A Weekend of R+R (and R)

“Continue under all circumstances”…that one tactic – perseverence – can put you on a dead-end road, and then what do you do? – Natalie Goldberg

I have spent this past weekend at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts – and it’s been heaven!  I am here to study with Natalie Goldberg, but more importantly, I am here to take some time to rest, to recharge, and to reconnect with myself and my interests.

This place is amazing.  Many years ago it was a Jesuit seminary, and then it was an ashram, and then when the ashram lost its guru in the mid-nineties it became a yoga and retreat center.  It has since expanded to include general rest and relaxation retreats that include a variety of classes and healing modalities such as massage, as well as other educational offerings in areas such as health and wellness, spirituality, and writing.  The grounds are breathtaking, the facilities are well-kept and as environmentally sustainable as possible (including the new construction where I am sleeping), and the food it organic and yummy!  If you haven’t been, you really should see it at least once in your life.  Even the animals here feel the peaceful vibe – I almost tripped over a rabbit yesterday who was just sitting in the middle of the sidewalk.  I didn’t even notice him, because I wasn’t looking (talk about mindfulness!) – and anyway, where else would a rabbit just sit there while I person is walking towards him?  How was I to know to keep open a wary eye for overly-trusting animals?  There have been turkeys outside my window since yesterday’s rainstorm, gobble-gobbling away, but I can’t see them from here even though they sound close enough to be on my windowsill.  In my experience, wild turkeys are masters of disguise.

Natalie Goldberg teaches “writing practice” as part of one’s Zen practice.  This seminar has consisted of sitting meditation, a brief teaching, and then she gives you a prompt and you GO – write for ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty-five minutes.  This is not only a way to train yourself as a writer, but also a way to study your mind and the way it moves.  If you keep your hand moving, it’s amazing what comes out!

The guilt I am feeling about coming here, about taking the time and the money to do this for myself, about leaving my kids for the weekend, is pretty painful.  But the truth is, I really needed to do something extreme for me right now.  It’s been an exceptionally challenging month or two for me as I have been dealing with some personal and health-related stuff, and an intense six months with the stuff that has been going on at Bess’ school, and really an exhausting six years since Bess was born.  All my life I have just pushed on, refused to acknowledge the pain unless it was so bad that I literally could not move, believed that I could will myself out of any challenge or difficult circumstance.  And now here I am, and I see clearly that I have been mistaken, and I have much new learning to do.  This weekend represents a start of a new path, a new system of living and coping for me, a cracking open of the old ways so that there is room for something new.  I am nervous and excited and full of fear, but that’s life, right?


Keep on Walking

“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” ~ Buddhist Proverb

This quote reminds me of Dory from the movie Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.”  I feel like that a lot, especially these days.  One day at a time.  One foot in front of the other.  Am I missing any cliches?

But I really like this quote because it speaks to me as a parent and as an activist.  A lot of what I talk about in my presentations, and a lot of what I struggle with as a person, mother, wife, and an advocate for social justice, is my relationship with perfection.  It’s not enough to be on the right path – I have to have already arrived at perfection, taken off my coat and shoes, and made myself a cup of tea or it’s simply not good enough.

And the truth that I try to teach others but that I struggle to come to grips with myself is that not only is this not possible, but it’s not healthy.  An attachment to perfection keeps us in a perpetual state of feeling judged, if not by others than certainly by ourselves, and unworthy, because it is something that is unattainable.  As parents, and as activists, we want so badly to do everything right.  Our attachment to the outcome (i.e. healthy and happy children, sustainable world, etc.) is so powerful that we can beat ourselves us when we make mistakes, or we don’t make The Right Choice, or we don’t handle things as well as we would have liked.

But really, we should be giving ourselves huge props for facing in the right direction, because there are so many people who aren’t, who are wandering through the wilderness with no direction at all or who are on the wrong path altogether.  It is hard to stay on the straight and narrow and just keep walking, and if we stumble to the side of the road once in awhile, it’s still okay because we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep going.  That’s not to say that I endorse complacency – it does no good to be on the right road if you’re just standing there looking at the horizon, does it?  This is just to say that we are all on a journey, we are all a work in progress, and as long as we’re always working on ourselves, always improving, always learning, always growing – always moving forward – it’s all good.

Raising Children to be “Compassionate Choicemakers and Engaged Changemakers”

Back at my old Ahimsa Mama Blog I had posted an interview with Zoe Weil, President and co-founder of the Institute for Humane Education.  I am re-posting it here in honor of the fifteenth anniversary of the Institute, and also because I think Zoe is pretty cool!  They have all sorts of exciting things going on for their anniversary celebration, including an community art project called Envisioning the Future and their summer institute, Educating for a Better World.  I encourage you to go check it out!

K: How would you define Humane Parenting? What are some of the goals of Humane Parents as you see them?

Z: Actually, I’ve never defined humane parenting or considered the goals of ‘humane parents,’ because what I’ve focused on is using the tools of humane education to raise humane kids, which I write about in my book Above All, Be Kind. I feel more comfortable sharing my experiences as a humane educator with people who want to give their children the tools and motivation to be humane rather than try to define what humane parenting looks like. With that said, to me humane parents are simply people with children who actively cultivate the best qualities of human beings (one of the definitions of the word humane) and model these qualities for their kids. The actual tools of a humane educator are key to raising a humane child. They are to:

• Provide information about the issues of our time in age appropriate ways so that our children have knowledge about the effects of their everyday choices

• Foster the 3 Cs of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, so that they are good learners and thinkers, able to make wise decisions

• Instill the 3 Rs of reverence (in our young children), respect (in the middle years) and responsibility (as teens) so that they become compassionate choicemakers and engaged changemakers for a better world

• Offer positive choices and the tools for problem solving so they can make a difference.

K: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as an activist when it comes to raising your son?

Z: The biggest challenge by far is living in a culture that does not support, foster, or encourage many of my values and actively undermines them at every turn. Whether it’s TV, violent and sexist movies, music, and videogames, inhumane, unhealthy, and unsustainable foods marketed to my son, or rampant materialism, I feel like society presents enormous hurdles to humane living and raising humane children.

K: What are the biggest lessons you have learned during your Humane Parenting journey?

Z: Again, I wouldn’t call it humane parenting, mostly because I have felt so humbled by being a mother and would, in retrospect, change many of the ways in which I parented my son, but here are the two biggest lessons I’ve learned as a parent trying to raise a humane child:

The culture in which our children live exerts enormous power over their desires and behaviors which we cannot fully prevent.

It’s important to back off and let our children make their own choices in age appropriate ways, even if they are different from ours, and to honor and love them for their independent thought.

K: Have you found that you have any personality quirks that most interfere with your goals as a parent?

Z: Oh my, yes! Although I try to cultivate the best qualities of human beings, and do well in some arenas like loyalty, compassion, honesty, and perseverance, I’m also impatient, reactive, stubborn, and fairly controlling. These definitely interfere with my goals as a parent!

K: I am interested in the tension between cultivating a sense of responsibility to the world at large in our children and our desire as parents to help our children grow into the person they are meant to be. Have you found this to be an issue, and if so, how have you come to terms with the conflict?

Z: A few years ago I was leading a humane education training workshop and my son, who was 13 at the time, came to the end of it in time to participate in an activity we call “Spectrum.” In this activity, I place four cards down on the floor which have “I” statements on them indicating behavior choices along a spectrum. I ask people to stand in front of or between the card or cards that best represent them. There are four sets of these four cards, one on animal issues, one on environmental issues, one on social justice issues, and one on consumerism issues. The purpose of the activity is multifold. First, it’s interesting for people to realize that while they may have made some choices, like being vegan, not buying products tested on animals, adopting dogs and cats from shelters, and so on, that are kind to animals, they may be making other choices such as living in a big house, driving an SUV, having more than 2 children, that have a negative impact on the environment. It’s humbling to realize that our righteousness is not warranted when we see others who are making a big effort in another arena that we aren’t so “evolved” about. The other goal is to notice the changes one has made over the years. I’ll ask where they would have stood on the spectrum five years earlier. Almost everyone has moved further to the more sustainable, compassionate, peaceful end over those years (not surprising since these are people who’ve come to our workshop!).

When my son participated, he was further into the consumptive end of the consumerism spectrum and had moved away from his vegan upbringing on one end of the animal spectrum. While everyone else had moved toward more compassionate lifestyles, he’d moved away from his upbringing. People asked him why, and he was quite forthright in saying that it was just easier and more convenient and his desires sometimes trumped his values.

At that moment I could have felt a bit embarrassed. After all, I was leading the workshop and here was my son no longer living according to the values I’d raised him with. But I didn’t feel embarrassed. I actually felt proud of him and of myself. I was glad that despite being raised by an often overbearing, rigid parent who believes certain things are right and wrong and we should do this and that, he felt comfortable being himself, being different, and being honest about who he was. I guarantee that there were adults in that group who weren’t honest about where they were on the Spectrum because there’s a lot of pressure to conform to the “humane ideal” in this situation, but my son wasn’t one of them. He was not belligerent or standoffish in any way; he was well-spoken, friendly, and fine with being who he was, different from his mother. I felt like I’d done a good job of raising a polite child with a strong sense of self who could speak his truth – even if it differed from mine. When it was over, he draped his arm around me. I knew he was proud of me, too, even though we were sometimes making different choices.

K: What has been the payoff of your efforts at Humane Parenting? Do you have a specific story to tell about your son that illustrates the qualities you have tried to cultivate in him?

Z: My son is very honest. This is a curse as well as a blessing because I often know more than I want to know! He is also fiercely loyal, compassionate, and incredibly generous. For the past few years he’s been a significant donor to my organization, the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). Two years ago, I was sitting at my desk and he walked in and handed me a tiny scrap of paper. On it was a little drawing. I didn’t know what it was but he wouldn’t tell me. He made me figure it out. Finally I realized it was the first drawing in a treasure hunt. I found the next drawing and the next and so on traversing every corner of the house until I found the treasure: $150 for IHE.

And if you want to learn EVEN MORE about Zoe and her views on Humane Education, check out her TedX Dirigio talk on YouTube:

Am I the only one not celebrating?

photo by flickr user Mojo Baer

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

My kids are still little, and don’t watch much television, so thankfully they have not seen, and I have not had to explain to them, the events of the past few days.  The impact that it has had on their lives is more due to the fact that the things I am seeing in the news and hearing on the radio are definitely affecting my mood, and not in the positive way it seems to be affecting everyone else.

People are celebrating – rejoicing even – in the streets because of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.  Don’t get me wrong, I know he’s done some pretty awful things and is as close to pure evil as they come.  I am not mourning his loss in any way.  But to rejoice in the death of another human being, no matter how well-deserved you might believe that death to be, seems a bit much to me.  Some people say they feel safer now that he’s gone, which makes no sense to me whatsoever.  Some people feel a degree of closure now that he is gone, and I can understand that.  Other people may feel that justice has been served, and though I’m not a fan of revenge as a motivating factor, I think maybe this is what had to happen.  But even if you think bin Laden got what he deserved, I still cannot understand for the life of me how people can be so over the moon about it.

For one thing, it wasn’t just him, alone, one man, who has perpetrated all the destructive and murderous acts of Al Qaeda.  It was a whole team of people who have been carefully trained and are willing to risk their lives – in fact, they welcome the opportunity to risk their lives – in the furtherance of their beliefs.  It’s not like now that bin Laden is gone they are going to leave the camps and start new lives as computer programmers or cashiers at McDonalds in Kabul.  They are going to keep going on doing what they were doing, perhaps with more rigor than before.  Now bin Laden is not just a leader, he’s a martyr.

Mostly, I am thinking about the collateral damage. I think about the Afghani and Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives during our mission to search and destroy bin Laden.  Even if you think his death is cause for happiness, it seems a little myopic to just ignore all those other people who were just as innocent as the victims of 9/11, who lost their lives simply because they lived in proximity to where we thought bin Laden was hiding.  They weren’t asking for it, they weren’t plotting to kill Americans, they were going to work and raising their kids and cooking their dinners and hanging out with their friends, just like you and me.  He may have masterminded a mass murder like the world has never seen, but that is not enough to make me forget the devastation that has been caused in the name of seeking him out and bringing him to justice.  Maybe it’s just me, but it saddens me that so many people both here and over there had to lose their lives, their families, their homes, their loved ones, their health, and I cannot find any joy in that at all.

I kept thinking yesterday of a TedX video that I saw some time ago, and I think it is especially relevant today. It’s twenty minutes long, but it is worth every second.  Please, watch it: