I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from teaching, so no dharma talks to post, but an opportunity to recommend a few books I’ve read lately!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens It gives me great hope for the human race that this book remains on the top of the bestseller list! It is a story of our interconnection with nature, with a main character who raises herself in the marshland of North Carolina. It is beautifully written and stays with me still though I read it months ago. The author creates a world that lets me breathe deep and take it all in. This is not to say it is without story-line or suspense, for those who need such things!
The Mama Sutra, a Story of Love, Loss and the Path of Motherhood by Anne Cushman Anne was a yoga/dharma teacher of mine for many years and we have recently reconnected in a poetry class we both take. Back when she was my teacher and I was the class manager at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, her now college-age son was a newborn who once came and showed us how to do the cobra and other natural positions that came so easily to him and were often so challenging to us. Before her pregnancy with her son, she had shared with us her painful experience of losing her daughter who died in utero just days before her due date. So reading the book brought back the great joy and deep sorrow she shared in such a way that we all really learned deeply about life’s impermanence and why really living in the present moment fully with gratitude matters. Anne has always been a very deep and funny writer, willing to lay it all out there for the sake of reminding readers that it’s okay to be human. She’s fearless in both sharing her most vulnerable moments and brilliant in exploring and sharing the dharma. So I highly recommend this book which has rave reviews from notable dharma teacher authors Tara Brach, Lama Tsultrim Allione and Natalie Goldberg, among others.
Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California edited by Lucille Lang Day and Ruth Nolan This thick volume is such a celebration of the beauty and vulnerability of the most diverse state in the US. What makes it so approachable and rewarding is the way it is divided into sections by habitat, so the reader gets immersed in the coast, the hills, the lakes, the mountains, the cities or the desert, as a variety of poetic voices come together in a symphony of deeper understanding. Brilliant! With over 150 poets, including past and present poet laureates of counties and the US, sharing their deep love of nature in this special place, this book is a true celebration of California. I am pleased to say that one of my poems is in the book, and that it was one of six poems nominated for the Pushcart Prize! 😉 But that’s not why I’m recommending the book. By the way, all profits from the sale of the book go to non-profit environmental organizations.
(Although I include links to Amazon for purpose of further information on each book, I encourage you to support your local independent bookstores if you plan to buy copies.)
So those are a few of the books I’ve been reading lately. I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading!
We have been discussing how the word ‘should’ and its fellow scolders like ‘must’ and ‘ought’ crop up repeatedly in the way we talk to ourselves and often to others as well. The ‘others’ we are most likely to use them on are our children. Thus we perpetuate this very shallow-rooted motivation into the next generation.
So what then? Are parents just supposed to let their children do whatever they want? Of course not. But the alternative to ‘should’ is not ‘Whatever!’ That is just abdicating parental responsibility.
‘Should’ is a tool of unskillful parenting. It is quite a different kind of word than ‘no’ when used wisely. We could not parent effectively without the word ‘no.’ When we don’t overuse it, thus diffusing its power and numbing our children’s ears to it, a ‘no’ said firmly but not harshly with a clear reason attached, is effective.
If we use ‘no’ only to protect the child or others from harm, it is powerful. Parents who overuse words like ‘no’ or ‘be careful’ have no effective words for when they really mean it. In less serious situations, simply modeling behavior works very well because most children are natural born imitators. They observe the world around them and replicate it. All we need to do is recognize that and be conscious of our own way of being in the world. What are we modeling?
Children’s business is to learn how to function in this finite world and they have undeveloped brains in the area of judgment (until the age of 30!! Yikes!!) We who take for granted how the world works need to remember this fact. It can’t be easy to learn how to navigate within the confines of this recently acquired singular physical body. Have some consideration for the challenges they face! Can we patiently show them the ropes of functioning safely in a complex seemingly-finite world? Can we do this lovingly and respectfully, but with confidence and authority?
If you landed on a strange new planet, you would probably want a knowledgeable guide to show you around, teach you the language and the customs. Being a knowledgeable guide is the role of the parent. But some parents don’t see it like that. For whatever reason, they choose other roles. Perhaps they see themselves as dictators of a small but powerful nation called ‘home.’ Children in this context fill the role of feudal serfs or soldiers in the family’s army — us against the world.
Then there are parents who see themselves as personal assistants to their children. They are not guiding from a position of knowledge and wisdom, but from a desire to be the object of their children’s affections. Yesterday I was in the park with my granddaughter and I heard a mother tell her child they needed to leave to get to a class, and then she amended that statement with the question, “So can we leave?” The child, given that invitation to be the decider naturally said no. “Oh please?” the mother cajoled. He just kept playing. Then the father came over and the two parents put their heads together to think of what would be the best bribe to get their child to go. They came up with a stop at Jamba Juice. And even with that on offer it took them 20 minutes to gingerly lure the boy away from the park. This poor child is probably terrified to have so much power at the age of four and acts out his fear in all sorts of unskillful ways. Where are the skilled knowledgeable planet guides? he might wonder. How did he have the misfortune to end up with these very nice but useless ones who just follow him around as if HE’s the one who knows the lay of the land, knows what’s best, when to go, and what to do.
Then there are people who are operate primarily out of fear of what others think. As parents their main concern is that the children reflect well on them, make them proud or at least not embarrass them. Children can be treated as tokens, totems, awards of merit, lackeys, punching bags, and all manner of inappropriate things that have nothing to do with guiding a new being into this world’s ways without losing that deep sense of knowing who they are.
Being a parent is acknowledged to be the toughest job, but it’s also the most rewarding — not at some later date, but in the process, because it’s an exchange of vital information. The parent is the guide to this complex new planet. In payment the noticing parent receives fresh insight into the nature of infinite open playful existence. Chances are somewhere along the way, to some degree or another, he or she lost that wondrous sense of connection to all that is. The child gives a window into that state.
If we value the exchange, fulfill our role as guide, and enjoy awakening to the moment which is where young children live, then parenting is indeed the greatest gift there is. And if one isn’t a parent, spending time with nieces, nephews, the children of friends, students, etc. can keep us in touch with that sense of infinite joyous nature. And in return we as adults can offer different perspectives and areas of interest.
Letting those shallow useless ‘shoulds’ go lets our children grow deep roots. They will do what they do out of love, compassion, gratitude, joy and informed reasoned understanding of this temporal world, thanks to their competent and caring guide parents.