit smoking and recently stopped communicating with him completely.
I told him a story by Zhuang Zi (369-286 B.C.), a Chinese philosopher. In ancient times, the story goes, there was a beautiful seabird which landed in the countryside of Kingdom Lu. The King captured the bird, played it the best music, and provided the best food and wine to the bird. However the bird became confused, scared, saddened, and refused to eat and drink. Three days later, it died.
My friend got it: everyone has their own unique nature. Everyone chooses the way to live their own life. There can be significant differences in our beliefs about what is good and bad, what is healthy or harmful to our health, and what makes us happy or miserable. This varies among people, even among siblings growing up in the same family.
I agree with my friend that smoking is not good for his sister and that he should offer his sincere opinion. But he should stop there and then leave his sister alone. He should not impose his ideas or feel responsible for her decision. Despite the dangers of smoking, it might be the best tool his sister has right now to cope with stress or anxiety so she can sustain her basic functions at work and home. The stronger my friend imposes his ideas, the more his sister is likely to push back.
I advised my friend to put our functional meditation method to work by meditating on this principal regularly. He agreed. It was not easy for him, but by doing so, eventually he learned to stop imposing on his sister. That wasn’t all. By letting go of the idea that he had to change her, he removed the stress he was creating for himself, and he began to sleep better.
When we want to help others, it's best to be sincere but not imposing. Being gentle can be the most beneficial and effective way to help others to change. Dropping our expectations for others to change can help avoid unnecessary conflicts and save everyone involved tremendous energy. It can even lead to a better night’s sleep.
I look forward to teaching functional meditation and other valuable methods at our summer camps, including the EBQT Essential Camp and EBQT for Sleep and Anxiety Camp, both of which are in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in July. See you there!