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It’s just turkey: A Buddhist primer for surviving the holidays


It’s almost a Thanksgiving tradition. No matter how much work you’ve done on yourself, you’re 13 years old again come the annual family dinner. In this scenario it can be hard to behave like a Buddhist, so Well+Good asked one to help us practice inner beauty, gratitude, and general table manners this week.

Carl Sheusi, a NYC holistic coach, yoga teacher, and teacher of Big Mind, a form of Buddhism that combines Zen Master Genpo Roshi’s teachings and western psychology, knows just why our parents are so good at pushing our buttons. “They installed them,” he says. “But we might see these family triggers and traditions as an opportunity to wake up to ourselves,” he says.

Well+Good posed several not-so-Zen parables to Sheusi, inspired by horrifyingly typical holiday family dramas, below, and asked him how to deal the Buddhist way. His general piece of advice: “If we’re going to become enlightened, we need to admit our not so favorite parts of ourselves. And there’s nothing like family to help us with that.”

And to supplement your dinner-table Buddhism, cocktails

YOU SUDDENLY FEEL 16 YEARS OLD AGAIN. AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY.
It may be unavoidable that you go home for the holidays and you revert.
But you can prevent suffering by not hating yourself for it. Get over your attachment to the thought, “This ought not to be happening. I am a grownup. This ought not to be happening.” It’s not a great mantra—well, not of any good host or guest.

YOU’RE A VEGETARIAN, VEGAN, OR RAW FOODIE. AND, GUESS WHAT, THERE’S A GIANT ROASTED BIRD ON THE TABLE.
This is where I might employ a philosophy called “I’m eatin’ what your cookin’.” I don’t remember the circumstance, but the Buddha, a vegetarian, went to a dinner in his honor and the centerpiece was a giant piece of dead flesh. He accepted it and ate it. The attendants were aghast. “You broke your vows,” they said. “It was a gift given with kindness of the heart,” he answered. In other words, are you secure enough in your dietary decisions and values not to suffer for them? Or are you still trying to get your family to understand you and change for you?

YOU FIND YOURSELF EXPLAINING THE IMPORTANCE OF EATING WHOLE GRAINS, LOCAL PRODUCE, AND HORMONE-FREE DAIRY PRODUCTS.
See above.

YOUR FATHER ASKS YOU HOW THE JOB SEARCH IS GOING, IF YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED, IF YOU’RE PLANNING ON CHILDREN, ETC.
There’s nothing like a question about our well-being or our plans from a parent, is there? But when you practice zazen, or go out for a cigarette, or whatever you do get some space, think about this. Gempo Roshi gave me some advice of recently. He said, no matter how much it annoys you when your father says this, just know that it’s all out of love. Whether or not that turns out to be true, just really hearing it can shift your thinking. Because in fact you’re probably projecting onto your father what he means by the question. Wouldn’t you ask a good friend you hadn’t seen in while these questions?

Carl Sheusi knows you’re capable of a Zen holiday

YOUR OLDER BROTHER IS FULL OF IDEAS FOR IMPROVING YOUR LIFE. SAYING, YOU SHOULD DO THIS, YOU SHOULD DO THAT.
On the surface he’s telling you what to do. But there’s probably a deeper agenda. Instead of going down that dark path of feeling misunderstood and judged, find out what he means by asking a powerful question. Try, “Oh, what do you know about Roth IRAs?” Or, “Do you really want to help?” Not, “Why are you such a jerk?” Sometimes family members think they have nothing to offer the competent kid who made it in New York. But they want to be useful.

YOUR MOTHER IS MICROMANAGING THE TURKEY.
You probably can’t change your parents, but you can change who you are about your parents. We can’t eliminate all suffering. But we can lessen it, move away from it, and work to enhance or appreciate our lives. So step away from the turkey. Let the turkey and your mother be. Is the turkey a tool for torturing the children? No, it’s just turkey.

For a bite-size serving of Big Mind, Carl leads Lunchtime Enlightenment on Tuesdays 12:30–1:15 at New Field Yoga, 27 Cliff St. (3rd floor), btwn John and Fulton Sts., South Street Seaport. For private yoga and coaching: [email protected], www.carlsheusi.com

Got any methods for dealing with Thanksgiving, besides skipping it? Tell us, here!