Conscious Parenting Week 1

When we adults think of children there is a simple truth that we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life; childhood is life. A child isn’t getting ready to live; a child is living. No child will miss the zest and joy of living unless these are denied by adults who have convinced themselves that childhood is a period of preparation. How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognize children as partners with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing them as apprentices. How much we could teach each other; we have the experience and they have the freshness. How full both our lives could be.
— John A. Taylor

[Interested in taking this class? It starts at the beginning of May this year. Sign up here: http://integralparenting.com/ref/aware/].

One of my girlfriends moved to the Kootenays last year and ended up in a sweet little cabin on top of a mountain. Her landlord there ended up being an interesting woman who ran a Conscious Parenting course [Parenting as a Spiritual Practice]. Over the fall and winter Tyler and I took the course and following this will be a recap of the eight weeks of pure knowledge.

First, I'll define Conscious Parenting and what it means to me. 

Conscious parenting is about becoming mindful of your behaviour and engaging with your child as an individual. To me, it really means bringing consciousness to each moment with my child, as opposed to just running on auto-pilot and doing things without thought.

When I say "my spiritual practice" I don't mean religion or om-ing, I mean "deepening my personal development as a person and human on the planet."

Week one began with an introduction to the idea that perhaps the 'path of parenting' and the 'spiritual path' could become one and the same path, as opposed to being two separate ones that were incompatible. Prior to this last couple of decades, it was often found that a person, most often being the woman, pursuing a path of parenting, often meant they couldn't pursue other paths of interest to them, including personal development. It's interesting then, to note that when I first found out I was pregnant at 30, I don't recall having any fear that my spiritual life was to be put on hold.However, I can see and hold space for those that do feel like this might happen. I did realize that my International Development career was going to have to be put on hold and that caused me some fear. But I remember feeling blessed by this little joy and at the same time a great determination to not let that stop me from living my own unique life, and instead having the little one join me on this path. I had visions of me travelling with the babe on my back, once he/she was of a certain age. And I don't think I've ever lost sight of that. The only thing I would say, is that I didn't realize how much meditation time the baby would interrupt. Or yoga time. Or reading time. Or just all the time....so there is that aspect and I so understand what is meant by these being two separate paths. Perhaps there is a certain aspect of me that resents the fact that I can't sit in meditation every morning and every night for an hour, but, I trust that will come back at some point. I also understand that the amount of children you have is a great indicator of your ability to continue your own pursuits to a certain degree. That's something that wasn't touched on by the course, but I hold that as fully true. I get the most of my personal things done in the time when Onyx is napping or with Dad. If there were two little ones, this time would become of different use. 

Overall; however, I feel propelled by Onyx's birth. During the pregnancy, I underwent an intense darkness which grew into a radical light. Since he was born eight months ago, I have felt more clarity than perhaps ever before. This alchemization helped me found a local chapter of BCCIC, become the Vice President of a woman's NGO, undergo five months of Yoga Teacher Training, and start a writing business. I began a journey of healing and am finding my way to the middle path. This process has been everything to me and I feel in essence it was due to the intensely spiritual nature of becoming a parent.

I guess I am saying that in my viewpoint, parenting has propelled my spiritual practice and personal development, not hindered it. However, this looks differently than how I used to see myself making a difference and sometimes that's frustrating. But overall, I'd like to help share my experiences thus far to shift the way we look at parenting, not as a hinderance, but a catalyst to deeper personal growth.

The course starts by exploring four main threads that wove through the teacher, Miriam's, life to bring her to the present moment of wanting to parent as a spiritual practice. These threads offer good points to ponder: 

  1. Our own childhood:
    Often the realms of our own childhood seem to offer a great base for us in parenthood. It's worth exploring what type of childhood you had, the qualities you remember, and explore how your own parenting practice may be shaped by that. I had a very loving and adventurous family. My parents were always there for us, bringing us to our sporting events, and were very supportive of who we were. We moved seven times before I was 10, which, for me, brought out the gypsy in me :) Contemplating this for a few moments can definitely help to see what areas you'd like to emulate from childhood and which areas you would like to improve upon.
     
  2. A deep yearning to live life to it's fullest and to break through the glass ceilings that our society and culture uphold - to fill out the more expansive dome of life.

    I absolutely 100% relate with this thread. I've spent my life with a yearning to break glass ceilings of any and all kind. I'm not sure where the rebellious side of me came from, but I know that my parents were both very individual in there own way. They loved moving from place to place and to them - that was breaking a glass barrier of sorts. My mother also told me stories of my grandmother who sewed blankets for women overseas and who would have been loved to have travelled to Africa if she could have. Perhaps this is where this side comes from.

    It's just so important to think critically about what we have been told of what we "should" do and to offer up our own way of doing things. What does lifting the ceiling look like as a parent to me? It looks like being the mom who reaches for her goals everyday, while always considering her littles in tow, who travels and road trips even in the early years, who doesn't confine to the 'schedule', but who also knows the value of the 'schedule' at times, who checks in with herself daily and puts her needs first, in order to take care of herself and listen inside to see where she could make subtle adjustments to be a better and more caring mom, a mom who talks to her infant like he understands and who pauses to see things from his perspective when he's upset, who throws dance parties in the kitchen e'rydaaaay, and who is a gypsy if that's what life's flow is giving her so that the babe can get to know the world as one big global family, but who also gets a permanent home when that life beckons. This shattering of 'shoulds' will look different to every family, but it must answer the question, what do YOU want as a parent? Leave the shoulds outside in the rain.
     
  3. Noticing the huge difference that it makes when we engage in an authentic connection with children, as well as the responsibility that comes with that.

    I remember my friend Jillian telling me once that my deal with children was that I truly listened and played with them. She said you could tell I authentically wanted to be with them, and it's true, I did. I didn't know how to talk to them like they were different than me, probably because I've always been about four years old at heart. But I started to notice as I got older that sometimes children would gravitate to me and there was no shaking this. In this lesson Miriam says, "I would give children my full presence and they would rightly expect that the next time I saw them. And the next. And the next." I think this is so cool and speaks to the responsibilty you have with children. Once you treat a child like an equal, they'll remember. And they'll seek you out the next time you see them, and the next, and the next, because it feels good to be heard. To be fully present with anyone, never mind just your child, is the best gift you can give. Not always talking or having conversations while you're doing something else or not always letting your child see you as too "busy" for them, but instead carving out some serious down-on-their-level, looking-them-in-the-eyes time: this can make all the difference for a child. I believe the universal question we all ask is, "Do you see me?" or "Do you hear me?" and offering our presence to our children answers that question. Isn't that really the most important thing of all?
     
  4. Our own spiritual journey

    I never had any organized religion in my life growing up, other than the rather rare times we would discuss the Mennonite heritage (my mother's mother's religion, usually talking about food) or the even rarer times I attended Sunday School with a friend. But my parents held sacred space and knowledge for me when it came to religion. I would ask what we were, because I wanted an answer. My dad would say, "Your church is in your heart" and "Treat the janitor and the President the same." My mom would say, "The Dalai Lama says that we should be kind everyday and treat everyday as a day in church." They helped me to develop world views and see all people as equals. Looking back, this wasn't a childhood lacking in spirituality just because I didn't have a label, but rather it was an upbringing that allowed me to develop my own views, based on the very basic rules that almost all religions come down too - love, humanity, kindness and compassion. The freedom to think on my own was the special part and I think that's always had me pushing to continue thinking deeper about life and it's meaning.

Miriam then goes into talking about the changing states vs. stages of life. States meaning how we feel or are at various times, as humans, whether it's an awake state, asleep, happy, sad, ecstatic, or meditative states. This is different from the stages of life that we reach as we continue to grow. A stage is the level of consciousness we commit to reside in on a daily basis and it's usually indicated by skills and capabilities or awareness that we receive at every level. 

To parent as a spiritual practice, you'll continue to grow and discover how you can reach deeply nourishing states during the conscious and ever growing stages of life.

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We took time at the end of this lesson to reflect on the moments of daily life as a parent where we reach the deeply nourishing states? For me, this is growing so much as Onyx grows. Spending time cuddling with him in bed, hearing him giggle or be silly, or when I see him laugh a belly laugh as a I throw him above me in the air: there are just no words. When he folds his body into my neck and drapes his arm around my chest, this is the most nourished I've ever felt as a human. This is animal instinct love that resonates in some primal way for me. This is motherhood. 

Why then is parenting so big? 

  • It's 24/7. You can't leave it.
  • You know how deeply it matters.
  • Our children's behaviour can trigger us to things we didn't realize we had in us - which allows for learning and growing within ourselves. It allows us to become self-aware.
  • It's the gifts of grace and extensive love that I spoke about before that allow us to be cracked open to a love we've never felt before. We become vessels of love to pour into and out of us for all of humanity. It's a beautiful thing. 
  • We are tested consciously, constantly, and in real-time.

For anyone who has meditated a lot and who seeks the solace of within, who is able to touch a deeper sense of purpose in this time, to become alive to the fullness of this life and this world, you'll know what I talk about when I say the gap between the open, expanded awareness of prayer, and the practice of being human in this life. But can we bring this awareness of prayer to everything we do in life? This mindfulness of life to daily tasks like changing dirty diapers and doing the dishes? 

Can we face ourselves with radical honesty?

Can we aspire to grow and become more?

Can we forgive ourselves with kindness and compassion when we fail?

The way I see it, parenting is a journey for life to become deeper, richer and to grow in meaning. So how can we marry the needs of our children and our own needs for a deeper life? That's what we'll do as we dive into the next seven weeks of this course. Enjoy the posts to come tagged 'Conscious Parenting'.

[This blog shares my personal thoughts and opinions about the course. I strongly urge people to take the time and dedication to sign up for and go through this course. It starts May 1, 2017. You'll become a better person, not just a better parent. You gain access to a community of people who are also signed up at that time, as well as learning materials and references. It's worth it! Sign up using this link: http://integralparenting.com/ref/aware/].