I had the opportunity to be interviewed today by Leanne on Southern Fm 88.3. We chatted about spirituality, mindfulness for children, study and even how parents can help children navigate the complex world of social media.
The keynote Buddhist speaker at this years Spiritual Directors International Conference in Santa Fe was Roshi Joan Halifax, a Zen Buddhist who works at the Upaya Zen Centre in Santa Fe. For many years Roshi Joan has been working with the Dalai Lama on the Mind and Life Institute, which is a dialogue between the best Buddhist minds and philosophers, psychologists and neurologists. It is all available on youtube.com if you would like to see more.
I loved Roshi Joan’s energy and presence. She was a wonderful speaker – here are a few of her insights…
Joan began with a guided meditation inviting us to move through the world with a strong back but a soft front. I loved this image. To recognise that we all have a strong foundation within us that allows us to go out into the world and serve others, but also to remind us that we need to be soft and gentle with others.
She then asked the question; “how do we cultivate the best of who we are throughout the day?” She said if we come from the stance of helping the world, then we see the world and life as weak. If we come to the world from the stance of fixing the world, then we see life as broken, but if we come to the world serving, then we see the world as whole. We get to this place of wholeness by cultivating resilience, strength and tenderness.
She draws on the work of the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams who says that empathy is not ‘I understand what you are going through’ but rather ‘I don’t understand what you are going though, but I will come along side you and be present to your pain’. She likened this accompanying as if each of us was in a little boat and we bring our boats up beside each other. Encounter each person with a freshness, begin with the tenet of not knowing. See each person’s wound together with their extraordinary potential for growth.
She ended her presentation with a slide show of photos she had taken of people living in Tibet, there close ups of men, women and children showing a wide range of emotions from sadness to joy. It was very moving.
I’m just back from the Spiritual Directors International conference in Santa Fe. The theme this year was Emerging Wisdom and this year’s conference featured the wisdom of the Christian, Buddhist and Jewish faiths.
If you haven’t heard of Richard Rohr, he is a Franciscan priest based in New Mexico and a prolific writer on spirituality, the Enneagram and much more. My favourite book of his is ‘Everything Belongs’.
I wanted to share some of the wisdom he shared. He spoke about growing up with a tribal mindset. We all do it, we think that our state, city, country, faith, group is the right one. But he cautions that if you think you have all the answers it stops you from really seeing the other.
He spoke about our own growth and how we have to incorporate our previous stages in each new step, if you don’t you haven’t really transcended. Richard made the point that personal growth was all about subtlety in a world that doesn’t really value subtlety. Our world likes us to think in black and white, right and wrong. Many of his books invite us to see the world ‘non-dualistically’, it is both black and white, up and down. The value in not making a judgment but in holding the ‘and’. This isn’t easy and requires some fairly honest self reflection, but I can see the value in being able to hold things in tension and not jumping in thinking we have all the answers. It also involves holding lightly things we may not even yet understand.
The final thing I’d like to share is that he identified the two main obstacles facing young people today:
1. a loss of meaning
2. a satisfaction with superficiality.
So how do we provide meaning to younger people? How can we help them to see life is more than shopping, fame or having the perfect body? How do we off more than superficiality. How do we share the subtlety of life, the glimpses of wisdom and depth?
That was just a little of his rich presentation. I will share some more over the coming weeks.
I ran a workshop a couple of weeks ago for parents and their primary aged children at the Wellspring Centre (Melbourne) which was lots of fun. At the end I invited the parents to create a meditation specifically for their child. It would be something especially personal to them. I thought I would share the process with you and you can use it for your child/grandchild/niece/nephew special little person in your life:
Step 1. Begin with a setting – ask your child, to share their favourite place in the world, it can be their backyard or bedroom, a holiday place, even an imaginary place. Write down what they share.
Step 2. Now invite them to really imagine them in that place. I like to use all the senses.
Take a note of the following:
What are some of the things they see there?
What are some of the sounds they hear?
Are there any special smells or aromas here?
What can they touch?
What can they taste here? Are there any special foods to eat here?
Step 3. Now ask them if there are any special people here in their special place? Family, friends, pets?
Step 4. Now I ask them which of their favourite toys or games they would like in this place.
Once you have all this information, just simply put it together in a simple story.
Here’s an example:
Begin by asking the child to relax, you might like to invite them to relax each different part of the body, head, neck, arms, chest, tummy, legs, feet.
Now invite them to take some deep breaths.
Now invite them to imagine they are in their special place. For example, imagine you are walking on your favourite beach. Nanna and Poppa are with you, holding your hand and are so happy to be with you. (I like to add a safety element, ie. you are perfectly safe in this place). Now imagine you can see birds in the sky and fish in the water. It’s a warm sunny day and you feel the breeze in your hair and the sand under your feet. Imagine you hear the birds chirping and you can smell the salty sea air. Now imagine you are eating a yummy ice-cream. Just feel how good it is to be here now. There is nowhere else you need to be or anything else you need to do but relax here now. I like to use some silence at this point and invite the child to simply be in this place. You can start with 10-20 seconds and gradually build up to a few minutes. A rough guide is one minute of silence per year, so a five year old can build up to 5 minutes of silence but this depends on the child.
You can then invite the child to drift off to sleep if it is bed/nap time. Another way I find really helpful is to invite the child to draw their favourite place and you can then place this near their bed to help them again.
I’d love to hear how you go with this, if you try it. There’s no right or wrong way and no way to muck it up, so I’d encourage you to have a go.
I had a recent breakthrough on my PhD a couple of weeks ago. So, briefly, my topic is looking at the spirituality of pre-schoolers in a natural bush setting. I was encouraged to use a theory called socio-cultural theory based on the work of Vygotsky who hailed from Communist Russia in the 1930s. The amazing thing about Vygotsky is he was talking about neural plasticity back in the 1930s and it has taken us 80 years to catch up. His theory is all about how we create meaning together in community with one another. So here I was going down this path but at the same time, thinking how am I going to make the link to spirituality? So a year down the track, I was feeling a little worried that I had done all this theory and there was no way to make the bridge to spirituality when I hit a moment of inspiration. I went back to a major study in children’s spirituality conducted by Hay and Nye in England in the late 1990s and guess what? They mention Vygotsky. So I started looking at other studies in the area of children’s spirituality and guess what, there were lots of study using Vygotsky and socio cultural theory. The thing that surprised me the most was that the connection had been there the whole time, I just didn’t see it. This was quite a defining moment. I then began to wonder, if I missed this, what else am I missing because I don’t have the eyes to see.
Well the holiday season is finally over and we begin a new year. For many of us we look at this moment as a time to hit restart and turn over a new leaf.
I’d like to encourage you to let new year’s resolutions go, the majority are broken by the 9th of January anyway. Instead focus this year on what gives you life and energy. Who are the people that make you feel good and supported? Make a choice to spend more time with them in 2014. Reflect on the people who drain your energy, take up too much of your time and think about putting in some boundaries or spending less time with them. Think about the activities that nurture and sustain you – ramp those up in 2014.
Also, what if this year you decide to pay more attention to your role as a parent and mentor in your child’s/childrens lives and make some intentions that the whole family can benefit from? When reviewing the last year in your mind, like most parents you may feel like you nagged too much, didn’t spend enough time with your children, or maybe you tend to over-react. But before you beat yourself up and dwell on the past, here are some things to consider that will make your future brighter and more enjoyable for the entire family:
Although we all strive to be the perfect parent, it is important to stay focused on the things that truly matter in life. After all, there is no such thing as the perfect parent and as long as everyone in your household is happy and healthy, then you are doing a great job. Try not to sweat the small stuff and remember to enjoy those little moments with your children.
Take a deep breath…..
There are plenty of times as parents when things seems overwhelming and our coping strategies fly out the window. Sometimes though in these situations it can be good to just stop and take a few deep breaths, perhaps count to ten or find something in the situation that we are grateful for. Recently, I getting upset at the mess the house was in yet again, (I’d like to blame my daughter but the truth is a large part of the mess belongs to me!), when I paused and thought how grateful I was to have a house and have things to mess up. It changed the way I viewed the situation.
I’m enjoying a new book called ‘Conversation – the sacred art’ by Diane Millis (Skylight Paths, 2013) and I happened to come across this little gem of an exercise:
Before beginning any activity, take 3 deep breaths:
This exercise can be used at any moment of the day. Just pause and take stock. Fill your lungs with air and tell yourself that no matter what is happening it wont last. No feeling is final. Another trick is to stop and smile. I know, you may not feel like smiling and it will feel fake or silly but there is something about the act of smiling which changes the situation in front of us. Maybe it releases some sort of hormone, I’m not sure but give it a try. Sometimes a simple pause can change our view enough to give us the courage to continue.
An interesting experiment.
There’s been a bit in the news recently about sugar. A very good Catalyst (Series 14, Episode 16 – http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/41311 )
episode aired on ABC TV on Thursday 8th August 2013, showing how sugar is causing weight gain and is highly likely to be responsible for our growing metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and some cancers. It was pretty scary yet not surprising to hear. About nine months ago, I had read some similarly alarming articles and decided just to experiment and see what happens when you completely drop sugar from your diet. The first thing I realised was that I had a diet fairly high in sugar and sweet things. I loved chocolate, indulging in cakes and biscuits and well a meal didn’t quite feel complete without a little sweet taste at the end of it. If that wasn’t sobering itself, I began to see just how much sugar is in so much of what we eat, from bread, to yoghurt, to muesli bars to BBQ sauce. Did you know BBQ sauce has more sugar in it than tomato sauce?
Over the past 50-70 years us humans have tripled and quadrupled the amount of sugar we eat. The next surprise came when I started to wean myself off it. It is hard, I won’t pretend it is easy. Sarah Wilson has a great website and eight week ‘I Quit Sugar’ book which walks you through each week. I found week three and four the hardest. My metabolism went for a spin and I wondered a little about what I was doing and why. But then something a bit magical happens. After you rid your body of sugar for a few weeks, the need for it just switches off – you really don’t feel like eating it. So, even when those around me were all eating sweet, sugary snacks, I didn’t feel the need at all. After a few weeks, I began to lose weight, a kilo or so a month. So far, I’ve lost 6-7 kilos and I’m the lightest I have been since I was a teenager. I feel great, have more energy and don’t find myself getting that 3pm slump when I would usually grab a sugar hit. It’s good to have lots of healthy snacks around and nuts have become my next best friend. I’ve make up some healthy protein balls and discovered kale chips. There are a few sugar alternatives. I haven’t replaced sugar with artificial sweeteners such Splenda but I have found that Stevia and Xylitol are pretty good alternatives.
So the next step is to look at my daughter’s diet. Again, I was pretty surprised at how much sugar she was consuming. We often think fruit juice is a healthier option for children, but frankly it’s not. If a child has a glass of fruit juice and a muesli bar for breakfast, they’ve already consumed three or four times a healthy amount of fructose for the day. See, the problem is that our brain doesn’t know when we’ve had enough sugar to eat. The trigger our stomach sends to our brain to say we’ve eaten enough, just doesn’t happen when we consume sugar. That’s why we can just keep eating sweets for so long. Unfortunately, the message we’ve been getting that fat is the culprit to our weight loss isn’t quite the whole story. So often, low fat products have removed the fat and replaced it with sugar.
So the first experiment is to try and reduce or eliminate lemonade, fizzy sugary drinks and fruit juices and replace children’s drinks with water and plain milk. Food companies are brilliant at marketing sugar to our children, things like character endorsed yoghurt (think Dora and the Wiggles) and happy meals with lemonade. It is a challenge, children are invited to parties where the majority of food is laden with sugar, but perhaps by explaining to children about party food being just for parties you can make a big impact on the future health of your children. The current generation of children is the first in modern history who will not live as long as previous generations. Something is wrong and deserves to be investigated further. I know this article has been a little preachy but don’t take my word for it, I invite you to do a little research yourself. See how you feel?
Need more information, here’s a good website to check out.
A good book on the subject is “Sweet Poison” by Australian David Gillespie available on amazon.
And watch the Catalyst program for a good overview.
P.S. I’m not being paid by anyone, I’m just a concerned parent.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, do you agree or perhaps you think I’m crazy, either way drop me a line.
I saw a thought provoking talk on TED yesterday.
Annalie puts forward the idea that in this age of almost permanent connectivity that we are losing our creativity. She says that creativity comes when you draw upon all your life experiences, travels, creative art and play, being out in nature, conversations and social situation (of the real kind), seeing art and hearing music. She proposes that if people (children in particular) spend all their time on facebook (yes I see the irony of posting this on fb) just seeing what others are up to, they are losing the experience of life and all it has to offer.
The other issue it raises in me, is the question of diversity. If everyone is checking to see what everyone else is doing and making sure they are doing things that are accepted, does that leave any room for crazy pursuits and ideas? I remember in high school, there was a student who was right into marching bands. It wasn’t necessarily my thing but I loved that she had found something that she loved and was passionate about and that there was a whole culture of marching bands which allowed her to express herself. Are we all morphing into a sort of homogenous sameness?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
On a recent trip to the US to visit the National Parks, we ended up booking a couple of nights in Las Vegas so we could get out to the Grand Canyon. Let me paint our first moments… After we disembarked off our plane, we were greeted with poker machines in the airport. We checked into the Venetian Hotel which is pretty glitzy and made our way to the lifts via the gaming floor. You see, you can’t walk anywhere in Vegas without going through a gaming floor. You can smoke in the gaming areas, so you walk through the haze of smoke, watching people play Judge Judy (I know, who’s sold their soul?) Sex and the City machines to get to the lifts. We got in the lift and headed up to the 15th floor. On the 6th floor, the doors opened and in piled about 20 drunk teenagers here for a fraternity weekend. (Note to self, never go to Vegas on the weekend). On the 9th floor they were joined by another 20 or so friends. They all piled out on the 12th floor.
I’m really trying not to be judgemental but its hard, so hard. So we went for a walk over to a shopping centre. Vegas is the only place I’ve been where drinking in the street is actively encouraged so everyone is carrying around wine glasses or the classier, big plastic bucket of frozen margaritas around their necks. Most street corners have police officers negotiating with some poor drunk person.
Isabella turned to me at one point early on in the afternoon and said “Mummy I don’t fit in here.” “Neither do I darling.” I’ve never been somewhere so disconnected before. It is like it is a bubble people enter with a determination to be as bad as they possibly can for the next 24 or 48 hours. The best way I can describe it is – it’s like schoolies week in a big city. I have no problem with people having fun and doing that if that’s what’s they like, I’m just struck by it.
One evening we were walking along the strip, watching the light and water show outside the Bellagio followed by the erupting volcano at the next when tucked into a little nook was a little shrine to the Hindu God Ganesh, “I finally found some sort of spirituality in Vegas” It was the closest I ever came. I’m sure there are spiritual directors in Vegas and thank goodness, if ever there was a place where people needed to get in touch with their true selves and discover some connection it was there.