Shining the Light

Do you have a child who shines a light on everything that needs healing within your family? I do. These children stretch us and challenge us in ways that are unimaginable when we first hold them in our arms. (For some though, it starts with the day they are born!)

It can be very exhausting while they are busy being their little search-light self. It seems no stone is left unturned by these children. They will challenge you in ways that seem like they will break you, and they will challenge every assumption you hold that needs refining. You may have no idea what that assumption is, but they will not let up until you find it.

And none of this is done directly. You cannot ask them why they are behaving this way or that way. They are simply being.

A challenge for parents is to try not to carry the message “you are too much for me.” These kids can often easily feel rejected, as they do not let people close to them coast. They are prone to having people react to them – strangers, acquaintances and family.

Nature is a wonderful place to take these children to give them rest from who they are. The trees will ask nothing from them, but will only give a constant reassuring stability. A flowing creek or ocean will show them the impermanence of everything – that all will change and nothing stays forever. Seeing birds, bees or squirrels will help take their mind off themselves and their needs. Surrounded by nature, there is nothing to negotiate or fight for and nothing to be evaluated. There is only seeing.

What is Worse: Suffering or the Fear of Suffering?

Lately I’ve been thinking about suffering and more specifically, the fear of suffering. How much we dislike to suffer and how much we’re hoping to have things flow smoothly, yet this expectation causes more suffering for us. When bumps in the road happen, we can spend a lot of energy wishing they hadn’t happened. If we can listen to ourselves, we’ll see that this is sometimes the very first thought that comes into our mind – “I wish this hadn’t happened.” This resistance creates more suffering for us as we’re then wishing things were different from what they are, instead of accepting and being able to move on to deal with what is in front of us. This resistance creeps up on you and can be hard to spot, especially when it involves someone’s else behaviour. We can find ourselves wishing another person was behaving differently. This consumes our energy that could be used to move forward in our life and live with more freedom.

How do you get to the point when you’re able to accept what happens and accept other people’s behaviour, rather than turning away from it, or complaining about it or getting angry or frustrated? If you can accept what is happening, then you can create a window within yourself to deal effectively with the present, with reality, with how things really are, and to work towards change within yourself, instead of creating more resistance. If you want to wake up and live with more freedom, this is essential to free ourselves from the endless chain of reactions and to experience more joy.

The first step is to have a reservoir to draw on…. a reservoir where you simply have time to deal with the unexpected things that happen and have got your bases covered with enough sleep, food and downtime. Meditation also helps. Then you need to fully believe that you can only control and change yourself, and make a conscious choice about how you will react in each situation. Maybe your underlying beliefs about the situation are causing you to suffer. Can you choose to see the situation differently? Maybe you are reacting with fear stemming from your past and perhaps this fear has less bearing on the reality at hand than you might think.

For myself, a difficult issue for me is how others treat my children. I want to see my children treated with respect and love by everyone in their family, and when I perceive they are not, it’s very difficult for me to put the brakes on my emotional reaction. I understand intellectually that sometimes treating children with respect and love is not always possible – perhaps because family members themselves simply don’t always have the capacity – yet I don’t understand it emotionally. But if we can’t protect our children from the negative emotions swirling around, then we can give them a context to understand these emotions and help them understand that many times people’s emotions have nothing to do with the other person.

And regardless of what everyone else is doing, what can your example show? What can children learn from your example? When everyone is falling apart around you, can you act with strength, calmness and humour and show that you believe we will all be fine and that we will learn what we need to? Can you show them that you trust and believe that they will be fine too, that they have resources and inner strength that they can draw upon, just like you do?

It also starts with having deep trust in the world – that there is everything at hand to teach you and guide you to your next level of development.

I was remembering when I was 31 and was interviewing to work as an in-house copywriter, and one company after another told me I came in second in the hiring process but they couldn’t offer me a job. Finally on the last time anyone told me that, I was biking home after the interview and cursing to myself that now I would have to give up looking for an employee position and become a freelancer. I was so mad – I felt that life was clearly telling me I wasn’t going to be hired and now I would have to take the harder route. I was convinced it would be much harder to work for yourself than for a company. I cursed all the way home. Of course, the moral of this story is that I became a freelancer and never looked back after that. What I was afraid turned out to be nothing to be afraid of.

Somehow we get through these things that we are scared of, and looking back, usually what we remember is everything we learned along the way, not the fear. Can we learn to remember that there is nothing to be afraid of even while it happens.. that we are capable of dealing with whatever comes our way. And if what we fear the most happens, tears are a wonderful way to deal with life before you decide what to do next.

Learning to Live with Pure Trust

I was watching an eurythmy performance the other week – which is a beautiful art to watch and one in which many ideas come to mind as you watch the flowing, harmonious movements. One of the eurythmists began to recite a poem. I’d been thinking about fear the day before and what she spoke was exactly the answer to my questions. This is what she spoke:

We must eradicate from the soul
all fear and terror of what comes towards man out of the future.
We must acquire serenity in all feelings and sensations about the future.
We must look forward with absolute equanimity to everything that may come.
And we must think only that whatever comes is given to us by a world-directive full of wisdom.
It is part of what we must learn in this age,
Namely to live out of pure trust
Without any security in existence.
Trust in that ever present help of the spiritual world.
Truly, nothing else will do
If our courage is not to fail us.
And we must seek this awakening within Ourselves
Every morning and every evening.

Rudolf Steiner wrote those words more than 100 years ago. He was a true visionary, but his name does not appear much outside of Waldorf/Steiner circles.

To live with no fear is quite something and takes a tremendous level of spiritual growth. I think about his line “Without any security in existence” and wonder what most people would say about taking away all government security.

To live with trust that the world will and is delivering everything you need – for learning, for growth, for life… that is quite something. My naturopath also spoke about this when she told me no matter the hardship or challenge in your life, say thank you. And if you don’t feel it, say thank you over and over again until you start to believe it.

It’s also worth noting that Steiner says this is something that you must continually renew – in fact every morning and every evening.

And certainly, the “fear of” syndrome can sneak up on you… when you find you’re making choices that are mainly because of fear of something, instead of what you want to see. The universe does not work well with negatives and instead tends to make more concrete the thing you are fearing. We need to visualize what we want instead, and then contentment & courage can return.

Stay Away from the Children’s Menu!

If your children can’t yet read, then be sure to never introduce them to the beast known as the Children’s Menu in restaurants. There they will meet food that is as dry and tasty as sandpaper and comes only in beige. Don’t be fooled by the lure of free crayons either.

If they can read, then you will have to do your best job of quickly disposing of the children’s menu – either tossed onto the table behind you or stuffed into your purse. Nowhere is the food as bad as on the children’s menu. While you dine on delicious fresh salad leaves with a dressing of subtle flavours or beef bourguignon with caramelized pearl onions or Moroccan chickpea stew, your offspring will be chewing beige wheat-covered food items with a surprising resemblance to the carpet your feet are resting on.

Where did we get the idea that real food is abhorrent to children in a restaurant?

Learning the Foreign Language of Children

I continue to be amazed at the innate spiritual knowledge that children carry. Every so often they will tell you what is true and beautiful about the world in an incredibly interesting way. Yet if you question them about what they said, it is shining too much intellectualism upon them and the moment vanishes in the ether.

It is as if they are steering you as the adult in how to grow and develop, yet the message can never be said directly and you must listen so carefully without straining or asking too many questions, almost as if you are learning a foreign language. You can’t stop and question every word, but must go along with the flow so that you can have some semblance of a conversation.

Many describe this as children being our mirrors and indeed they are. Of course, this does not mean that you’re not also their alpha guide and role model. The learning needs to flow in both directions, from child to adult and vice versa.

I remember when my daughter came back home after a few days away at a cabin when she was almost 11. She returned so happy at having had so much freedom and time in nature, and also from escaping the heavy cloud of worry in the house, which we were carrying with her younger brother’s illness. As soon as she stepped into the house and saw her brother, she told me, “It’s an honour to take care of Aaron.” I was floored at her depth of understanding and perspective. To be able to see something that her parents thought of as so difficult as a gift of service was astounding. Of course the very next day she complained bitterly of the deprivations she felt she’d undergone in having a brother with health issues! Because, after all, we all need to keep both feet on the ground, her Mum included.

Sitting on Large Blocks of Time

Whenever we take a plane ride, I’m greatly relieved when there is no media (a common theme on this blog!). It means instead my children will have the gift of figuring out how to entertain themselves. Granted, this is very different when you’re traveling with children three and younger who are wired to move almost continually and can’t understand why they must remain in a chair for five hours. (I’ve tried that and it is similar to outright torture.)

I apply the same thinking when they’re ill. Illness is difficult, but it’s much easier when you accept it as a time to stay home and rest. The hours of boredom are good for them. Sometimes I will read to them and it becomes a special time of reading out loud for a lot longer than you normally would, or at least until your voice conks out. It’s tempting to use media as a distraction, but perhaps this is merely teaching children to not look upon illness as a time to rest from the world. With media, they are still experiencing the revved up energy of the world, instead of the different state of mind that illness brings.

Often, after an illness like flu or strep throat, there is something slightly changed within the child – a quality that was hidden before comes closer to the surface. You have to look very closely, but it is sometimes almost a deepening of their understanding of humanity, or a strengthening of their empathy. Illness can bring many gifts if we have the space to allow it.

What Does a Spiritual Education Look Like?

If you are seeking a spiritually enlightened education for your children, take a look at Waldorf schools (also called Steiner schools in Europe). The curriculum, filled with music, handwork, drawing, theatre, movement, poetry, festivals, singing, cooperative games, sports, communal chores, and of course academics, seeks to balance thinking, feeling and willing within the child. The founder Rudolf Steiner believed that these three capabilities of the soul needed to be equally trained to raise creative and free human beings.

There is also no media used within Steiner schools as a teaching method until high school. Some people love this; others may wonder if children will be left behind in the modern work force. Considering that many of us learned computers after high school, I think this is not an issue. The danger instead is that too much time spent on learning technology when in elementary school could produce a house of cards: that technology will continue to change at quite a rapid pace, meaning for example that when you were learning PowerPoint in Grade 3, it becomes redundant years later and what do you have to show for that block of time spent learning? (Waldorf schools have other reasons that they don’t use technology though). Instead, if you learn drawing or singing, that is a gift you will have your whole life. And who can deny that technology is easy to pick up at any stage in your life, as we all have.

There are so many layers to the Waldorf school curriculum it is difficult to choose where to begin first. Perhaps with the singing. Every day, every single student sings. They are taught to sing high notes, which has become neglected in today’s music classes, oriented as they are towards popular music and its lower notes. The children have such sweet high voices and to hear a Waldorf class sing is a gift. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with singing low of course, but for children to begin singing low, they are missing the chance to learn and delight in the entire range of their voice.

The painting techniques are also an interesting place to stop upon. In kindergarten, they start by giving the children one primary colour to work with, say yellow. After a few weeks, they will be given a second primary colour to work with, perhaps blue. Using watercolours on damp paper, the colours blend together and the children experience for themselves how colours combine to create another colour – in this case green. For weeks they will continue with just two colours, content to fully explore the blending of yellow and blue and the creation of all the shades of green. In my son’s kindergarten, not one child asked for another colour after weeks of using only two colours.

When my daughter first began at the Waldorf school, she joined the kindergarten in May after leaving her other school. When it was painting day, she sat down to paint and made sure that none of the colours she used touched each other. At the end of the morning, the teacher showed me her painting compared to the other children’s. Hers was a mass of separate blobs across the page, because she had never been taught to experience the creation of colour, while the other children’s watercolours merged in a free flow of colour creation.

I freely confess to having drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to Waldorf schools. It is my wish that in the future, all schools will draw something from the ideas of teaching that Steiner developed. The depth and clarity of his vision for a conscious-raising education for the children of the world is truly inspiring.

As he said himself:

“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”

Hurt No Living Thing

– Christina Rossetti (again)

Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.

What Are They Eating?

Just as we are treating children with greater compassion and understanding than ever before, one other element, aside from media, needs to be looked at to help our children grow up to joyfully live their purpose here on earth: what they are eating.

Many children are eating too many foods that are processed and empty of nutrients. These foods are convenient and in the struggle to stay on top of things as a parent today, they can seem appealing. But at what cost? Not only are these foods devoid of any life forces, they are also full of preservatives, chemicals, dyes, sugar and other questionable ingredients.

What we eat affects our gut flora and immune system, as well as our brain and nervous system – how we think, feel and act. The standard processed diet, among other factors, has been directly linked to the rise of chronic conditions like autism, eczema, asthma, ADHD, allergies and Type 2 diabetes. The use of antibiotics, pain killers, steroid drugs, contraceptive pills and other pharmaceutical drugs also weaken gut flora and thus, our immune system.

As Dr. Natasha Campbell explains in her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome:

By negatively altering the gut flora processed carbohydrates play an important part in damaging the person’s immune system. However, on top of that, there is ample evidence showing that processed foods, particularly processed carbohydrates and sugar, directly weaken the functioning of macrophages, natural killer cells and other white blood cells and undermine systemic resistance to all infections.

We as parents have been influenced by this too. Some of us were raised on highly processed food, or had many antibiotics as kids, or perhaps weren’t breastfed. Our gut flora is passed onto our children, usually showing more pronounced damage with each generation. All this leads to altered gut flora. But it is what it is. We’re all in the river together – learning that we can’t stray too far from the foods nature intended us to eat.

We simply need to start one meal at a time offering food that grew on plants or trees, or that came from pasture-raised animals, that has good fats and oils, and that nourishes. It’s much easier to think clearly and calmly when your body is well nourished and you have a strong immune system.

Media and Children: Here’s Why Not

My poor children will tell you that they are unfortunate enough to be born to a mama who is a draconian media dragon. Perhaps I am a little extreme, but when my kids are using the computer or watching tv, I can’t help but feel they’re wasting precious minutes of their lives. I don’t mind if they sit and do nothing, stay home all day or what have you, but I have very little patience for computers and television when it comes to kids.

I see it as putting other people’s ideas and images into their heads, and they are so young it should be the other way around – that it is their ideas and images that come out into the world. Especially when they are under seven and living very much as a “sense organ”. Impressions of the world from birth to seven go right into the core of the child. They have no filter. And when you’re watching most of the stuff Hollywood puts out, you need a filter.

If they’re using computers or watching tv, they’re also not playing. Playing is the work of the child, not video games or sitting passively while something entertains them. How will they come to know who they are if they have spent a lot of time being entertained by things outside of their own mind, their own resources and their own imagination? Like I said, I am a little extreme.

As well, excessive television often seems to interfere with the development of the will. If they are to go out into the world and live their purpose, they will need a strong sense of will.

Also, the pace and number of jump cuts of modern media is a very speeded-up take on life, one that can influence a child to believe that the revved-up feeling from media is a natural state to be in.

I have seen six year old children at the park who are surrounded by trees to climb, open spaces to run in, logs to clamber over, yet they are begging their mums for another turn on the iPad. And who can blame them? That stuff is hard to resist.

Play was given to children for a reason and is the voice of nature within a child. That voice needs full expression. As Steven Tuber expresses it so well in his book about child therapist D.W. Winnicott, Attachment, Play, and Authenticity, “The ability to play is the benchmark for the entrance into a life of health and vitality.” If you add up all the hours in the life of a modern child that they have spent on any form of media, these are hours that they did not get to live through play.

In this age, where we are treating children with greater understanding and compassion than ever before, we have a unique opportunity to set the stage for them to be able to live their own purpose and find what they are meant to do without spending years in therapy or general confusion. Excessive media will not help them to discover who they are and what they are meant to do.