Conscious Parenting May 6, 2014
I am so proud of my children: how they turned out, who they married, how well they are raising their children. Their parenting styles are different in many ways, yet both sets of children are delightful: sweet, funny, bright, good-natured, well mannered….(I could go on, of course, but I’ll spare you more grandparental gushing!) My time with them reminds me that no matter how well-prepared we may believe we are for the role of parenting, much of what we bring to it comes from unconscious factors over which we have no control.
I loved and respected my mother. I saw her as an intelligent, well-meaning, independent woman with an unemotional personality and a hands-off parenting style. Having a full-time job, she was never involved with my brother’s or my education or social lives, trusting us to get along fine without her participation or advice. And we did. Get along fine.
Well, except maybe for a couple of little things… As a child I longed for her to attend my plays and concerts at school. How good it would have felt if she had been a room mother or attended PTA meetings, how nice to come home to a clean house and find her waiting for me, perhaps with a tray of cookies or freshly baked bread. But I understood and forgave her for having to work and vowed never to let my work interfere with my children’s happiness. Other than that I assumed raising my children with the same love and trust I had received was about all that was necessary.
As it happened, my choices, combined with a lot of good luck, an education in child development, help from a good husband, and a strong desire to be a good parent made me a good-enough mother. But beneath the conscious aspects of my upbringing and later on, of my parenting, was an emotional undercurrent of which I was utterly unaware.
As a child I took my mother’s emotional reserve and unwillingness to discuss family problems for granted. I would never have guessed that her untaught lessons, unexpressed feelings and unrevealed truths would leave me ill-equipped to handle many psychological aspects of child-rearing.
I never heard or saw my parents argue. (Of course, that could have had something to do with the fact that Daddy was rarely home!) Moreover, I can think of only two instances when my mother and I exchanged heated words. The time she used the word “damn,” I was shocked into silence. Intuiting her emotional fragility and wanting to spare her more pain after my parents’ divorce and Daddy’s death, I spared her the normal adolescent phase of rebellion by disowning my uncomfortable emotions. For years I thought that was admirable. What a good girl I was! Just like Mama.
Naturally, this influenced my parenting. Without knowing it, I was so intimidated by conflict and anger that at the first sign of agitation my default response was, like my mother’s, avoidance. Since my family rarely saw negative emotions from me, I believed I was very good at keeping them under control. I was, but that wasn’t a good thing! On the rare occasion when shutting my mouth, swallowing my emotions or distancing myself didn’t work, I was quick to grow impatient, irritated and stern. And if that didn’t shock them into silence, an angry eruption from me would. That may have been an effective way to relieve my anxiety, but it was a dismal model of emotional maturity.
Our parents’ unresolved issues flow into us through dark underground passageways, and if we don’t bring them to the light of consciousness we pass them on to our children. With every gain I’ve made in managing my anxiety, I’ve gifted my family with one less problem to contend with. I’ll never be a perfect wife, mother, or grandmother, whatever these elusive creatures might be, but knowing I’ve lightened my family’s inherited psychological burdens gives me comfort.
Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks
Children and Meditation: A Follow-Up July 23, 2013
“Thank you, Granna. I love you.” These words from my 11-year-old grandson were accompanied by a warm hug before he went up to bed.
Earlier that evening I had taken my five grandchildren to our tipi and taught them a lovingkindness meditation. I’d been thinking for months about what I wanted to do with them during this summer’s visit to our cabin in the Smokey Mountains. One thought was to introduce them to meditation, so in a blog post last March I asked readers for suggestions. The response was far beyond my expectations. My sincere thanks to all who shared your wonderful ideas.
With help from them and Coming to Your Senses, a new book about meditation written by my friend, Beth Johnson, I came up with a plan for four sessions. All the children, ranging from five to eleven, are excellent students with good attention spans, but anticipating their excitement about being together combined with the novelty of learning how to meditate in a tipi, I decided to keep the sessions no more than 15 minutes long. My plan was to focus on their physical senses and guide them through fun activities that would harness their creative imagination. I also devised follow-up activities, most for outdoors (listening for sounds, looking for landmarks on our property, and finding and identifying wildflowers), and, in case it rained, one (making a mind jar) for indoors.
My backpack full of props included a hand-woven wool Navajo placemat; a thick, pure soy candle; incense and an incense container; a lighter; a tape player and 2 tapes of Cherokee legends to play at the beginning of each session; a few bottles of water; 6 towels on which to sit or lie; bug repellant; and because it was such a rainy summer, a camo tarp to cover the wet tipi floor.
I approached the first session, which was about quieting our monkey mind by noticing our physical body and senses, with a bit of trepidation. The kids are still at the stage where the mere mention of the word “body” brings up giggly references to body parts normally not mentioned in polite company. I got what I expected. At dinner a few nights later our friend Bud, the grandfather of a 3-year old boy, asked, “So how did the meditations with the grandchildren go?” “Exactly how you’d expect with five children under 11.” I said.
The next day I skipped the Day Two session “Feeling and Relaxing Your Body” (guess why) and went directly to Day Three: “Finding Your Star,” a creative visualization suggested by a reader named Amy. We lay on our towels, closed our eyes, and imagined flying above our bodies. We flew over the cabin, mountains, and seas into outer space toward our own special star. When we arrived we sat down for a while to enjoy the view. I told them this is a very special quiet and safe place inside them where they can return whenever they feel sad, lonely, or a need to be alone. After a moment we flew back into our bodies and stood up and did a silly star dance.
Amy also suggested the lovingkindness meditation we did the last day. They were getting used to this by now, so although there was still some silliness, everyone participated fully and enjoyed talking about it later. After listening to another Cherokee legend we focused on the candle flame, then on our heartbeats, and then on the light of love inside our hearts which grew bigger and brighter as we imagined being with someone we love. Finally we imagined giving away some of this light/love to someone who might need it from us. These children are naturally sweet and loving, and judging by my grandson’s bedtime response, I’m pretty sure this one was their favorite.
I feel very good about my first try at teaching my grandchildren how to meditate. I don’t expect any immediate or dramatic changes, but I’m pretty sure I gave them some memorable experiences that planted a few seeds of awareness. I’m going to love watching them grow.
“The knowledge of the heart is in no book and is not to be found in the mouth of any teacher, but grows out of you like the green seed from the dark earth. Scholarliness belongs to the spirit of this time, but this spirit in no way grasps the dream, since the soul is everywhere that scholarly knowledge is not.” Carl Jung The Red Book, A Reader’s Edition, p. 133
Note: For those who are wondering, I’m taking a little sabbatical from blog-writing this summer so you won’t be getting many e-mails like this for a while, but I’m posting links to some of my archived posts on Twitter and my Facebook page. I hope you enjoy them.
A Grand Adventure July 10, 2013
It’s been over five weeks since I decided to step back from my twice-weekly blog posting to just let life happen without an agenda. I’ve been surprised to find that with only one exception (my post about Grandmother Spider) I haven’t missed writing. Until today. Why now? Lots of things I guess: a note from a friend who’s missing my regular updates and musings; a lull in the activity going on around here (my three grandsons have left to visit their other grandparents for a week and my daughter’s family is off zip-lining today). And also, perhaps, because I think best by writing and I have much to think about.
Apparently my new freedom from stressing over self-imposed writing deadlines has snuck into other areas of my personality. The other day my husband and one of our grandsons spent a lot of time setting out cushions and hauling wood and laying a fire in our new globe fire pit in the terrace garden by the creek. Out-of-town friends were dropping by for a glass of wine and we were going to sit out there.
Just before they arrived the skies darkened and thunder rolled and a few fat droplets splashed on the deck. I casually said to my daughter, “Let it rain. The wood will dry, the cushions won’t be ruined, and they’ll see it another time.” With a deadpan look she said, “Well that was very un-compulsive of you!” I’m still chuckling. I loved it that my stress switch didn’t automatically flip on and highjack my equanimity as it has done so often in the past! I don’t know if it’s increasing age or increasing consciousness, but either way, it’s real progress!
Last week my five grandchildren were here for some much anticipated fun at Camp MaBoppa with, you guessed it, Ma and Boppa. After several days of spending most of our time indoors because of non-stop rain, one night around midnight I was in their bunk room trying for the zillionth time to settle them down and get them to go to sleep. The first few nights of this it hadn’t been an issue. The excitement of being with each other was catching and I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to let them enjoy the novelty for the few days they’d all be together.
But by this night my HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) personality trait had been pushed to the max by not enough sleep, too little solitude, and too much intense stimulation. Tired, frustrated, and cranky, I was preparing to leave when one child started laughing and another started crying and I felt a crack in my normally patient, composed persona, and then it exploded into a million pieces. I felt it coming like you do when someone lights the fuse of a giant mamajama Roman Candle on the 4th of July, and then I let it fly with a few angry, totally appropriate, well-chosen words!
Absolute silence! In bed a moment later, a twinge of guilt and a bit of fear that they’d stop loving me were soon swept away by a wave of joy and “You go, girl!” pride. I did it! I was proud of myself! It was the right thing to do and I knew it! For someone who hates conflict so much that sometimes she doesn’t set clear boundaries, this was an important achievement.
That night I dreamed I was looking at a map of the Western Hemisphere and tracing a route that started in North America, passed through Central America, and ended at a special village in the center of South America. Part of the route was a watery passage dotted with islands. I imagined I’d need a canoe for that. I’d been asked by a regal-looking woman wearing a long, neutral colored dress to accompany her and her photographer on this trip. I was to help him articulate the essence and meanings of the images he’d be making of our grand adventure. The dream ended with someone giving me a packet of folded up paper. When I opened it, precious gems tumbled out and I searched for the diamond I knew was in there for me.
The next day we were having lunch when one of my grandsons said, “Do you remember what you said last night?”
“Yup,” I said. “I sure do. And there’s more where that came from if I need it.”
“I’ve never seen you that way,” he said with a touch of awe. “Me neither,” said the little one, equally solemn and wide-eyed. Then we all smiled at each other and ate our sandwiches.
This summer is turning out to be a grand adventure.
Children and Meditation March 19, 2013
Achy and tired from a one-hour morning walk on the treadmill, I sat at my computer a while ago with a single question. What shall I write about for tomorrow’s blog post?
Before fully awakening this morning I dozed off and on in dreams about a new post. But I can’t remember a word of it now. Plus, my mind is still absorbed in the book I was reading on Kindle (The Bet, by Vivienne Tuffnell) as I walked. What I really want to do is keep reading. But one-track-minded as my ego is, it decided to defer that particular gratification until I’ve written this, with no idea what this would be.
Years of dreamwork and meditation have taught me some valuable realities. One is that my ego’s conscious thoughts and feelings are balanced by equally valid and influential unconscious material. Another is that when I experience a writer’s block it’s because an unconscious issue “wants” to be addressed. Third, my ego can gain access to this material. I have rituals for times like this, and I trust them because they never let me down.
So I lit my ever-present candle—the current one has a nostalgic scent of cinnamon and evergreens called Joie de Noel—closed my eyes, held my hands in front of me, focused on feeling the tingling in my palms and the beating of my heart, and entered the pregnant darkness (a term for the unconscious I got from the title of Jungian analyst Monika Wikman’s book.) Within seconds I was far away. I’ve been feeling stirrings of excitement lately about the coming of spring and our annual mid-May trek to North Carolina, and this is where I immediately went.
I saw myself sitting cross-legged in the center of the tipi we erect each spring. Our grandchildren were sitting in a line facing me. I was going to teach them how to meditate. I was wondering how to start and what to say and how they would react, imagining jokes and giggles and restless stirrings, when I realized how far my mind was from my hands. Immediately I was back at my desk feeling the tinglings. Within less than two minutes, what I wanted to write about was birthed into my awareness. Or rather, what I wanted to ask you about.
Except for the few minutes of deep-breathing combined with the simple centering mantra I teach my dream groups and use to open my workshops, I’ve never taught anyone to meditate. I have little formal training and am largely self-taught with help from books. There are many different kinds of meditation and people respond differently to different methods. The one that works for me involves following my breath and the life in my body, noticing when my mind strays away from that focus, and then bringing myself gently back to it. With almost no effort or strain, my ego swiftly goes to the place wanting the most attention.
So here’s my question. Have any of you ever taught children to meditate? If so, would you do it with children between the ages of five and eleven or is that too early? If not, should I find a fun way to teach what works for me, or have you had success with a different method? Of course, all of this is predicated on the assumption they’ll be interested in learning. But I figure it won’t hurt to give it a try. I’d love them to have a mental practice to ease the stresses they’ll be experiencing in the coming years.
Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
The 52nd Week December 28, 2012
I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. For me it stands out from the other 51 weeks in a year like a peaceful Zen garden amidst chaos, a special oasis where I attend to soul needs that require annual closure.
During the 80’s when I was juggling parenting with college teaching there were years when I’d spend this week assembling and basting together sandwiched layers of fabric backing, cotton batting, and the quilt tops I’d been working on all year. It took another year of hand-quilting everything together before I presented them to my children the next Christmas. After they each had a quilt of their own I used my special week to start more quilts for our new mountain cabin. When these were finished we took them with us for our annual years’-end visit.
On the outside that decade was about perfecting and preserving the collective values of the times in which I was raised. But on the inside I’d been on a dark, underground journey and I was desperate to understand the conflicts that were tormenting my psyche.
In the fall of 1989 I joined a Centerpoint group based on Jungian psychology. A year later I had quit my job to write a book, attended my first Journey Into Wholeness conference, and was recording and studying my dreams. The year of 1990 was a threshold into the most life-changing, soul-satisfying and creative period of my life.
Throughout the nineties I did dreamwork every morning and wrote every afternoon. In the 52nd week of each year I reread my dream journals and summarized important themes and trends, noted new developments, and highlighted valuable insights. The annual practice of remembering and integrating my soul’s processes brought greater awareness to my daily life and provided useful data for my writing. This was my decade of finding, connecting with, and honoring the inner kingdom of the Self.
The new millennium brought new insights and year’s-end rituals. Initially, I employed “animal medicine” to address an unprecedented need to get in touch with my body and nature by fulfilling a lifelong dream to own and train my very own horse. Later, when my grandchildren began arriving, I was given a second chance to develop and indulge my maternal, care-giving instincts. This time around I was far more conscious and joyful. Since then we’ve spent the week between Christmas and New Years’ at the cabin with our children, grandchildren and dogs enjoying, yes, you guessed it, physical, outdoor, non-cerebral fun like sledding, making snow angels, and building snowmen!
Once again it’s my favorite week of the year. We arrived at the cabin last night with Izzie, my new grand-dog who’s a female version of her predecessor, Bear. Some family will arrive tonight, the rest in a few days. This morning Fred and I threw out the outdated food in the pantry and freezer. Now he’s grocery shopping while I’m writing this blog post, an endeavor that has brought me enormous pleasure for almost three years.
It’s still too early into this decade to forecast what its theme or 52nd-week ritual will be. But for today, savoring my life as I’ve been doing these last two hours has satisfied every need of my soul. May the new year bring you renewed awareness and gratitude for the times of your own one, precious life.
In closing, if you have a bit of extra time you might enjoy this radio interview I recently did for the Centerpoint Foundation about my introduction to Jungian psychology.
Gaia’s Children October 18, 2011
My third-grade grandsons were given an assignment to write about the most beautiful place in nature they can imagine. Connor’s story, published in my last post, is about how he spent a summer day at the beach. His twin brother Jake has wonderful memories of a winter day in the Smoky Mountains. He drew the picture you see here. This is his story:
“Once I went to North Carolina and I just could not wait to feel the snow at my feet. When I got there I found out that my grandpa bought me a sled for the snow! Would you like that to happen to you? I got all of my gear on and raced outside. I could feel the cool breeze in my face. Then I formed a ramp and slid down it. Then I fell off my sled and landed in the pearl-white snow. It was fun! Would you like that to happen to you? Next I went exploring in the woods. I hiked all the way up to my uncle’s house. It was a lot of work! When I came back down I got a little lost but then I passed a tree I recognized. That tree was close to the house! When I got to the house I was really tired. I jumped on the couch and drank hot chocolate. I wish you were there to enjoy the snow with me.”
Last time I described how the teacher made this writing assignment so much more fun by sending a “top secret” note home asking the parents to respond to their children’s essays. The children knew something mysterious was going on and had to wait a few weeks to find out what it was. The mystery was solved when they opened the sealed envelopes their parents had sent back to school and found their special letters inside.
Connor and Jake’s mother, Robyn, has a master’s degree in education and is one of the best mothers I’ve ever known. I’ve learned so much from her about how to listen and respond to children with patience, kindness and respect that I honestly think she should make instructional videos for parents! You’ll see the kind of person she is when you read her response to Jake:
“I remember last winter like it was yesterday and I couldn’t have described our experience as well as you. When did you become such a talented writer? Reading your essay actually made me feel cold! I now long for new sledding adventures and more treacherous hikes. Most of all, I’m now seriously craving a mug full of rich, steamy hot chocolate!
“I, too, find North Carolina the most beautiful place in nature. As magical as the snow-covered Smokies are in winter, I tend to prefer summers in the mountains. I love our drives there each July, counting down the hours until we arrive. It’s always thrilling to see the first mountain range, then eventually make our final turn onto Buck Creek Road. How I love to roll down the windows just to smell the forest! Can you imagine that woodsy scent right now?
“In North Carolina I feel as though we are one with nature. I am in awe of the animals we encounter, from the tiny hummingbirds that buzz around like giant bumblebees to the chubby chipmunks that scurry across our porch hoping not to be seen. How many slippery salamanders do you suppose we have caught over the years? Not to mention the fireflies — it’s incredible how they light up the night sky! What about the black bears we cautiously avoid on our long walks through the woods? I’d secretly love to catch sight of one — from afar, of course!
“I couldn’t write about the glory of North Carolina without mentioning the waterfalls! I’m amazed that some begin as tiny trickles from above. How do they then explode into raging bursts of water that dramatically plunge hundreds of feet downward?
“Of course I have to mention our rafting adventures! The rapids are exhilarating, but I think my favorite part is the very beginning when we paddle out early in the morning watching the mist float on the surface of the river, listening to the cheerful birds loudly chirping and squawking, greeting one another at the start of a new day.
“On our annual trips, hiking in the woods offers the most beauty. When we arrive at the end of each trail the sights are breathtaking! I could sit at the top of Whiteside Mountain all day, gazing down at the trees in the valley far below, feeling humbled and mesmerized and grateful all at once.
“I have traveled to North Carolina every year since I was a child, and I have forever cherished my time there. I am blessed to share my love of the mountains with you, Jake, and can’t wait for our next trip. What else do you think we might discover?
“All my love, Mom.”
I’ve published these stories and letters partly because I’m a proud grandmother who delights in celebrating my grandchildren’s accomplishments; partly because I’m an educator who wants to share a very special activity for other teachers and parents to use; and partly because I’m a nature lover who’s worried about the carelessness with which we’re treating our Earth Mother, Gaia. At this stage of my life one of my greatest fears is for Her welfare. Likewise, one of my greatest hopes is that my grandchildren’s grandchildren will inhabit a world of unspoiled beauty in which they too can experience the mystery and wonder of swimming in an unpolluted ocean and sledding over pristine white snow on a densely forested mountain.
If a crystal ball could show me my great-great-grandchildren’s world would I dare gaze into it? I’m not sure I want to know.